Nathanael Garrett Novosel, February 1 2023

Finding Meaning Where Others Don’t

When I was growing up, I cannot tell you how many times I heard the "be willing to go above and beyond in everything you do" speech around everything from school work to employment to athletics. The idea is that if you work just a little harder than your competition every day, you will eventually be much, much further in your progress. My most memorable version of this is when I met Bob Grant, linebacker for the Baltimore Colts, and he showed my friend and me his Super Bowl ring and talked about adding "just a little bit more" to the weight every day to push yourself more and more.

There have been many, many books on these two flavors of the idea since then: most biographies and documentaries on the best people in their fields talk about how they would be the first to arrive and last to leave to show their work ethic, and many "psychology of success" books like The 1% Rule talk about the "compound interest" of improving just a little bit each day instead of trying to wait for the perfect time to go all-in and make big gains. The idea is to do what others don't and be willing to push yourself to limits that others won't. Do that, and you can become extraordinary in any field.

But it seems like few people suggest that approach to living a meaningful life. Through all that I've read, most of the recommendations about meaning, peach, and happiness are about slowing down, meditating, and being present. The one overlap is in the area of mindfulness, and this is where the two ideas can be possibly combined to help you live a more meaningful life in everything you do vs. trying to push for a huge goal for a strong sense of purpose.

Mindfulness is typically focused on remaining in the moment and taking in as much as you can about what is going on right now so that you stop mulling over the past and future and live your life now. It is also about doing things deliberately and consciously so that you both appreciate life and are borderline hyper-aware of your current experiences. The overlap between this type of approach and the "just a little bit more" approach to success is where being conscious, deliberate, and mindful of the meaning and significance in everything you do can help foster a sense of meaning and purpose in your life on a daily basis without the burden or apprehension of an overwhelming goal.

To be clear, there are plenty of mindfulness exercises focused more on focus, peacefulness, emotional regulation, and other benefits, and there are plenty of approaches to foster meaning and purpose. In fact, many people might disagree with trying to inject a purpose to an exercise that's supposed to help you detach from everything else. However, there is room for this approach: when you are mindful of how everything you do exists to make your life better, you foster meaning, appreciation, and purpose in what you are doing. When you are grooming and putting on your clothes, you are preparing for positive social interactions. When you are cooking, you are preparing to feed your family or have a delicious meal with people you care about. When you clean your house, you are keeping it a place of solace instead of clutter and stress. Everything you do technically has a direct purpose, but you can be mindful of the overall contribution to your health, well-being, and success in life to inject life's little activities with much more significance.

You should try it yourself whenever you need to get a greater sense of direction, progress, productivity, or accomplishment in your life. You aren't just going to school every day because you have to; you are learning, building relationships, exercising, and preparing for a future vocation. You aren't just working at a job for a few dollars; you are investing for retirement, feeding your family, saving for a new house or car, or developing skills for an adjacent career that you need more experience in before you can transition. I was paying attention a lot as a kid in school, at my nights-and-weekends job, at the gym, etc., and I can't tell you how many random things I took away from those experiences that I still follow today without realizing it. Every moment you spend on a growth-enabling activity can be meaningful to you if you appreciate how it is contributing to your life, whether it will improve your future or make your past more memorable and satisfying.

So, just like being willing to put in that extra effort where others won't in success in life, you can go that one extra step to find meaning in everything that you do to give it more meaning. Sure, not everyone will try this, but not everyone is willing to do what it takes to succeed, either, and you would rather emulate the successful people if you want to thrive in life. Similarly, you can find meaning in things you do every day and significantly improve your quality of life and life satisfaction. Try it and watch how your life outlook might slowly change for the better without you having to make other changes (that don't come naturally from performing this exercise, of course). Ironically, you might not even notice the overall improvement because you are so happy, appreciative, and purposeful when you focus on the benefits of the little things you do every day.

Written by

Nathanael Garrett Novosel


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