Spinning off of the Going There with Dr. Mike podcast, “Ask Dr. Mike” is a monthly column that finds clinical psychologist and life coach Dr. Mike Friedman expounding on a specific topic covered in a recent episode or answering a listener question. For our inaugural addition, he touches on past guest Erick the Architect’s idea of “future-proofing” your mental health, especially during the pandemic era.
“Have you ever felt worthless?
Down on yourself
And I ain’t even scratched the surface”
— From “Die 4 You” by Erick the Architect
For many of us, the Covid-19 pandemic has devastated every aspect of our lives. Our physical health is perpetually at risk and we may have already gotten sick. We may not have been able to work or do the things that we love to do. We’ve needed to isolate ourselves from friends, family, and colleagues and many of us have lost people who are close to us. All that stress has taken a huge toll on our emotional well-being. More people than ever before are experiencing the painful effects of mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and addiction. We feel disconnected from ourselves and from the world around us.
In the midst of all of this pain and suffering, many of us have lost something else: our sense of purpose. Our purpose is one of the ways that we understand who we are and what we hope to do with our life. It becomes the organizing principle around how we spend our time and informs how we work, love, and play. We endure difficult times because we are driven to pursue our purpose in life. When we feel a strong sense of purpose, we are more likely to live longer, healthier, and happier lives. But as we face the stress associated with the pandemic, many of us feel that our sense of purpose has been shattered and we feel hopeless. And this lack of direction can worsen our mental and physical health as we feel rudderless while we try to find the strength and determination to pursue our best and most authentic life.
During a recent episode of the Going There with Dr. Mike podcast, I spoke with musician and producer Erick the Architect of the Hip Hop group Flatbush Zombies. During our conversation, Erick talked about how we need to “future-proof” our mental health by prioritizing our emotional well-being now and throughout our lives. One of the things we discussed and Erick references in his new EP, Future Proof, is how important it is that we have a strong and unified vision of our authentic selves — a sense of purpose. Based on that conversation, here are a few tips that can help us embrace our sense of purpose to future-proof our mental health.
First, even when we are struggling and feel hopeless, we must clearly define the elements of our purpose in life. In general, people tend to have four basic areas where they find a sense of purpose: work/achievement, love/connection, health/well-being, and passions/interests. These aspects of our lives form the basis of how we see our authentic selves. For each of these core areas, we can try to articulate who we hope to be and write it down. For example, many people may listen to an artist like Erick and recognize that they too harbor a passion to play music. Write it down: “Being a musician.” Do the same for the other areas of your life. Whatever represents your truest and most authentic self — that is your purpose in life.
Second, when we identify our purpose, we can then make a specific behavioral plan by which we can pursue each aspect of the purpose in our lives. For example, maybe for us being a musician means playing guitar. So, if we want to play guitar, how will we get a guitar? How will we learn notes or chords? How often will we practice? Perhaps we resolve to practice 15 minutes each day to start. The important thing is that we begin to connect to our purpose through specific and consistent actions.
Next, we must recognize that pursuing our purpose is about the journey, not necessarily the achievement of a particular goal at a given time. Our focus is on identifying our purpose and putting our behavioral plan into action. So, for example, if our purpose in life is to be a musician and we commit to practicing 15 minutes a day every day, our focus is on that behavioral plan. We can evaluate our plan in terms of whether our efforts bring us closer to or farther from a specific aspect of our purpose. Did we get closer to being a musician? If it’s getting us closer, great! Keep going or even do a bit more of the same. But if we don’t think we are making progress, we don’t abandon our purpose or demean our efforts. We use the experience to learn how to adjust our behavioral plan to move forward on our purpose-driven journey.
Finally, one of the things that Erick and I discussed is identifying and protecting ourselves from toxic situations that undermine our sense of purpose. Often this toxicity comes in the form of others who dismiss, demean, or otherwise invalidate our sense of purpose and do not support our authentic selves. When we see this type of toxicity, we must recognize it and try as best we can to limit our exposure to it. If we have toxic people in our lives, we must limit our contact or at least limit sharing our purpose-driven journey with them. And if we ourselves harbor toxic thoughts that undermine our purpose and our journey to a more authentic life, we must identify those thoughts, challenge them and develop new ways of thinking. Our purpose is ours and no one else’s — now and forever. It cannot be diminished or taken from us. And a strong and enduring sense of purpose will help us future-proof our mental health.
So, thank you for being willing to go there and build your purpose so that you too can future proof your mental health!