Finding the Path to a Meaningful Existence

Finding the Path to a Meaningful Existence

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” - Henry David Thoreau

People want to be told what to do; they want to be “inspired;” they want to be influenced from external sources; and they want their “life instructions” to be delivered in neat and convenient little packages. Although our deepest desire is to find “the path to a meaningful existence,” it is our human nature to seek “the path of least resistance.” We prefer to take one sure step to find what we want, rather than taking many uncertain steps to find what we really need… Why?

It is much too challenging and inconvenient to face ourselves and understand that our happiness or well-being is a result of looking within – of seeking self-acquaintance. Questions, such as “Who am I?” and “Where am I going?” are much more difficult to ask than “How do others find success?” and even better, “Where can I find a concise list of things to do to find it?”

These “shortcuts” have been given warm, fuzzy meaning with inviting terms, such as “self-help” or “inspiration.” What’s wrong with inspiration? I will defer to the words of Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, who can expand on my point much better than I.
Here is an excerpt from an interview with Dr. Goleman at shareguide.com:

“There is a difference between what is called a ‘State Effect’ and a ‘Trait Effect’ as it’s called in psychology. You experience a State Effect when you go to a workshop – you feel great, that was so good! But there is a shelf life to that. By the next week, life has set in again. You’re stressed about your job, your dog is sick, and you are arguing with your partner. That is the State Effect – it’s great while you are in the circumstance, but alas, it doesn’t last. The Trait Effect, on the other hand, means that you have embarked on a program of training the mind and training the heart in a systematic and prolonged way, which actually changes the neurology of your brain. And the more you do it, the bigger the change, and it will be there a year later, maybe even 10 years later.”

Dr. Goleman goes on to explain that reading a book, such as The Power of Now, may help the reader in the present moment but, if no action is taken, the “inspiration” does not necessarily carry forward into the next moment…

“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.” – Albert Einstein


The “self-help movement” is quite notable. There is an endless supply of self-help books, periodicals, and blogs devoted to the subject. Personally, I have been guilty of reading any and all of those media sources and telling myself, “Wow! That is so true!” But I didn’t do anything about it. It is quite ironic that “self-help” does not necessarily lead to helping ourselves…

Inspiration and Self-Awareness

So what do we do to truly help ourselves? We are faced with a wonderful example of “unintended consequences,” or what the scholarly crowd would label as a “paradox”. In our search for self-actualization, or meaning in our lives, we lead ourselves away from the path that will help us find it – the path begins with self-awareness – not short-term inspiration…

Seeking and finding “inspiration” is quite valuable but only if it helps us seek and find ourselves first. How can we find our “path” if we are knowingly or unknowingly following the path of others? This short blog post will not provide the tools you need to truly know yourself but I hope that it can be a start. We must know ourselves first as humans, and then we must know ourselves as unique individuals.

* As humans, we are hard-wired for simple, survival-oriented pattern recognition, which can potentially doom the average person to failure.

* This “wiring” has been referred to as our “primitive brain” or “rat brain,” which prefers problem-solving “heuristics” – mental shortcuts that link patterns to potential rewards.

* These shortcuts and patterns were quite effective in aiding primitive man to find food but have the potential to lead us to deceptive “rewards,” such as a bigger paycheck, a bigger home, a bigger car, and a bigger life!

* Using your “rat brain” will keep you perpetually in the “rat race” and distract you from your “path.”
As unique individuals, we have personalities that set us apart from others:

* What works for one person will not necessarily work for another.

* Be careful not to find yourself led by social conventions. Define words for yourself, such as wealth, success, retirement, and happiness.

* Tune out the world: turn off the radio; turn off the TV; follow your own “advice;” and stop reading and watching disturbing news stories.

* Tune in to yourself and the present moment: Take time to be aware of your heartbeat and the rise and fall of your chest while you are breathing; start noticing things around you; notice people in their daily routines; look into a child’s eyes; watch the wind blow in the trees; stare at a blade of grass; watch a storm come and go; or just find anything that reminds you that you are alive now – not yesterday, not tomorrow, but today…

“You can not travel the path until you have become the path itself.” - Buddha

Buddha called it “nirvana;” Lau-tzu sought the “Tao” or “the way;” Socrates promoted “the examined life;” and Maslow suggested that it is “self-actualization” we all seek. Before success in any area in life, we must first know ourselves. Only then will we achieve the objective that truly defines “inspiration” and “self-help…” and only then will we find ourselves on the path to a meaningful existence…

Kent Thune

Kent Thune is the blog author of The Financial Philosopher, where he urges readers to place meaning before money and purpose before planning.

Latest posts by Kent Thune (see all)

18 Comments

  1. There are 4 common traits in highly successful people You alluded to some of them in your excellent article.

    VISION – They see things others do not see.

    ATTRACTION – They position themselves to attract opportunities others do not attract.

    READINESS – They are ready to act upon opportunity once it comes their way

    AND the all important part you mentioned at the end of your article

    ACTION – Once the opportunity comes their way, they then at upon it in a manner most others do not.

    You can have Vision, Attraction and Readiness, but unless one actually takes action, it will be hard for them to take advantage of opportunities.

    MrAchievement
    Stanley Bronstein
    Attorney, CPA, Author, Blogger & Professional Motivational Speaker

    Reply
  2. This is the best article I have read in forever. I am going to print and paste it and reread it. You could have crawled into my brain this a.m. The universe is funny that way because you read my mind and this article was attracted to me today. Bravo!

    Reply
  3. Stanley:

    I agree with you entirely. The “action” you speak of, however, is difficult for most people because they are not led to understand why they think the way they think and why they do what they do…

    I believe that self-awareness is the key to success in all areas of our lives. The great philosopher, Plato, was the first to truly tie “Being, Knowing and Doing” into one coherent system. To find our “ideal self,” we must first “know ourself.” Once our “knowing” is achieved, then our “doing” may be aligned with our “being.”

    In other words, we should be striving to combine “who we are” with “what we do.” The real challenge, once again, is for people to find “who they are” to begin with… Once this self-awareness is achieved, then we are ready for the proper “doing” or taking action in the most appropriate way…

    Liz:

    …and that is the best comment I’ve had in “forever!” As you may imagine, I do not write for comments but it sure is nice to hear positive feedback! I find negative feedback quite useful as well, but most people shy away from being judgmental…

    Thanks again for the comments…

    Kent

    Reply
  4. I love this article. There are so many people who read dozens of self-help books, know all the buzz words, and yet make no change in their own lives, and know little about themselves. Yep, I was guilty of it . . .

    The best thing personal development writers can do is to help readers look into themselves. This is a new approach to many, and they do need help. Ideally, they would benefit most by getting personal attention and assistance because each of us is different and on a different point of our development. Many are becoming aware of this, and seeking help of prof coaches.

    As we learn about ourselves, it is also important to take actions. It helps to have someone know about the actions we intend to take. When I started as a coach, I thought keeping accountability was the lesser part of my service — I thought the inspiration part was much more of value — and was pleasantly surprised.

    Thank you for a great post and the opportunity to share my thoughts.

    Reply
  5. Akemi:

    Most (but not all) “self-help” authors are actually in the busines of selling books and not really “helping” people at all. Book publishers are well aware of how to appeal to “what we want” with little or no consideration for “what we need.”

    Next time you go to a book store, take a look at the business and finance (my career field) section: You will have a difficult time finding a book without the word “rich” or “wealth” or “success” in the title. These are all words that appeal to our human attraction to shortcuts or, what I refer to as “false rewards.” Who wouldn’t want to “retire young and rich?”

    If we define the words “retirement” and “rich” for ourselves, then we won’t need the book in the first place. We will follow our own path rather than the path of others…

    Reply
  6. What a great article! I love how the problem of actually “doing” something was brought up in a way so as to not feel guilty about it, but that simply there is a missing piece that is hampering us – the self knowledge. It makes you feel great that at any moment you can start to get to know yourself and move forward, instead of wallowing in the thought that you are lazy or a failure for not taking action when inspiration was present. A great “wake-up” article in this world of quick fixes, easy inspiration and advice coming from all directions.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Reply
  7. Hi Kent, thanks for your quick response.

    You have a point, but I do think there are conscientious writers of books and blogs, like yourself, Peter, and if I may mention myself ^-^, who actually care about the readers and want to help. I think that’s what you mean by “(but not all)”

    I also think people are getting smarter. Just as we are getting tired of the mass advertisements that try to appeal to our old brain, and choosing new marketing in which we seek for products that fit our individual unique needs, people are getting tired of quick life hacks and starting to seek out real life changes. There is hope!

    Reply
  8. Shannon:

    Thanks for the positive remarks! Your comment regarding “this world of quick fixes, easy inspiration and advice coming from all directions” brings to mind the point that there are so many “self-help” books, blogs, and periodicals dedicated to the subject.

    The irony is that, if these so-called “self-help” sources were able to achieve their objective, there would not be so many of them. After reading one “self-help” book, most people move on to buy another one… Why? Didn’t the first one work?

    I believe people want to be inspired to escape their short-term troubles more than they want to “do something” about them and most of these “self-help” books are simply fulfilling that desire..

    I believe philosophy and psychology are more suitable for real long-term “self-help” but those mediums are not quite as easy to digest, which is why I hope to make these sources more digestible for readers…

    Thanks again…

    Reply
  9. FANTASTIC stuff Peter. I love how you are framing your articles, and making them so personal. these can be tough things to write about, and you are doing it beautifully…so, thank you.

    I heard an amazing quote from Paul Hawkins the other day, the gist of which was “every problem humanity faces boils down to one major disconnect: the one between the way nature works and the way the human mind operates”.

    Really think about this, its so true. the path of self awareness helps re-align oneself with the natural way of things…

    Todd

    Reply
  10. Reading self help books can be addictive. In the end, you need to find your own way, and I suspect that WRITING a self help book may be more effective than reading one.

    I think the reason that ‘The Secret’ has become so popular is that is promises an easy way to get money, houses, cars etc. etc. Just think about it and it’s yours! I think this really misses the point. One’s whole life needs to be aligned in a certain way, and this turning need not be difficult, but is is often slow.

    http://effortlessabundance.com/

    Reply
  11. Peter/John:

    You guys sound familiar to me. Wink, wink. I’m catching up on my favorite bloggers and was delighted to see an interview with John Wesley’s story of taking risks and working for an upstart.

    John, congratulations on how things have unfolded for you. Your response about how having a blog led you to this new career reminds me of something Steve Chandler of “17 LiesThat Are Holding You Back and the Truth That Will Set You Free” wrote. Basically one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is that we have to know people in order to get ahead. The truth is that this is not necessarily true because if you put yourself out there (like you did with PTB or like how Steve had his daughter write up some book proposals for her school project (“just for the fun of it”) only to get calls from big name publishers.

    Thanks for reminding all of us that coincidences do play a large role in our lives if we just allow them to manifest. I appreciate knowing more about your career transition and how it came about. I love the idea that you don’t necessarily have to have “connections” to find your life’s meaning – all you have to do is put yourself out there and opportunities will come to you. Congrats!

    Reply
  12. Kent,

    Thanks for this well thought out blog, which obviously took a lot of time to write.

    I find that too many of us promote ourselves through efforts of destruction, rather than creation. This is especially true in politics. Most promote themselves not by developing a new way of doing things accompanied with a thought-out strategy, but by attacking their opponent’s character and convincing the public that they are the best of two evils. And, how many of us have seen those reaching the top of corporate pyramids through behind-the scenes backstabbing. We then attend churches, synagogues and mosques convincing others that we are followers of a universal Creator.

    However, what is a creator? It is someone that brings into being, originates, or causes something new to come into existence. It believe that many of us follow the path of destruction because it requires little thought or effort. Creating something new is difficult, and requires a lot of effort.

    Rather than trying to destroy the beliefs and culture of others, learn from their beliefs and culture and improve upon it.

    Train yourself to constantly think of new ideas and ways of doing things, and learn to sell that idea to others.

    Write down all thoughts and ideas since no thought or idea is a bad one. You can always determine later if one idea is better than another.

    Do not be afraid to fail. Try and try again.

    In short, learn to be a creator, rather than a destroyer. After all, isn’t that what a universal Creator would want of His creation.

    Charles

    Reply
  13. As usual – very inspiring! Thanks!

    Reply
  14. This is a great article asking to make our own path, I was deeply unsatisfied with the kind of work. I used to force myself to work everyday, few days back I lost that job but I am feeling happy because I am moving towards what I want to do. You have given a great insight that these self help books are just done for business but we have are best help for ourself.

    Thanks so much

    Reply
  15. The process of raising self-awareness is a meaningful one. Everyone evolves or remembers at his own pace. Some people are excited to learn or awaken to why thye think and feel as they do. These kinds of people are proactive. Other people are selectively unconscious about such things and prefer to remain in the dark. They are reactive or non-reactive. To love everyone equally is to accept them regardless of their state of awareness and life choices. Appreciate the nature of reflections here.

    Reply
  16. Todd,

    Thanks for the positive comment! There certainly is a tension between who we are as humans and who we are as individuals. Since most of us do not realize that most of our actions are human driven, we have the tendency to be led by others who do know this.

    For example, book authors, motivational speakers, marketers (and even bloggers) know how to attract our “rat brains” with attractive colors, suggestive comments and convenient lists to make life wonderful.

    Self-awareness may reveal our human weaknesses and enhance our strengths as individual personalities, which is why I believe self-awareness is incomplete without some study of neuroscience and human behavior.

    The path to connect our being (our ideal self) and our doing (what we do) is then cleared. In other words, we should be on a path consisting of small but sure steps toward making who we are and what we do into the same thing…

    Thanks again for the comment and to Peter for the opportunity to guest post this week.

    Kent

    Reply
  17. Michael:

    Excellent point! I especially agree with your comment that “WRITING a self help book may be more effective than reading one.” Of course, as a previous commenter pointed out, some writers and motivational speakers actually WANT to help people. From what I’ve observed, however, most of them are trying to sell books. If they help someone, great. If not, they still sold the book and they’ll write more…

    I certainly do not want to judge the intentions of bookwriters, bloggers and motivational speakers but, if their foundation of “self-help” is not built upon self-awareness, then whatever they are trying to accomplish will likely be worthless to the reader/consumer because the path presented is not the reader’s — it’s the writer’s…

    I believe a leader should have a great sense of self-awareness and their primary objective should be to lead others to know themselves as well. The only problem with this approach is that, once the reader finds self-awareness, it is less likely they will need to buy the writer’s next book!

    Thanks again for the comment…

    Reply
  18. Outstanding thoughts, Charles…

    I like your idea of finding the path to creation rather than destruction. I believe that humans are essentially consumers, which is not entirely different from “destructors.” Most people spend their time feeding their own consumption habits by finding ways to get others to consume their ideas, services and products. It’s a vicious cycle…

    As I’ve said before, true leaders will seek self-awareness and lead others to it. This way we are all led to creating for for the right reasons, rather than for the sake of consumption or “destruction.”

    I would tend to agree with your inference that we should create more than we destroy…

    Thanks for provoking thought…

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Share This

Share this post with your friends!