Samantha Boardman M.D.

Positive Prescription

Reality Check: Who Are You and What Are You Doing?

The benefits of taking time to think about what really matters to you

Posted Jun 07, 2017

Who has time to think about the “big questions” in life? Most people I know are too busy and overwhelmed these days with the demands of daily life to press pause and ponder existential issues.

Being honest, even if you did have the time, would you want to grapple with these big questions? Or rather, with the answers. As one patient—who we’ll call Patient Nietzsche for this piece—told me bluntly, it’s easier to avoid them:

Do you know what scares me the most? Being alone with my thoughts. I start thinking about my life, questioning my choices, and getting philosophical. I would rather focus on what I need to pack for my business trip or buy at the grocery store than what I am doing with my life.

I know exactly what Patient Nietzsche means. These questions often pop up when I am in transit—on an airplane, on a train, or driving somewhere. When I’m physically bound to one place. My knee-jerk response is to avoid them and to dive into a book or pray for strong WiFi so Instagram can save me from contemplating the meaning of it all. Why reflect when I can watch a cat video instead?

As tempting as it is to push them away, research shows it is worth the time and effort to channel your inner Jean-Paul Sartre. In a study entitled "Suppressing Spiritual Struggles: The Role of Experiential Avoidance in Mental Health", the authors found that people who embrace existential and spiritual struggles and reflect on their values and beliefs are emotionally healthier than those who don’t.

As Dr. Julie Exline, one of the co-authors of the study, explains:

Regular avoidance can make it difficult to identify, work toward or experience the qualities that lend a sense of purpose to life. 

Taking the time to think about what matters to you is a great way to bring your values front and center in your life. When your daily decisions reflect your priorities and not just what you feel like in the moment, you strengthen your resilience and build your emotional reserves.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. Where am I headed and what is my ultimate personal goal?
  2. How does my daily life reflect my priorities?
  3. What do I value and how do my choices impact my values?
  4. What are my responsibilities to my community and to make the world a better place?

Examining our values grounds us. Think of them as a compass to help make the right decisions at the right time.


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