Day 11: Turning Your Meaning Needs Into Action Steps

Day 11 of 30 days to better mental health

Posted Jan 13, 2015

This series supports the free Future of Mental Health virtual conference I’m hosting from February 23 – 27, 2015. Please get your free ticket to the conference now by visiting And plan to attend!


Each day in this series of 30 days to better mental health I want to propose one simple idea and one simple strategy in support of that idea. If you’d like to view other posts in this series, please visit here:

You might like to ask a friend to join you for these 30 days. The two of you can chat about the ideas I’m presenting and support each other in your efforts to try out some new strategies. You might even want to get a whole group involved!

Today we look at the following.

We want life to feel meaningful. We want that psychological experience of meaning. But what should we do when life doesn’t feel meaningful and we are faced with “meaning needs?"

One thing we can try is turning that “meaning need” into a concrete action step. This provides us with a way of proceeding. What follows are several examples of responding to a meaning need with a plan of action.

Meaning need: “Working on my novel just hasn’t been feeling very meaningful these days.”

Creating an action: “Maybe that’s because I’ve only been working on it in fits and starts, without much energy or regularity. I think I’m going to set myself up a schedule, approach the writing with discipline and devotion, and see if working on the novel begins to feel more meaningful to me.”

Meaning need: “My relationship with my husband just doesn’t feel very meaningful. I desperately need that to change.”

Creating an action: “What specific sorts of changes are I looking for? Better communication? More intimacy? Less criticism? Can I name some specifics so that I know how to aim my work? And if getting out of the relationship is what I need to do … can I look that in the eye?”

Meaning need: “I paint all of these paintings and they just pile up in the studio. That doesn’t feel very meaningful!”

Creating an action: “Well, what I’ve got to do is pretty straightforward. I’ve got to make a meaning investment in marketing my paintings, whether I want to or not. I have to visit galleries and meet gallery owners, I have to get my website up, I have to do whatever it takes to have people like—and buy—my paintings. If this pile of paintings amounts to a meaning crisis, then the answer is moving them out into the world!”

Meaning need: “I need to be more than a housewife.”

Creating an action: “Do I mean that I want to iron and dust less, that I want to get out of the house several hours each day and pursue new interests, that I want to have a conversation with my husband about me working in the world—are those the sorts of things I need to do?”

Meaning need: “I’ve been looking for meaning my whole life and I don’t know where to look any more.”

Creating an action: “Maybe it’s time to stop looking and time to start deciding. I think I’m going to make a list of five places where I might make a meaning investment and give one or two of them a real shot!”

If you feel like it, try your hand at the following exercise. Take a moment and imagine that each of the following eight meaning needs is your issue. After announcing the issue, what concrete action step might you propose?

Meaning need:  “My music is where I want to invest meaning but I’m too busy to find time for my music, which is thoroughly depressing me.”

Meaning need:  “I know that exercise would be a real plus in my life but I don’t feel motivated to exercise.”

Meaning need:  “I know that I want to be of help in the world but I don’t know what to do.”

Meaning need:  “I’m truly passionate about biology but I’m too old and undisciplined to catch up and do anything in that field.”

Meaning need:  “I have nine different ideas for an on-line consulting business but I can’t seem to get started.”

Meaning need:  “I can’t get roles if I don’t audition more, but I can’t seem to make myself audition.”

Meaning need:  “I’ve pretty much been through all the religions and now I have no clue where to look for meaning.”

Meaning need:  “It would be a great meaning spark just to stop bad-mouthing myself but I don’t know how to do that.”

Now for the real exercise: name one of your own meaning needs and propose a concrete action step to help meet that need. Whenever you experience a meaning need, rather than going to “This is so painful and I have no idea what to do about it!” try saying, “Okay, what’s the concrete action step that I might try to deal with this meaning need?”

To summarize:

Today’s goal: learning how to deal with your meaning needs by creating concrete action steps.

Today’s key principle: when life, or some aspect of life, doesn’t feel meaningful, we typically have no idea what to do next. One thing we can try is creating a concrete action step that, if we then follow through, has the chance of changing our experience. In this way, we effectively “make new meaning.”

Today’s key strategy: After you say about something, “This doesn’t feel very meaningful,” the next words out of your mouth might well be, “And here’s what I’m going to do about it!”

Good luck today!


Dr. Eric Maisel is the author of 40+ books including Life Purpose Boot Camp, Rethinking Depression, and Coaching the Artist Within. In 2015 he will be launching a Future of Mental Health initiative. You can learn more about Dr. Maisel’s books, services, trainings, and workshops at Contact Dr. Maisel at And don’t forget to attend the free Future of Mental Health virtual conference in February:






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