My mission is to make purpose accessible and mundane for everyone on this planet. And as an entrepreneur, I think about that mission most minutes of most days. And so as I sat in the dentist’s chair this morning, I recognized it as an incredible opportunity to walk the talk. Could I be purposeful as they poked, filed, picked, and cleaned my teeth?
Aligning thoughts and choices to our purpose in the most uncomfortable situations has major upside.getty
Research shows that when we have a sense of why what we’re doing matters (purpose), we are physically and mentally healthier, as well as more productive. When we act in line with a purpose larger than ourselves, we also make the world around us better, benefitting people and/or the planet. But all too often, we regard purpose a lofty statement to be word-smithed by brand consultants or coaches and then pulled off the shelf for quarterly or annual planning sessions. Purpose in this form has none of the benefits promised above, for us as individuals, or companies.What Is Purpose?
Purpose exists in the everyday moments of our work and life: getting our kids (or elders) dressed, reviewing a colleague’s deliverable, buying groceries, setting a meeting agenda. Yes, it is helpful – ultimately necessary – to have some sort of a unifying statement that describes how you understand your purpose. But that statement is a work-in-progress over the course of a lifetime.
If you don’t have a purpose statement, take 30 seconds now (yes, actually now) to write something down. All it has to do is reasonably capture why you’re here. Start simply with whatever comes to mind first even if it feels vague or generic. Perhaps, “to love and support my biological and chosen family, continue to learn and grow until the day I die, and leave the planet greener than I found it.” Or “to be a present and grateful human.” Literally just start somewhere – the influence of that statement on your day-to-day choices is what matters, not the literary quality of the statement. Indeed, having just a well-crafted statement that you don’t connect to action can be worse than having no purpose at all, according to Zach Mercurio, PhD.Why Does Purpose Matter?
Acting in line with a purpose generates positive impact – it makes things better in three dimensions: Me, We, and the World. Aligning your choices and behavior with a purpose improves your individual well-being and performance in terms of mental and physical health, as well as focus, motivation, and creativity. To say nothing of life satisfaction and longevity. On the We level, purposeful teams show higher levels of trust, which facilitates flexibility, innovation, and resilience.
Finally, when we work and live purposefully, as individuals and organizations, we create less negative and more positive impact on the people and planet around us. Some education about social and environmental impact to optimize this World impact. In the meantime, even without a technical understanding of dental health or carbon capture, acting purposefully is better for the World than not.Purpose At the Dentist
Your purpose need not have anything to do with dental health, your own or others’ to make this example relevant. You can still be purposeful, and practice the behaviors and choices that do advance your purpose in this very mundane context. In fact, keeping purpose in mind during this unpleasant if not painful hour might be one of the most challenging versions of living purposefully.
So how did I manage this purpose challenge? My approach can be broken down into the same three dimensions of impact discussed above: Me, We, and World.Me
The body has an important role to play in being purposeful. If we’re not breathing properly, we get stuck in Fight or Flight mode, and have almost no chance of being thoughtful. I reminded myself to breathe deeply – a necessary reminder during some of the toughest scraping. I also scanned my body repeatedly, looking for places I was tensing muscles and intentionally released them. Of course, the mind is also critical to direct these thoughts, and I credit my daily meditation practice with the ability to stay in the driver’s seat of my brain even in the dentist’s chair.We
There are lots of other people involved in my dental appointment. Most obviously, the dentist, technician, and receptionist, but also my husband who referred me to the practice, my company that provides dental insurance to offset the cost, and a massive cadre of inventors, engineers, scientists, and businesspeople who made available the technology being used. As the chilling sound of scraping continued, I focused on my gratitude to all of these people responsible for my healthy teeth.
Inspired by Valarie Kaur’s book See No Stranger from our team’s anti-racism practice, I also spent some time wondering about all of those people involved directly and indirectly in my appointment. What did they have for dinner tonight? Who takes care of their teeth? What do they consider to be their purpose? These were much more engaging and pleasant thoughts than “What if she hits a nerve?” and “Why don’t I floss more?”World
Finally, I acknowledged the massive privilege to experience this unpleasant scraping, picking, poking, and cleaning. Dental health is distributed extremely unequally in the US and globally, along economic and racial lines. The health of our teeth is intimately interconnected with our well-being more broadly and longevity. How could I be anything other than joyfully grateful to have access to this top-notch care for my pearly whites?Why Does Purpose At The Dentist Matter?
As a result of this purposeful approach to my dental appointment, I suffered less physically, as would be expected based on research about the connection between gratitude and pain. I also had a much more pleasant time than in other dental visits, where I’ve been stuck on those default questions like “What if she hits a nerve?” Instead, I was musing about the 3D printers, product scientists, and sales reps who got all the equipment to my dentist’s office, and what she and her hygienist ate for dinner last night.
On the We level, I was certainly more friendly to all the staff than I might have been on another busy Thursday when my appointment took 20 minutes longer than expected. I also supported a local business owned by a woman of Color. And that is good for shifting wealth inequality in our World.
None of these outcomes will reverse climate change or end systemic racism. But since I must go to the dentist anyhow, I will continue to do it purposefully, and feel excellent about the impacts of that choice on myself, the people around me, and the world beyond that.
Email us for a free worksheet to begin this process of building purposeful habits. And read more about how to connect your mundane daily habits to larger purpose here.
Can you remember your purpose next time you’re in the dentist’s chair?getty