Choosing Empowering Meanings
With most of the globe having access to internet, we have more information at our fingertips than ever before. And yet, we don’t feel any wiser or happier. Why is that?
Rewind back to a few days ago. My friend and I were talking about the rising demand for psychics at the moment. It’s a story we’ve heard before: a friend goes to a psychic, s/he tell them no information in advance, and s/he is blown away by the insights. I’m not here to confirm or deny whether this is a legitimate practice. But here’s what I do think is worth taking away from this: what those psychics are ultimately doing for their clients is offering them a different narrative. A narrative about who they are or about their present and future. The client can choose whether to believe this narrative or to discard it, but they now have a new alternative way of looking at themselves or their situation.
I think of daily affirmations the same way. I have an app called “I Am” that sends me multiple notifications everyday with positive affirmations about my values and how I want to show up. By consuming this information regularly, I am choosing to re-program my mindset in that moment to stay centered and positive. It’s been an effective tool to train my negative thought patterns to be replaced, but I’m also aware that I get to choose in each moment what I want to believe.
So going back to the question of feeling wiser in the Information Age… it’s important to remember the step after collecting information: to deeply reflect on the meaning of it all in the bigger picture.
In “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl describes his experiences as a prisoner during WWII in Nazi concentration camps. He shows how a person’s meaning that they attribute to their life and to their future affects their health and longevity. He heroes the men in concentration camps who chose everyday to find an empowering meaning for their life, to show kindness, and to maintain humor in their day-to-day.
Taken into our modern context, the underlying point is still relevant: that no matter what our circumstances, we can always choose meaning. Whether it’s the meaning of our life or what the future holds for us. However, in the Information Age, we also have some new constraints: we are bombarded by everyone’s opinions everywhere (sometimes masked as truths).
If there was one edit I would make to Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”, it would be re-naming it: it’s not a Search, it’s a Choice. In order to access this deeper meaning for your life you will need to go deep inward and tune out the external noise. Technology has gotten better at algorithmically serving us with content, and almost all of it has some kind of bias embedded in it. If we continuously expose ourselves to all this noise in our echo chambers, we lose sight of the wisdom that comes from a deep place within each of us. That’s why Meditation is on the rise – it creates time and space to go inward and observe the chatter around us.
I guess what I’m saying is, there is no life hack or app to create meaning for you. You have full editing rights to create your meanings, by going inward, asking yourself questions, and focusing on the bigger picture. You get to choose to cast an empowering and positive meaning for your life, or a miserable disempowering one. It’s a deeply personal choice. And it’s about freedom of choice, something that we easily give up to other experts or to algorithms these days.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
– Victor Frankl in “Man’s Search for Meaning”
So pay attention to the meaning you are giving things every day. Are you choosing from a place of fear or from a place of love? Are you choosing with an Abundance mindset or with a Scarcity mindset? Are you choosing from a self-interested place or from an empathetic place? Understand that your words and your meanings have a big impact not only on yourself but on your team, your family, and your friends. Practice making choices that come from your highest self, regardless of circumstances.
This year, I am choosing to be an optimist. I choose to see that we are in a moment of transformative change, that some things had to bubble up to the top for us to have difficult conversations, and that we will come out of this better. For myself, I choose to develop, grow and change with everything I’m learning now so I can come out of this as a better human. I choose to assume best intent in others, because I believe the world needs more radical kindness and empathy. When I fail I choose to course-correct without beating myself up. What do you choose?