As humans, we can be intensely complex beings with seemingly conflicting needs and an incredible knack for self-sabotage. Two of those potentially conflicting needs are fulfilment and comfort. The relationship between fulfilment and comfort is an interesting one, when we don’t feel fulfilled we often opt comfort, often at the expense of what we really want from life.
Contribution plays a big part in this, but it is not as straight forward as just contributing, doing something good for others, or making a difference. Our sense of contribution is much more closely interwoven with our sense of fulfilment than it is with the difference we actually make.
Most humans crave significance, for their life to have meaning and I believe that this is the objective truth for most people – we all make a difference to someone or something just by our very existence. Yet it is too often not the perceived internal truth because to feel significant, or like you have contributed, you have to feel fulfilled.
It is quite possible to feel fulfilled while still experiencing stress, pressure, working hard – feeling fulfilled doesn’t mean you have to have the perfect life. It does mean you have to stop and appreciate what you have. It usually means what you are doing has to matter to you, and you have to feel like you are adding value for others in some way. It also means you are probably pushing the edges of your comfort zone most of the time, you are likely to get it wrong sometimes and you won’t always have the impact you hoped you might. When this happens, most people default to one of two behaviours:
1) You do more and more, give more, and hustle to get heard/seen/ noticed.
2) You settle and opt for what you know you can do, what others expect and are plagued by ‘what ifs’.
These two things rob you of your sense of fulfilment. This is why we see outwardly very successful people, people who look like there are making a big difference, feeling like they are not good enough in some way.
This is where the interplay between fulfilment and comfort comes in. If you don’t feel you are making an impact; your actions, or life, don’t have significance; or that you aren’t influencing the things that matter to you, it is unlikely you will feel fulfilled. Most people when unfulfilled seek comfort – and this comfort can take many forms from literal comfort of your sofa, TV & glass of wine to unconscious comfort of playing small, sticking to what you know and not taking any risks. Now both of those things are perfectly ok every now and then. They are not ok when they become a habit or excessive or are associated with destructive self-talk. They will certainly not make you feel more fulfilled in the longer term.
The whole concept of fulfilment being can be traced back to Greek times, with Aristotle articulating the common belief that the purpose of life was not to be happy, but to reach eudaimonia, which he describes as human flourishing, or the achievement of the highest human good – although it has translated into happiness in modern times, its origins are more with fulfilment of purpose, having a worthwhile life.
For me, fulfilment is a state of mind; a way of being and it comes down to what you are focussed on. Your sense of self-worth and internal programming are hugely important, so being aware of your own stories, traps and excuses is critical, as is a strategy for managing or changing any unhelpful dialogue or internal beliefs.
First, get clear about what makes you feel fulfilled – this might be tiny: the small buzz you get when you’ve helped someone out, the laugh of your child, completing a crossword puzzle, beating your own run time. It might already be huge: the impact your workshop had on the lives of people, the pleasure your photo’s of a special family event gave your client, your time sorting and structuring accounting processes for your client. This fulfilment might be transient for you, it might even feel like business as usual, but it is that small buzz, that sense of satisfaction of a job well done, that connection with another human, that difference made that is your significance. It is on these feelings you foster and amplify your sense of fulfilment and subsequent contribution.
So once you get clear about what those things that make you feel fulfilled are – and remember they might be small to start with – follow these three steps to consolidate and grow your state of fulfilment so that it becomes one of your go to emotional states.
- Practice gratitude – I know this is much talked about, but what you focus on is generally what you get more of because that is what your brain is looking for, so why wouldn’t you consciously put some effort into the good stuff?
- Celebrate your successes, however small. Sometimes we are so busy moving forward we forget to stop and enjoy the moment, or to acknowledge what we have achieved. Invest time in this – not to boast to others, but to raise your own self-worth, to give yourself some credit, and to internally catalogue your achievements.
- Keep contributing. Focus on the areas that matter to you, show up and know that even the tiniest of contributions matter – even a kind word can make a massive difference to someone. You don’t need to wait until you can make a massive difference or change the world, you just need to start, little action after little action.
Final word – living a fulfilled live or achieving eudaimonia, is an inside job. That means it is within your control and your power to get there. Focus and you will find it, and if you want to share your journey, join us in the Brave Virtual Coworking group.