LOST IN DIRECTION?*
6 REASONS WHY we lose focus in life
*with apologies to Sophia Coppola
In the movie Lost In Translation Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) connect over a chance meeting in Tokyo when both are travelling - he to film a commercial, and she to accompany her photographer husband on an assignment.
Lost in Translation doesn't refer just to the language and cultural barriers that Bob and Charlotte experience; both of them also seem to be searching for some direction in life. Bob appears to tire of his seemingly glamourous life, whereas Charlotte is undecided as to her next move having recently graduated from college.
In our last post we talked about finding our direction in life. However, this very task may lead us to wonder how we lost our way, or even why we didn’t even have direction in the first place.
Let’s make an important distinction at the outset – direction in life and life circumstances are two different things. That is, we may be aware of the bigger picture but our circumstances may not currently allow us to move significantly in that direction. Alternatively, or our current circumstances may actually give us a lot of room to achieve what we want but we may not have a bigger picture to guide our actions. Let’s look at a couple of different scenarios.
Mark is a teenager in his first year of an arts degree at university and is living away from home. He is passionate about social justice and plans to eventually study law at university and become a human rights lawyer. For the moment, his life can get weighed down by his studies, social life, family dynamics, and working enough hours to earn money to support himself and finance his studies. He knows that the road to achieving his goal is a long one, but he doesn’t lose sight of where he is headed.
Jenny, in contrast, is an executive who has a life that seems enviable from the outside. She has a high-paying job, lives in a grand house, has a wonderful family, and is fortunate to be financially comfortable and afford what her family wants including regular holidays. In spite of her fortunate circumstances, however, Jenny feels empty at times and wonders if there is more to life than the daily grind.
WHY DO WE STRUGGLE TO FIND OUR DIRECTION?
There are many reasons why we may struggle to find our direction. These range from living a life that others have shaped for you, finding life too busy to look at the bigger picture, changed life circumstances, and feeling so exhausted managing overwhelming moods that there’s little energy left over for anything else.
Below are some of the reasons we commonly see in our work as clinical psychologists as to why people may struggle to find direction in life.
1. You live your life to meet others’ expectations
Sometimes our direction in life is heavily shaped by others’ expectations. These may be explicitly stated (“You must…”, “You should”) or conveyed more subtly (“I can’t believe how wonderful Genevieve’s daughter is to her”). In essence, your life is mapped out for you. You may follow this path because it’s easy, because you don't want to rock the boat, or because it’s all you know. The important question is whether it is what you want out of life and whether living this life leaves you feeling fulfilled.
2. You live to rebel against others
So someone told you that you must do something or that you couldn’t ever do anything. You think to yourself “I’m not going to be told, I’ll show them!” and you end up living your life going against the grain like the proverbial middle finger.
You may end up pursuing excellence in an area that you’re not all that interested in simply because someone told you that you couldn’t make it. Or you may self-sabotage and neglect your own health because you’re over being nagged to look after yourself.
At the end of the day, focusing on rebelling against others means that your direction still isn’t your own - it is still being dictated by others. Do you want to give them this much power in deciding your direction? Is this direction making you happy? Is it giving you meaning in life? If the answer to any of these questions is "no", then this is your opportunity to make changes.
3. You live a life that you think looks good in others’ eyes
Perhaps we’ve all be there at some point in time - that excitement about being ahead of the pack or concern about being left behind. Throw social media into the mix and living your life to impress others can be amplified many times over. We look with envy upon our friends’ photos, posts and tweets, that show the best moments of their lives…that so-hip-it-hurts party, that obscure holiday location that will be the next big thing in travel, the latest gadgets that only those in the know can get their hands on.
The fear of missing out (FOMO), keeping up with the Joneses or, heck, even striving to be the Joneses…whatever you call it, living your life to impress others can distract you from finding your direction in life.
If you truly derive meaning from discovering new things and having novel experiences that’s great, but if your life seems to have become a never-ending pursuit of the next big thing - the best job, fattest pay check, holidaying in the most luxurious and exotic locations, having the latest gadgets, and being in the know when it comes to the next big thing, then it may be a good time to re-examine how well this is working for you.
4. Your life is so busy that you can’t find time to find your direction
When life becomes a never-ending To Do list, or it seems like you spend most of your week putting out fires, setting aside time to find your direction in life can seem indulgent or perhaps an inefficient use of your precious time.
Consider the woodcutter who tries to chop down a tree with a blunt axe, who refuses to pause and sharpen his axe because that would take time away from working on chopping the tree down. Simply by taking a short break to sharpen his axe he can actually be more effective in his actions.
Similarly, having a short break to sharpen your focus can help you to streamline your life and guide you to invest your time and energy on tasks that move you closer to where you want to be.
5. Your life circumstances change
Our chosen direction in life can sometimes shift when we go through significant life changes and transition points. Birth, marriage, divorce, illness, retirement, death…these events can act as triggers to prompt us to evaluate what’s important.
In doing so, we sometimes realise that the life we are currently leading isn’t aligned with the direction that we want, that in focusing on our busy daily lives we've lost our way. These transition points can thus provide us with a chance to make changes in our life.
6. You feel too overwhelmed by your moods that it's hard to look past them
Living with intense negative feelings can mean that getting through the day can be challenging and the prospect of finding direction in your life may seem like a pointless exercise.
If you wake up each morning feeling low, or if you spend much of your day battling anxiety, it can seem like all of your focus is on just keeping your head above water. When you look at your life maybe your depression or your hopelessness is all that you can see.
At these difficult times, finding meaningful direction may seem too far from your reach when all you want is just a little break from your moods. Perhaps it is for this very reason that finding direction may help. It doesn’t have to be a grand statement that seems impossible to achieve; a starting point may just be to work towards living a psychologically healthier life.
So, WHERE TO FROM HERE?
As you can see, there are many reasons why we can find it hard to find direction in life. Have a look at your own reasons that hold you back, and look at how well each of these are serving you in your pursuit to find your direction in life. It’s a perfect opportunity for you to re-evaluate, reset, and realign.
Our upcoming posts can then help you to start translating your direction into goals so keep an eye out for them.
If you’d think you’d like a more tailored approach, contact us to make an appointment.