Meaning and Purpose and the Motivation to Be Well

Can a well-developed sense of meaning and purpose motivate us to be well?

“Wellness is the experience of living life with high levels of awareness, conscious choice, self-acceptance, interconnectedness, love, meaning and purpose.” Michael Arloski (Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2007).

Meaning and purpose are included in most definitions and models of wellness, yet how does this philosophical concept translate into behavioral change, or does it? The primary value of meaning and purpose in wellness is motivation. Can a better-developed sense of meaning and purpose in one’s life be a motivator to live that life well? Can it enable that person to be more successful at lifestyle improvement?

“A life without purpose is an early death.” Goethe

Many great sages have shown us how life with little meaning holds little value, little joy and often less longevity. Victor Frankel’s classic book Man’s Search For Meaning showed us this vividly. When a sense of meaning and purpose is lacking, we just put one foot in front of the other, make a living one way or the other and feel like we are just existing. It sounds depressing and it is. Life coach, Kevin Cashman (Leadership From The Inside Out, 2000), (  holds that purpose is how we express ourselves to add value to the world, it is “spirit seeking expression.” It is about expressing our gifts, our true uniqueness actualized. For the person seeking to improve their lifestyle and/or affect the course of a chronic illness in a positive way, their belief system and ultimately, their sense of meaning a purpose affect self-efficacy.

Wellness seekers can set noble goals and create wellness plans, but their success with them will often come down to a matter of belief. Do they believe that by taking action they can affect their health in a positive way (self-efficacy)? Do they believe that they are worth the time and effort (self-worth)? Do they believe that taking these actions expresses who they truly are and that it is important to do so (meaning and purpose)?

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates

Wellness pioneer, Don Ardell, says that “Everyone has made decisions about meaning and purpose; unfortunately, many are unaware of their choices…” (Aging Beyond Belief, 2007). (  The wellness coaching process provides the opportunity for people to look at their lives in a three hundred and sixty degree view. Self-exploration and self-assessment are the first steps in the Wellness Mapping 360°™ wellness coaching process. The process of self-discovery then continues throughout the coaching experience. As it goes forward the individual may discover that their motivation for change is intimately tied with their beliefs about themselves and the world around them. A central part of everyone’s belief system is his or her own sense of meaning and purpose.

Expressing our gifts, we add value to the world.

As we continually explore our sense of meaning and purpose in life we attain more clarity about who we are and the gifts we have to offer the world. As we express those gifts to add value to the world we experience mastery and build self-worth and self-esteem, and this in turns builds self-efficacy. As we are clear that we have reasons to be here, we are motivated to live our lives to express that meaning and purpose and to be healthy and well enough to do so.

We want to be able to paint, to be a nurturing parent, to dance, to write, to design bridges, write code for smartphone apps that make living easier, bring clean water to villages in third-world countries, or help people succeed at lasting lifestyle improvement. To do those things we first have to take care of ourselves, maintain our energy, function at our best, be good examples, or in other words, be well.

In the long run wellness is never about setting a few fitness and nutrition goals alone. It is about who we are, our sense of connectedness to the greater whole and how we allow ourselves to experience and express that. Much of our behavior is an expression of our beliefs. What we do flows out of who we are, and very much so, whom we think we are.

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”
Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha)

Please sign up and attend the Real Balance Wellness Coach Training Institute’s Free Monthly Webinar APRIL 26th (Tue.), Noon Eastern Time Zone- Meaning, Purpose, Wellness and Coaching with Dr. Michael Arloski. Register at Call 1-866-568-4702.

Dancing In The Moment: Three Keys To Thinking On Your Feet During The Coaching Process

How to be "in-step" but moving in our own way?

I never did get the Cha Cha. It looks like line dancing is a lot of fun, but I’ve got two left feet that seem to always get in everyone’s way. Following prescribed steps in a precise way is just not how I like to dance. Now, fire up some swing, some impromptu, totally kicking it up blues or Telluride Bluegrass style tune and my gal and I will light up the floor! Like coaching, I’m working with moves I’ve learned, but I’m putting them together on the spot to fit the moment.

We learn many things by breaking them down into a step-by-step process and then reassembling them into action that becomes more fluid the more we practice this. Musicians start with the basics of scales and rhythms. Cooks start with cookbooks and some real basics like slicing and dicing. Dancers start with left-foot, right-foot, and coaches start with basic coaching skills like paraphrase/restatement, reflection of feeling, etc. As we coaches learn more, we realize that we need not just basic coaching skills, but an organizing methodology.

#1 Have An Organizing Methodology

Wellness coaching lends itself well to working with an organizing methodology. It’s a way of working with clients that gives them the structure that will help them take something as broad as “lifestyle improvement” and focus it down to a concrete wellness plan made up of areas of focus, action steps and agreements for accountability. Just equipping coaches with a toolkit of general life coaching skills and then throwing them into the work of health and wellness coaching just isn’t enough to get the job done well. Clients like to see that their coach is working with them in a way that has a beginning, a middle and an end. This is a central part of our training at The Wellness Coach Training Institute using the Wellness Mapping 360°™ Methodology. (

How can you put more "swing" into your coaching?

A wise woman I know likes to say that she organizes her time so she can “drift”. Knowing that she has the important things covered, is aware of her choices, and can see what’s ahead, she can relax and enjoy living life well. Effective wellness coaches work the same way. Structure is important. Having a wellness plan agreed upon, the client and coach always know where they are on the “map”. Being that grounded in coaching methodology is like being a musician who can improvise and play jazz. It’s like a martial artist who has practiced their “katas” so many times that in combat they move effectively with little thought. Perhaps, the best comparison is with an effective psychotherapist.

# 2 Be grounded in theory.

As I trained to become a psychotherapist I studied theory diligently, and in depth. I learned that the better I knew theory the more I could cast aside the cookbook and think on my feet. I could literally “dance in the moment” with my client. It was like I just “knew” what to do next. I wasn’t even consciously thinking about theory in the session. Theory was there like floorboards under the dancer’s feet holding us up.

Wellness coaches need to be trained in basic coaching skills and then keep on learning, seeking out opportunities to learn more. Dig into the foundations of coaching. Much of it comes from a combination of client-centered (Carl Rogers, etc.) and more cognitive approaches. While a good coach never “plays therapist”, the more you understand about emotions, motivation, and behavioral change theory, the better! Read the three earlier posts here on The 15 Vital Books For The Wellness Coach: Straight Off My Shelf starting with Part One:

#3 Trust The Coaching Process

A wonderful thing about the “coach approach” is how it shifts the responsibility for change to the client. Their self-efficacy grows, motivation increases and behavior changes, while we get to work smarter not harder. Beginning coaches actually coach on faith. They have to have faith that interacting this way with someone will be the very best possible way to help that person at that time. The challenge is to be patient, use the active listening skills and the powerful questions, keep the client focused and then see where it all goes. We are so often tempted to take what we hope are short-cuts, like just telling someone what they need to change and how to do it, only to find out that our clients don’t buy into our great ideas and don’t improve their lifestyles.

Dance in the moment, for the moment is all we have.

Sometimes a moment of silence that lets the client say more, or a simple paraphrasing of the essence of what has been said yields more progress than all the brilliant ideas we could rack our brains thinking of. The coaching conversation alone can work wonders, if we let it. And remember, the only way to get to coaching’s “Carnegie Hall” is to practice!

What allows you to “dance in the moment” with your wellness coaching client? Leave a comment!