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Well Wisconsin Radio

Well Wisconsin Radio

Hosted by Senior Program Manager, Morgan Meinen

A podcast discussing topics of health and well-being from experts from all around the State of Wisconsin. New in 2022, you’ll be able to tune into Well Wisconsin Radio whenever you want and wherever you are! Subscribe to Well Wisconsin Radio in the podcast platform of your choice to be notified when each new episode is released. Let’s tackle 2022 together through learning and seeking opportunities to be in the moment.

Transcript

Hello and welcome to Well Wisconsin Radio, a podcast discussing health and well-being topics with experts from all around the state of Wisconsin my name is Morgan Meinen my guest today is Dr. Christine Whelan. Christine is a clinical professor in the school of human ecology at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. She’s the author of 5 books most recently, The Big Picture: A Guide to Finding your Purpose in Life. At the University of Wisconsin- Madison, Dr. Whelan teaches classes on happiness and well-being, directs the Money, Relationships and Equality initiative and works with national media to translate research into evidence-based strategies for daily thriving.

Host:
So Christine. Thanks so much for joining me today for my first episode of 2022 on Well Wisconsin Radio I’m so thrilled to have you today. Happy New Year I think this is a perfect episode to start out with.

Christine B_ Whelan:
Oh I’m so glad to be here. Happy New year

Host:
And I love all of your research on purpose and I’m really excited to dive in with this to you today. The first question that I have which I think is a really important one is that in your research you talk about how broadly defined purposes. So I thought just setting the stage and helping our listeners understand a little bit of what you’re going to be helping us with today. Could you explain. What you mean by the word purpose and um I think that you also prefer the phrase purposed mindset. So can you define what having a purpose mindset is for us.

Christine B_ Whelan:
Sure So Let’s start with this idea of purpose. It is absolutely in the cultural zeitgeist these days. You know we’re hearing it talked about in Workplace Wellness Programs. We’re hearing it talked about around around resolutions and when we think about purpose. Often We think about it as this big scary question that we might think about at 3 in the morning. Um, and and then in the light of day try to push aside and say gosh you know I actually have practical things to do purpose is that big question of what matters most to me and why it matters. It’s the the why behind everything we do and some people define purpose as your singular life aim the thing for me though is that if somebody asked me what my singular life aim was I’d get kind of stressed out. That’s a lot of pressure and I work a lot with. Emerging adults with young people college students and and young adults and then I’ve also worked with folks who are heading toward Retirement Really I’m I’m particularly interested in people in times of transition in their lives and when you’re in a time of transition in your life. The idea of having a singular life. Aim. Maybe it doesn’t fit quite right? So I have defined purpose really rather than a singular purpose as a more active thing as something that we do every day and I encourage everybody to embrace a purpose mindset and so I Define a purpose mindset as using your gifts. You know, like what you’re good at in keeping with your values meaning what you care about to make a positive impact on the lives of others or the causes that matter most to you. So Yeah again I say a purpose mindset is using your gifts in keeping with your values. To make a positive impact on the world around you and when we think about purpose that way at least for me, it becomes a whole lot more active. A lot less amorphous a lot less scary and something that we can do in our lives even at those times of transition.

Host:
Yeah I love that such a beautiful definition and again why I’m really excited to walk through this with our listener so just kind of a spoiler alert is we’re going to be diving more into this purpose mindset and I thought this was kind of a great I hate to say it but replacement for the New Year’s resolutions themes that we’re seeing. This year you know here we are in 2022, it’s still a tough year. There’s still a lot of uncertainty but I still think there’s this pressure around people you know setting goals for themselves. You know trying to be the best version of themselves sometimes with the best intentions and a lot of these goals are often set around improving health. Um, which we know is very important to people. Obviously you know something that a lot of people. Um, you know put a lot of effort into right and are really looking forward to change or maybe need to change for their own. You know, good and health how can purpose be linked to positive health outcomes or you know rather how can we? um. Kind of move into using this purpose mindset to help us achieve some of these goals.

Christine B_ Whelan:
So when we think about resolutions what we’re thinking about is positive change and all of us in our lives could use some positive change. But I think most of us right now are feeling kind of exhausted languishing was the word of 2021 and and I think unfortunately. As much as I want thriving to be the word of 2022 I think we’re so languishing a little bit and ah and when I think about that around making change. You know you might just sort of feel like you want to pull the covers over your head and and and not make a change that you just don’t have the energy to do so. This is where purpose comes in so this is what why knowing? why? something matters really helps you give the energy to actually make it happen. So when we think about purpose in a health context. We’re thinking about um. Having a why to the good positive things. You do? Why are you exercising? You know you’re not necessarily exercising because you you have to or your doctor tells you to hopefully you’re exercising because you enjoy it. You want to be more physically fit. To play with your grandchildren you want to be able to continue to to run with your children. There’s something ahead a vacation that you want to enjoy and and train for. All of these are our purposes the larger. Why behind the actions that we take on a day-to-day basis and when we know why something matters it is easier to get us to engage in the how of how to make it happen and and that means you know sometimes getting out of bed when it’s cold outside. Getting to the gym getting up and out and and taking that walk so understanding why you do what you do is really important if I can say this all day long but I can also give you some data that. Helps a lot of us me included really understand this even better. So what researchers have done over the last ten or fifteen years is studied the impact of having a life purpose on all sorts of health outcomes preventative health measures even life expectancy. And so the way that they do this research is that they ask people ah questions about purpose in life and um and you know they’re short surveys and you end up with a score about how purposeful you are. In fact, some of the research some of the really seminal research was done here at the University Of Wisconsin

Christine B_ Whelan
With with Dr Carol Ryff and she did a a purpose in life inventory. That’s often used for this when we have a score then what researchers can do is see whether a high score in terms of purpose in life is correlated with. All sorts of other things. So for example, what we find is that people who have a ah high score in terms of purpose are more likely to get mammograms. They’re less likely to smoke. They’re more likely to go to their doctor for for regular health checkups. So they’re. You’re more likely to engage in good preventative health measures if you have a sense of why you are here and why you’re living and you know what your goals are and and where you’re headed. You can also see that having a ah having a higher sense of purpose and. And raisingly enough reduces your likelihood of heart attack and stroke it increases your life expectancy. You can have better sleep better relationships and amazingly enough you can even earn significantly more money when you know the why behind what you are doing in your life. So purpose is. Really linked with positive health outcomes both preventative and in terms of long-term health outcomes and it’s also linked with positive relationships career success and all sorts of other good things. So if I told you at the outset that I had a pill that I could give you. That would do all of these things you would be clamoring for it and so what I so what I say with purpose is this is um, it’s even better. It’s not a pill that you have to take these are opportunities and questions that you can ask yourself to live.

Host-
And.

Christine B_ Whelan:
The happy healthy life. You want to live right now.

Host-
Wow, That’s powerful and um and obviously you know a large part of your work here is is how can we create a purpose roadmap right? So All of the things that you just said all of the benefits and we know how important it is um so. Would you mind walking us through the exercise that you have on how to create a purpose roadmap for yourself.

Christine B_ Whelan:
Absolutely so this to me is really important because so often what we do is we talk about the things that we have to do you know? what? a shoulda could ah um, and I’m as guilty of this as anybody and I study it so right? We often talk about. Ah. You know, living more purposefully doing things in keeping with our values. My passion and interest is in terms of translating the academic research into small steps programs that people can use in their everyday lives and what that means is that when it came to purpose rather than saying hey why don’t you just. You know, take 10 minutes and write out your life purpose statement if I said that to you I would imagine 10 minutes from now you’d still be staring at a blank piece of paper I certainly would but instead what I did was I worked with thousands and thousands of people over many years to develop what I kind of call a mad libs purpose statement where I initially began by asking people 3 core questions and putting it together into a sentence and then in the last couple years based on my own personal experience struggling with all these issues. I have um I added 2 more questions to really make it happen. So what I have is a ah is a ah 5 question roadmap that that I’d like to take everybody through here and I would really encourage you to as you’re listening get out of paper and pencil. And um, and kind of play along with me because these are the kind of things that are best actually done in practice not just in theory. So the first question in this roadmap is potentially the hardest I sort of front run it with the hardest and it is the question of what do I value. Yeah, your values are at the core of of everything you do. They’re at the core of all the choices that you make and yet oftentimes we don’t think about what our values are especially our values as different than the values. We think we should have or the values. Our parents want us to have or um. Our boss wants us to have so thinking about what you actually value is um is is a very important step and I encourage you to think about 3 core values that guide your life and again these are um that you won’t want to separate the shoulds from the values. Um, or at least try to reframe some of the things that you feel like you should do and see if they can be reframed as values. So for example I I should eat 5 servings of of fruits and vegetables every day well rather than saying I should I mean sure I should but.

Christine B_ Whelan:
How about do I value health do I value do do I value a nutritional balance. What is it that I’m that I’m looking for do I value a kind of an energy inside myself a physical energy. So what is it that. Is the the value behind the things that you should do and then we’ve also got to be honest with ourselves and think about whether we are actually living in keeping with those values one exercise I I encourage my students to do is to think about the last 3 things that you’ve spent your money on and if you think about those. What do those say about your values are those expenditures in keeping with your values so there are all sorts of exercises and and ways you can think about this question of core values. But I encourage you to write down 3 of them and if happiness is a value that you would like to put down. I would encourage you not to put that one down because happiness is a byproduct of living your values happiness is actually not a particularly useful value to put down here because frankly, it’s just not specific enough. So think about your values in terms of the the. The the core ideas that they guide what you do the next question is what are you good at and we are all good at something we all have superpowers. So what are your gifts. What are your talents. What are the things that you not only can do but that you like to do things that you enjoy doing. So for example, you know I can. Unload and reload the dishwasher like a champ but I’m not putting that down as one of my core gifts because I would probably prefer to be doing something else. So what am I what? What are you good at what do you enjoy. What? what are the the strengths and activities where you find flow where it almost feels effortless for you that can be anything from organizing things to building things to making connections with other people to to you know to intuiting emotions. Um, to creating and being artistic think about those 3 gifts and um and write down 3 gifts that that not only that you can do but that you enjoy doing and then the final of these these first 3 questions is who do you want to positively impact What do you want to use your your talents to do who do you But who do you love and care about what causes are of particular interest to you thinking about 3 groups ideas causes that you want to put energy toward.

Christine B_ Whelan:
What kind of change. Do you want to see in the world I think of these as your impact groups who do you want to positively impact with with with your energies in life and then write down three of those as well I would encourage you to think about people outside of your family and certainly. Thinking about using your energies for your family is a wonderful thing to do but thinking also about your community about about the state about the country and the world and and and particular causes. So what? what is it that that you are really passionate about impacting. When you have those 3 you now have a series of 9 words or phrases you have your values. You have your gifts and you have who or what you want to positively impact and so this is the first sentence and where I encourage everybody to play a little bit of mad libs with me and to fill in the blanks and so here’s the way it goes. Because I value and then you insert your values I will use my gifts for and then you insert your gifts and strengths to make a positive impact on or to positively impact. And then you list the groups or people that you want to positively impact so because I value I will use my gifts for to positively impact and then you fill in the blanks after each of those what you’ll end up with is a sentence that is um. That is ah but may not make any grammatical sense. That’s okay, this is a rough draft because now you can work with it now. You can edit it. You can massage it you can change it and you can look at it and say is this accurate? Yeah is this is this who what who I want to be and what I want to do and. You can also give yourself kind of a pat on the back because you have the the core of a purpose statement right? here.

Host-
And I love this exercise and especially that last question you know, thinking about how you can use your positive impact. Um I mean what a great impact that could have on our communities. Even our our country at large right for everybody to be asking themselves this question and understanding that you know using their gifts. To have that positive impact like you said can create that byproduct of happiness which is often a goal for so many people and I know like this exercise is wonderful. But I’m just thinking again from just you know haunting New Year’s goals Past. So Once you have this have done this exercise and you have your purpose statement in your sentence. What now? What do you do next to? Um, you know help make it successful.

Christine B_ Whelan
This is an excellent question and one that all of us who have thought about purpose have have really wrestled with because that sentence is a hopefully a very inspiring one to you and it it might make you sort of smile and and want to take action. But. How do you take action then what? what? What do you do? And how do you make sure that this purpose statement doesn’t you know, kind of get swept under the rug in February with with all the other new year’s resolutions that that have have gone by the wayside so in my own life i. Was very much a practitioner of what I preach and so I had a purpose statement that really resonated with me and all of a sudden you know life happens as all of us know and and or unfortunately we’ll find out you know things don’t always go according to plan and um and and when we have those tough times in life. A purpose really can help us get through it can give us a meaning to live and to go on and to to regroup but having that purpose statement as an inspiration can also sometimes feel a little hollow right. This is where turning purpose into action is so important and so in the last five or so years I have added a second sentence to my purpose statement exercise and it’s not to take away anything from the first sentence of of your gifts and your values and who you want to positively impact. But rather it’s to acknowledge the challenges along the way and to make what I call purpose-based commitments to actually making it happen. So I define purpose-based commitments as a is a how with a why so you make a commitment like a goal but a purpose-based commitment. Is a goal that you make knowing what your values are knowing what matters most to you and knowing why you’re making that goal so I often use the example of going to the gym because it’s not that researchers all want us to be gym buffs all the time but researchers often study things like. Exercise and dieting because they’re measurable ways of seeing how people follow through on their commitments and so if we think about the gym example. Let’s say that this new year’s I decided that I was going to make a commitment to go to the gym three days a week and I was going to do one of those fun new classes like you know. Zumba or body pump or something like that. So it’s going to take an hour and I was excited about doing this and and then I thought well huh how am I going to make this happen. So let’s do a little bit of math. Maybe it takes you 15 minutes to get to the gym 15 minutes to get back.

Class is an hour and then you probably will need maybe 30 minutes to shower or freshen up before you move on to your next thing. So really, you’re looking at a 2 hour time commitment 3 times a week um or thinking about this as 6 hours of a time commitment that you’re making with this resolution. So the question is what 6 hours are you going to remove from your existing schedule to actually make this goal happen. And you might sort of come to a screeching halt at this point because you might say I’m really busy I don’t have 6 hours to take out of my life and that’s that’s really true for for all of us. So then what do you do? Well you then have to say is this actually a commitment that is in keeping with my purpose and my values. And if it is what can I take out of my life to add this in. So if I value physical fitness so I can continue to run and play with my kids then yeah, this is potentially more important than scrolling on Instagram and Facebook for an hour you know this is potentially even more important than sleeping in when it’s negative 5 outside you know these are the um, the the tradeoffs we can make that we are much more able to make if we know why we’re doing it and if we know how these activities are in keeping with our purpose.

Host-
And I think you can with the purpose.

Christine B_ Whelan
So I encourage everybody to make these purpose-based commitments. Um a how with a why and I encourage you in this context to make 3 of them right now you can look back at your values. You can look at your goals you can look at your strengths. And and how do you want to use your strengths in keeping with your values to make that positive impact. How specifically do you want to do that and can you make a purpose based commitment right now a how with a why and can you write down 3 of them this is going to take you a little longer. You don’t have to do this right at this very second. But sometime today take a pause and and see if you can take that purpose statement and add some commitments to go with it.

Host
Um, yeah I love this because you’re putting the deep work with exactly what you need to achieve those goals right? So it’s It’s the idea and the goal was always there. But now you’re tying it back to who you want to be as a person right. And that um, that example that you just took us through with the gym I thought was that’s exactly how it happens right? Is you have this great idea about something that you want to do and it seems very reasonable. But then if you do put the time and the effort into thinking about how to make it happen then sometimes you realize that it’s going to. Take a little bit more work and maybe like you said some sacrifice I mean if it’s not a sacrifice to get up and go to the gym when it’s negative 5 out I don’t know what is the easiest time to stay in bed right? Um and I kind of want to to talk about something that I’ve I’ve read in your research because I think this all kind of plays together.

Christine B_ Whelan
Exactly

Host:
You mentioned using a time diary. That’s one of your recommendations and I think that, honestly, a lot of our our goals. Um, you know they they require a time commitment and that is everybody’s most precious resource and everybody knows that um you know life is so busy. Yeah I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t feel overwhelmed right now for 1 reason or another and um and so I wondered if you could explain a little bit about the time diary and what it is and how it can be helpful.

Christine B_ Whelan
Time diaries are fantastic and they are a um, a really worthwhile commitment so I would encourage everybody to ah to for the next week act like a lawyer and bill your time in 15 minute increments to yourself. So the way this works is you can start on a Monday really really, you can start any day and from the the time you wake up till the time you go to bed and include sleep in this as well. You are going to write out um on an excel spreadsheet or just in in your journal. What you do with your time the more specific you can be the better so in 15 minute increments are you answering emails. Are you making dinner. Are you brushing your teeth and washing your face be specific about what you’re doing in in 15 minute increments all throughout the day and do it for a week now it’s kind of irritating to do this for a week I’m not going to lie I can tell you though I do it every couple years and it is a phenomenal exercise because we um are really terrible at figuring out how we spend our time generally. We all feel so busy and yet we can’t really often tell you exactly how much time we spend on different things. So for example, a couple years ago I was very stressed out because I wasn’t getting my work done and I felt like I didn’t know what was happening I I was I was falling behind on some of my work. I did a time diary and I realized well no wonder I’m falling behind on work I am spending so much time on my family life that I’m trying to cram work into a smaller and smaller subset in in terms of number of hours and so that actually made me feel better because it wasn’t that I was. Failing in some way it was that I was allocating my time in fact, in keeping with my values in in a way that I had not recognized so Laura VanderKam who is a friend of mine actually from college she wrote a book called one hundred and sixty eight hours you have more time than you think. And if you go to her website http://160eighthour.com you can download a free time diary template and you can do this exercise yourself when you finish the week of doing your time diary I’d recommend then looking and kind of. I don’t know color coding or or otherwise aggregating into groups sort of similar ways that you spend your time. So for example, how many hours are you sleeping how many hours are you spending answering emails or on personal care or with your kids and your family.

Christine B_ Whelan
Um, and and and get a sense of the averages for all of those then when you look at those averages. Got it kind of be honest with yourself and say are these in keeping with my values one one that I struggle with all the time is is Facebook scrolling and and social media use. On the 1 hand it’s the way I keep up with some friends and it’s the way that I like learn about what’s going on in pop culture. So I seem hip and cool ish to my students but on the other hand I do kind of you know, go down the vortex and I’m scrolling well past bedtime and past when I should stop. So if I see that. As a a chunk of time that I’m spending in my week I have to make a decision is that in keeping with my values I think sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t and to make those changes accordingly. So a time diary is a great way to see how you are spending your time and then you have the information if you want to make changes. Like going to the gym and if you want to change how you spend your time just know that you will have to make a change in your schedule and cut out something before you add something in.

Host-
Yeah I Love that exercise I’m definitely going to be doing that myself and checking it out. The last thing I wanted to ask you in terms of um, this purpose roadmap that we worked on together is another thing that you talk about is accepting fears and anxiety as part of the purpose Roadmap Journey. And wondered if you could talk more about this and why it’s such a crucial part of the success of this process.

Christine B_ Whelan
We Really love to focus on the positive on all the things that I’m going to do and the better person that I’m going to be and that’s wonderful. But anytime you engage in change your fears and anxieties are going to come out of the woodwork and tell you you can’t. That you’re not good enough that you’re not smart enough that you’re too old or too young. Um that you know you’re an impostor or um I mean it is just incredible. All the fears and anxieties that we have and ah and these are all absolutely and totally normal and they will come along for the ride whenever you make. Purposeful change in your life. The idea is not to sweep those fears and anxieties under the rug. So for a lot of my life I tried to sweep them under the rug I tried to just barrel on ahead and say you know. I Can I can get over it or just you know, go away fears and anxieties I’m just moving forward and that can work for some time it is exhausting because you’re trying to outrun those fears and anxieties and then I read this wonderful exercise from acceptance and commitment therapy. It’s called monsters on the bus and. The idea is if you sort of list all your fears and anxieties and you name them and then you think about them as monsters that are jumping out in front of you as you are driving down the road of life and and imagine yourself driving as a bus driver driving down this road of life. When all of these monsters these fears and anxieties jump out. They’re in front of you and behind you and to the left and to the right, they’re all over and what do you do? Well you you can’t move forward because your fears and anxieties will prevent you and you can’t turn around because those fears and anxieties are there too. So what? acceptance and commitment therapy says is that the best thing to do is also the hardest is to take a deep breath and open the door of your bus and invite those monsters onto your bus invite those fears and anxieties on and say oh hi fear of Failure. Oh high imposter syndrome. Oh yes, high fear of I’m I’m too old to do this. Yes, good to see you again. Okay come on onto the bus with me and what’s really powerful about this is that when you have your fears and anxieties on the bus. You can tell them to sit down and be quiet and then you can move forward. It doesn’t mean that they’re not going to try to grab the wheel and any time that we make change but you know there will be some times where we slip there will be some times where we think we’re not going to be able to do it. That’s absolutely normal, but rather than outrunning fears and anxieties when you are living a life of purpose.

Christine B_ Whelan
It’s sort of about embracing them as potentially you know information along the way or loyal soldiers from our past that are trying to keep us safe and and that we can say you know, no, it’s it’s all right I can I can move forward and make this change so these 2 together the purpose-based commitments. And the fears and anxieties form that second sentence of this purpose statement exercise that I do and and so that second sentence will read again as a fill in theb blanks exercise I embrace my fears and anxieties about and then you can. Put those fears and anxieties in and list them and still today I will make purpose-based commitments to and then list those 3 purpose-based commitments of what you’re going to do I like this five part purpose statement because it is both the inspiration of that first part and the practicality. And the reality of the the second part knowing that you know life happens and this is something that we do purpose is something that we do and that we live and that we choose every day.

Host:
It’s beautiful and I hope that everybody listening takes the time to fill in these questions to do the work to go through those questions that Christine laid out to think about your fears and anxieties. Um and and put them all into this pretty package of your purpose roadmap and your purpose statement and. Hopefully a vision for 2022. That’s ah, a positive and uplifting one Christine I know you created an actual fill in the blank template for this purpose statement that we talked about today. Um, could you explain to our listeners where they could find that and how they could get 1 of their own.

Christine B_ Whelan
Yes, you can go to my website at http://http://christinewhelan.com c h r i s t i n e w h e l a n dot com and I have free purpose statement exercises and a little video that’ll talk you through it. It’s all free up online. You can just download the pdf and download as many of them as you want I encourage people to think about it. Maybe even as a daily purpose statement or a family purpose statement so you can kind of choose your own adventure and adapt it to work for you and I hope that it is of use to. As many people as possible in 2022.

Host-
Me as well I hope people share it with their family and friends as we wrap up Christine I just wanted to thank you again for joining me and see if you have any other words of wisdom for our listeners as we wrap up.

Christine B_ Whelan
I hope that everybody has a happy and healthy. New Year full of purpose and meaning and um and really know that when you live with a purpose mindset. And you are embracing your values and and and and using your strengths to make a positive impact on the life of others that is really the the secret to happiness.

Host:
I Couldn’t agree more. Well, thanks again for being here today.

Christine B_ Whelan
Thank you.

Thanks so much for listening today. We hope you enjoyed the show for those of you listening in as part of the well Wisconsin program the code for this episode is purpose for a transcript to take our survey or to find previous episodes go to http://webmdhealservices.com/wellwisconsinradio you can also subscribe on the podcast platform of your choice so you never miss an episode until next time take care.

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