A Mental Exercise to Help You Find Meaning in Your Life

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Do you need help finding meaning in your life? Many people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) struggle with feelings of emptiness, identity problems, and depressed mood. Together, the symptoms of BPD can leave you searching for meaning in your life.

This is one exercise that is designed to help you identify what's meaningful to you. Of course, finding meaning is not an easy process, and no one exercise will get you there. Finding meaning takes work and is best accomplished with the help of a good therapist. In fact, this may be an exercise that you want to work on with your therapist.

Finding What's Meaningful to You

The first step toward finding meaning in your life is to determine what aspects of your life are meaningful to you. This exercise, which is adapted from an exercise from acceptance and commitment therapy (a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that is related to dialectical behavior therapy for BPD,) can help you assess what is most meaningful to you.

To begin this exercise, take out a notebook or a sheet of paper. Down the left side of the page, write these domains of your life:

  • Intimate relationships
  • Parenting
  • Family
  • Friendships/socializing
  • Education/personal growth
  • Career
  • Recreation
  • Spirituality/religion
  • Physical health
  • Helping others

Now that you have the list, next to each item write a number between 1 and 5 that corresponds with how important you personally find each area to be in your life, with 5 = extremely important and 1= not at all important.

If you're not sure, just write a question mark. Remember that there are no right answers, and no one will ever have to see this list. Just write down what you feel is important to you, not what anyone else says should be important to you.

Define What Would Bring You Meaning

Now that you've rated each domain on the list in terms of importance to you, pick the two domains that you rated as most important. If you rated every domain as exactly as important as any other, go back and think about whether there are actually one or two domains that stand out as more important than the others, even if it's only by a little bit.

For the one or two domains that you picked out as most important, write one or two sentences about how you would like to behave in each domain. This is important—this is not about how you would like to feel or think (e.g., I would like to be confident and self-assured.) Instead, focus on your behavior or how you would like to act in that domain.

Here's an example of the “intimate relationships” domain:

"I would like to be a kind and caring partner. I would like to say supportive things to my partner when they are feeling down, and I would like to do things for them that will help make their life a little easier. I would also like to act as if I am worthwhile in relationships by asking for the things I need.”

Putting It Together

Now—in the one or two domains that you chose as most important to you—look at what you have written about how you would like to behave. Hopefully, you have written one or two sentences that describe behaviors or actions that you would like to take in those domains. These are the types of actions that can help you find meaning in your life, the ways that you would like to be in the areas of your life that are most important to you.

Don’t be surprised if reading the statements you have written makes you sad. Perhaps you're not acting the way you would like in these areas of your life, or perhaps you feel nowhere near where you would like to be in these areas. For example, maybe you're not in an intimate relationship despite the fact that it's very important to you.

Take Your Time

If you're struggling with this exercise and are having a hard time finishing it, put it down and come back to it another time. This can be a very difficult exercise, and sometimes it requires some time to think about everything, so let it sit for a while and try again when you're ready. You can also try talking it over with a friend or your therapist to get more input.

Living the Life You Want to Live

If you've completed this exercise, you've taken a very important step toward living a more meaningful life. You've determined what areas of your life are most important to you, and you have specified a few actions you could take that would move you toward having more meaning in your life. The exercise doesn't take long to complete, but if you work toward achieving the actions you want to take in specific domains, it can have long-lasting effects in helping you to live the life you truly wish to live.

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