Listening to The Future You

When you have to make a difficult decision (Shall I eat another chocolate almond? Shall I buy the $15 wine or the $50? Should I apply for that job?) considering how you would view that decision in 10 years time leads to wiser decision-making.

Daniel Goldstein explains how to better connect to the future you in this TED talk.


Goals, Values and Jonny Wilkinson

Jonny Wilkinson – a rugby player – is retiring.  I know this may not immediately interest many readers here, but to me he was an amazing and complex character, whose story has relevance for all of us.

Wilkinson was such a perfectionist, that he could never be truly satisfied.   Stories of his practicing kicking on Christmas Day and until the lights went out in the training ground are common.  He would practice 50 kicks and if the 50th did not sail over, he would start all over again until it did.  He was, and is, driven to the point of obsession and compulsion.

Off the pitch his frankness about his struggles made compelling – and at times sad – reading.  No sporting ‘over the moon’ type platitudes from Jonny.  He was a more tortured soul:

‘I couldn’t figure out how to avoid death: it was like a game I could not win. The closer I got to family and friends and the better things got, the more I had to lose”.

And there in a nutshell is the deal that life gives you.  The more you love, the more you stand to lose.  The harder you try, the harder it is to fail.

Many people shy away from the value to avoid the feeling that comes with it.  You could argue that his perfectionism was a way of controlling these feelings.

But in fact, as relentlessly driven by goals as Jonny seemed, it was always something beyond goals that drove him.  Goals were certainly achieved along the way, but Jonny’s story is really about values.  What mattered to him was the kind of man he was:

“I’m not necessarily proud of the World Cups and the grand slams won or lost, the amount of points I scored, this record or that. What I am proud of is I have searched for the best of me and I have been a team man without fail.”

Of course, what he achieved mattered.  He gave us some great memories.  But his real achievement was having the courage to live his values, fully and without compromise.

And  that will be his most enduring legacy.

What Kind of Life Purpose Leads to Meaning in Life?

Steve Jobs once said that Apple’s mission was to ‘dent the universe’.  That is, he was driven to make a difference in the world above and beyond profit. Yet other people – can’t think who – seem to have far more of a ‘self-related’ purpose in that their primary objective seems to be to make as much money and to be as personally successful as possible.

In my research I decided to test the idea that there are two types of purpose – ‘self related’ and ‘transcendent’.  I also wanted to test if either type of purpose would predict meaning in work more strongly.

Using a measure of purpose originally developed at Stanford, my factor analysis found that there are indeed two broad types of purpose.  Most people have self-related purpose (after all we all need to eat), but some people also seem to have a transcendent purpose as well.

Now, self-related purposes are not ‘bad’ nor are transcendent purposes ‘good’.  For example, it is perfectly possible to have a self-related purpose of making money to provide for one’s children.  Conversely, Hitler had a transcendent purpose.  The difference is in terms of how people interact with the world.  Those with stronger self-related purpose will focus on their immediate surroundings.   Those with a transcendent purpose want to affect the world around them through their work.  So over time, they learn more about the world around them and their place within it.  This is what generates meaning in work.


I found that those with a self related purpose do indeed experience less meaning in work than those who also have a strong transcendent purpose.  In fact,  high levels of self related purpose negatively predict meaning in work – something even I had not dared hypothesise.

Interestingly, not only did the item ‘My purpose at work is to make money’ negatively predict meaning in work, it was also associated with lower engagement at work. Money can’t buy you love, nor it seems employee engagement.

There was also no association of making money with psychological wellbeing, which confirms the findings of happiness researchers everywhere.  However, the transcendent scale did significantly predict psychological wellbeing.

The implication is clear: if you want meaning in work, then you need to work out how you can dent the universe in some way.  Then go out there and do it.