Ever have a case of the “I don’t wannas”?

Mine usually hit when it’s a grey and gloomy morning. The last thing I want to do is my series of morning exercises and stretches when it’s drab and dreary. Just the thought of strapping on my ankle and wrist weights is enough to send me burrowing back down into those nice comfy covers.

But then I remember the prophetic words of Alexandra Danilova, brilliant ballerina and choreographer:

 
 

“I do not tolerate laziness or excuses, from myself or from my pupils. I tell them; ‘You decide one afternoon to skip the lesson and from then on you will have to struggle with yourself. What used to be automatic will then be open to question. If today you are too tired, you don’t come, then why not tomorrow or another day too? You will be tired again.’ And this way of thinking is the beginning of the end.”

Keeping the End in Mind

How very true! For me, “the end” means if I don’t follow my exercise routine, I won’t be in shape to do the things I really love: dance, hike, swim. I won’t have the energy I enjoy so much. In the long run, I know my immune system and my cardiovascular system will suffer.

So, I think of Ms. Danilova, rouse myself from my cozy nest, and yes, strap on those weights. I motivate myself, not by castigating myself with “Bad me! Skipping your routine; shame, shame!” but rather by remembering why I do those exercises. The purpose behind them. Because I assure you, it isn’t for the love of leg lifts or stomach crunches!

Purpose is essential to living a long happy healthy life. A 14-year study by the Association for Psychological Science indicates “Having a purpose in life appears to widely buffer against mortality risk across the adult years.” A 2013 AARP study asked those 40 and older how they feel about aging. Of those surveyed, 83 percent agreed with the statement “that having a purpose in life keeps me young.”

In my own ongoing research of people in their 70s, 80s, 90s and 100s who are leading dynamic, thriving, fulfilling lives, I see over and over again that purpose – a reason to keep going – is essential to their well-being. And purpose, interestingly enough, isn’t necessarily some lofty concept, like “world peace” (although, of course, it can be).

Purpose is something that has positive meaning for you. Something that pulls you into the future with enthusiasm. Purpose gives you a reason for living. Your purpose, not someone else’s. Purpose is intensely personal.

Amazing Women with Purpose

For Mary Bochanis, age 92, that purpose is volunteering. Ms. Bochanis is the longest-serving Red Cross volunteer in its history, having served for the last 73 years. She started volunteering at Walter Reed Hospital where, as a volunteer, she met her husband, when he was recuperating from a WWII injury. She has volunteered at The Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health for the past 26.

In 2016, she received the Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s Lifetime Service Award for her good work. Vivacious, always with a smile, she says that in giving just a little bit, one gets so much back in return. She has no plans to stop volunteering.

For Helen Dugan, 81, the purpose that keeps her going is the karate studio she founded in 1989; a remarkable dojo for children with special needs. Ms. Dugan encourages her students to build on their strengths, without focusing on their disabilities.

Her interest in karate started when she was 47, and realized she needed the exercise more than the two sons she’d just enrolled in karate classes. Her motto is: “Keep it moving!”

The Rewards of Purpose

It doesn’t matter what pulls you forward with enthusiasm, whether it’s something simple, like staying in shape, mastering a yoga pose, growing tomatoes, helping take care of the grandkids or something more demanding as exemplified by Ms. Bochanis and Ms. Dugan. What matters is that you find something, or many somethings, that get you up in the morning, that give you a reason to go on living. That is the value of purpose.

Lastly, purpose is not something that lands in your lap. Purpose happens when you deliberately, consciously recognize the positive meaning that something has in your life. It’s only once you see how powerfully something contributes to your life, that you’ll be willing to make the effort it inevitably will take. But oh, the rewards! Well worth it.

What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? Where have you found purpose in your life? How do you stay motivated and engaged? Please join the conversation.

Noelle NelsonDr. Noelle Nelson is a psychologist, consultant and speaker. She is passionate about personal growth and happiness. She’s authored over a dozen books including “Happy Healthy… Dead: Why What You Think You Know About Aging Is Wrong and How To Get It Right.” Please visit Noelle’s website.

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