View this post on Instagram
One of the many lessons from my coaching training that sticks out most is, “We are meaning-making machines in a meaningless world. Nothing has meaning but the meaning we give it.”
As someone who loves the idea of meaning and purpose, this got my back up a little when I heard it first, thinking, “Of course there’s meaning in the world. How can anyone say it’s meaningless?”
But then I got it.
Nothing has in-built meaning. We attach meaning to everything. And we’re all doing this differently. What means something to me could be meaningless to someone else. A particular event or situation could be devastating for one person, whilst being an opportunity for another. It’s all a matter of perspective. It’s all down to what we choose to make things mean.
Or what we’ve learned they mean.
A lot of the meanings we have already attached to things could have been secondhand meanings we absorbed from those around us as we grew up. We might have subconsciously decided that our appearance determines our popularity, that being “good” means we’re lovable, that not having friends means we’ll be alone forever. We might have learned what it means to be a good person, what success means, what love means.
It’s all made up though.
Which means that any of those meanings can be changed. They can be rewritten, reframed, and reassessed to suit us better. Because the meanings that we give to life, experiences, thoughts, and feelings generate emotions, actions, and results, our experience of life a lot of the time is determined by what we make things mean.
Much like our beliefs or inner stories, these meanings are driving a lot more of our lives than we might realise. We could be tripping ourselves up simply by interpreting something with an unresourceful meaning.
So we need to start taking our power back over the meanings we make up and explore the possibilities of a new perspective.
1. Meanings create emotion
“The meaning you attach to something produces the emotion of your life and your emotion is your life.” ~ Tony Robbins
Consider where you’re experiencing challenging emotions, where you’re feeling anxious or stuck, where fears are creeping into your experience. What meanings are creating those emotions?
For me, I used to have panic attacks regularly. I was so anxious, I believed I couldn’t leave the house. I was afraid of going outside because I hated my appearance, and going outside meant possibly seeing people. Possibly seeing people meant putting myself in the face of potential judgement. And to me, that meant an experience I was not willing or capable of handling. When I changed the meaning around appearance and judgement, the anxiety dissipated. Going outside stopped meaning, “I’ll be judged and I won’t be able to handle it,” and I found freedom again in leaving the house and living my life.
There are so many meanings we make up that ignite emotions in us that if we changed our perception, we could transform how we feel. Instead of feeling disappointed when we fail, we could see the opportunity for growth and get excited about trying again. Instead of feeling anxious about what others think about us, we could change the intensity of that meaning and lessen the importance of it so we feel more at ease.
Ask often, when emotions are feeling a bit much in response to your life: what am I making this mean?
2. Changing meaning helps us to let go
Often the concept of letting go can seem intangible and confusing. It’s one of those that we know is of benefit but is usually followed with a frustrated sigh of, “But, how?!”
Changing the meaning we’ve attached to things is a big part of the how. To let go of old hurt, we need to change what we made it mean about us. We might find it hard to let go of heartbreak or old partners because we make it mean that we’ll never love again, or love is painful. Letting go asks us to come up with another meaning. What if instead of lamenting old loves, we see them as a step closer to the one that lasts? That in each relationship we learn and we grow and figure out what we do and don’t want a little more clearly?
When we want to let go of old beliefs about ourselves, reframing the meaning is key. Many of us picked up our perceived limitations when we were trying to make sense of the world as children, and so our meanings may have been a bit misguided. The common fear of not being enough might seem like it’s founded on evidence, but what if it was simply our child self misinterpreting a situation? What else could that occurrence have meant about us? What if we changed the meaning we have of enoughness? What else could it be? When we want to let go and move forward, we have to look at the attachments we’ve made and the meanings we’ve created. And change them, so they set us free.
3. New meanings, new experiences
A big part of building strong self-confidence and finding mental freedom for me was creating new meanings. It was deciding what perception and perspective I wanted to embody and envision for myself. I challenged old paradigms. I got compassionately curious and I realised how many of the old stories that I was subscribed to no longer served me.
I realised that making mistakes doesn’t mean I’m a failure; it means I’m human. I learned that emotions do not mean I’m weak; they are a natural part of life. I discovered that my appearance doesn’t determine whether I’m worthy or not, that there’s so much more to me that is absolutely enough. I found that where I’m at in life doesn’t mean anything about me; it’s all just a part of my journey, and I’m okay with however it unfolds.
Creating new meanings requires some reflection and awareness. It invites us take a step back and see what we’re telling ourselves about life, our experiences, our choices. Often we take on the status quo and we go from there, telling ourselves where we should be and what’s expected of us. We judge ourselves with what it means that we’re constantly single, or back living at home with our parents, or in a totally different space to our peers.
If we want more peace, empowerment, and mental liberation, we need to consciously rewrite our stories and decide what narrative we want to live in—what meanings serve us better, what feels more aligned, what’s more supportive. And one by one, we get to change them.
It’s a beautiful process of challenging, getting curious, and consciously choosing.
And when we do, we start giving life to the emotions that we want to feel and the experiences that serve us better, and ultimately, the life that’s authentically our own.