Got Meaning?

Dr. William K. Larkin

Meaning PerspectiveHow do we make meaning?

Ways in which we make meaning are different at different times in our lives, and unique to each one of us.

The developmental stages of the brain tell the story.

The brain is always changing and unfolding, if we allow it to happen. What often happens is that we become rigid and fixed in our ideas and refuse to move through the transitions of knowing and making-meaning that are demanded of us.

How we make meaning in our lives changes developmentally as we grow a more NeuroPositive brain.

We are most addicted to how we think and make meaning at a given stage in life, and life always demands new stages of knowing and meaning-making. When we refuse to move forward through life’s transitions, and resist and become fixed, we become ill in one way or another.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

When we look at mentally ill people, when we look at people who are in neurosis and especially people who are in psychosis, when we look at people who are addicted to negativity and negative emotion, which is our most basic addiction, what we’re looking at very often times are people without a plan.

We’re looking at people who have no plan, no sense of destiny, who are expressing “lostness,” lack of a sense of personal significance and no meaning-making plan in their lives.

Things unfold, this unfolding that we love so much. Life unfolds because there is always a plan.

Life UnfoldsNow that plan may not be experienced or known just as consciously as it could be.

But there’s always a plan, and those things that unfold, unfold because whether we know it or not, there is a meaning making system in place.

When your meaning making scheme isn’t there, that unfolding doesn’t happen in a positive, coherent way. That unfolding is experienced, even if it is healthy novelty, as chaos. It’s experienced as everything that’s going wrong, it’s experienced as one more day of everything coming at me that I can’t control, and I can’t put into any meaning-making or sense of my personal significance.

That in itself should tell us something.

You may not even be in touch with all of the ways in which you make meaning in your life, unless you have done some serious work on knowing what you want, what your goals are, and given some Goals Visionconsideration to what the vision is that drives your life.

That’s why we attract into our lives what we attract into our lives.

It is altogether possible that your meaning-making system is changing, that your meaning-making is in a transition. There are stages of making meaning in life, stages of the way we think and reason, and there are transitions between these stages.

Transitions GreenIt is these transitions that usually get most of our attention.

Not surprising.

They can shake up our world, if we are holding on too tightly to where we have been, rather than where we need to be developing.

More than any other time in life, transitions are the times to ask the deeper questions about what we are wanting.



About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • MissTowner

    This meaning making system is such a great tool to tap into our ever evolving selves. When things aren’t adding up anymore, and we aren’t getting the joy we used to from an experience, then we know change is on the horizon. Our brains are looking for the chaotic new and novel. The more we resist change, the unhappy we become. When we become in tune with ourselves, while remaining in that upspiral, it becomes clear as to what it is we want, and then we make the change. Life only gets better and better if we go with that flow!

  • Dr. gloria wright

    I do believe that those of us who aspire to “actualize,” are almost always in transition. As we evolve, our meaning can shift. What had meaning for us in our teens and twenties may not hold up in maturity. We may love a career choice and then one day it doesn’t ignite our passion. And on and on….

    Identifying what we really want in our lives may take some vigilance. But don’t let that stop you from the process of deciding what you want. As you turn these wants into goals, you’ll begin to see if they hold your interest and motivation. If not, that’s clarification too. It’s a process, not a final destination.

    Chaos can drive us to get rigid and determined, even when our goals no longer hold joy and excitement. Chaos can be a great teacher. As you pursue one goal, it may lead to another that has more significance and meaning for you. Trust the process. Keep moving forward. Your inner Geiger counter will nudge you. The Universe is amazing in its assistance when we are on our path that fits “the genius within.” When our wants and goals are in alignment with who we really are, you will truly be in Flow.

    So what do you want? What has personal significance and meaning in your life. In Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes,” she says:

    “When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

    if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

    I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened

    or full of argument.

    I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

    Amen to that!!!!

    • kkhm

      Thank you for sharing that poem! It is eloquent yet simple. I love it!

      • Dr. gloria wright

        Mary Oliver is a treat. Pithy, wise and sometimes almost alarming with her delightful insights.

    • Joanne E Harrington

      Thank you as well Gloria. That poem sums up the value of having goals to live by – as malleable as they are. Mine still resonate and serve as my compass. In appreciation,

      • Dr. gloria wright

        Always good to hear from you. You’ll love Mary Oliver’s writings. Look her up. Enjoy.

  • kkhm

    Humans are meaning-makers. Another way I’ve heard it described is we make up stories. We do it any time we don’t have a full understanding of a situation. We make meaning over small things (such as when someone cuts us off on the highway, a co-worker is short with us, or we don’t hear back from a friend when we expect), and we make meaning over the big things (like when someone we love dies, the company we work for closes, a relationship ends, etc.). Definitely this meaning-making can serve us well or not so well.

    People can make meaning that places themselves as a victim, the other person as a villain, and paints a negative picture of their life, the environment, the world, etc. I’ve done that in the past (a lot in my teenage years), and it still happens sometimes now. I have seen and known many who fall into this trap, and am very familiar with the sad and damaging effect this has. We’re learning from class how much negative emotions can limit our thought-action repertoire and limit us in general. When we are unable to make sense of things in a positive way and/or accept that everyday occurrences as well as big transitions are a natural, healthy part of life we not only don’t feel good in the moment, but we are also affected in the long run by stifling and blocking the new, good, desired things we want to come into our life. It keeps us stuck–always wanting things to be different but never getting anywhere because we are too rigid in our thinking to make way for newness. We are unable to take action, blame others, and get stuck in hopelessness.

    Thank goodness, with the UpSpiral, this doesn’t have to be the case! Practicing positive emotions and SOMM enables us in so many ways to make much better meaning of our lives: everyday life events, and the big transitions. The meaning we make can have a positive spin. And we can accept that we don’t have all the answers but feel certitude that all is well, everything will work out, and that this is life’s way of bringing more of what we want into our lives. We can see life’s transitions as beautiful opportunities for new things to come into our life and can view them with gratitude, hope, and peace. We can feel joy and excitement for what’s coming. And when life’s transitions require change and new action, we are already well-equipped since we have been broadening our resources over time. We have more creative thinking, an increase in our thought-action repertoire, better problem solving capability, and can use all of our strengths to navigate the transition with as much ease as possible while creating the outcomes we desire! If we have a life plan, we can recognize how these big events are a part of progressing along that path we desire for ourselves. It also allows us to re-examine our life plan. Sometimes the meaning we will make of an unexpected transition is that as we are changing and growing, our desires are changing and growing, and therefore our life’s plan can change and grow with us. And all the day-to-day stuff can be experienced with ease and peace. We can turn it into something negative or something positive. It’s our choice, and with practice (emotional gym and SOMM), the choice gets easier and easier to make!

    I love that Dr. Larkin emphasizes strictly limiting the negative input we allow into our lives. I’ve always been keenly aware of how what I give attention to and allow into my mind and brain has a big impact on me – both consciously and unconsciously, so I’ve made conscious decisions to keep out the negativity of TV, news, movies, etc., and it’s made my life so much better! I notice (and much writing and discussion has been done about the subject) that people are greatly impacted by what they see and hear on TV, media, and even Facebook. The barrage of negative input from these sources causes them to see the world, life, and other people from a very negatively skewed point of view. This negativity becomes the lens through which they see almost everything. They have lost (or don’t have) the ability to critically examine what they see, hear, read, and therefore apply this same negativity when making meaning of their own life experiences. Life is so full of beauty, wonder, goodness, and awesome people, but this gets missed by many who over-consumer negative television, news and other media. I don’t want someone or something else making meaning of life for me. Limiting negative influences has allowed me to live much more mindfully and now, thanks to the UpwardSpiral I know I am beginning to and will be able to make even better meaning of what I encounter and experience and make space for attracting even more of what I want into my life.

    • A Pyatt

      “When we are unable to make sense of things in a positive way and/or accept that everyday occurrences as well as big transitions are a natural, healthy part of life we not only don’t feel good in the moment, but we are also affected in the long run by stifling and blocking the new, good, desired things we want to come into our life”. This is so succinct, and so true!

    • alberts3

      I don’t think there’s a shortage of strategies, of resources available to us. We are some of the extremely fortunate ones that brought even more of what we were looking for into our lives by finding this course. We will in turn bring others along who, like us, are seeking. We can only see what’s out there if we’re looking. I’m happy to be part of the movement that is increasing positivity so that it becomes the norm. It has to then color the external sources, e.g. news, print media, social media, etc. to help others open their eyes and come out of their victimism and move into the Upspiral. Providing awareness and strategies at an earlier age will speed up those transitions.

      • kkhm

        Yes! Providing awareness at an earlier age is so important! I definitely see that as the future (which I know you will be a part of)!

  • joseph967

    When we are going through transitions in life we have to adapt to the changes. Changes brings growth. Just like the season in life if we don’t adapt to the changes in the seasons we remain dormant. Every season or reason has a purpose we must go with the flow. Otherwise one can struggle and remain stuck without purpose.

  • A Pyatt

    I am so in this transition right now, but in a really exciting good way. The meaning making, in so far as negative occurrences are concerned, are slowly dwindling. I just had an incident, moments ago, where I thought I was going to get really upset/hurt, and then I started to think ‘love’. Over and over. And once I settled down I thought ‘oh good grief, no one is dying. Let it go’. Then I simply thought, ‘if you can’t love, and feel, this situation and all the comical errors of it, you are missing out – it’s funny! It’s classic family not-conversation, conversation. So who’s on first’.
    I am in the midst of major life changes towards a career I have always wanted, but had never stopped long enough to listen to, and begun to see as a goal I could have. And yes, I arrived at this transition, after realizing I was just not satisfied with my current ‘job’. I wanted to add to it. I wanted to make it ‘more’, and something that mattered on a longer lasting level. My choices in regards to my new career goals, are a little chaotic, but that’s why I have made the decision to let things happen, and to not worry so much of the ‘why’s and the how’s’ but to let things flow. These choices/goals may be chaotic, or a little scattered, but I am making meaning in the realization that nothing is ever perfect, and a little mess is how you learn. I have a plan, I know where I want to be, and the method in which to get there, so why worry? Things are brought into your life when they are meant to be, and that is perfectly ok. As long as I take the steps and welcome them, everything will be just how is it supposed to be.

    • alberts3

      I love when you said “welcome them”. That phrase is so powerful because you’re open to what comes through. I didn’t sense any resistance in those words. You can’t help but succeed because you know there will be bumps in the road but you’re going to treat them as part of the process. I’m so happy for your new awareness!

      • A Pyatt

        Well thank you Judy! Just taking each one as it happens. 🙂

  • alberts3

    Sometimes I think that people who haven’t been able to bring
    meaning into their lives, really don’t have a reason to. So much of how we see
    ourselves comes down to the kinds of relationships we’ve had that help define
    us. If we don’t have a solid connection to others, or a positive connection to
    others, we aren’t able to see our strengths or define our values. We almost
    float through life, on survival-mode.

    When we’re taught to feel proud of ourselves, or when we
    think that it would please others, we begin to look at our options and start to
    gather data for the kind of lives we wish to live. We’ve taken note of our role
    models and understand that moving forward is just a way of life. Our lives have

    If we are only on survival mode, there is no long range
    planning, no goal setting. Each day just brings more of the same. We want our
    basic needs to be met but once they are, we tend to just settle. Even chaos is
    meaningful if it makes us feel something.

    I think if people are fortunate enough to have mentors
    throughout their lives, they develop an awareness of options and possibilities.
    I recall having some incredibly bright, intuitive people in my young adult life
    that helped me to create a huge cognitive shift in the way I saw the world. They
    helped me to see that the way my parents dealt with their lives was very
    different than the way I wanted to. I was my own person, a creator in my own
    right. I’ve told them through the years that they really helped me but they
    didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t either, under later.

    When we can begin to see ourselves as valuable contributors,
    the broaden-and-build theory begins to make so much sense. The more positive
    view of ourselves, the more options we have, and the better choices we make to
    support those options. Our lives really can improve and we can begin to see
    ourselves as deserving individuals.
    Our transitions can be met with hope and optimism.

    As time passes and we get more and more “elevation of mood”
    and nature takes over in the law of “what you spot, you got”. We may go 3 steps forward and 2 steps
    back, but forward feels better and feeling better is a reward in itself. When
    someone starts to spend more time in the Upspiral, it’s so noticeable to others
    and reminds them of what is possible. Creating meaning is unique to each of us
    and doesn’t have a timeline.

    • A Pyatt

      So true!

  • Kathleen Burkhalter

    I’m in a big transition too. After going to journalism school for a second career, I studied at ANI and became an NPC. Right when I was cruising along, I was diagnosed with cancer. I have six kids. I had a vision of what my life would be, and I did not expect cancer. But given a “big thing” I knew that this was the sign for me to go deep and make meaning out of it. First thing was a radical shift in what the immediate future held. Healing takes time. Healing takes deep thought and meditation. Healing is a path like no other. Did my ANI training help me? Oh yes! It helps me every day. Thanks to my re-wired brain, fear is not an issue. Nor is anxiety. Are things different than I thought they would be? Of course! Welcome to my transition. Some things are the same. Goals are refined and all sorts of now non-important things fall away. Goals are now more people centered. I want to see more of the people I love. I want to see beautiful places and write beautiful things. I want to inspire and help people lose their fear. It’s an adventure. Every day things, people, ideas seem to fall into my lap. I pulse my positive emotions. I know Someone is taking care of me. All is well, even as it is in transition.

  • Yogess1111

    I make meaning in my life when I am in flow. I am in flow when I am growing and giving and doing what I am supposed to do. Each of us has our own light to shine and it doesn’t matter what makes us happy. Being in flow is dynamic. For me I have to keep changing, learning and creating. That keeps the positive energy pulsing and where I find happiness.

  • Joanne E Harrington

    It may take some time for the clients we coach to acknowledge the fact that it is always a transition – delayed or imminent that brings them to coaching. It is a truism voiced in the NP coach certification by Drs. Larkin and Johnson. It is unfortunate that people suffer so long before action is taken to break out of the cage they place themselves in. Still, when that time comes to open the cage door, it is to be celebrated. It is exhilarating to have guided two clients to the creation of their five year goals. Preparation is vital to open up their capacity to give voice to their dreams, wants and possibilities. Living solidly in the UpSpiral, being in FLOW and consistently dealing with challenges from within the safety of one’s Strengths are the vital ingredients to opening up to what will make meaning in someone’s life. It feels to me like harvesting a bountiful garden – awesome and inspiring.

  • Swanstar98

    This post speaks to the deeper changes (required in a transition) that are much easier to accomplish when we’ve been doing the work of the Emotional Gym and building our neuroplasticity in a positive way. As I have gained skillfulness in immediately being able to feel love, peace, joy, and gratitude, and have developed a state of mind of certitude, there is a foundation from which to invite, encourage and midwife deeper neuroplasticity changes in regards to putting mental and emotional time and attention on goals and dreams and vision. I experience wanting from this place as a way of engaging in life, as moving towards my dreams. This is a gift of living in the UpSpiral. Wanting from the downspiral is about “I can never get what I want.” It’s about separation, “I am separated from my good.” And it’s about hopelessness, “why bother.” Wanting from the UpSpiral feels and sounds entirely different. “What I want is a unique reflection of me, of course I want this.” I feel alive, I’m experiencing vitality, I want to share who I am and I want to know others more deeply. From the UpSpiral it’s much easier to know, to really know, “Good and more good is mine.”

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