The Biggest Block To Change & Meaning In Your Life

Dr. William K. Larkin

Goals Vision BowlsMeaning making is NOT essentially about PURPOSE OR GOALS.

At the core of meaning-making are not goal-setting and visioning.

These can certainly be an important part of the “revealing” process.

However, meaning-making refers to the way in which you put it all together into your “world view” of things.

Meaning making is about how you make sense of things. How you remember is just as important as what you remember.

In fact, we remember the how and the whyMaking Sense of a memory more accurately than its content.

How we see things, how we create our boundaries, what are our real “reals,” what is good, what is bad, what works, what doesn’t work.

These are the things of meaning making.

What MOST GETS IN THE WAY of change and forward progress in making meaning in your life?

The answer is mind-busting.

It is what you like best about yourself, what most informs your self-image, and what gives the greatest sense of importance.

It is what works well now.

Blow MindIt is like a brick wall to significant, mind-expanding, structural change in the brain.

What works for us best, most gets in the way of novelty and change.

Our whole self-image, we believe, is tied to it. Challenging the existing neuropathways of the brain is a big deal!

Yes, one of the things that keeps us in our way of making meaning is what we think we really, really have going for us, what we believe really works, really makes sense, and really gives us significance and esteem.

Our biggest obstacle to change is what gives us the greatest sense of esteem, personal importance, and significance. What we do best gets most in the way of our change and forward movement.

This “best thing” about us insulates us most in the face of change and personal transformation.Change Everything

How could that possibly be true?

Just remember this: what you think is best and most significant to your self-image is your biggest block to change.

What you think you got going for you most gets in the way of the unfolding structures of reasoning trying to unfold and mature in your brain.

How you believe your strengths best work for you most gets in the way of learning the new ways that your strengths could really work for you.

It is the central feature of aging that is marked by decline.


About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • alberts3

    We’ve been learning about the importance of strengths, and that by recognizing and
    applying our own strengths, we can change how we view our world. It seems
    ironic then, that in Dr. Larkin’s blog this week, we’re told that what we
    consider to be our greatest strengths are getting in the way of learning new
    ways those strengths could better work for us.

    That’s a challenging concept, so I had to rethink my own strengths to determine if
    that’s what is, or has been, happening in my own life. I think that when we get
    so used to seeing ourselves in a particular light, we tend to limit ourselves
    to what has been working so far. We’ve practiced telling our story, a story
    that we’ve been quite proud of. A story that wraps us up neatly into the person
    that we are, the person we’ve invested in, the person we don’t stray from. We know who we are and so does everyone else. It’s a relatively limited view. It’s a view that we take for
    granted and don’t even recognize as a strength. We wouldn’t think to build upon
    it because we don’t see it as something to nurture and expand. It’s just an
    extension of our personality.

    For myself, I’ve always been a gentle, sensitive, intuitive person. My values were in coherence
    with those traits. I’ve been that way always and I couldn’t hide it if I tried.
    Even though I was pleased with how I saw myself, it was definitely not
    interpreted as a strength. I didn’t even consider building upon that
    “personality”. I assumed it was a static trait that made me who I was.

    When I got into elementary education, I realized that my personality was a good match for the
    job I was doing. I was able to empathize with the students, create a calm and
    positive learning environment, and most importantly, I could sense what they
    needed. I knew the best strategies to employ and I could figure out how to
    teach what was necessary while helping each student feel successful.

    As I looked around, I saw many of my colleagues were also doing a good job teaching their
    students, too. However, they had taken a different approach than I did because
    they were different than I was. Even though many thought I was a bit “soft”,
    that didn’t keep them from telling me how great it was that my kids seemed to
    love my class. Staff members would come ask my opinions about specific behavioral
    issues of students they had, hoping to gain some insight into how to help them.
    Then they came to me to help them with their own personal problems.

    It wasn’t until much later when high-stakes testing came in and I began to rebel. I was
    critical about the pressure the students and the teachers were under to show
    proficiency. I had a clear picture of its effects on students, teachers, and
    parents. When I began speaking out, I realized that I had something many others
    didn’t. It was an ability to assess what was happening, determine the effects,
    and find ways to alleviate the pressure. I could see how the system could no
    longer wait for each student to build on his/her previous knowledge. A new
    system was in place that would hold students accountable for concepts that
    their bodies and minds hadn’t had time to assimilate. I waited many years for
    the pendulum to swing back and when it didn’t, I retired.

    That brings me to today, in the NeuroPositive Life Coaching program where I’ve learned to label my
    strengths. It’s so very obvious to me that my strengths: perspective
    wisdom, social intelligence, capacity to love and be loved, maximizer,
    connectedness, positivity, ideation, and more made teaching the best
    choice for me. It’s clear to me that I’ve been able to build on those strengths.
    I can now articulate that they are not static parts of my personality. If the
    Gallup poll is correct, I was 6 times more engaged in my job, and have 3 times
    the excellent quality of life in general. Now that’s “mind-busting”…in a good way.

    • kkhm

      So much awesomeness here!

  • Swanstar98

    For me this post is about the depth to which we get caught in our identity. What am I is the framework for defining meaning. In Dr. Larkin’s work he describes the stages of meaning in terms of identity, Stage 1: I am, Stage 2: I am my needs, Stage 3: I am my relationships, Stage 4: I am my self, Stage 5: I am self/other. Whatever stage we’re at (and we can be at different stages simultaneously due to playing differently in different aspects of our lives) the meaning is intrinsically tied to: this is who I am.

    In order to mature into another stage, we have to give up our sense of who we are today. I agree that this post presents a mind-blowing premise, “what you think is best and most significant to your self-image is your biggest block to change.” Why would I want to give up what has become my sweet spot of this stage?

    One way of looking at this is that we go through a death of our old selves, and a rebirth. That framework often includes a lot of grief and heartache – there is often a delay before the rebirth. It doesn’t feel good to let go of one trapeze bar when the next one is nowhere in sight. Another way of looking at it is that we’re on an adventure, exploring new territory, maturing in ways that support ourselves and others. Even those kinds of lenses are influenced by what stage in which we’re participating.

    Last fall I had a transitional experience in regards to stage 4. I was living from a place of “I am my job and my job feeds my self-image.” I had reached a level of proficiency in a new career field, I had achieved some success. I had a sense of my strengths, wow, I’m good at this, and this is a field where all of me gets to play. I was thrilled and secretly I was flatlining as well. Is there all there is?

    What happened in the midst of those conflicting inner experiences is that I didn’t get a job that I expected to get. I experienced existential depression like I had never before. I related to humpty-dumpty and all those pieces never being able to be put back together again. Part of me said, it’s just a job, there are other jobs, but my experience was so devastating precisely because of what Dr. Larkin’s writing about here. My meaning making was tied to this identity and without this identity I lost my meaning and the bottom fell out on my life.

    A gift in all this is that this career “setback” led me to ANI. I can open myself more and more to identifying with I am self/other. That identity is much more conducive to the kind of work I do anyway. I can be in wonder of the process of life through this transition. I can make meaning from a place that encourages me to shift my personal significance from a place of achievement, “I succeeded again, I’ve accomplished this, I have so much to contribute,” to a place of a bigger picture, to a place of vision that is embodied and lived, to a place that invites and encourages other in their unique experiences and expressions. The either/or of me or them fades away and there’s more and more of an invitation to the both/and of all of us, and the joy of the whole that is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

    • kkhm

      All of these comments are helping me to gain a more and more deeper understanding of the meaning of this blog post. Yours has been very valuable. As I read the first 3 paragraphs, I felt a mild tightness in my stomach and chest in the form of resistance. When I feel that, I know immediately there is some real gold in what I am learning. Thank you for this post!

  • Dr. gloria wright

    Whew. Not only do we need to monitor our thoughts, feelings and beliefs, we need to be open to “change” or shift our view on what gives our life meaning.

    We can almost “automatically” view and remember circumstances to fit the view of ourselves. If we become conscious and conscientious about what makes meaning in our lives, we can shift that perspective. In other words, as Dr. Larkin says it’s about, “ how you make sense of things and how you remember is just as important as what you remember.”

    Doing it differently, seeing it differently, feeling it differently, etc., can give you a new view which can then give you novelty and change. We want to take the challenge of changing and shifting the existing neuropathways of the brain – a big deal.

    For us not to decline with aging, we need to stay open to new possibilities – even how we view the world. I’ve used this quote before: “I like my tailor best. Every time he meets me, he takes my measurements anew.” Maybe this is what we can do (take a new view) to what happens to us, to what gives our lives meaning, to how we see the world and how we even see ourselves.

    Dr. Fredrickson reminds us of what the late Christopher Petterson said: “Positive psychology is not a spectator sport.”

  • Kathleen Burkhalter

    The story I told myself and believed was that I was so happy. Indeed, I enjoy a happy marriage and close relationship with my children. Then I had a serious medical diagnosis, the sort that points to years of something askew. A healer asked me, “What is at the base of your illness?” Another healer told me to learn to meditate so that I could relax into the place that healing occurs. All sorts of world views were shaken. I have a gift of being able to see where people are coming from, I can guess what their emotional backgrounds are before I hear their stories. The same gift began shining a light on all the doctors I had to see, and the treatment I was prescribed. The more I observed, the more I thought that while medical care is at the center of our dialogue about life, very little medical care is focused on the well being of the patient. To get well, one must become an outspoken and sassy patient. Once I realized the power that was in my hands, I merely had to claim it. So, at appointments with doctors I started saying, “No” and “Why”. I sought out alternative methods of healing, which one has to have a kind of social courage to try, because there is lot of criticism for anything that is not mainstream – especially in Boston. So….. this thing I thought about myself was upended, and yes, there was the door to the next transition in my life. Thanks to my NeuroPositive training, I have been able to step into this transition with a positive outlook -even though I have been told some outrageously crazy dire things. I use the 5:1 ratio when I hit those stumbling blocks. My NP training is the daily discipline for dealing with everything. A year later, I am more positive than I was before the medical news. How is that possible? My brain, I believe is rewired. So, while my life was upended, in a way, it was also re-set to a deeper, more challenging, more mature life. I have a lot of responsibility, but I am most responsible for myself. I have to watch what goes into my consciousness. The journey continues.

    • kkhm

      WOW!!! This was so inspiring! I feel excited and enlivened by your courageous journey. To be able to say you feel more positive a year after your medical news is so wonderful.

  • A Pyatt

    I love this sentence, ‘How you remember is just as important as what you remember’. Nothing could be truer than this! Where were you within yourself, when this happened? And when you remembered? Remembering to open up and be in the flow of what is occurring, is how you stay present, make meaning, and in an Upspiral. But by only remembering what you ‘thought’ or what you ‘believe’ is your strength, you can also be the one thing that is keeping you from trying other strengths, because you ‘believe’ it is not a strength. You are limiting yourself, your flow. But because you have a belief of how these strengths ‘are’, you limit the possibilities, because it is not how you see, or remember, them working for you. I have to re-learn what I remember about being an achiever, activator, et al, in order to grow them further. I have to stop believing I already ‘know’ and start listening to what I have yet to learn.

    • kkhm

      “But by only remembering what you ‘thought’ or what you ‘believe’ is your strength, you can also be the one thing that is keeping you from trying other strengths, because you ‘believe’ it is not a strength. You are limiting yourself, your flow. But because you have a belief of how these strengths ‘are’, you limit the possibilities, because it is not how you see, or remember, them working for you. I have to re-learn what I remember about being an achiever, activator, et al, in order to grow them further. I have to stop believing I already ‘know’ and start listening to what I have yet to learn.”

      Yes! You have captured this so well. I love it especially the last sentence!!! Thank you.

      • A Pyatt

        Thanks Karissa!!

    • alberts3

      Every day will be like opening a package at Christmas for you. You are so open, so available to the possibilities that are you! The journey you’re on is so unique and special and exciting. You brought yourself here, to the unfolding of you. Just keep opening the gifts that are you!

      • A Pyatt

        I plan to! Thanks so much Judy!

  • kkhm

    Rigidity in our thinking is a block to flow, change, meaning-making, and positive growth. It’s easy to notice rigidity when we are being negative, stuck, stubborn, etc., but these are not the only ways in which we can be rigid. We can sometimes have the same unbending thinking and actions when it comes to what we see as the positive in our lives or what we think we’re good at. There is room for growth and change in all of life—not just the things that aren’t working for us. Our understandings change, we get new insights and new opportunities, and we outgrow behaviors and actions. What works for us at one time in our life may not work the best for us at another time in our life.

    If we want our strengths to grow, it is helpful to be open to new ways of understanding and using them. If we don’t, it can be a hindrance. I’ve encountered this many times in my life. (I’ve also witnessed it in others such as with brilliant colleagues who were once experts in their field who became rigid and unwilling to embrace new ideas and information and new ways of doing things and unfortunately, as a result, found themselves stuck, resentful, and no longer held with the same esteem as before.) For myself, I’ve also been guilty of not wanting to change ways of doing things or beliefs about my actions such as my desire and objective to be perfect. Perfectionism was hard to let go of (and it still creeps in sometimes). I thought approaching all of life with a perfectionistic view was best and that this painstaking approach to life was one of my biggest assets. I believed it would make me highly successful and would also please everyone around me. Little by little, I was enlightened about the negative effects of a life of perfectionism, but for a long time I was resistant to this, believing that if I stopped working to do EVERYTHING right ALL THE TIME, then I would become a failure and completely unlikable. This, of course, wasn’t true, and letting go of that belief has been incredibly freeing and has made room for new successes such as completing tasks quicker and with less mental energy and with much more joy in the process.

    Recently, I’ve had to open up to new ways of practicing and experiencing my top VIA strength: Gratitude. I’ve had an intentional gratitude practice for many years. It’s been a tremendous gift and has greatly enhanced the quality of my life as well as changed the way I make meaning of challenges and blessings and everyday events of life. Largely, my use of this strength has been through thinking, with mental words and pictures, about that which I was grateful for, oftentimes listing them off, big and small, or reminding myself that there is goodness in all things including difficulties. It has worked great! But with the Emotional Gym, I have learned to build upon and greatly enhance this by just “feeling” gratitude. I don’t necessarily have to use mental effort … I am learning to just open my heart and feel it. This seemed very odd to me in the beginning, and I was a bit resistant to it. But I trusted the teachings of Drs. Johnson and Larkin and little by little made space for trying this in a new way, and the change has been astounding! Feeling gratitude, rather than thinking gratitude, is incredibly potent and powerful. I literally feel it (physically) in my body. It’s the first I have ever actually felt my chakras. My heart chakra pulses and tingles and I feel an opening up in my chest. (I’m finding this happening with many of my chakras when I am doing my Emotional Gym work, and it’s awesome!) Initially, itemizing my blessings dramatically increased my happiness and well-being and the way I viewed life as I was becoming keenly aware of how much good there is. But I understand now there was room for growth, and that I was ready for the next step. Just listing and thinking about what I was thankful for had reached a point of limiting where I could go with gratitude. Now, just feeling it makes it very universal and all-encompassing. I can feel the beginnings of deep gratitude for EVERYTHING (the entirety of existence: past, present, and future) all at the same time. I know it’s just the beginning of what is to come. It’s veeeeery powerful and something I might not have experienced in the same way had I been rigid in my previous way of experiencing gratitude and not opened up to trying it as I learned in Chapter 1.

    Now that I am learning to really focus on and use my strengths, I am excited about seeing where they take me, and by staying in the flow as much as possible, I intend to be mindful of and open to the natural growth and change that comes with their use.

    • alberts3

      There was so much positivity entwined in all you just said. Your very obvious strength is to continue to want more for yourself, and your life is a beautiful and constant recognition of who you are continuing to uncover. So, so, good!!!

  • joseph967

    “What works for us best, most gets in the way of novelty and change” we often get caught up in the everyday routine of life that we become accustomed to it. That in return leaves us stuck in our comfort zone and usually satisfied as long as there are no bumps along the way. Digging down deep within ourselves to get out of it can sometimes be a challenge. Unfortunately, circumstances or situations that occur that are usually undesirable is what pulls us out of our comfort zone, which then will cause growth.

  • Mary Garvey Horst

    While reading this blog article, the words that kept coming up for me were “personal investment”. I remember a time when I was personally invested in what I was good at and that fed my sense of importance. I relished in the fact that I was accomplished at something that mattered. Looking back, I would never have imagined that my attachment to this role would be “like a brick wall to significant, mind-expanding, structural change in the brain.” Yet, it was!

  • MaryUtley

    Being open to change takes consciousness and effort. I was leading a seminar these past few days and one of the participants mentioned that several times a year, he and his wife will literally jump on a plane and just go without any plans at all. The only criteria is that they haven’t been there before! I thought about how exciting, scary and wonderful that must be. I can see how they are totally open to novelty and experiencing life as it unfolds. And I also thought that I am not that flexible and am probably missing lots of life.
    On another note, this article also reminds me of Marshall Goldsmiths book on ‘What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There’. The premise is that folks who have depended on a certain way of behaving need to re-look at where they are today and are those same behaviors serving them or not. Often one style of managing worked at some point in their career, but now could be the very thing that is getting in their way of advancement…and they don’t understand that.
    Challenging the neuropathways can be difficult especially when ‘being’ a certain way has always worked for us. The path of least resistance can clearly lead to decline in the brain, but more importantly a decline in our vitality and passion for life.

  • Joe_Mojo

    No question that as we get older we tend to adopt resistance to change. As Mr Larkin alludes, working past that resistance is key to keeping our mind freshly charged and engaged. Do you want easy? If you did then you probably wouldn’t want to be a coach and you certainly wouldn’t benefit much from being coached. We can’t exercise very effectively from the couch.

    Imagine coming home from work and finding one or two rooms in your home a wreck. An absolute disaster. Is your first thought “Wow, what a great opportunity!”? Probably not, even though it is in fact a tremendous (though potentially expensive) opportunity. The why really doesn’t matter. It’s already done. Same with the how. These are just irrelevant details. What matters in this scenario is how open you are to change and how prepared you are. Do you know what you want? Do you have a plan? More importantly, will you remain flexible with your plan during the rebuilding process?

    The act of true life change isn’t easy. Just like in our home we are rebuilding, it’s not always going to be comfortable. Accepting change, embracing it, even to the point that the course of that change may in fact change, is a true paradox for remaining in flow. Why a paradox? We cannot stay in flow if we are willing to give up our own power to external events. However, we have to accept that sometimes dealing effectively with those external events requires us to step out of the very comfort zone that flow helps us realize. A conundrum? Perhaps. An opportunity? You bet!

  • MissTowner

    Complacency kills. When we think we have it all together and we think know what works best for us, we might discover (hopefully) we haven’t grown much. What we attach ourselves to can be used in an overkill fashion, which also applies to playing to our strength/s. A strength of mine is Kindness and generosity, that can be a road block to my progress if I don’t assert myself when I should. Everyone deserves kindness, but I deserve to stand up for myself when necessary.

  • Marilyn Pyle

    Funny how we may be open and receptive to change, as long as it is “safe” to change. Evolution and change is messy business and in my experience feels a bit like being hurled off a cliff into a free fall. Transitions seldom come with clear demarcations, if any. What came to you and became yours in one stage, may move with you into the next if it makes sense. But the very definition of the word evolution is “the gradual development of something, from a simple to a more complex form.” As we create newer neuropathways in our ways of thinking and feeling are we not evolving our brains? In changing the brain are we not opening ourselves to newer more diversified ways of receiving? Are we not finding new strengths that move to the top of our “list” of strengths. Porges work on neuroception and the PolyVagal Theory are so interesting in regards to neurophysiology and the autonomic nervous system and our perception to “threat”. The unfamiliar ground experienced in transitions and personal transformation, and the threat to our meaning making systems is enough to trigger the fight or flight response and make us want to trade the free fall for safer ground. And that very action sends us backwards until we find new meaning that makes sense in our new found heart mind connection and learn that the beating of our heart is not out of fear but finally being in sync with our brains. So the question is does neuroception evolve as our brain evolves?

  • Joanne E Harrington

    If you want to self-assess how effectively you are integrating the Emotional Gym tools in order to live firmly and actively in the UpSpiral, the goal development process is an effective indicator. The gift that will keep on giving is quietly noticing whether the ideas flood forth without apprehension or whether there is trepidation. For me the goal setting process was liberating and fun. I saw it as a way to create a life compass to help me create focus and update my identity following retirement and the death of my husband. This blog has been a helpful reminder of the building block concepts that underpin the creation of meaning and personal significance. Above all, I am in awe of the power of the integration process. I realize that I did not full appreciate the importance of integration in the crafting of the skill of mindfulness. These blogs as a contribution to my learning are a joy to me as are the responses that I read here. In appreciation..

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