Purpose and Resiliency

(This month’s guest author is the founder of MaxPerformance, dedicated to maximizing personal performance, productivity and wellbeing. Nancy and I share the conviction that our “3 Ps:” Purpose, Principles and Priorities are foundational to personal as well as professional wellbeing and performance. Nancy is a scientist by training; I appreciate the brain research and science-based evidence that she brings to discussions about the connection of purpose to performance and personal wellbeing. Enjoy. Al)


Why Purpose Matters‐A Science‐based Perspective

Nancy Maxfield-Wilson, My Max Performance

What is your purpose in life? Your passion. your mission, your “why”, your reason for getting up in the morning? We all search for it, some for all of our life.Purpose johncaswell.com Recent research links having a purpose in life to greater resilience and happiness as well as reduced risk of dementia, depression, and chronic disease (We also know that regular exercise produces many of these benefits as well; how awesome if you have both!).

Patricia Boyle is an Alzheimer’s researcher at Rush University in Chicago. Patricia and her team of researchers, as part the Rush Memory and Aging Project, asked over 900 seniors living in residential communities to rate their level of agreement from 1 to 5, to the following statements (try this yourself:)

I feel good when I think about what I have done in the past and what I hope   to do in the future.

I live life one day at a time

I have a sense of direction and purpose in life.

I enjoy making plans for the future and working them to a reality.

I am an active person in carrying out the plans I set for myself.

Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.

A high purpose score was linked to many positive health outcomes including:

  • Less depression
  • Greater happiness
  • Higher self esteem
  • Better physical health, immunity, and longevity


Over the longitudinal study, of 951 people, 16% developed Alzheimer’s disease. Detailed analysis showed that folks with high purpose scores were more than twice as likely to see these benefits:

  • Slower rate of cognitive decline generally
  • Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lower rate of mild cognitive impairment (MCI)


So, having a purpose allowed these people to triumph over the physical manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease!

What is the biological mechanism linking purpose and brain health? This is still being investigated, however, we do know that a lack of purpose in life correlates with:

  • High levels of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Poorer immune and vascular function
  • Markers of inflammation


These factors may diminish the brain’s resistance to degeneration and aging. Brain philly.comThe researchers speculated that the purposeful brain has increased ability to cope with/offset increasing damage (such as plaque and white bodies) to maintain function. This is essentially resilience of the brain, analogous to the way developing mental and physical resilience allows us to cope with adversity and potentially damaging life events.

Having a sense of purpose helps us focus and prioritize, with clarity and fulfillment. Purpose helps us not only survive the stormy seas of uncertainty and change in our lives and work places, but thrive – also known as advanced resilience. In his book Navigating Integrity, Al Watts likens clarity of purpose Big boat small boat Loon 1and values to the keel of a sailboat: A sailboat’s keel counteracts wind and current to maintain a truer course; it’s weight and depth also prevent broaching or capsizing, assuring that even in stormy seas it remains upright. If at times we feel lost in a turbulent sea without a life vest, it can help to start with a “small p:” What is our purpose this month, today, this meeting or this discussion? Mustering sufficient resilience to navigate a small rough patch of sea can provide sufficient clarity to glimpse our larger PURPOSE, the horizon ahead – progress, not perfection.

Patricia Boyle defines “purpose” as: “the psychological tendency to derive meaning from life’s experiences and to possess a sense of intentionality and goal directedness that guides behavior.” Large multi‐syllabic words aside, what gives your life meaning today?



Effect of a Purpose in Life on Risk of Incident Alzheimer Disease and Mild Cognitive Impairment in Community‐Dwelling Older Persons. Patricia A. Boyle, PhD, Aron S. Buchman, MD, Lisa L. Barnes, PhD, and David A. Bennet, MD. Arch Gen Psychiatry. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/eutils/elink.fcgi?dbfrom=pubmed&retmode=ref&cmd=prlinks &id=20194831

Longitudinal inflammation, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease: a mini‐review. Bettcher BM1, Kramer JH1. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2014 Oct;96(4):464‐9. doi: 10.1038/clpt.2014.147. Epub 2014 Jul 10 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25009982#


MaxPerformace offers workshops, retreats, coaching and additional resources for body, mind and spirit to maximize human performance and wellbeing; join the conversation at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8445663 We invite you to visit the MaxPerformance website at http://www.mymaxperformance.com/ to learn about resources for improving your personal and professional resiliency, including our June 17 workshop.

Al Watts has 30 years of experience as an independent consultant helping leaders and organizations succeed by aligning people, systems and strategy. He is particularly skilled helping clients define strategic direction, identifying barriers to achieving goals, and helping boards, executive teams and diverse stakeholder groups craft shared commitments for growth.

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