What does it mean to have a coherent life?
The word Coherence is not a word we use every day unless, perhaps, we are an English Teacher, an athletic coach, or a physicist who works with sound/energy waves, but it is amazingly important to the quality of our lives.
In the literary sense, Coherence means that all the parts of writing or argument work together. They make sense. They have the quality of being logical or consistent. A second definition states that the parts have the quality of forming a whole. In sports, it is easy to tell when the players are operating as a coherent team or when they are disjointed. Coherence is unified, smooth, consistent, and has the quality of wholeness.
So what does it mean to have a coherent life?
When our lives are coherent, things make sense. The way we spend and invest our money is consistent with our values. The way we speak is consistent with how we want to be understood and experienced in the world. The work we do and the way we do it is aligned to what matters most to us and both bring out and reflect the best in us. What we give our precious time to reflects what is most meaningful and important to us.
When our lives are coherent, all the parts make sense and are consistent with what we value and what we care about.
What is the connection between coherence and meaning?
Our lives can either feel busy or they can feel meaningful.
If our lives feel busy, it typically means either that we are engaged with activities that are not aligned with what matters most to us. We are doing activities that are important but we are not taking the time to experience the meaning and value they are adding to our lives.
In the first case, we are busy and doing all the time because we are reacting to things the world is placing in front of us. Someone calls and asks for something. An e-mail pops up and captures our attention. We get an impulse that we need something and we drop what we are doing to respond. A family member is upset and suddenly we are trying to ‘fix’ whatever is wrong. In all of these cases, there is nothing intentional about our actions. They do not bring coherence to our lives.
In the second case, we are doing things that are important and aligned to our values, but we are so busy getting them done and checking them off a list, they lose the quality of feeling meaningful. For example, helping our child with their homework may be completely aligned with our values, but because we have a long list, we treat the activity as something that has to get done, instead of experiencing it as a sacred act of parenting. The same can be true of important conversations at work, planning vacations, hosting guests, or volunteering. If we permit ourselves to feel busy all the time, even a life filled with coherent experiences loses meaning.
Why can it be a challenge to experience coherence and meaning?
One of the reasons it is difficult to experience the coherence and meaning in our lives is that life is moving so fast and we fear that we need to operate at the same pace to keep up. We don’t take time to pause, be intentional and consider what matters most. We feel compelled to keep moving. A second reason it is difficult to experience coherence and meaning in our lives is we haven’t developed the practices that help us know how to do it. It is one thing to feel as though you should do something; it is another to know how to do it. How do we identify what we value; what matters most? How do we align the moments of our lives to these things? How do we resist the chaotic momentum that is building around us? How do we bring meaning?
What will be different when there is more coherence
There is a palpable difference in how meaningful moments feel from how other moments feel. It feels like:
- The end of a beautiful movie when things fall into place and we can’t help but feel good.
- Listening to your favorite song and having the time to enjoy every note and every lyric.
- Riding the perfect wave on your surfboard and allowing yourself to enjoy the triumphant moment.
- Studying hard for a test and seeing the fruits of your labor pay off; taking the time to feel the pride.
When there is more coherence and meaning in our lives, we feel it. We feel connected to ourselves and others, to our values and what matters to us. We can feel at peace inside, even if we have to make a difficult decision. When our lives are so busy, we get caught in thinking and doing and lose track of actually feeling something, but coherence and meaning are things we feel.
Three Ways to Bring more coherence and meaning to your life
Bringing coherence and meaning to your life is a practice. There is no one thing we can do on a single day that will bring all the meaning and coherence we will ever need. It is a practice, something we need to rehearse and renew regularly.
Here are three practices that can help bring more coherence and meaning to your life, even if it is a busy life:
- Practice pausing. A myth of our culture is that if we are not busy, we are lazy or unproductive. Neither of these is true. Stopping and pausing are healthy and important practices in life. Pausing allows us to catch our breath, become intentional, and relax our overworked nervous system.
- Practice Reflecting. Reflecting is the process of thinking deeply or carefully about something. The only way to bring coherence to our lives is to think deeply about what matters, what we value, what we want to do with our precious time. Turning inward to get curious in these ways allows us to construct and enjoy coherence. One great way to practice reflecting is to ask yourself questions like, “What was the most important moment of my day?” (For 3 decks of Reflections questions, check out our Live, Lead, and Love with the Courage to be Curious card decks)
- Practice Connecting. Things feel meaningful when we feel connected. Taking time each day to genuinely connect with yourself or someone you care about creates meaning. You can connect with yourself through a reflective practice or by engaging and being present with an act of true self-care. You can connect meaningfully with someone else by setting aside everything else and being present to ask them a question, listen to their sharing, or engage in an experience together. This is where a community of people with shared values can support and offer guidance on building and maintaining a reflective practice.
Creating coherence and meaning in your life does not happen by accident. In fact, the pace of life that most of us live could keep us from experiencing it rarely or at all! This is an invitation to you to consider how coherent your life feels right now and how often it feels meaningful or just feels busy. If it just feels busy and you want something more, try integrating a regular practice of Pausing, Reflecting, and Connecting.
Looking for your community? We are here at Curiosity Crusaders with the tools, support, and connection to help you discover your own coherence and meaning.
Adina B. Tovell is Chief Curiosity Officer and CEO of Courage to be Curious, a personal development company. Adina is the founder of the Curiosity CrusadersTM global community that takes time each day to pause, reflect and connect. Adina also works with organizations to create Reflective Communities of Practice for Leaders.