What does it mean to “make meaning”? Often, our understanding of situations, experiences, relationships, phenomena, and ourselves, doesn’t get formulated on the spot. We typically gather our perceptions from many areas of our lives:
Basically, meaning-making is how we translate the information we receive. You’ve probably heard the phrase “lost in translation.” So much of the information we take in really does get “lost.” Other times it sends us on this meandering loop de loop to figure it out. But most often, we recognize it, then convert it into something we understand, and then react, all in one swift moment. It’s at that moment that we quickly come to understand certain information based on some of the factors listed above (school, family, etc.), without even realizing we’re rifling through a personal encyclopedia, volumes 1-(insert your age here).
These different places and people influence how we make sense of pretty much anything we encounter. Not to say we don’t have “minds of our own,” but assumptions we have and conclusions we draw do stem from our outer environments. The autonomy we have around these interpretations is based in awareness, reflection and intention (essentially, mindfulness). If it’s more “autonomy of thought”, or rather, a detailed “path to meaning” that you’re looking for then check out our step-by-step guide below.
3 Questions to Ask to Help You Make Meaning:
1. What’s this associated with?
We can be so attuned to the meaning we make that it can be tough to shuffle through and find its origin. However, if we ask ourselves what we “associate” something with (i.e. What do you associate with exercise?) then it provides more of a story around how you’ve created meaning from it.
2. Is something clashing here?
Sometimes a meaning we once had no longer makes sense in our present lives. For instance, the meaning you had around a certain holiday growing up may not apply today. When we try to squeeze an expired meaning into something that no longer fits, we may lose out on allowing ourselves to initiate new meaning all together. Give yourself some time to reflect on if this meaning really belongs anymore.
3. Does this align with my values?
What we give meaning to may say a lot about what we value. If you’re someone who is excited by the idea of marriage, then you might value loyalty and family. In contrast, when a value is out of alignment with a meaning you’ve created (i.e. perhaps you’re in a long term relationship and have decided you don’t want to marry) then turn back to #2 to see if a value you have and a historical meaning you have for something are overlapping, creating confusion and potentially making you stuck.
It is quite a quest to understand the meaning you’ve made and another to create new meaning. Just like the meaning we have built up over the years, in order to adopt new meaning, it takes time, so be patient with yourself!
Catherine at Revive