3 Ways This Former NBA Player Finds Purpose (Even When Life Feels Scary)

mbg Founder & Co-CEO By Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO

Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth.

mindbodygreen Podcast Guest Jay Williams

Image by Getty Images x mbg Creative

Ask Jay Williams 17 years ago if he'd be playing basketball the majority of his life, and the answer might have been a resounding absolutely. But after sustaining serious injuries from a motorcycling accident, Williams' life was put on hold: He'd severed his pubic symphysis, dislocated his knee, and tore his peroneal nerve—he didn't know if he would even walk again, let alone secure his spot back on the Chicago Bulls.

While he experienced his fair share of ups and downs during his recovery process, he touts one thing as paramount for his survival: a sense of purpose. 

"I'm a firm believer that regardless of how difficult times are, there is a purpose," the current author and ESPN analyst tells me on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. "If I didn't find purpose in those difficult times, I would've been doing a disservice to myself." A sense of purpose, it turns out, quite literally gave him something to live for. 

As Williams finds himself back in an unprecedented time, he's still holding on to that sense of purpose; even more so, he's sharing what he's learned so others can practice what took him years to discover. Here, Williams' three tips to find purpose, no matter what you might be going through. Accidents, grief, you name it: A sense of purpose can help make coping a little easier. 

1. Focus on other people. 

To find your purpose (your "why," if you will), Williams recommends removing yourself from the situation. Although we can't quite do it physically at the moment, you can shift your energy toward others rather than focusing on yourself—be it the ones you're isolating with or simply sending virtual support to your loved ones. 

By retranslating that energy from yourself to others, you'll be able to create that sense of purpose. And who knows? It might alleviate some of the anxiety you could be subconsciously placing on your own shoulders. It certainly helps Williams: "It gets me outside of my own funk," he mentions. 

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2. Focus on the present. 

It's true: We're all experiencing some sort of loss right now. Whether it's losing a loved one, a job, or the ache of a past life, grief can take many forms during the novel coronavirus. And that's OK! However, according to Williams, it's important to reflect on what you do have: "Moments of grief and anger had taken me away from the things that were present and right in front of my face," he explains. "I was so focused on what I had lost, I wasn't paying attention to what I had gained."

That said, try your best to focus on the present. What do you have in this moment you can be thankful for? Whether you sit down for a formal gratitude practice or simply reflect on the little things that bring you joy, lean into those moments. You'll likely fare better in the long run. 

3. Focus on a growth mindset. 

"You can allow a moment to define you, or you can allow a moment to help you grow," Williams states. Meaning, we might not be able to control what happens to us in life, but we can control how we react. That being said, approach a situation with a "What can I learn from this?" mentality—reflecting on the ways you can grow will ultimately help you find the purpose you need to keep going. 

And to help the process work twofold, be sure to surround yourself with people who also share that growth mindset. "The more I focus on the ways I can grow and surround myself with people who challenge me to grow...helps me become a better father, husband, and be more self-reflective," Williams says. 

Find what works best for you, and lean into that practice; make sure you're cultivating a sense of purpose, no matter how scary or bleak a situation might seem. If nothing else, just be thankful for the fact that you are here, alive: "Shit happens to everyone, but shit builds me. I'm lucky enough to be here on this earth for the shit to happen to me." Couldn't agree more, Williams.

And are you ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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