When I was 7, I ran away from home with my 5-year-old sister. Some 7 miles of arduous walking later, we arrived at my dad’s old fishing hole. Thankfully, 15 hours later, our parents and the local police finally found us. They hadn’t thought to look there sooner because we were so young and the lake was so far, and, of course, I had never driven there. But the brain is more powerful than we give it credit.
From a young age, our brains begin to map the world, not based on facts, but based on meaning. Where are the resources we care about? On the way to fishing, I recorded signposts and landmarks that led to fun.
In our professional lives, our brains are constantly storing “meaning markers.” These mental landmarks are emotions—the feelings of accomplishment, helping people, social connection, the thrill of a sale.
Because we’re wired to channel more energy, drive and focus toward the things that matter most to us, the more we recognize the emotional meaning related to a goal, the greater the chance of a successful outcome. And Wharton Business School researchers found that we experience up to three times higher levels of productivity when our work is centered on our positive meaning markers, rather than “just getting things done.”
What are your meaning markers at work? How can you find more of them so that all throughout your day you’re finding markers that show you where to go next? The goal is not to run away; it’s to sprint toward the things that matter most.