Finding and living your purpose is more important than ever in a world that can lack meaning and connection.
Do you feel a little lost? Want to know how you turn up the volume on your inner voice and work out a purpose that resonates?
I’m going to be honest, it’s not easy. Like any type of self reflection work, it is work! The answers won’t all come immediately. You do have to work at it and it will take time. You can continue to evolve it too, it will become your life’s work. But it is nice to think about the body of work you want to create in the world.
Before you jump into the three powerful activities below, I have a few other recommendations to get you started:
• Get out into nature more. Less screens and walls means you can breathe more deeply, get more oxygen into your bloodstream and connect back with you. Research says that nature helps our heads as well as our bodies stay healthy. You know the feeling you get after a walk or hike in the bush, a stroll on the beach or a day at the river. Diarise nature time to clear your head.
• Insights and understanding come with time. Set up a habit to reflect often. Just like any other skill or habit, it will take time to get into your reflection flow. The great news is those who take the time to reflect are better learners, happier people and more productive.
• Move your body. The insights can come when we move, that’s what are bodies were made to do! It gets the blood pumping and gives you inspiration. Exercise is not only crucial to physical health, but it’s good for your head too.
Purpose Activity 1: Identify and Utilise your Signature Strengths
Living your strengths each and every day can be one of the most powerful strategies you have to creating a life of meaning, happiness and hope.
Martin Seligman, Professor and founder of the University of Penn’s Positive Psychology Centre has done a huge amount of a research into the benefits of identifying and living your strengths as a way of living a flourishing life. They have developed an online (free) survey to identify your top 5 character strengths. (Head to Questionnaires and check out the VIA Character Strengths Survey).
Personally, I’ve gained much over the years by reflecting on my key strengths and incorporating them more and more into my life. It makes me happy when I get to use my strengths and it brings me a sense of purpose. Understanding my key strengths has given me an awareness of my leadership superpowers too. I use my strengths (and my unique mix of strengths) as my leadership brand and people get to know me for my strengths.
For those playing along at home, my top strengths are hope and optimism; zest, energy and enthusiasm; gratitude; leadership and creativity.
A note to beware – after coaching many people to focus on their strengths, the catch is that people see their strengths as so easy or commonplace that they dismiss their power. You might think – is this a superpower? Doesn’t everyone have this strength? This is nothing special. The simple answer is no. Not everyone has this strength. How can you deepen your mastery of this strength, practice it deliberately and enhance its use in your life?
Purpose Activity 2: Understand your Hedgehog
This concept was highlighted in Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, and is based on the ancient Greek parable about the hedgehog and the fox. Who would you rather be – the hedgehog or the fox? Despite all the tactics of the fox, the hedgehog always wins because it knows how to do one thing really well and that’s defend itself (think spikes!). So this model asks you to think about the intersection of three questions:
1. What are you great at? These are your strength areas! Focus on them, practice them, improve them and know them! What can you be best in the world at?
2. What will people pay for? Or what does the world need and are willing to pay for?
3. What are you deeply passionate about? What do you love or brings you joy? What’s important to you?
Now spend a bit of time to consider these questions individually – think of them as three circles in a venn diagram. Then the interesting part is finding something that intersects all three of these. According to Jim Collins’s book, organisations that have focused on one thing (the intersection of these three questions) and done it really well, outperform all their competitors and stand the test of time.
What’s in the intersection for you?
Purpose Activity 3: Focus on the Intrinsic Motivators
In life, you can easily get caught up with, as author Brian Johnson would call it, ‘society’s candy’. Which is when there is an over-emphasis on our extrinsic motivators – namely fame, fortune and how you look. It’s okay to focus a little on these things but an over-emphasis can actually, at worst, make you depressed. Yes, that’s right if you are living the rat race where you can continually focused on material wealth, chasing fame and focus on what you look like on the outside – you are in danger of having poorer mental health because of it.
Instead, it’s best to reorient yourself to focus on areas that intrinsically motivate us – fostering strong relationships, learning and mastering skills, and contributing to a community. It’s been found that people who are motivated by these intrinsic motivators are more likely to be healthy and have higher self esteem.
When you look at your goals this year and in life, what is driving them? Is it about status, power, money or comparison? Or is it about how you can learn and grow as a person, or the people who mean the most to you, or how you can give back to a greater purpose in life? It is so interesting to use this filter when you come across advertising. You start to see the extrinsic motivators that advertisers use to try and get you to buy their product. Where does your focus truly lie?
My last word is this – no one is going to do this important work for you. It’s up to you to take responsibility for clarifying your purpose in life and living a more meaningful existence.
We live in a really lucky time (and place) in the world where we can focus on meaning and purpose in our life. Don’t underestimate the power of these simple reflection activities. Join me on social media and share your purpose!