What is the meaning of life? If not the most unanswerable of unanswerable questions?
When faced with our own mortality, we humans, often grasp to the notion that our life had to offer some meaning, right?
(estimated read time: 5 minutes for the whole thing, stop once you are confident enough to write a purpose statement though if you want)
One certainty in life, is that you will die — and you will pay taxes! Yet, how you go about living, may offer some clues as to what meaning you take out of it.
I’m not saying I have the answer. I think the meaning is probably different for everyone.
I am implying the most probable answer is to figure out your life’s purpose, then spend your life pursuing it. Simple.
For some the meaning has religious roots; To others their offspring hold the key; While many still associate the meaning of life to their work. I’m probably the latter.
I can say that humans, by our nature, seek purpose, interchangeably with meaning.
What is Purpose?
Finding purpose probably means first crafting a definition of what purpose is. Here’s how I frame it, but you can frame it however you want.
Purpose is often simply defined as:
“a cause greater and more enduring than ourselves.”
Before I begin, let me say that purpose doesn’t mean trying to be the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Barack Obama. You don’t have to save the planet, save humanity or revolutionize the world. Necessarily…
This goes against the grain of the common advice to shoot for the stars, dream big and follow your passions.
Aim as big or as small as you like. Purpose doesn’t have to be epic to be meaningful, it just has to mean something epic to you.
It doesn’t have to resonate with someone else.
If you want to be the next Steve Jobs or Ghandi, go for it, but realize that finding purpose doesn’t have to be world-changing, just life-changing.
The Purpose Statement
I’ve also previously heard of this being called the “head-stone statement,” but that’s a little morose.
This statement is one sentence that you would use to sum up your life, often expressed in the second person.
Honestly, this could be as simple as, “she raised 2 kids into happy, healthy and successful adults,” or “he crafted songs that brought happiness and inspiration to a generation.”
Here is mine:
“He developed products, services and content that helped people improve their well-being and quality of life.”
It’s an incredibly simple, yet powerful tool, that has really governed my own pursuits.
It’s flexible enough that I can change it if I want, but it’s also one big guiding light.
I’ll never live up to it completely, but I enjoy chasing it immensely.
You’ll often hear me refer to this as the ‘Master Goal,’ or a ‘Self-Defining Goal’ and it’s never-ending. Gollwitzer calls it the latter.
If you can right now, try to write something down; See how it goes.
If a sentence didn’t pop into your head right away then keep reading for some more ideas.
*The purpose statement to the individual, is almost synonymous to the mission statement for a business. Slightly different, but the mission statement might be a place to start with this exercise, check out that link for more info on building a mission statement.
Having trouble finding purpose with a statement? Let’s steal some concepts from business once more.
SWOT is an acronym that stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
It is almost completely expected in a business plan, yet is also remarkably effective for self-discovery.
This process is simple; Draw 2 lines, one in vertical plane (90 degrees) and one in a horizontal plane (180 degrees).
Put one heading in each of the 4 boxes you’ve now created. Or please use our free SWOT analysis tool.
Next, get to know yourself and fill it in.
Want to narrow your focus momentarily?
Try timing yourself, maybe 2 minutes per box.
Something I also recommended on the Decision Making Tool. Giving yourself a deadline narrows focus.
Identify the things you are good at and potentially bad at. For personal use, I then recommend you erase the negative stuff and focus on the positive.
Note: That’s not how business ones are written and understanding your weaknesses isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
This will give you some honest insights into what resonates with you; Helping you focus your energy on things that you enjoy, if given the opportunity.
The aim is emphasizing positive reinforcements, rather than what is holding you back.
Now attempt to write a purpose statement using your strengths and opportunities, or keep on reading…
Purpose is the base of the pyramid for intrinsic motivation. The next block up, or the glue that holds that base together is your values.
A purpose statement that violates your values, won’t work. In finding purpose, it’s a good exercise to go through.
If you don’t value money, crafting a purpose statement that involves making lots of money will only lead to inner turmoil.
Values are HOW you get awesome stuff done (click the link above for more info…).
Values are a collection of guiding positive principles that one deems to be correct and desirable in life, especially regarding personal conduct.
These are qualities that render something desirable or valuable. They can be an emotional investment that is often the basis for ethical action.
These guiding principles are instilled in all of us. It’s done so either genetically, absorbed through our peer group/family, or through years of conditioning, and developmental growth.
Often we absorb values our parents instill upon us.
Other times to reject the values of our parents, in favour of ones shared by our peers.
Like many businesses before me, I built a detailed manifesto that features about 26 values by which we aim to do business.
I’ve also decided to build a set of core values for myself (it’s only seven!) in the process of defining purpose; I recommend you do the same.
I hope to creatively whittle both of those lists down over time. I’m a big believer in less whenever possible, rather than more. If that resonates with you, maybe it’s something you list.
Anyway, since doing so, I’ve found it much easier to live up to my purpose statement.
Knowing my values also lets me make snap decisions more effectively. If I know that if it doesn’t align with my core values it’s an easy decision – NO.
Not surprisingly, this eliminates a lot of stress. Stress is a big factor in realizing goals, and improving your fitness.
Finding Purpose with Values
It is really quite a simple process, identify qualities about yourself that you struggle to break free from; One descriptive word, if you can.
Then work to define that quality in about a paragraph or less, if you can.
Write as many down as you want; Again if you want to narrow your focus, try timing yourself.
Write down as many as you can, then attempt to simplify it.
See if you can integrate values into other values similar in nature.
Does one word effective describe two or more things you’ve written down?
Can you find a better word that encapsulates them?
Find better descriptors and eliminate anything of low meaning on the list.
For example, the value at the top of my list is “Integrity.”
I defined it as:
“A concept based on perceived consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, wholeness, uprightness, honesty and soundness of moral principle and character.”
You can see that grouped several meaningful words under one umbrella. I went further in the paragraph to really hone in on what it means to me:
“Doing what I consider to be right for long-term gain, even when there would be short-term gain to be made.”
I also combined reputation, respect and honesty — both were originally values on their own in my first ever draft — into this value in the years since I first attempted this exercise.
After you’ve completed this, how do your values align with a potential purpose?
Keep reading if you’re not sure yet…
Five Questions to Ask
If you’re still struggling with the concept of the purpose statement at this point, don’t fret. It is not something you just pick up a pen and write down on a whim.
It requires a lot of diligent, deliberate thinking. It took me months, maybe more than a year, to isolate and strip down.
It’s an evolving process that I continually work through for clarification. Every year I have reminder in my calendar to revisit them.
However, as a final jumpstart to your process, I hope you will consider some of the questions below:
- What are you deeply passionate about?
- What keeps you up at night?
- What gets you out of bed in the morning?
- What are you are genetically encoded for — what activities do you feel just “made to do”?
- What makes economic sense — what can you make a living at?
How you answer these can offer many clues as to what purpose may fundamentally mean to you.
Remember there are no right or wrong answers, just answers that ring true to your nature and ones that have no true personal meaning.
I know this is not exactly a light series of reading, and this last article does not dive into the specifics of fitness necessarily.
However, until you fully understand these basic truths about yourself, it is very difficult to craft meaningful goals.
Purpose is the heaviest topic of the 3 secrets to motivation.
However, until you understand this about yourself, it can be an extremely difficult task to associate purpose with fitness or nutrition.
Where does fitness fit? How important or unimportant is it truly to you?
I finished a follow-up post to this that is more specific to the purpose of fitness/nutrition, as might be relevant to you.
In my mind, fitness is usually a supporting tool of your life’s purpose. When this is clear, fitness naturally falls into place.
When there is no direction, fitness has a vague meaning at best.
Finding purpose, finding a deeper meaning, which has been the goal of these last 3 posts, can drive positive worthwhile behaviors.
I encourage you to pursue them.
I’ve been lucky enough to witness huge changes in many lives. None seem as big a realization as purpose or even revisiting purpose.
I love hearing stories about how eating better makes people feel good about themselves or how exercise makes them more productive.
I’m striving to help others integrate some good fitness and nutrition practices into a fulfilling life, not live for fitness and boring food.
If you’ve got ideas for finding purpose, I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment below.