7 Exercise To Help You Find Your Purpose
Begin With The End In Mind
I first read about this exercise on Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. What it basically means is that before you take any physical action towards your goal, you begin by envisioning yourself reaching your goal. The only problem of course is that you if you have the wrong goal or the wrong vision to begin with then what good will it be to reach it? So, as important as knowing how to reach a goal, and as important as creating a vision of yourself achieving the goal, you better make sure you have decided to go for the goal or goals that you truly want.
What you need to do is begin with the end in mind, but not just the end of your goal, you have to go further than that. You have to go to the final end, the big end. Here’s the exercise, it might take you 20 to 30 minutes, maybe longer, but it is definitely well worth it. Give yourself this time to be alone, uninterrupted, relaxed, and be ready to write down your vision. Start by having your writing apparatus ready, whether on a computer, or on a notepad. Take a few real deep breaths, hold your breath for a second after the inhale, and do the same after your exhale. Close your eyes if it helps, and imagine that you are getting ready for a close friend’s funeral. You get dressed in appropriate attire, you get in your car, and you head out to the funeral home. You get there, get off and head towards the viewing room. There you see your friend’s other friends and family members and you exchange greetings and acts of sympathy. Then you head over to see your friend in the casket. Once you arrive you look inside and you notice that it’s not your friend in the casket, the one in the casket is really you. It seems you have been given the gift of being able to witness your own funeral, you are only there in spirit, yet you still feel all the typical human emotions that arise at funerals. If this were to actually happen today, who would you see at your funeral? (Remember to write all your answers down) Of all the people that you’ve upset in your life, or that you’ve had conflicts with in your life, or that you’ve hurt, which ones would still show up? If you don’t think some of them would show up, why would that be? Of all the people that have been in your life up until now, which ones would definitely show up? List them.
Now it’s time for the eulogies and all the people that attend have to give one. Of all the eulogies which ones would you value the most? Which ones would you definitely want to hear? Now think about what they would all say about you, and write down everything you can, in as much detail as possible. Do you think there is a difference in what they would say about you, versus, what you would like them to say about you? Make sure and highlight these differences. Who do you love right now? What would your loved ones say? Take as much time as you need, and write as much as you can, just let it out, no need to spell check or to write in a certain order, just write. Just get started, put effort into not procrastinating.
So how is this exercise going to help you find your purpose? This is going to help by showing you the important things in your life, the things that you really value. And you are not necessarily putting value on other peoples’ opinions of you, but you have to keep in mind that those opinions will be reflecting your behavior. They will be reflecting your actions in your life up until this point. You can also separate all the different people into a few groups, such as the close family group (parents, siblings), friends, co-workers/colleagues, community (church, religious, society). This will give you a picture of how you’d like your life to be in all these areas.
This exercise really put things in perspective for me, I was bit emotional of course since you are imagining your own funeral. But afterwards I really saw the great value this exercise holds, it’s no macabre, or sadistic, it’s simply beginning (right now) with the end in mind.
Take A Quick Test
It seems like a benign, little, insignificant test, however, it seems pretty accurate. I’ve taken it, I’ve had my loved ones take it, I’ve had my friends take it, and it is very accurate. It might point you more towards a career or occupation, but seeing how we spend most of our lives exercising our careers/jobs, it’s super nice to know that you are spending that time correctly.
Use Steve Pavlina’s Method
You can certainly head over to Steve’s page and read that article and the other related articles. Here is my summary. Give yourself some time, to be alone, to be able to focus, and to be able to write. Ask yourself, “What is my purpose in life?” and then proceed to write whatever answer or answers pop into your head. No matter if the answer seems absurd, or silly, or inaccurate, just write it down. Usually, as soon as you write it down, you should have a feeling or emotion, just keep an eye on your emotional state. Once you get to a good answer you should know it’s the right one based on how you feel. And just keep writing, keep making lists of whatever comes to mind when you think about your purpose in life. Give yourself a maximum of 30 minutes, and then stop. In case it doesn’t work, and you don’t find an answer that you feel fits with you, do not worry. Just tell yourself out loud, “I want to know what my purpose in life is.” Or another good one is just, “What is my purpose in life?” And remain silent afterwards, and I don’t just mean don’t make any sounds or noise, I mean, try to not think, remain silent in your mind also. You don’t have to not think for long, just give yourself at least a few seconds. If an answer comes then write it down, if it doesn’t then you are done for the day. The next day just ask yourself the questions once more and continue on until an answer comes to you. This can be similar to when you are trying to remember something such as a name, but the harder you try the more the answer evades you. And then you give up and you continue your conversation or whatever you were doing, and then later on then answer just strikes you like lightning. This might be how you find your purpose. Be patient, but be alert.
Ask Your Friends And Family
You might not value your friends’ and family’s opinion, but they have a different perspective than you do. It can be hard for us to step outside ourselves unless we’ve been practicing. So if you haven’t been practicing, just ask your friends and family what they think your purpose in life is. Don’t discard their opinions or answers, just listen non-judgmentally, or rather, just listen to them silently, meaning with no mental noise, with no opinions in your head. And make sure and write down the answers. Imagine that you are gathering pieces to a large puzzle, some might fit perfectly, others not so much. However, even the odd pieces have a purpose, they help you put the other pieces in perspective, so don’t undervalue ANY piece of this puzzle. When I did this part I got some startling answers. They were startling because I had a preconceived notion that some of my friends’ and family’s answers were going to be ordinary and meaningless. But on the contrary I was taken aback by their answers. For example, this one friend that is always poking fun at me and always looking for a benefit for himself told me I was one of the most spiritual people he knew, I almost fell on my head by his answer. A family member told me that I was always trying to teach stuff, and it was so obvious, I had been trying to teach people stuff since I was a little kid, but never had that thought crossed my mind. It’s like when you see certain things daily, they are right in front of your face but you never really notice them until someone points them out. That’s exactly how that answer was. It can be especially valuable to make sure and ask people that don’t know you as much as your close family and friends. I recently read Blink, by Malcom Gladwell, in which he talks about “thin slicing,” Thin slicing refers to making a snap judgement on a thing or a person on very little information, which is sometimes more accurate than making a judgement on a ton of information. So ask someone that doesn’t know you as well, and ask them to tell you the first thing that comes to mind, and have them answer you quickly. And again, make sure and write all this down, remember that it’s another valuable puzzle piece.
Imagine This Scenario
You are extremely exhausted, you are just tired, your eyes AND your entire body feel like they have all the weight of the world on them, you are drained, you are lying on your elegant bed unable to prevent yourself from giving in to the most vastly deep sleep you have ever felt, and at the same time you feel a sense of victory, a sense that you are finally satiated. Whoa! How did you get to this point? Remember to have your writing apparatus ready, make sure and take plenty of notes.
To find out how you got to that extreme tiredness you’ll have to go back in time, how much time depends on your situation. The reason you are at that point in your life is that you have come upon the most extravagant amount of money you can imagine. Maybe you won the lottery, maybe you inherited the money, or maybe you found a giant gold nugget while you were camping. The point is you acquired a sum of money great enough to satiate your desire for it. After you got the money, you immediately thought of all your desires, you came up with a bucket list in fact, but maybe it should be called a golden challis list, since you won’t be kicking the bucket anytime soon. It is actually quite the opposite, you are going to be enjoying your life to the maximum from here on out. You are a good person, so first thing on the list is help out your immediate family, friends and all loved ones. You take care of them all, you don’t want to super spoil them, so you help them with the essentials. You help your parents retire, pay off their mortgages and get them good cars. And the same thing for your other family members that you deem worthy. Your friends? Done, you help them all out. So now all your friends and family and loved ones are all set, you are their hero. So now onto you, what are you going to do with all that money? Get yourself a good house of course, or maybe a good house in every continen? You get yourself your dream sports cars, you drive them, you race them, you experience all the cars you’ve ever only dreamed of. Travel? Of course, you travel to all the places you’ve ever wanted to travel to, the best beaches, the best resorts. Food? Why that one is obvious, you try everything you’ve ever wanted to try, the best steaks, the best lobster, the best sushi. You not only eat at the restaurants near you, you plan entire trips around the foods you like. Want the best sushi? You go to Japan, no problem. What other desires would you have? Sexual desires? Done, you’ve done it all. Or maybe you just want to find the love of your life? Done, you hire the world’s most professional match makers, then you find the love of your life, and then you have your dream wedding. What other desires would you want to fulfill? Feel free to write them down, imagine them vividly. Satiate all your desires until you are just completely satisfied. So there you are, extremely tired, because for the past few years you have done it all, and I mean all that you have ever desired, you have experienced it all, everything is done, you no longer have any worries, or any problems. You crash, you go to sleep, and you sleep like never before, sweet satisfying sleep.
The next morning you wake up refreshed and completely at peace. What are you going to do now? Every desire you’ve ever had is now fulfilled, no one can tell you that you gotta try this or you gotta try that, because you’ve done it all. And now you have to think, what are you going to do with the rest of your life? If you had all the money you needed, and you had satisfied all your desires, what would follow? What would you do on a daily basis? What would your perfect day look like from now on? Write it down.
We Are All Very Crazy
I recently read the book Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. And in it he basically states that most of us are very horrible at predicting what exactly is going to make us happy, and that we all have horrible perception about our memories about what has made us happy. And another book, Thinking, Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman, basically says that we are extremely irrational when making decisions. And these two authors are not just bloggers, they are actual doctors in their fields, and they have done a lot of research. They paint a grim picture for us in this venture of finding a purpose for ourselves that will make us truly happy, however, this information can become a very useful asset. Daniel Gilbert’s solution to the problem is to ask others that have already been through what you are going through, for some advice. Maybe they were thinking what you are thinking now and they can share their results and maybe steer you in a better direction. Daniel Kahneman really doesn’t specify a solution, but rather the important thing is to recognize your mind and its behavior. It makes you reflect on judgements you’ve made, or decisions you’ve made and whether you made them rationally or if they were influenced by your personal biases.
Once you arm yourself with this information one might then ask, “OK, so how do I fix my mind and my thinking to be more focused on what’s real rather than on its irrationalities?” The best way one can go about learning about our minds and the nature of the mind and of its thinking is to meditate. Meditation is a simple process that has been scientifically proven over and over to help alleviate these symptoms. Meditation basically creates space between your awareness and your mind. Imagine yourself being close enough to a painting that you are touching it with your nose. Can you really see the painting? Of course not, you are too close, your vision is probably out of focus, if nobody told you, you wouldn’t even know what you were standing in front of. In a way, that’s how most of us are when it comes to noticing our thinking; we are so close to it, touching it with our nose, that we can’t perceive it, we can’t see thinking for what it is. We are so attached to it that we think that we are our thinking, and the thinking goes on and on from one meaningless thought to another. Meditation helps you slow down, and take a step back, and lets you see thinking for what it is. Once you have this space, you notice a lot more than before, you can discern between monkey thoughts and important feelings and emotions. Being able to be still and to stop thinking for a while is a perfect way to find answers to your own questions. Have you ever been asked a question and you know that you know the answer but you just can’t come up with it? And finally you give up and just let go, and then maybe a few minutes, hours, or even days later the answer suddenly comes to you? This is what can happen, among other things, when you start practicing meditation. So use this tool to your advantage, use it to help you find your purpose. There are plenty of free resources online. A very good resource is Tara Brach, she’s a skilled meditation teacher and practitioner, you can find her here: http://www.tarabrach.com/new-to-meditation.html , there are also plenty of guided meditations on Youtube, I prefer to use the guided meditations offered by Sam Harris. And of course on this blog there is an article of various ways to medtitate: http://freeselfhelpforyou.com/top-ten-ways-to-meditate/
Death: Another Useful Tool
Death again? Sorry, it’s just one of the most useful tools not only in helping you find you purpose, but in living a happier life. There is a very popular article online titled “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” Which later became a book. It was written by a palliative nurse. As she cared for dying patients she began asking them if they’d had any regrets and recorded the findings. The top regret is, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” This one is very common and probably the hardest to overcome. It’s just how we’ve been raised by our parents, and the influences from our friends and society in general. It gets tattooed in our minds that we must do x and y, that we must do this and that. And for those of us that never stop and question, or stop and reflect, it just becomes a deeper and deeper hole we dig ourselves into. That’s why it’s very important to meditate, to stop thinking, and to just reflect back on how we’re doing. As the saying goes, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” attributed to Socrates, we must stop once in while, reflect, and make the necessary changes. The worse we can do is to reflect back once we are in our deathbed, stop and reflect now. It takes courage to follow your own path, as soon as you do so the naysayers start talking. But we must be compassionate to them since what they’re really communicating is that they wish they had this courage too. And deciding to follow your own path doesn’t have to be a complete 180 to your current path, you can work it into your life little by little. Another blogger once said that we must be like Tarzan once we find our purpose, we don’t let go of one vine until we have a firm hold of the next one. Just remember that we tend to regret more the things we didn’t do than the things we did do.
The second regret is, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” What this one is pointing to is a well-balanced life. It’s doesn’t mean that you should just be lazy and sit around and enjoy the pleasures of life, but it also doesn’t mean work yourself to death. If you did the first exercise and if your family and friends said anything about you, I bet one thing they would all mention is the value they have on spending time with you. If you are working to hard it means that you are away from home, that you are spending the time earning enough money to take care of your loved ones. But ironically, as you take care of them economically, you are missing out on what truly matters. So strike a balance, it’s ok to work hard to get something going. Spending your time like this can be seen as an investment for a better future, but be very careful that you don’t spend your entire life investing while life passes you by.
Number three says, “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” There is no more corrosive a practice than to bottle up your emotions. Even bottling up positive emotions such as love and friendship can be corrosive. They all lead to suffering. And of course, back to our upbringing, if we don’t get taught how to express our emotions as kids, it becomes much harder as adults. But you can start practicing any time. When expressing negative feelings, be tactful, and most important don’t express a feeling in order to get a certain response from someone, your goal is to just let it out, to just express it. You must have your feelings and emotions expressed, you must vent. Even if you don’t have the courage to confront someone in particular, at least vent to someone else. I once read a story about a lecturer that was explaining stress management to an audience. She had a glass of water in her hand and raised it and asked people to guess how much it weighed. Many people answered with their guesses. The lecturer went on to say that the weight of the glass did not matter, what mattered what the amount of time you hold it in the air. If you hold it for a few minutes everything should be ok, but once you start holding it for a few hours then you’ll certainly have a problem. And she went on to explain that stress, or basically anything bad in our lives is like holding up that glass of water, it’s not necessarily the amount of stress or the amount of anger we are carrying, it’s the amount of time we carry it for. Can you imagine the suffering people go through that hold on to things for a lifetime? Only to finally let go at the end of their lives? You must express your feelings and emotions to people, it’s a choice. You must realize that you have a choice, and going through whatever discomfort it might cause now can lead to a happier life.
The fourth regret is “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” This one points back to working too hard. Again, you must prioritize your life and realize who the important people in your life are.
And number five is “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Happiness is truly a choice, it’s not some random thing that comes and goes. Happiness must also not be confused with pleasure, happiness is not something gained from one of our five senses. Happiness is an overall vibe, a panoramic picture if you will, of your life and those around you. Happiness happens inside you, sure, it can be triggered by outside forces, but it always happens on the inside. You must always be alert as to where your attention is, it’s just common sense that if your attention is drawn to happy people, and happy situations then that’s just how you will feel. Notice yourself, notice your attention, and take control. Attention is like a flashlight in the dark room that is the world, you can point the flashlight to whatever, or whomever you want, and it’s your choice! So why not point it at happiness?
I Found My Purpose Now What?
Once you gather all the pieces of the puzzle put them together in a clear and concise paragraph. You can also think of the paragraph as a mission statement for your life. Thinking about yourself in your deathbed your goal should be have zero regrets, you should be able to look back and be completely at peace with your life and what you did with it. It’s very important to make a distinction at this point also. We sometimes seem to confuse our life purpose with our passion (or passions), and also with what-we-do-to-earn-a-living. The ultimate goal is to combine all three into one. For example I have found that my purpose is to learn and teach. As simple as that sentence is, that’s just what it boils down to. Therefore, I want to always be acquiring knowledge, digesting it, and giving it back to those that need it or can use it to improve their lives. If I could do that every day I would be happy, and if I could earn a living doing so then all the better. Teaching is also my passion, and my other passions are family life, sports, the outdoors, and traveling. My ultimate goal is to put all these things together into one mass of a machine that produces help in the form of knowledge and advice for others. I want this machine to also create enough time for spending with my family, take me to the outdoors, help me travel, help me be active in sport, and be self-sustaining. The machine concept is a great analogy to use. What type of machine do you want to make? What is the machine going to produce for you? Are you going to just copy somebody else’s machine? Are you even going to make one? Are you instead going to spend all your life helping others make theirs while not working on yours?
I Did All The Exercises But I Just Can’t Nail It Down
If you did all these exercise and wrote down your answers and thoughts but just cant see what the picture is pointing to, please don’t worry. Finding one’s purpose is not usually easy or fast. Just read over all you’ve written and let your subconscious incubate the information. And also tell yourself this statement, “I want to find my purpose in life.” Just like the example in the meditation section, you give your mind space to incubate the question, and the answer will hatch for you later on. Remember not to restrict yourself to a specific format when writing down your purpose or mission statement. You are unique and therefore, your purpose, how to you come to it, and you put it on paper will also be unique. The important thing is your statement just clicks inside your, you just know that it rings true for you. If you had to pick a purpose out of a line-up you should instantly recognize the one that is for you. Another important point is to remember that the nature of life is constant change. We are never exactly the same at every moment. Consider the fact that our hair and nails are always growing, from just an hour ago until now your nails have grown. Maybe not a noticeable amount, but they have grown, so you are not the exact same person from an hour ago. Scratch and itch in your arm and you have just ripped thousands of cells from your skin, you are not the same any longer, you have changed. So in the same way, your life purpose does not have to be a permanent statement written in stone. It can change, and if you have to change it remember to view that as normal.
Here are a couple of examples from The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People:
Succeed at home first.
Seek and merit divine help.
Never compromise with honesty.
Remember the people involved.
Hear both sides before judging.
Obtain counsel of others.
Defend those that are absent.
Be sincere yet decisive.
Develop one new proficiency a year.
Plan tomorrow’s work today.
Hustle while you wait.
Maintain a positive attitude.
Keep a sense of humor.
Be orderly in person and in work.
Do not fear mistakes-fear only the absence of creative, constructive, and corrective responses to those mistakes.
Facilitate the success of subordinates.
Liste twice as much as you speak.
Concentrate all abilities and efforts on the task at hand, not worrying about the next job or promotion.
Here is another example:
I will seek to balance career and family as best I can since both are important to me. My home will be a place where I and my family, friends and guests find joy, comfort, peace, and happiness. Still I will seek to create a clean and orderly environment, yet livable and comfortable. I will exercise wisdom in what we choose to eat, read, see, and do at home. I especially want to teach my children to love, to learn, and to laugh—and to work and develop their unique talents. I value the rights, freedoms, and responsibilities of our democratic society. I will be a concerned and Informed citizen, involved in the political process to ensure my voice is heard and my vote is counted. I will be a self-starting individual who exercises initiative in accomplishing my life’s goals. I will act on situations and opportunities, rather than to be acted upon. I will always try to keep myself free from addictive and destructive habits. I will develop habits that free me from old labels and limits and expand my capabilities and choices. My money will be my servant, not my master. I will seek financial independence over time. My wants will be subject to my needs and my means. Except for long-term home and car loans, I will seek to keep myself free from consumer debt. I will spend less than I earn and regularly save or invest part of my income. Moreover, I will use what money and talents I have to make life more enjoyable for others through service and charitable giving.
As you can see these are two very different styles of writing down a purpose.
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