(estimated read time: 5 minutes for the whole thing, stop once you are confident enough to write a purpose statement though)
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?
One certainty in life, is that you will die — and you will pay taxes! — but 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, but ultimately the meaning is probably to figure out your life’s purpose, then spend your life, living up to it.
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 can say that humans, by nature, seek purpose, interchangeably with meaning. 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. 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.
If you want to be the next Steve Jobs or Ghandi, go for it, but realize that purpose doesn’t have to be world-changing, just life-changing.
The Purpose Statement
I’ll cut right to it this time. I’ve also previously heard of this being called the “head-stone statement,” but that’s a little morose. [toc]
In essence, this statement is one sentence that you would use to sum up your life. 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. You’ll often hear me refer to this as the ‘Master Goal,’ and it’s never-ending.
If you can right now, try to write something down. If a sentence didn’t pop into your head, keep reading for some more ideas, that might help you eventually create your purpose statement.
*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 getting started? 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 remarkably effective for self-discovery.
This process is simple and will help you with some of the stuff below. 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.
Identify the things you are good at and potentially bad at, then my recommendation, for personal use, is to erase the negative stuff and focus on the positive.
This will give you some honest insights into what resonates with you, and what you would like to focus on, if given the opportunity.
The aim is emphasizing positive reinforcements, rather than what is holding you back.
Next, 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.
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, and can be an emotional investment that is often the basis for ethical action.
These guiding principles are instilled in all of us, either genetically, absorbed through our peer group/family, or through years of conditioning, and developmental growth. Often we assume many 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’ve decided to build a set of core values for myself and in the process of defining purpose, I recommend you do the same. I’ve managed to isolate 7 core values and I hope to creatively whittle that down a little further as I age.
Since doing so, I’ve found it incredibly simple to live up to my purpose statement.
Knowing my values also lets me make snap decisions more effectively, as 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 future stress.
It is really quite a simple process, identify qualities about yourself that you struggle to break free from, one 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.
After writing down as many as you can, aim to simplify it. See if you can integrate values into other values similar in nature, or find a better word that encapsulates them both aim to 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.”
I went further in a 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.
After you’ve completed this, how do your values align with 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.
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.
However, as a final jumpstart to your process, I hope you will consider some of the questions below:
1) What are you deeply passionate about?
2) What keeps you up at night?
3) What gets you out of bed in the morning?
4) What are you are genetically encoded for — what activities do you feel just “made to do”?
5) 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.
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.
I’ve already started writing a follow-up to this post, specific to the purpose of fitness/nutrition, so if there are any specifics you would like to see as they relate to this one, please leave a comment.
Fitness is 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 a deeper meaning, which has been the goal of these last 3 posts, can drive positive worthwhile behaviors. I’ve been lucky enough to witness huge changes in many lives, none, are as big a realization, as the ones that are internally driven via these secrets.
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 change, I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment below.