How to find a sense of purpose
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Questions really don’t get any bigger than this: what is the meaning of life?
It’s been mulled over for centuries by all manner of philosophers, scientists, psychiatrists, novelists – and infamous comedians to boot – but so far drawn precious little agreement.
That’s no surprise. We’re all unique with different passions, talents and values so – unsurprisingly – there’s no simple answer. Of course, grand historic thinkers are not the only ones to wonder. Millions of us have also tried to find the answer to the purpose or meaning of our personal lives during daily routines.
It can strike at any moment – during a frantic spell at work, in the middle of a stressful commute, when things are hectic at home with family, when you’re relaxing on holiday or in a quiet moment alone – where you’ve simply asked yourself: ‘what on earth am I doing?’.
It can be daunting to think about but a sense of purpose can have a major impact on your daily life and work – and bring significant happiness and meaning to it.
If you’re feeling frustrated, disconnected or seeking meaning in what you do, here are eight tips that could help you on your way
- Do a lot more of what you genuinely love
‘Do what you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’ the popular phrase goes. But if your focus is solely on finding purpose in work instead of in a personal capacity, you could miss out on a truly meaningful aspect of life such as wonderful friendship, closer family ties or helping your local community.
Working out what you really love to do in life isn’t always simple – it’s not an everyday task most of us ever try to do.
Talane Miedaner, life coach and author of Coach Yourself to a New Career, suggests you start with a simple exercise: write a list of everything – big and small – that gives you pure joy.
Think about a pastime that makes you feel good; an activity or leisure you want to do but don’t currently have time for; and those passions you always daydream about.
Keep going until you’ve exhausted your imagination. Then, once you’ve finished, tape the list to your fridge.
Set yourself a challenge to do at least one thing from your list every week. Doing more of what you love could help you to make a greater connection to your life.
- Work out what’s second nature to you
Knowing what you’re naturally good at can be a huge boost to pinning down your purpose.
When you find it easy to accomplish a task, you can usually achieve greater success in that field – and be inspired to do more.
Acknowledging a natural talent isn’t always clear cut – it can come in any size, shape or form, and doesn’t have to be grandiose to count.
Are you a wordplay wizard, a maths whizz or a DIY expert Can you run for miles at speed without the need to train or touch your toes without any effort? Or do you find people readily open up to you as you’re a brilliant listener? Maybe public speaking at work thrills you rather than fills you with dread?
Run a slide rule over everything and anything you find easy to do well. Grab the pen again and list it all – no matter how insignificant you think it may be.
Don’t be shy: think about what people compliment you on, thank you for doing or admire you for.
Jot down any awards you’ve won, any great work, feedback or achievements – and if you get stuck, ask your friends and colleagues what they think you’re good at.
Once completed, see if you can spot any themes in your natural talents. These will help guide you towards spending more of your time on pursuits that can give you greater purpose.
- Think about who you admire
Being inspired by others can help you connect to someone who shares a similar outlook, and motivate you to focus on your own goals.
Try to pick a few people you’re close to – a friend, family member or colleague – and others with a public or historic profile, such as a renowned painter, speaker, athlete, writer, director or actor.
Ask yourself how – precisely – each of your chosen individuals inspires you and why. Are there any characteristics, traits, ambitions and achievements they all share? These answers are all parts of a jigsaw to help you define a sense of purpose.
- Look at the bigger picture…
One of the biggest blocks to finding a sense of purpose is actually deciphering what ‘it’ is.
It’s easy to get bogged down in tiny details but a sense of purpose doesn’t have to be directly linked to a precise job, individual person or particular talent. More often than not, it can be an overarching personal theme that shapes your choices.
For example, it could be anything from a desire to help the most vulnerable in society, to playing a part in combating climate change, or a simple love of working outdoors to getting involved in local politics.
So don’t worry if you’re sweating the small stuff – the bigger picture will often heave into view.
- Try taking a personality test
They won’t be for everyone but personality tests can be a terrific way to glean insight into the kind of individual you are – and the purpose that might drive you. Plenty of free tests online can help highlight your values, your stressors, the type of people you get on with and – if you’re job hunting – ideal careers to consider. You could try 16 Personalities to start (or search online for alternatives) and if you want to dig deeper, you could look into booking a session with a neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) practitioner or a life coach – check the Life Coach Directory for local specialists.
- Make your health a top priority
It may sound self-evident to stay in sound physical and mental shape. But if you’re feeling burnt out or a little stressed, it can be increasingly difficult to focus on what’s important to you.
As well as regular exercise for your body and mind, yoga or meditation could help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Or if you’re really struggling, try first talking to someone you trust. Our mental health guidance can show you where to go for help if needed and keep you on top of your finances during stressful periods.
- Explore volunteering
Giving your time to others could have a major impact on their lives – it can also boost your community and help you feel good about yourself too.
It’ll also introduce you to new people, experiences and parts of society you wouldn’t normally be close to.
From work with refugee children to conservation and from community clean-ups to counselling and charity work, the opportunities are endless.
You can find tips galore in our volunteering article on the many ways you can make a difference.
- Be prepared for change
If you find a sense of purpose and it starts to slide, don’t be disheartened. As your life and goals change, so too can your purpose – it can shift and adapt as you do. Starting a family, a drastic career change or a major move overseas can all mean you reset your purpose.
It’s perfectly natural to feel like you’re starting over – you don’t have to have the same purpose throughout your life.
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