This is one of the most common things that I hear people say they are lacking in their life. How do we live a life of purpose?
But what’s interesting is that I honestly don’t think they actually lack purpose. I think that they lack an understanding of what purpose actually is as well as how to feel like that purpose is integrated in their life.
Let me ask you this: What do you value in your life? And do any of your daily actions align with what you value?
My guess is that you may have a pretty good sense of what you value, of where you want to focus your time and energy. But, if you’re anything like me, you may find that life is full. Life is busy. Life is heavy with lots and lots of choices and decisions. And concerns and worries. Whether those decisions and worries are related to the microcosm of our immediate families and communities or the macrocosm of our global environment, there’s a lot going on.
When there is a lot going on, we can get lost in a cloud of overwhelm and, though we would wish to have lives that feel aligned with what we value, with who we are, and with what we believe, the days and weeks and months can pass in a vague blur with no real grounding in the life (or world) we really want. With no sense of purpose.
This is where intentionality comes in. The word “intention” gets tossed around a lot and often ends up having the vibe of “making a wish.” As in, we make an internal wish which we sort of throw out into the world with the hope that it will just sort of happen. However, intentionality means being deliberate. And, being deliberate requires three things: knowing your why, staying attentive, and taking action.
When helping people create change, this is the first, perhaps most critical, step in the process. You must know WHY you want to do what you want to do or live the life you want to live. (Why do you value environmental sustainability? Why do you support local businesses? Why do you care about healthy eating for your family). Knowing your WHY will help you get crystal clear on what it is you value. And tethering your actions to a deeper sense of why will support your ability to prioritize how you choose to use your time and energy.
One of my favorite tried-and-true ways to help someone find their why is to ask, you guessed it, “why.” So, for example, if someone tells me that they value kindness, I would ask, “Why do you value kindness?” They may say, “because kindness brings people together.” And, again, “why is it important to bring people together?” Their response might be, “because we are living in a time of great divisiveness and we need to have more connected, peaceful communities.” We would continue in this way to get to the core understanding of why this person wants to prioritize kindness. When you know your WHY, you are much more likely to choose that which connects to it.
Want to dig deeper into finding your why? Check out my post Finding Your Why here.
In every moment, we have a choice to make and it will either be a conscious choice (which has the potential to align with our values and priorities) or an unconscious one (which will ultimately come from habit). In order to make conscious, intentional decisions we must practice paying attention.
Cultivating your attention is a moment-by-moment practice of noticing why you are choosing what you are choosing, why you are taking the action you are taking. It can feel like there are a million things that pull at our attention. Some of which actually require our attention, others of which we “allow” our attention to be absorbed though not necessary or supportive. Simply asking the question, at any given moment, “is this necessary and does it align with my values?” can help us reorient ourselves in the decisions we are making and where we are choosing to place our attention, time, and energy.
In the book, Atomic Habits, James Clear describes one of the greatest barriers to reaching goals as getting stuck in motion instead of taking action. Both motion and action are forms of activity that require effort and energy. But motion is any activity that, though may help to lay the foundation for action, doesn’t move us in an actual direction toward a goal. Action, on the other hand, is activity that moves us directly toward a goal.
For example, let’s say you decide that one of your values is your health and you are consciously choosing to include more exercise in your life. You decide to run a 5k. You buy new running shoes. You plan your first run. You invite a friend for accountability. You set your alarm clock and actually wake up to it. You put on your running clothes and shoes. All of that is motion. Activity in support of a healthier you. It doesn’t shift to action until you actually hit the ground and run.
Motion isn’t inherently bad or useless. In fact, it’s necessary, useful, and supportive. But we can get stuck in motion, stuck in a place of exhausting our energy without any movement toward our goal. Or, without any purposeful movement toward the life we want.
Purpose is right here, right now. We all have the potential and capacity to live a life of purpose and meaning — connect to your why, pay attention, and choose action.
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June 24, 2021