4 Steps to Uncover Your Purpose
A life lit by purpose helps provide clarity during challenging times.
We focus on many changes in a new year, but perhaps the most important resolution we can make—and maintain—is finding joy and passion. Defining your purpose can help. A generally accepted definition of purpose is a long-term, forward-looking intention to accomplish aims that are meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self (Damon 2009).
How do you define your purpose? Lee Jordan, MS, NBC-HWC, adjunct professor at Point Loma Nazarene University, and Beth Jordan, RYT 500 and co-owner with Lee of Fullest Living in Jackson-ville Beach, Florida, describe four action steps below.
1. Remember Exceptional Events From Childhood
Transport yourself back to when you were a kid and revisit two or three moments that were exceptional, filling you with joy and satisfaction. For each moment, answer these questions:
- What was the particular action or activity you were doing?
- Who was there, if anyone? Where did it take place? What time of day was it, and what year?
- What were you feeling before the moment and after it?
- What emotions do you connect to this event? Which of your strengths do you associate with it?
2. Recall Your Nietzsche Moments
Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th century philosopher, famously said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” During our most challenging moments, our purpose makes itself known, keeping us afloat and eventually guiding us through to the other side.
Write about two or three of your most challenging moments in life, not current challenges or ones that are still gripping you in any way. For each challenging moment, tell your story, beginning with what happened and what it was like, and then describing how it is for you now.
Seek out and define your gifts and strengths, as revealed through these moments.
See also: Exercise, Life Purpose and Happiness
3. Reflect on Moments of Joy and Flow
Review your life journey for joy and flow moments. Authentic joy springs from within. It is uniquely yours and does not need to be attached to a skill or have a particular effect on the world.
Flow occurs when you are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity that involves your creative abilities. During such an optimal experience, you feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious and at the peak of your abilities (Csikszentmihalyi 1990).
Capture these moments in writing and explore fully what you were experiencing at these times.
4. Define Your Purpose in a Sentence
Leveraging what you have uncovered and understood about yourself in the first three steps, begin to shape your purpose sentence. Your purpose sentence doesn’t even need to be a sentence; it can be an icon or a logo. The key is to ensure that it awakens, ignites and unlocks that special something inside you—your purpose.
List key words and strengths you uncovered in the first three steps and reflect on why you chose those factors. Then write your sentence and look for elements that connect to your exceptional kid moments, Nietzsche moments, and joy and flow moments.
See also: Life Purpose Is Linked With Longevity
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What Does Research Say?
An emerging body of research indicates that purpose in life is linked with a variety of healthy behaviors and with better mental and physical health (Kim, Hershner & Strecher 2015). A connection between purpose in life and healthy behaviors, outcomes and longevity is encouragingly demonstrated in older adults. For example, a study published in JAMA found that a stronger purpose in life was associated with lower all-cause mortality in adults older than 50 (Alimujiang et al. 2019).