Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
If you’re feeling tired, burned out, or just stuck, awakening your sense of “why” can be a powerful way to build resilience and thrive. A strong sense of purpose is the everyday awareness and conscious acknowledgment that you exist for a reason. It’s the pervasive belief that your life is worth living and that whatever you are spending your time doing is worth doing.
Purpose itself is defined as the “reason for which something is done or created.” And you have a reason by default.
It may even help you live longer.
Research has found that people with a strong awareness of purpose in their lives and work experience the same physical benefits as regular exercise. In a survey of 136,000 men and women, Dr. Randy Cohen found that when people indicated a clear purpose in their lives and work, they had a 23% reduction in mortality and a 19% reduction in cardiovascular events.
And like exercise, a sense of purpose isn’t something that just “happens” or that you can go out and find or get. Awakening your purpose takes the same practice and patience as developing any new habit.
Here’s how to start today:
1. Believe that you matter
Scientifically, you can’t not matter. The truth that we must all reconcile is that we are an integral part of the living, breathing, complex system called Earth. And, by being part of a system, each and every thought, word, and action has a positive or negative infinite impact on the world.
The “butterfly effect” is a real scientific phenomenon. Just as the weather is a product of the complex interactions of 5 billion tons of water vapor and air whipping around in our atmosphere, so too does the human experience of the world result from the billions of interactions taking place every millisecond.
In a system with infinitely complicated interactions holding it all together, we never know when we’ll be the actor in the crux of the whole thing.
The key and prerequisite to awakening your purpose is to believe that you do matter, right now. Every time a doubting thought arises in your mind, simply say to yourself, “I do matter.”
2. Focus more on others
The biggest mistake I’ve seen people make when trying to awaken their purpose is that they focus too much on themselves. Ironically, if it weren’t for other people, you’d have no real purpose or reason for existing at all. Constantly thinking about and reminding yourself how what you do everyday helps others can transform your life.
Psychologists call this focus on the well-being of others a greater good motivation and it’s been shown to increase both happiness and productivity.
As a quick exercise, pick the most mundane part of your day. Now, intentionally trace its impact to its end. At the end of the chain, you will find that you’re solving some problem for a human being.
This compelling problem is your purpose and by focusing on it you can be happier and healthier in any situation.
3. Keep a focused, daily journal for one week
The below diagram is a powerful visualization that depicts purpose. If you look at each of the circles, you’ll find that these elements aren’t some sort of hidden fantasy. They are real and you already possess each one.
Try keeping a focused journal for 7 days. During the half-hour before bed, make three lists. The first should be all of the things you loved doing that day. And write down everything (no matter how small) that comes to mind until you can’t come up with anymore.
Next, write a list of the things you were good at that day. Whether it’s listening to a friend or finding motivation to go on that long run, write it down.
And finally, make a list of things that bothered you about the world that day. What did you see on the news that you can’t stop thinking about? When you were out and about, what did you see that made you upset?
At the end of the week, look at your lists (you’ll have 21 of them!). You will soon find that themes emerge. These themes are powerful in both identifying and awakening your purpose.
This idea is called convergence, and can help you identify where best to focus your time.
4. Try something new every day
Many times we get so stuck in a routine, that we quickly overlook the opportunities that present themselves every day to awaken purpose. This is why I try to do one thing I’ve never done every day.
Not only is trying new things exciting, but psychologically, it can help you systematically break down barriers your brain’s natural desire for comfort has subconsciously created for you.
Over time, you’ll start feeling more comfortable in new situations and taking risks. Then, you’ll be ready to leap when you see new opportunities.
Most of the time it is not money, time, or practicality that holds us back from living with purpose, it’s the artificial barriers our brain has put in place without our consent.
You do matter and you have a purpose. It’s time to awaken it.