Are you living your life on purpose? Most people would probably instinctively say that yes, of course we are. But how do you know? What separates a life defined by intentional choices and constant progress from one dominated by unconscious entropy?
The Habit Dilemma
One of the things I find most fascinating about the human mind is its ability to self-automate. Mechanisms like habits and routines are great for keeping the ball rolling on helpful behaviors while freeing up our brainpower for issues that are more pressing in the short term. Whether you’re focused on advancing in your finances, physical health, mental health, career, or really just about any other life-improving goal, this sort of self-automation can be instrumental in getting you there.
But it comes at a cost. Not every habit is a good habit, and a life too rigidly defined by routine can keep you stuck in one place or worse, slowly and steadily drifting away from the life you really want.
A life made up entirely of routine is usually lacking in movement, growth, and opportunity. When every day is the same, and every action looks just like it does on every other day, there is no longer enough room for new thoughts, fresh ideas, and opportunities for breakthrough progress.
This is the dilemma with habits. When used effectively, they are one of the most powerful tools in existence for making positive life changes. But there exists a line where automatic routine ceases to be a tool, and becomes a framework that inhibits growth, progress, and joy. So if we’re going to truly live on purpose, define our ideal outcomes and then realize them, then we will need to figure out how to balance out this pattern of routine, habit, and familiarity.
But Wait, What Does “Life on Purpose” Even Mean, Exactly?
Let’s slow it down for a quick second, back up a bit, and look at what “life on purpose” even means. First, and most simply, it is about intentionality. Living life intentionally means making deliberate choices. By and large, everything in an intentional life is there because you’ve chosen for it to be. Not because it “just showed up” or has always been there.
But “on purpose” is one of those phrases with another meaning hiding in plain sight. It’s such a common phrase that it almost melts together into a single word, ‘onpurpose’, a synonym for intentionally (like above). But there are actually two words in there:
On (or in service to) an actual purpose, goal, or objective
It may seem a bit goofy to break it out this way, but think about it. How much of your day is actually spent doing something on purpose, i.e. working toward a clear goal?
Do you have a specific purpose right now? Either a broad, overarching purpose you’re pursuing in life, or a current goal or purpose for where you’re going next? Even a single, granular purpose for what you want to do with this day will suffice. If you don’t know yet, that’s okay, I can help you figure one out.
Living life on purpose is both of these things. It is knowing what purpose you aim to serve right now, whether big or small. And it is living intentionally and deliberately to achieve that purpose.
How Do I Start Living My Life on Purpose?
So we know what we want – a clear vision of where we’re going, and an intentional approach to fulfilling that vision. All we need now is a few tools for injecting that intentionality, and then we’re well on our way to living life on purpose.
Planning Your Life on Purpose
I don’t deny it, I’m a planner. Spreadsheets and lists are practically my love language. But you don’t have to be as over the top with it as I am to reap the immense benefit of a little bit of forethought.
Pretty much everyone has (at the very least) some vague sense of what they want out of their life in the long term, where they’d like to go next, or something that they want to be different from their current status quo. And there’s never been any harm in taking some time to sit down and have an honest conversation with yourself about those aspirations. There’s a reason that things like vision boards have been around for so long. Documenting your purpose in some form is essential to achieving it, because it helps you:
- Clarify the end result you want
- Keep that result in the forefront of your mind
- Identify the steps it will take to get there
- Hold yourself accountable to pursuing that purpose
Tracking and updating clearly defined goals will always be a prerequisite to achieving them.
Productive Habits and Automation
At the top of this post I talked about habits, and how a life that is too rigidly defined by routine and familiarity can be a major blocker to living an intentional life. But this doesn’t mean that habits themselves are bad, or that they necessarily exist in opposition to living life on purpose.
As a concept, habits are quite neutral. Neither good nor bad, but with the potential to become either. Habits simply keep something moving without us needing to put much thought into maintaining the direction. Assess the habits you do have, carefully choose and build the ones that move you toward your purpose, while breaking down and replacing those which would hold you back.
Venture into the Discomfort Zone
This separation between productive habits and stagnant routine has a close parallel in another concept that comes up frequently around here: the all-important balance between comfort and discomfort. It cannot be stressed enough that while spending some time in your comfort zone is important for mental health, life is not complete without also spending some time in your discomfort zone.
Putting yourself into situations that make you feel at least a little bit uncomfortable is a perfect remedy for when things start getting a little too familiar and life is running on autopilot. It’s like a splash of cold water to the face – refreshing, and jolts you back to awareness.
If life is getting sleepy and you’re coasting toward (or already deep into) a rut, wake yourself up with a bit of discomfort and give yourself the alertness you need to get back to living life on purpose.
One of my favorite tools that comes into play with so many different ways of improving life, we once again arrive at the ever-useful power of asking great questions.
Living life on purpose, in large part, is just about noticing. Observing yourself, your situation, your routines, actions, and thoughts, and making conscious choices about what goes there, rather than unconscious ones. No one here is talking about you actively sabotaging your own possibilities, or fighting against getting where you want to go. None of that. What we’re talking about today is taking the unconscious, and making it conscious.
Ask yourself questions about your day:
- Why am I doing this right now? Is this a good use of my time?
- Am I serving my purpose today, or getting distracted by other things?
- How am I going to move closer to my purpose?
- Does this fit my plan or move me toward my goals?
There are many more, but you get the idea. Build the habit of interrupting yourself and being an outside observer. Temporarily pause your routine to check if it is where you actually want yourself to be, and you’ll quickly find yourself much more easily aligning with your own purpose.