The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
We all have times in our lives when we are confused about our path and which way forward. Certainly, there has been a great deal of change and disruption globally. The domino effect of this major disruption has seen fundamental changes to the way we live our lives, the way we learn and the way we work.
Life is about change. The adage, change is constant is true for all of us at any stage of our lives.
At the end of the day, change is inherent to life. Without change, our lives would be very dull and boring. Change is necessary and inevitable. However, we need to acknowledge that change can be hard at an individual level. We are in fact hard wired to be resistant to change.
Our brain is wired to minimise threat and risks. We take the fight or flight response when we are in danger or feel anxious in any way. It is interesting that the part of our brain responsible for thinking clearly and logically can shut down in times of anxiety.
In this roller coaster ride of a life we are all on, with so much fundamental change taking place, many of us have used this time as an opportunity to reboot our life by taking stock, evaluating our lives moving forward and rethinking what it is we want for a better and more balanced life in the future.
This is indeed a precursor to living a more fulfilling and meaningful life, in this increasingly interconnected and chaotic world we live in.
The people of Japan believe that everyone has an ikigai – a reason to jump out of bed every morning. In fact, the residents of the Japanese island of Okinawa (the world’s longest living people) think finding your ikigai is the ingredient to living a longer and more meaningful life.
So how do you find your purpose in life? It is not something you can do fully with your intellectual mind, but you need to use all your intelligences to look within. It is definitely not navel grazing and not to be confused with the over-thinking and ruminating mind.
There is a form of wellbeing, called eudaimonic happiness, derived from the Greek words eu, meaning good and daimon meaning soul or self. This form of happiness does not depend on external circumstances but rather comes from the inner self. It is actually about what we contribute to life rather than what we get out of it.
How to find your purpose
1. Spend some time alone
A good place to start is spending some time on your own. You need to have some time when you haven’t got a long to do list, or at least you have put it to the side. In many ways you can forget about time altogether. Be present to where you are at and to yourself.
For many people spending time alone can feel strange. We are so used to this frenetic, connected world that even if we are by ourselves, we are checking our emails and social media.
2. Practise self-compassion
Being kind to ourselves is an extremely powerful tool in developing our inner wellbeing and becoming clearer about our purpose. We are all very good at berating ourselves when we make mistakes. Our inner critic loves to let us know when we have messed up and is expert at doing that.
Dr Kristin Neff, a well-known researcher on this topic describes three elements of self-compassion. The first two are mindfulness and kindness. The third element is common humanity. Suffering is what unites us with every human being on the planet.
Self-compassion recognises that suffering and personal inadequacies are part of the shared human experience. Reminding ourselves that it is all something we go through rather than thinking it is something that happens to ‘me’ alone is reassuring and helps us to feel connected with others.
Practising self-compassion is not indulging ourselves. In fact, by being open-hearted to ourselves, it actually helps us to be more compassionate to others.
Sometimes it just about doing something for ourselves and practising some self-care. Do an activity that really helps you to relax. It can be small such as going for a walk, reading, listening to music, dancing or even going for a massage.
Practising self-care can really help set the scene for your soul searching and put you in the right frame of mind in finding your purpose.
3. Take up mindfulness meditation
There has been a great deal of evidence on the benefits of incorporating meditation and mindfulness into our everyday life. So many scientific studies show that these practices can profoundly affect every aspect of our lives – our bodies, minds and emotional and spiritual wellbeing. In fact, almost all health problems can be improved with such an approach.
It is not just about feeling calmer. The relaxation response, the state of equanimity after meditating, affects genes that are related to our immune system.
Meditation changes the brain. It increases the prefrontal region of the brain and slows down the thinning process that occurs as we age.
In essence, the practices of meditating and mindfulness not only help with our physical health, they strengthen our resilience in dealing with stress, help us tap into our wisdom and they also slow the ageing process.
This form of mindfulness brings with it a sense of wellbeing and genuine happiness, irrespective of what is happening externally and what we derive from the world. Happiness lies within and practising mindfulness definitely helps with this.
We can all fit in time in the day to improve our health and wellbeing and increase our state of equanimity. For those of us who tend to have a mind like a runaway train when under stress and which at times can be difficult to tame practising mindfulness meditation can make a big difference.
The Happiness Plan by Dr Elise Bialylew, founder of Mindful in May, is a one-month mindfulness meditation practice guide which helps make meditation simple and accessible.
Elise states in her book, “Mindfulness connects us to our inner reservoir of wellbeing and helps us to see the causes of our happiness and suffering. With this growing wisdom and clarity, we make better decisions and start to experience a happiness that transcends our never-ending flow of wanting.”
4. Spend some time in nature
Another important step to take is to arrange to spend some time in nature. It can be as simple as a walk through a forest, sitting down by the beach, observing the stars on a clear night. In our frenetic, connected world, many of us suffer from nature deficit disorder.
Being out in nature puts our own individual lives very much in perspective and connects us to something much bigger than ourselves. As Tenzin Wangyal says so well in The True Source of Healing, “Connection to the peaceful, joyful experience of who you are, is directly accessible through the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of nature.”
Forest bathing or shinrin-yoku is a famous, therapeutic Japanese practice of spending time in nature. Dr Li Qing, the world’s most foremost expert on forest medicine states in his book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, studies have shown that spending mindful, intentional time around trees can promote health and happiness.
5. Make time and space for reflection of your life as it currently is
This is the first step in working on your vision and purpose in your life. I have used this powerful self-coaching process in my Life Journal course for many years and I can tell you it works! It has helped me and many other people make positive and deep-lasting changes in their lives.
You will go through a structured process starting with deep reflection on your current life. This includes a comprehensive Life Satisfaction Audit. Before you can work on a compelling vision for the future, you need to understand your current reality and what areas of your life you want to improve.
In my Life Journal course there are 6 key steps to create a more fulfilling and meaningful life through learning to coach yourself. You will learn to use a powerful cyclical model of change that you can continue to use well after you finish the course.
Here are some questions that you can ask yourself in reflecting on your life as it is.
- What is your present situation?
- How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with different areas of your life? These areas include all facets of your emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing.
- What are your core values?
- What gives you energy?
- What drains you of energy?
- What internal resources have you used in the past to get you through difficult times?
In practising self-reflection, it is important to do this without judging yourself. This is where you can clarify your core values, your intrinsic motivation and how you behave and act in all situations. This is in essence about how you are true to yourself.
6. Define what a successful life is to you
The definition of success in my Life Journal course adds a spiritual dimension and includes our emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing, our values, our resilience, our personal mastery, our relationships with people, our ability to be present, how we can make a difference and, finally, our regard for all life and for the planet itself.
Of course, we all need a certain level of security, safety and comfort. There is nothing wrong with having material goals, but if that’s the be all and end all for you for then you may find that they do not give you the satisfaction you thought they would.
Power and money seem to be something people want more and more of when they are on a materialistic path: accumulating more and more, needing more and more.
In finding your purpose in life, this definition of success I have just talked about would align well with you.
Underpinning this is the knowing that we are so much more than our minds and bodies. At the end of the day it is how we are inside that counts.
It is knowing that we can access that place of inner peace and presence even while we are in this frantic and increasingly complex world.
Buddha said it so well, “As within, so without.”
7. Create a compelling vision for your future
There are many different ways to develop your personal vision for the future. Take time to reflect on your life and what your own purpose and meaning is. Ask yourself the following questions.
- How do I want to be emotionally and physically in 2 or 5 years’ time?
- If I had unlimited confidence, who would I be?
- What am I passionate about?
- What bad habits do I want to get rid of?
This is a time to think and write freely and imaginatively about your vision. Writing it down really articulates it well. Forget about your obstacles and barriers. Visualise all those issues floating away in a balloon. Leave them behind.
A useful technique is to write a letter to yourself in the future describing your ideal life. The future may be 1, 2, 5 or even 10 years. Describe in detail what your life is like and more importantly how you feel, how you will look, what you see around you. Really visualise all aspects and write them down in detail.
Imagine it in close detail, where you have worked hard and succeeded at achieving your life goals, how you interact with others, your beliefs and your values. Take time to really reflect and dream!
Another great technique which I think is a more powerful one and which focuses on your inner life is to write your own eulogy. How do you want to be remembered? How have you connected with others over your life?
Remember, a eulogy is less about a person’s professional life and more about how much the person meant to their family and friends, their compassion and their lifelong passions.
David Brooks says, “They describe the person’s care, wisdom, truthfulness and courage. They describe the million little moral judgments that emanate from that inner region.”
He speaks on this topic so well in his TED Talk. Should you live for your resume… or your eulogy?
To sum up
To truly work out your purpose and meaning and reboot your life, there are 7 steps you can follow.
- Spend some time alone. Make sure you are disconnected from technology.
- Be kind to yourself. Practise self-care and self-compassion.
- Spend time in nature. Try the Japanese practice of forest bathing.
- Take up mindfulness meditation if you have not done this already.
- Define what a successful life is to you. Include your emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing.
- Make time and space for reflection.
- Create a compelling vision for your future.
Finally, in asking yourself these questions, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ and ‘What am I here for?’ you already have the most important ingredients of all. They are your curiosity and openness to exploring further your purpose and meaning in life
I wish you all the best with finding your ikigai in life.