This post relates to this one on meaning and purpose. If you haven’t read that yet, you might want to spend 10 minutes doing so before jumping into this. If you are on the search, the following are some tried and tested exercises that might help. They are all based on the concept of free association; I prompt you and you think, speak, write, whatever medium suits you best, before reviewing what you’ve captured and looking for patterns.
Firstly, make sure you are in the right frame of mind and that you are prepared to accept what you uncover, should you actually have a Road to Damascus type moment. You don’t need to dim the lights and burn joss sticks, but maybe carve out some private time and try these exercises a few times over a period of a few months and then a few years. I sound like a doctor, which I’m most definitely not, so just to be clear, proceed at your own risk and not mine!
What’s your motivation for the search? For many it’s a decision. What to do next; in business, in life, in a relationship? Identify your motivation and keep it in mind as this will provide useful context.
You can spend an infinite amount of time picking apart the meaning of past events, decisions and so on but you rarely find inspiration or indeed motivation in this. You may however find some clues as to why you behave the way you do and this has practical application when determining your purpose, so it’s a worthwhile, if sometimes painful process. Be impartial and challenge your own preconceived notions about your past and what it means to you.
Write down your top 5 of the following: –
- Key moments or turning points in your life (positive or negative).
- Major decisions.
- Times when you have been very happy.
- Times when you have been very unhappy.
- Times when others have suggested you were awesome.
- Times when others have suggested you were terrible.
- The things you enjoyed as a child, where time seemed to stand still.
In thinking about meaning, you might want to consider the idea that there is no answer to the meaning of life. It’s a paradox and any attempt to answer it will result in a loop, infinite regression or an axiom (ref Naval). Perhaps be open to the idea that it is life that asks the question, not you (ref Viktor Frankl).
Then explore purpose. Given your current perception of what you have experienced in your past, what drives you now (positive or negative)?
- What are you passionate about?
- What makes you want to cry with joy?
- What makes you want to cry with sadness?
- What would you like your legacy to be?
- What do others say you are good at?
- Who might you like to help and why?
- What would you do if you couldn’t fail?
- What would you do if money wasn’t a consideration?
By now you’ve probably unpacked a whole mess of emotions, ideas, concepts, trends and so on. While this ‘exposure’ is important, the purpose of all this is to identify your purpose, to give you a reason to act. So, try this last exercise to bring it all together. It’s pretty straightforward, you just have to answer a single question…
If there were no limitations or consequences, what would your perfect average day look like?
Try to set this scenario 10 years from now (or a timeline relevant for you), write as much as you can and prioritise experience over material possessions. The following are some thought starters…
- Waking up?
- What device (if any) wakes you?
- Is it light or dark?
- What would the room look like?
- What temperature would it be?
- Who else would be there?
- Would you get up straight away or snooze?
- How many other people might be in the house?
- First or last up?
- How would you feel (physically and emotionally)?
- What next?
- Shower now?
- What might you wear?
- Food – what and when?
- Work – emails straight away?
- How would you spend the first part of your day?
- Who might be with you?
- What do you do?
- Why do you do it?
- What are your principles of behaviour?
- Do you eat lunch with others?
- Where would you go?
- What would you eat?
- How do you spend the afternoon?
- Who are you with?
- What do you do?
- Why do you do it?
- How do you know when it’s over?
- Is it a burden or a joy?
- What would you do in the evening?
- What would you eat?
- Would you watch television and if so what?
- Spending time with family or friends?
- How would you finish your day?
- How do you feel when you go to bed?
- What emotions do you feel as you drift off to sleep?
- Add further background on any areas of your life you identified as particularly important (ie relationships, places, home, business, career, toys etc).
I first did this over 10 years ago. Someone I respect greatly asked me what I wanted to do with my career and I had no idea. He told me to go out of the room and when I came back in, we had to role play like it was 10 years into the future. I had to tell him about my life, which wasn’t easy to start with but as we continued the role play, I started coming out with all kinds of stuff I’d not considered before. None of this was documented and I forgot all about the encounter and got on with life. Or so I thought. I remembered this exchange recently (it was the trigger to write this blog) and upon reflection, I realised that much of my life now, is precisely the way I described it, sat in that guy’s garden in the sunshine, 10 years ago.
So it worked for me. All of the above have helped provide some insight and perspective for me and many other people I’ve worked with and read about. If one of them helps you get out of a funk, make a plan and start a new adventure, that’s great.
PS – if you prefer to be guided, you can download our Vision Sketchbook, which has headings based on a framework we developed at Kingmakers and asks you to consider your own idea of a future heaven or hell, a great twist courtesy of the author Jordan Peterson.