Supporting his own weight with a languid thrust, John pushed himself upright and got out of bed. Physically he was on the move again on a new day but mentally, his mind is still dreading the agony of another typical work day ahead. He wished he could slumber a little longer and not get out of bed and prepare for work. Yet, he knew that is almost impossible ever since he joined the blue collar work force years ago.
John has become part of the complying majority, marking time from 9 to 5, making a living, supporting a decent family, looking forward to the end of the work day, planning the next vacation and thinking of how he can retire comfortably in 30 years’ time. Sometimes, only sometimes, John will wander what on earth is life all about for him – what is his purpose in life?
Too many people are like John, not knowing their own purpose in life. Some have no awareness to search for it. Some are too distracted by the materialistic things in life. Yet, there are others who simply do not know how to search for it. Today, in this post, I will share five simple clues to look out for that will help you begin your search for your own purpose in life.
T.E.A.C.H. Me the Clues to My Purpose in Life
‘T’ stands for Time.
The nature of how time passes as you are engaged in activities is a big clue whether those activities correlates strongly to your purpose in life. You have probably experienced moments in your life when time seems to fly past so quickly while engaging in doing certain activities. One hour seemed like a minute and you could not get enough of it or there always seem to be more to be done within the given amount of time.
Conversely, you probably also experienced those occasions when you could not wait for the time to end. Five minutes seem like forever and each second in that moment was such a pain to pass. What is happening to our minds and how can we use these experiences to gauge or find our purpose in life?
According to cognitive psychologists like Mihaly Csikszentmihayli, Robert Levine, Philip Zimbardo and their peers, there is an explanation of what is happening in our brain when we have such varied perception of time flow. When you are in ‘flow’, i.e. when time seems to flow, your brain is actually doing very little thinking. Cognitive processes decrease because many of the decisions you made were autonomous, hence time sped up. This autonomy of the mind during such ‘flow’ activities comes about because of the natural abilities that are available to the person performing them or due to prolonged deliberate practice. Think of a Lionel Messi dribbling the ball at full speed towards his opponent’s goal. Everything seems to be due to instinct.
The reverse is probably true when the things you are doing do not come naturally to you. In your brain, there is greater deliberate thinking going on resulting in your awareness of many thoughts going through your mind. When this happen, time slowed for you.
What are the types of activities that caused you to be in the state of flow when time sped up? There never seem to be enough time to do these things. Becoming more aware of how time pass for you during different activities is one of the keys to knowing whether the core activities you are doing belongs to the realm of your purpose in life. Take the time to examine your work and core activities deeply.
‘E’ is for Energy.
The second clue you should be paying attention to when searching for your purpose in life is the energy levels that are generated whenever you are immersed in activities that appeals to you. People who are in their element or purpose feels more energetic after doing their main task.
“At the end of a day, if you’re doing something you love to do, you can be physically worn out but elated”, Sir Ken Robinson remarked in his second book on Finding Your Element. He also gives the example of himself after delivering one of his trademark talks. According to his wife, she would notice from the facial expression and body gestures of Robinson that he had a very good day delivering the talk. There is that glow in the face and everything about him seemed more energetic.
That can happen to all of us when we are engaged in something that is extremely meaningful for us. On the other hand, when your heart is not there, you can look and feel physically and spiritually drained after the event. Just think of some of the training courses you attended that you did not have any particular interest in. Chances are, your company or organization sent you. But when you chose to select and attend your own training, the impact and energy is very different. This is a big clue to our purpose in life – the energy we exudes after we completes something. Watch out for it.
‘A’ is for Active Learning.
On any given day, millennials (age 18-30s) from the Asia-Pacific region spend 2.8hrs on their mobile phone, a study called Connected Life found in 2015. This number is still climbing every year. Of these 2.8hrs, 46% is devoted to social media, 42% to videos and the rest on online shopping. Beyond the phone, how much time is spent on other forms of interaction and learning is hard to tell.
We live in the age of digital technology and inevitably much of our own active learning will be related to technology we use. The modern day learner would be reading eBooks, watching videos, listening to podcast, discussing their projects on social media and even jointly developing their presentations via Instagram.
Under such conditions, to search for our purpose of life, we need to be aware of the self-directed learning we are still involved in. By this, I am referring to the books we still read, the videos that we constantly search for, the content we seek and devour online, the blogs we follow, the news we filter, the courses we choose to attend. The caveat is that these must be of our own choosing.
When we do a serious inventory of all these content we search for in various modes, we will have a good idea of where our interest areas and ultimately purpose in life lies. Take note of what you learn on a regular basis. This is another big clue to your purpose.
‘C’ for Comments from others.
One of the most feared situation for any American Football quarter-back is a blitz from the blind side. Coming violently and suddenly out of his entire peripheral view, the blind side blitz, if executed by a pro-line-backer can be devastating on the game as well as the health of the quarter-back. That is why, experienced quarter-backs always find ways to see their blind side or protect it.
The blind side of our life is similarly. Every day, we only view life from our perspectives and what we can see. From these observations and patterns we make sense and decision in the world we live in. But are all these the truth about us? Probably not.
In order to truly know what we are good at and what our purpose in life looks like, knowing about other people’s comments about us is important. But is not just what any Tom, Dick or Harry says about us, it is the comments from our true friends and family members that will the most crucial. In their uncensored comments lies cues to our purpose in life.
So, be brave and seek out a fair number of close friends, close associates and family members. Send them a list of questions and ask them for their honest feedback on you regarding what you are good at. Especially useful and effective are concrete experiences or memory where they remembered seeing you in action or witnessed the outcomes you accomplished.
For instance, your close colleague remembered the time you came up with an unconventional idea for a musical for your school that became a hit. Or your father witnessing the day when you won your first trophy in the primary school long jump championship. Or the day, the army awarded you the Sword-of-Honora, the highest award given to an officer cadet. These events and feedback from your close pals says a lot about what you are about or are likely superior in. Search them out and analyse them for your purpose in life. They did not happened to you for no reasons.
Adam Grant, best-selling author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Moved the World, introduced a great tool called Reflected Best Self Exercise to help others find their own strengths and get closer to their purpose in life. You can use this method to start your own search for purpose.
‘H’ is for Happiness Level
This probably sounds clique or obvious but I think that it is by far the strongest clue to your purpose in life. Happiness is nothing more than a positive emotional feeling caused by an event that occurred to you. Within the brain, when you are happy, certain chemicals like Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and others are actually secreted either exclusively on its own or in combination. This is based on a ground breaking book, Habits of the Happy Brain by Graziano Breuning. The end result is the same – you experience jubilation, elation and delight.
However, notice that these are just sensations that are temporary. Once the chemical effects are gone the feelings also subside. You are back to normal. To regain the Happiness effect again, something would have to happen again, most likely an event. You can control this event or work if you know what it is, and you will constantly want to do it again.
When you find your purpose in life, every second of that activity will consume you and elevate your Happiness levels beyond normal. This activity never fail to cause you to feel happy and good. It is reliable.
That’s why noticing what activity makes you constantly and unfailingly happy is a big clue to your purpose in life. For a novelist, it could be the writing. For an artist, the painting. For a gamer, playing and designing games. For an entrepreneur, thinking of ideas and starting businesses related to it. For a singer, the joy of music and songs. For children it is everything because they are absorbing and learning all that they can.
If you ever want to get closer to your purpose in life, pay attention to what prolong work activities brings you happiness consistently.
A Life of Purpose worth Searching For
Where are you today in terms of living your purpose of life? Does time freeze for you want you work such that it flies so fast without your control? Are you glowing with energy and feel invincible after a good day’s work? Do you unconsciously seek the same type of active learning in your everyday digital wears? What do your close friends comment about your gifts and abilities? How happy are you when working? If the answers to these questions are not positive for you, you may be like John at the start of the post, surrendering and conforming to life’s inevitable pull towards mediocrity. But life is not design like that. You deserve a fulfilled life and a life of purpose is worth searching for? Begin. T.E.A.C.H. is the key.