How to Elicit a Life Purpose?

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Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Sarah Mace-Sejdiu.
Before you can get what you want you have to know what you want, which can sound easy in theory however oftentimes we can be bereft and unknowing of specifically what we want, who we want to be ‘when we grow up’ or where we want to get to. This paper will review reasons for not knowing, obstacles and techniques for eliciting a purpose.
One powerful and necessary first step to knowing a life of purpose is to deciding you want to know; giving yourself the permission and empowerment, with the belief that is attainable. Taking ownership and accountability of one’s own life, gaining control and insight, becoming the driver to the identified destination/s and not a passenger along for the ride on someone else purpose.
This may at first seem like an obvious step, but on deeper consideration can be a scary process requiring bravery. Living in a valued direction will have a cost, risks, and ups and downs. To achieve something that matters takes effort, and effort is not always pain or risk free. (1,2)
It is important to consider the stopping factors which can prevent us from knowing, these blocks can be hidden by excuses and reasons not to do something but can have more powerful underlying causes. Obstacles can be broken in to three main categories: Cognitive; I can’t do X I’m not good enough, Emotional; boredom, tiredness, resentment and Behavioural; not knowing enough about X, not having money or time. It is important to consider the stopping factors which can prevent us from knowing, these blocks can be hidden by excuses and reasons not to do something, but can have more powerful underlying causes. (2,4)
Experiences and life can teach us, sometimes without realising, to accept and get on with what we have unquestioningly, even when we feel like a square peg in a round hole. Living with the status quo and not giving much thought to one’s own desires or purpose. This can come from a variety of reasons; lack of practice, not making decisions, confidence, from ‘fitting in’ and going with the flow. When we are children we ask a multitude of ‘why’ questions as adults we tend to accept more readily and just say ‘because’, without questioning. The potential for change can trigger feelings of resistance in us and others, friends and family can whilst with the best intentions actually hold you back and inside the safe status quo. (1,2,3)
Encouraging the client to gather awareness; to behaviour, patterns, acceptance and decisions made or avoided, is a powerful tool to challenge the status quo, aiding curiosity and aware of the possibilities which exist. However it is also important to be mindful that building this awareness could create overwhelm, making it seemingly troublesome to focus on specific outcomes.
We have a kaleidoscope of thoughts which can include predictions of future outcomes, warnings and risk assessment. This can result in an emotional bind, when a goal or value is connected to a negative emotion, depleting motivation and disempowering. This coupled with our innate propensity to protect ourselves, can sometimes work against us when the fear is of the unknown or something different, this can oftentimes prevent action and trigger disaster scenarios in our mind, creating “thought barriers”, the power of our mind and thoughts to control and dissuade us. We can tap in to our disaster scenarios, using them as a base for positive visualisation, changing and augmenting the troublesome outcome in to a desired result/s. (1,3)
Fear can be an early warning system, being brave and acting in spite of the fear will assist in overcoming a fear of the unknown; the further along a path of unknown we travel the less unknown and therefore scary it becomes.
By understanding our brain’s motivation for giving us the potentially limiting thought, we can see it for what it is, thank our brain and move on productively, without the negative thoughts or with a coexistence with them as acknowledged passengers on our journey, not as an avoided or overpowering limiter. (2,3)
Fear can also come from what we may have to give up in order to achieve the desired outcome. It is realistic that oftentimes things will need to change in order to progress in a valued direction. Change can feel like a threat to the brain, and can trigger feelings of fear to dissuade us from continuing, to protect us, oftentimes the bigger the goal the bigger the change and therefore the louder the threat / fear response. With acknowledgement we can use these feeling to know we are moving in a valued direction, towards something important. Breaking down the change in to small steps can lessen the seeming threat and will help convince our innate ‘safety features’ that is it safe direction to pursue. (1,2,3)
It is also worth noting that whilst fear can be an obstacle to achieving goals, in converse inaction and not living in a valued direction can also lead to pain and feelings of insecurity, despair, regret, guilt or the general feeling that something isn’t quite right, which can be a pain of its own.
It is also to be expected that some wants can be contradictory, and seemingly as odds with each other. To address this prioritising of importance to create a hierarchy to know which order to progress each goal will help.
Catching and resolving value conflicts early can be incredibly important to success, if left they can manifest in to negative and thwarting emotions, or inactivity. It isn’t possible to focus on all values all of the time, pick and prioritise. The more talents, purpose and values can be combined the easier conflicts can be resolved. (2,3)
As individuals we will have trigger emotions and experiences which will motivate us to find and seek out change or at the least the possibility of such, identifying what these are will aid in finding and living purposefully. It is important to be aware of the difference between being led by desire and mood, moods can be fickle and demotivating; when we are motivated by mood it is easy to be dissuaded from completing or even starting an action, particularly if it seems like there could be difficulties or effort required, whereas desire is constant and a stable motivator. (3,4)
We can further be motivated by moving towards; the goal, the desire, the imagined result or by moving away from something; avoidance of pain, discomfort. Having an understanding or appreciation of the motivations for the individual will aid in styling the questions to uncover a life purpose. It can be useful to identify what you don’t want then working from this base to ask “what do you want instead?” It changes the focus from a negative or moan to the positive and solution finding mind-set. (2,4)
We have reviewed the potential obstacles that could impact the elicitation of a life purpose, to move the client towards knowing and attaining purpose it is important to also consider their values, talents and passions.
At the core of us are our values, some we may be keenly aware of others more intrinsic and almost second nature, so as to not be obvious to us. Identifying and uncovering our values can provide an excellent starting point for eliciting a life purpose, understanding who we are at our core and what needs to be present in life to achieve fulfilment. Living true to our values will inherently bring peace and fulfilment, even if it’s not always the easiest or most convenient path. (1,3,4)
Using value elicitation exercises can be powerful tools to uncover, rediscover and shine a light on what the client values. Working towards alignment of purpose and values with awareness that self-growth values can sometimes be linked to negative feelings like guilt, selfishness or unworthiness, which may present as obstacles. Moving in a valued and goal orientated direction can at first feel like wading through a quagmire with obstacles and mud in between where you are and where you trying to get to. Values should be viewed with perspective to give the space to explore and express, holding on too tightly can misalign focus and make it difficult to see the wood for the trees. (2,3)
Talents and passions are driven by our values; developing awareness of them will assist in bringing to the surface valued direction and purpose. We each have them and oftentimes for most people we do not notice or know what they are. Talents can be so commonplace and easy to us that, that they do not stand out, as they require no effort and can be overlooked as ‘well everyone can do that right?’ Equally our talents may not be obvious in all situations, if we are surrounded by people with similar talents, it will not seem so special, but taken to an alternative situation or context the talent shines out as something individual and special. What we do for just for the pleasure of them can be talents too. Developing talents creates a “Virtuous Circle”; if you enjoy doing something you will want to do it more, the more you do it the better you will get it, the more you will enjoy it because you are good it. (1,2,3,4)
Talents can also appear at different times or events of our lives, or arise from situations in which we have not found ourselves before. Seeking out new experiences and challenges can shine a light on a hitherto fore unknown talent. They can also on occasion need some coaxing and awareness to bring to the surface, one sign can be if for example you wince or are frustrated when experiencing someone else struggle to do something that you find easy to do. Identify passions, what tugs at your heart? What lifts your spirits? What makes you sad when it’s missing? Or you think of it as missing from someone else’s life. “Pain will often point to passion” the things we care about most. (2,4)
Talents are typically plural, as individuals we will have more than one talent, the next step is to look at ways to join the talents together to create an enriched life of purpose and experience. Identifying and living true to our values, incorporating our talents and passions will assist in fulfilment and knowing what direction navigate towards and include to create a life of purpose. (2)
From this base we can employ techniques and tools, to refine & clarify, to identify the specific purpose and goals, to drive forward the change and achievement of life of purpose.
Life purpose cannot be clear from just one aspect of ourselves, but if given thought and viewed across all areas of our life a common theme or themes can often emerge; for example creativity, caring or nurturing.
Self-esteem and confidence building exercises can be beneficial in increasing self-belief and value, to following and discovering one’s own purpose. This can be a more inherent area requiring specific tools, or could be building the skill of knowing what you want. This can be a learned response often times from repetition which builds confidence in one’s own decision making skills. (1,3,4,5)
Free up brain space; we can each carry around with us a substantial amount of background noise stemming from either tasks that we need or perceive that we need to get around to, or from failed attempts at tasks that didn’t quite work out. This background noise can be substantial distraction, absorbing brain space which could be better served and focused elsewhere. Asking the client to make a ‘bug list’ of all perceived outstanding tasks, then once compiled working through and assessing whether these are still relevant, will assist in quieting the background noise, our brains will kindly keep track of all these to do activities, by completing or removing the no longer relevant tasks it will free up more brain space. This is beneficial both mentally and environmentally, de-cluttering our physical environments creates a clearing and order, granting the space to focus on what is desired, making space for inspiration. When feeling stuck or at an impasse, working the external  can influence internal, getting ordered, in control can trigger clarity and motivation. (2,4,5)
Purpose and goals can change over time, it is therefore important to not be solely goal focused, but to check in and reassess if it is still something that is wanted and will fulfil. Weed out whether it is a present goal or something from the past which doesn’t fit your current world.
Using the “Wheel of Life” can identify where a client is currently in life, showing imbalances and areas for attention. This can be a useful tool for identifying what is working for the client and what is not, as a step towards living in a valued purposeful direction. (2,4)
A further tool for building awareness is mindful-based journaling, noting the positive, feelings of wellbeing, excitement, significance or rightness, gathering experiences within a two week period, can lead to greater understanding and knowledge of what does and does not work for the client.
Utilising a timeline or “tombstone” approach to go forwards to end of life, asking the client to experience and relay what they want to have achieved, experienced, what made them happy, what they would chose to avoid, tapping in to the senses to bring this to life. In converse looking to the past in a life review, to find what made them happy, unhappy and what they enjoyed, identify is it or could it be relevant to current life. This can build awareness; help to clarify what should be included and avoided for a life of purpose. (3,4)
Achieving something new can take effort, is often a slog, not always joyful along the way and will at times be hard and require sacrifice to reach the bigger picture. The reward of living true to oneself on a valued and purposeful path will outweigh the discomfort along the journey, in the end the goal and purpose must matter more than the obstacles; if it doesn’t that perhaps it’s not truly the client’s purpose.
Through acknowledging, investigating and employing the techniques discussed above the journey of eliciting a life purpose can be realised and once clarified achieved.

  1. Your Life on Purpose – McKay, Forsyth & Eifert
  2. First Know what you Want – Andrew Halfacre
  3. A Life on Purpose – Stephen Warren
  4. Live Your Dreams – Roger Ellerton
  5. Create Your Ultimate Master Plan – Michael Manning

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