Personal Development

Habitually Living on Purpose

Earlier this year, I realized I had once again forgotten to keep sight of my goals, and I finally did something about it.

Two years ago, after reading Life On Purpose: Six Passages to an Inspired Life, I came up with a purpose statement:

My Life on Purpose is a joyful life of freedom, continuous learning, encouraged and supported creativity, insatiable curiosity, and prolific creation, driven by passion and a desire for excellence, powered by a healthy body and soul.

The statement was supposed to help me identify what I wanted in my life and in the lives of other people, as opposed to coasting through my life in what the book refers to as my “Inherited Life Purpose.”

My Life on Purpose Statement

Now, by itself, it’s just a statement. I printed it out and had it framed, and it sits on my wall across from me so I can see it daily. But even then, just seeing it daily isn’t useful. I have to actively remind myself of it, while avoiding the danger of it becoming a memorized yet meaningless statement.

So, two years ago, I knew what I had to do. I had goals without action plans previously, and in 2010, I actually made things happen. I quit my job to start my business full-time. I found a new place to live. I found my life starting to match the shape I defined in that statement.

The trick is that you need to be continuously active about it. I wasn’t. Since that initial year, I got so caught up in my new routine that I once again stopped paying attention to my Life on Purpose statement. Or at least I wasn’t as consistent about it. When things weren’t working out for me, I doubled down instead of addressing problems. For instance, when Stop That Hero! went from being a one-month project into a chronically late project, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I just kept working. Persistence is great, but I needed to pick my head up occasionally to get an idea of where I was, and I never did.

This wasn’t prolific creation. It wasn’t a joyful life of freedom. And there’s only so many times you can say, “Well, I learned an important lesson with this experience” before it is clear that you haven’t really learned or else you wouldn’t be in the same situation.

Revisiting the Purpose Statement

So at the beginning of this year, I reread “Life on Purpose” as part of my effort to get myself back on track. I also reread my journal that I’ve been writing in since 2009. I found that I still liked my current Life on Purpose statement, and I was pleased to see that as down as I felt, I hadn’t fallen backwards like I suspected. I had improved from the person I was two years ago. I have much to be thankful for, and I wasn’t being conscious of those blessings.

Still, I felt that there was this gap between where I was and where I wanted to be in my life. And for years, I’ve identified where I’ve wanted to be but failed to take steps to get there consistently.

Some things are relatively easy, such as quitting a job. Maybe that sounds surprising, but the actual act is quite final. You can’t be wishy-washy about it. You can’t maybe quit. You just quit. You no longer have a job. It’s done. There’s very little risk of unconsciously falling back into your old job. You don’t wake up one morning with the realization that you’re working your old job.

Other things, like keeping physically fit, require more. You have to want to by physically fit, you have to have the discipline to follow through with what will make you physically fit, and you have to instill habits that keep you there. And this is continuous work. The habit makes it almost automatic and relatively easy, but until then, it’s continuously reminding yourself that you want to be physically fit.

Purpose, Discipline, and Habit

We all have habits, but a lot of them are not guided by purpose or vision. Consciously creating the habits you want is key to making sure your life is on purpose and going where you want to go, shaped how you want it shaped, and yours.

Each day, if you get home from work and eat dinner while zoned out in front of the TV, then go to bed, that’s not a very purposeful habit. Your life is guided by the television producers. You’re watching actors and actresses do what they love to do instead of doing what you’d love to do.

Discipline is remembering what you want. And if you want to be fit, and you don’t have a habit of exercising yet, you need to remind yourself daily until it is a habit. That’s the trick. When you’re struggling, when you’re feeling exhausted, when you’re wondering, “Why am I doing this to myself?” because a workout session kicked your ass, you simply have to remember your purpose: “I’m doing this because I want to be physically fit.” And that reminder keeps you going.

If you stop reminding yourself, you’ll wake up one morning when it is cold and the blankets are warm, and you’ll lose the motivation to get out from under them. You’ll think, “Ah, I can skip the exercise today.” You’ll see some sweets and think, “Oh, I can indulge just this once.”

Once in a while isn’t a problem. But without that reminder to keep you focused on your goals, it won’t be just once in a while.

In the past, I was terrible about keeping my eye on the prize, about remembering what my vision was. I fell into the above trap of giving myself a break way too often until the break was the daily reality. When I had a day job, I struggled to do game development at home on a regular, consistent basis. I often said to myself, “I’ll work on it tomorrow.” But then tomorrow never came. And eventually, I didn’t have to say it anymore because I was not doing it much at all. It was an effort to put in the time I did, which wasn’t much.

The key, the one I know exists and have been historically terrible about leveraging to get what and where I want, is that triad of purpose, discipline, and habit.

I have my purpose.

I’ve shown I can be disciplined enough to carry things out.

But I’ve been pretty bad about installing habits into my life.

This year I’ve been focusing on creating habits, specifically the habits I want to have that I think would shape my life the way I desire. They coincide with my Life on Purpose, so they also remind me about what I want. I’ll write more about those specific habits another time, but so far, the results are pretty good for the habits I’ve pursued.

5 replies on “Habitually Living on Purpose”

I’m really digging your blog and your G+ book lessons. Now I want to check out Life On Purpose. Another; this morning Amazon recommended Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.

But I really like how you are writing out your lessons from books. My tendency is to just inhale the books as quickly as I can, and the short-term inspirational rush fades away without much lasting impact on my projects.

Thanks, Chris!

I’ll be following up this post with another in which I talk about some of the habits, including my habit of posting “Yesterday’s lesson” on Google+.

I learned that when you read, you should read on purpose. I used to read books from start to finish, but unless I took notes, I usually forgot so much that it was almost as if I hadn’t read anything at all.

These days, when I’m about to crack open a book, I skim through it quickly to try to get a feel for the contents. Non-fiction books tend to have plenty of headlines and bold or italic text, and I’ve gotten pretty good at deciding what makes for a bad headline. Some people try to be clever with titles, and unfortunately, it makes this process harder. Luckily, most of the time people tend to write headlines that actually reflect what you’ll be reading about.

Anyway, once I get a sense for what the book is about, I try to come up with questions I want answered. Then I read, keeping those questions in mind.

So instead of getting through a book and forgetting it as I go, I seem to remember more of the important points this way. Sometimes rapidly reading through, I find I can get to the key points faster without having to read each and every single word.

The habit of writing down what I learned the day before keeps me on the lookout for making sure I have something to write, which also helps with recall. B-)

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