Do you think having a “purpose” will change the way you operate? Whether you are a skeptic or a firm believer in having a purpose, this post will give you the framework you need to be more productive and more consistent.
Pick up any random self-help book from the local bookstore. Browse through its pages. A common word you are bound to find is “purpose.”
The idea of having a purpose has been at the centre of human thought for ages now. The Stoic philosopher Zeno was one of the first thinkers to work on the idea of purpose as the driving force for a meaningful life.
So – how do you find this mythical purpose? And, can you harness it every day to be more productive?
That is the problem we will address today.
Why Do You Need Purpose?
Let’s assume a life without purpose. Why would you wake up? Well – you have to work, clean yourself, and eat. You have to survive and pay your bills. If you do not take care of your daily duties, you will soon start noticing that your living standard has to be compromised because you do not have sufficient resources, loved ones, and energy to continue.
So – if you focus just on your survival and growth, you would automatically take care of everything that is necessary. Right? We wish it were this simple.
How many times have you missed an important task?
You had a deadline for a project and you forgot to submit. You promised to send a copy of your brochure to a prospect and forgot. You had to send your tax documents to your accountant and despite her follow ups – you forgot. Just because something is important, does not mean you will complete it.
There are many factors that get in your way – forgetfulness, poor time management, and bad scheduling.
Let’s take a little further.
By that logic – if you put something on your calendar, you will do it; right? Now ask yourself – how many times have you rescheduled a task just because you don’t feel like doing it?
You might be able to see the picture now. Incentives, deadlines, and even survival are not always enough to get things done. There is more to the human brain that stops us from doing what is necessary:
Counterwill: Counterwill is the force that against you. Some people call it inertia. It works much like your will power but in the opposite direction. Your will power will help you get things done – even if the reward is not immediate. Counterwill will stop you from doing things – even if the punishment is apparent.
Fear and Avoidance: Sometimes, you are just too scared to fail in public. You do not want to go through the pain of admitting that you are bad at something. This is when your ego is at play. Instead of taking a curious approach to trying something, failing at it, and learning – you are skipping the task altogether. This protects the unhealthy parts of your ego. But, as common sense would dictate – this is not a sustainable solution.
Delusions of Grandeur/Misguided Sense of Time: If you are someone with ADHD – you must have experienced this phenomenon. You look at a task and you tell yourself – well, I can take care of that in a few hours.
Maybe – you will stay up all night and finish it. Maybe, you will just pick it up in the last hours and get it done. The problem is – you underestimate the complexity of the task or overestimate your ability to finish it in a record time. As a result, even if you finish it eventually – the quality of your work product is far from what you can truly deliver.
There are dozens of other reasons why you might not do something – even if it is important and on your schedule. But, hopefully – these few reasons might show you why a scheduler and some reward mechanism are not sufficient.
The Idea of Purpose
Many philosophers, ethicists, and motivational coaches have played with the idea of purpose. The idea is – if you have an understanding of what is that one purpose of your life, you can devote your energy, resources, and time to it.
For some reason – people tend to believe that this will work. They believe that if they cannot find the energy or courage to do something important – they will just tap into their purpose and magically overcome the inertia to work on the task.
Let’s unpack that for a second to see what is the problem with that approach. That entire approach rests on the idea that you have one unified purpose for your entire life. Once you discover it, you can just harness it and get an unlimited resource of motivation. Does that sound like BS to you?
It is. Because it sounds quite similar to the idea of soulmates – there is this one true partner out there just waiting for you. Once you find this partner, you entire personal life will be on an eternal path of peace and prosperity for the rest of your being. Anyone who has a successful marriage will tell you – that is a whole lot of hogwash to digest.
All successful relationships require daily, deliberate, and directional work.
Directional: You have to agree with your partner on what is important for the relationship as a whole.
Deliberate: You have to channelize resources and time to work towards this common goal.
Daily: You have to put in the work – daily.
Much like this idea, the idea of having one true purpose for life – is just a myth. This myth is quite similar to the popular belief – follow your passion.
The New York University professor and serial entrepreneur Scott Galloway famously said this about “follow your passion” – it is a luxury only rich people can afford. These ideas of following your passion and pursuing your purpose falsely assume that people have one purpose and once they find it, they will just use it to be on the path of all the riches in the world.
People – and especially you – are more complex than that. You are an all-growing and evolving individual with new skills sets, priorities, and goals for each decade. One purpose for all your life like having your spouse act as your partner, accountant, dentist, best friend, and caretaker. It doesn’t work that way.
So – purpose does not work. Then, what does? Great question. You need a good understanding of Maslow’s Hierarchy. You need what is at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy:
Maslow’s Hierarchy and the Myth of Purpose
Dr Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who famously created Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The idea was simple – till the need at the bottom of the pyramid was not fulfilled, the next need will not be prioritized.
Hence – this is usually the order of things you will pick up:
- Physiological Needs: Food, water, rest, and comfort – you will take care of these, no matter what. You know they are essential for survival and so you will always take care of them.
- Safety Needs: You will prioritize taking care of something that has a direct impact on your safety – maybe vaccination or getting that ceiling repaired.
- Love Needs: You will reach out to people you love and take care of the promises you make to them.
- Esteem Needs: If your public brand is at stake – you will get it done. Many productivity coaches recommend letting your friends know your targets for essential tasks. The fear of letting them down and your public brand being disparaged will make you finish your tasks in time.
- Self-Actualization Needs: The need to realize your full potential as a human being.
To summarize – you will drink water, wear your sweater, call your mum, update your LinkedIn, and then focus on realizing your full potential.
The people who rest of the laurels of follow your passion or follow your purpose assume that people can just jump to the top step of the ladder. You have other needs as a human being. Till they are not fulfilled, you might not be able to get to your purpose.
Any frustrated you have at this point is warranted. We still have not answered – if not purpose, then what?
If not purpose – then – have values.
Values > Purpose
Ok. I can see – you are rolling your eyes. You read all the way to this point just to be introduced to the idea of “values.” Isn’t it as a lofty as the idea of purpose? No, ma’am.
There is a reason why psychologists are ready to focus on values work in therapy instead of focusing on purpose.
The way the conventional purpose is defined makes it seem like a static flag installed on the map of life. Once you discover it, you can just keep chasing it and life will fall into place. It discounts the fact that – people evolve, pivot, and even face speed bumps on the way.
You will face challenges – every single day. As we discovered earlier – counterwill, fear & avoidance, and delusions of grandeur are just a handful of hurdles stopping you from doing what you know is important and urgent. Values help you work around and beyond this – here’s how.
First – let’s define values to jump on the same page. Values are behaviours that make your life meaningful. Pretty simple, eh? It is.
Authors Jason B. Luoma and Jenna LeJeune have done a beautiful job in defining values in their book Values in Therapy –
- Values are verbs, not adjectives or nouns. This way – values are always action-items. You cannot have the value of being a good father. You have to define what is a good father to you and then define what actions make a good father.
- Values are behaviours you practice when life is meaningful to you. When was the last time you felt there was more meaning to your day than usual? That day, you were in the closest touch to your values and acting upon them. Maybe – you called your long-lost friend, got in touch with an old client, or jus helped a rookie in your business.
- Values do not change. You can change – in fact, you will change as a person. But, your values will remain more or less the same for a large part of your life. This way – you can use them as a guiding post to hold yourself more consistently accountable.
- You cannot problem-solve your way into finding values. Your values are inherent to you. They are not encoded in your DNA. But, your upbringing, experience as an individual, and memories do shape them. You cannot work with someone else’s values. Because, at some point, when you have to make a tough decision based on values – you will not be able to make it if your values are borrowed.
The anchor that you are looking for – for the days when you can’t find the energy or the moments when you feel the pull of counterwill, avoidance, and delusions – is your set of values. And, how you hold yourself accountable to act upon your values is your value system.
So, now – how do you find your values? Glad you thought in that direction.
Two Simple Approaches to Find Your Values
When we talked about Maslow, we talked about how you cannot reach Self Actualization without taking care of your more basic needs like survival, safety, love, and public perception. But – what if they do not have to be a series of priorities and just different driving forces?
Instead of thinking about them as mutually exclusive forces, imagine them to be two sources of fuel in a hybrid car. You can use one and then switch over to another.
Here is how you use that analogy to discover your values:
- Use your “meaningful days”: When was the last time you felt like your day was meaningful? Surgically analyse this day and you will find the values you care about right in front of you.
- Use your regret: When was the last time you felt like an absolute waste? Map out your behaviour on that day. The exact opposite of this behaviour would be your values. Since you did not act upon these values – your mind punished you with the cost of regret.
Bonus: If you feel like this might take a little time, here is a simpler hack. Find one person – anyone you know close enough – whom you really admire. This can be a friend, a mentor, a public figure, or even your partner. Most people already do this unconsciously – but, they don’t go far enough. Instead of admiring the person and her status – figure out what behaviours drive this person. These behaviours might be the values you are after.
For instance – a lot of people follow Jeff Bezos. It is very easy and inaccurate to fall into the trap of calling billions of dollars, many companies, and fit physique to be your values. They are highly regarded qualities – no doubt about that. But, they are also output metrics. You cannot always control output metrics. You can control input metrics.
So, what would be the input metrics that make a Jeff Bezos? This does not have to be scientifically accurate. Just enough for you to understand where are we headed:
- Going against the majority: Bezos was a well-paid hedge fund portfolio manager – when he left his job, borrowed from his in-laws, and started a company to sell books online. None of these actions were typical to the era when he performed them.
- Prioritizing one variable and acting upon it always: Amazon is known for its monomaniacal focus on customers. Instead of focusing on competition, the company focuses on one variable and acts upon it.
- Following pursuits till you can no longer add value to them: Bezos led Amazon for decades as a founder CEO. But, he also understood when his leadership had reached its peak and brought in a new CEO to run the conglomerate.
Your values don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be yours. Ditch the idea of passion and purpose. Find your values.
- You cannot have one purpose for your entire life. Instead – focus on values.
- Just because something is important and urgent does not mean you will automatically do it. Counterwill, fear, and delusions are working against you.
- Values are behaviours you practice when you are leading a meaningful life.
- Values do not change – even when you do.
- Finding values – find your ideal/worst days and find the values driving them. Or, find someone you admire enough and understand the behaviours driving this person.
In case we have never spoken before – I am Hassan Bash. I work with entrepreneurs, agency owners, and business executives with ADHD who want more clarity, courage, energy, influence, and productivity. Values is one of the many things we use to create a personalized system over 90 days. Maybe, this is what you have been looking for your transformation. Click here to book a free call – no cards, no spam, and no questions asked.
See you on the other side.