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Life purpose – finding and keeping meaning in your life

by | 3 Jul, 2016 | Career Planning, Life and Career Reflection, Life planning | 0 comments

picture of a woman with graphic of a thought cloud showing she is thinking about somethingLife purpose – finding and keeping meaning in your life

Life purpose and meaning.  How important is this to you in relation to your feelings of well being and self worth?

If you find that you are simply ‘enduring’ your life, that you don’t seem to have a clearly defined sense of your life purpose – chances are you have lost sight of your ‘WHY’.

I’m certain that I’m not alone when I say that it’s quite easy to experience periods in your life when you begin to wonder what your life is really all about. What’s the purpose of it all.

It seems every which way we look there are competing demands on our time. We have commitments we must keep – family to care and provide for, bills to pay, a boss to satisfy, a job to keep, a career to pursue, and if you’re in business you have customers to satisfy!

On top of these various needs there are the additional pressures of adapting to constant, rapid change, keeping up appearances, and finding ways to juggle all of your commitments.

Where oh where is there time for us to just sit back, bask in what we have achieved, enjoy the sunshine, spend precious time with family and loved ones, smell the roses, sniff the coffee?

You get the idea! Wouldn’t it be nice to have the freedom to enjoy life rather than endure life?

So……if you are presently struggling to  understand your WHY, possibly some of the ideas in this article might help to get you back on track.

Image depicts Simon Sinek's Golden TriangleStart with “Why” and understanding your “Golden Circle”

I’d been reminded about the importance of knowing your WHY when recently listening to one of my mentors’ vodcasts about motivation.

In it he mentioned a book “Start With Why” which was written by Simon Sinek. I decided to get a copy and read it.

I have to say that this is one of the most thought provoking books I have ever read. If you haven’t read it, I urge you to get hold of a copy.

In his book, Sinek, explains a concept he developed which he calls the ‘Golden Circle’. This concept is linked to the workings and interactions of the different parts of our brain – in particular the limic brain, and the neocortex.

He explains the inter-relationship between these parts of the brain, and how, if we use particular patterns of thinking, this can result in a loss of perspective and meaning in our lives.

drawing representing the 3 parts of the human brainThe ‘Golden Circle’ explained

Sinek explains that if you look at a cross section of the human brain, from the top down, it closely corresponds with the 3 levels of his Golden Circle model.

The newest area of the human brain is the neocortex. This part of our brain is responsible for rational and analytical thought, and language. This corresponds with the “WHAT” part of the Golden Circle.

The middle two sections of the brain make up the limbic brain – this corresponds with the “WHY” and “HOW” of the Golden Circle.

Now, the limbic brain is fascinating. This part of our brain is responsible for all of our feelings such as trust, loyalty, love, anger, excitement etc.

But…..the limbic brain has no capability with language……which means we can’t describe or explain the feelings we are experiencing.

Importantly, the limbic brain is responsible for all human behaviour and all our decision making. 

broken cable representing disconnectionFeelings and decision making

This disconnection between the feeling part of our brain, and the rational part of our brain (where we have access to language) makes putting our feelings into words extremely difficult.

For example, have you ever tried to explain to someone exactly why you love them. It might be because they are intelligent, funny, generous, attractive and so.

But, there are lots of people just like that in the world……we aren’t however in love with them. We love the people that we are in love with because of how they make us feel.

So, it could be said that we decide we are in love because “if it feels right”.

Sinek explains that it is the same with other decisions we make in life.

When a decision feels right we will have a hard time explaining why we did what we did. It’s not that people don’t know why they decide to do things, they just have trouble being able to explain it.

As we’ve said, the limbic brain doesn’t do language! So, our ability to make decisions, and the ability to explain those decisions exist in different parts of our brain.

Trusting your gut!

The influence of the limbic part of our brain on behaviour is exceptionally strong. In fact, it’s strong enough to cause us to act in a way which can contradict our rational and analytical thinking.

Sinek explains that our limbic brain is also very smart and often knows the right thing to do. And, it tends makes better and quicker decisions.

The logical, analytical part of our brain is slower to reach decisions, and is sometimes guilty of over-thinking, or over-rationalising. This increases the risk that we may come to the wrong conclusion.

We have all had experiences where our gut feeling is to take one particular course of action, while our logical brain is flip flopping over what is the right thing to do.

In situations like this, it is our inability to come up with the words which explain our gut feeling about what to do, or not do, that causes us to doubt ourselves.

If you find yourself over analysing and getting lost in the process – consider……what goes your gut tell you to do?

How to use this theory

The 3 parts of the Golden Circle – the WHY, HOW and WHAT need to be alignment, and each have an important role to play.

  • Our WHY is a belief about your ultimate purpose in life.
  • The HOW are the values which dictate they way we decide to live our life
  • The WHAT relates the actions we take to fulfill our why.

For clarity of focus however, and for sustaining our behaviour and motivation as we go about fulfilling the important needs and goals we have in life, Sinek says to start with “WHY”.

You have to know WHY you do what you do!

When you have clarity about why you do what you do, you can then consider the ‘HOW’ you are going to live your life. The ‘how’ relates to principles and the behaviours, values and beliefs which will guide and influence your actions.

The actions you take are the WHAT. For most of us, one part of our WHAT relates to our occupation or job. It’s one of the things we do to meet many of our needs.

There will be other WHATS or actions we take according to the beliefs and values we express in WHY and HOW – for example our WHY as a husband, wife, partner, son, daughter, member of the community and society etc

Authentic living

Sinek explains that it is at the WHAT level where we express our authenticity. He describes it this way:

What authenticity means is that your Golden Circle is in balance. It means that everything you say and everything you do you actually believe.

And…..

Authenticity [in your life] cannot be achieved without clarity of WHY. And….authenticity matters.

And finally….

Being authentic is not a requirement for success, but it is if you want that success to be a lasting success.

More food for thought!

I came across this short video today when looking at my Facebook page. It’s had more than 2 million views, so possibly you may have already seen it.

If not, I promise that you won’t be disappointed that you took 5 minutes to take a look at it.

Living your life’s purpose

I wonder what people might take away from this article.

My motivation in writing this has been to encourage people to dare to take the steps to be authentic to themselves and find the way to fulfill their why.

Hopefully this article provides you with some starting points:

  • Identify your why if you haven’t already done so
  • Clarify your how, and express the values and beliefs which will provide the guide for your daily actions
  • Demonstrate in your daily whats that you actually believe what you say you believe – that you are being authentic to your vision of who you are, and what you want to be

Hopefully you have found this article valuable.  If you liked it, please share using the links below to twitter, Facebook, Google+ and so on.

Also, if you know of others people who might be struggling to find purpose and meaning in their life please share this with them.

Best wishes

Anthony