“The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”
Robin Sharma, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari
Knowing your life purpose is really liberating. It gives a meaning to your days and keeps on motivating you no matter the circumstances.
People who live their life with a purpose are less likely to develop mental health problems, like depression, anxiety, or panic attacks (1,2).
And with the help of a quite straightforward exercise, you can also figure out your life purpose right now.
On the first day of my master's degree, I was surprised with an assignment to create a vision board with concrete ideas of my life purpose, in front of all my classmates that I had just barely met.
That was definitely different from what I had expected - doing some silly “get-to-know-each-other” exercises to bond, like most universities would do.
And the truth is, I hadn’t actually given much thought to what I would like to be doing two years from then. I rather assumed that I would figure it out on the way, just like I had been doing all my life before that day.
Most of us can agree that we go about with our lives, going from one stage to the next, in what seems like quite obvious and wise transitions, in-line with our societal structure.
We rarely stop to reflect whether the direction that we are headed to is actually where we should be going in the fist place. Instead, most of us just keep on going somewhere.
On the first day of my master's, as a help tool to complete the assignment, I got an interesting exercise. It triggered me to think outside the box and start figuring out my life purpose right at that moment.
I later found out that this exercise is actually the Japanese ancient secret to finding your life purpose, called Ikigai.
You’ve probably heard about the Japanese people living a holistically healthy lifestyle, enjoying their long and fulfilling lives.
A big component of their healthy lifestyle is having their own Ikigai. It gives every person a purpose to live their life and it keeps their minds sharp even as they get older.
Ikigai is the purpose of life, that connects four areas:
What you love doing,
What you are good at doing,
What the world needs,
What you can get paid for doing.
Here’s an exercise for you to figure out your life purpose - your very own Ikigai - right now:
Start by getting yourself a piece of paper and a pen, or many different colored pens if you’d like. It would be ideal if the paper was A3 format, but an A4, or a couple next to each other are just as great.
Put away all digital tools and distractions. Only have a pen and paper in front of you so that you can fully focus on the task.
Now you’re all equipped to start figuring out your life purpose!
If you have limited time, set your timer to 30 min to 1 hour for you to complete the full exercise. Otherwise, take as much or as little time as you need to.
Put the piece(s) of paper in front of you.
On the left top corner of the paper, write “Skills”.
In this area of the paper, write down everything that you are good at. Just scribble down whatever comes to your mind, such as courses you’ve taken and liked, things that you have worked with, your personal attributes, sports that you’ve done, etc.
Come up with as many skills as possible. Just writing down all of this will help you to get to know yourself better already.
Once you feel like you’ve come up with enough skills, you can move on to the next part.
On the left bottom corner, write “Interests”.
This is where you’ll do the same as above, but write down the things that you love doing. Think BIG - consider all areas of your life, like your personal life, things you like to enjoy working with, hobbies, sports, and whatever else comes to your mind.
You might notice that some of the things appear in both interests and skills areas. For example social media marketing can be placed in both interests and skills. In that case, you can just decide where you feel it would fit better.
When you’re done scribbling down your interests, it’s time for the third part.
On the top right corner, write “World issues”.
Now think of what are the global/local issues the world is facing right now? What are the world needs?
You are likely to be quite educated and engaged in your area of interest already, so you probably know the main issues in that area. Write them down.
Be as broad or as narrow as you’d like. Think of other areas that you might not be so used to but still feel interested in exploring more.
Now the three corner areas of your paper are full of ideas, keywords and phrases. But the bottom right corner is still empty, like mine, right?
On the bottom right corner, write “Ideas for life purpose”.
Here’s where you write down ideas - of what according to Ikigai is - what you can get paid for.
To do this, you need to examine all your notes in each area of the paper. Then pick one word from the “skills” area, one word from the “interests” area, and one phrase from the “World needs” area and connect them together into one solid idea.
Write it down in this area of the paper.
For example, I may have written scientific writing, leadership and social media in my “skills” part, then mental health, meditation, personal development, psychology and inspire others in my “interests” part and increasing mental health problems related to stress in the “world issues” part. Connecting the areas and keywords may just result in an idea to start this blog - about how mindfulness benefits on mental health, with scientific evidence :).
Connect as many areas in as many ways as possible and brainstorm the outcomes of your possible life purpose. Write down even those ideas that don’t sound as appealing to you in the first glance.
By doing this, you will get lots of inspiration and ideas of what you can do for a living, that are in line with your interests, skills and are also useful for the world.
You may also visually connect the areas together, by drawing arrows to the keywords, connecting everything with lines, or whatever else you may find more fitting for your own creativity. I chose not to do it in the example, as it would have been too messy to show.
Read through all your life purpose ideas and imagine yourself doing those things. Circle the ones that sound the most appealing to you, even if they seem very unconventional or even unrealistic for you right now. Just think of what would be fun to do.
Now list them and rank them from the most to least plausible.
Now comes the important part: pick one that you like the most and try it out!
If your life purpose idea is different from your current occupation, do some research on it right now. Take this easy first step immediately, to find out what the occupation really implies and whether it still sounds appealing to you.
Yes, you may now use Google and digital tools for your research. :)
Sometimes ideas are nicer in our heads than in reality. So it is crucial to actually try out your life purpose idea as soon as possible, in order to see if you actually like it and if it resonates with your life.
If you notice that this idea was nothing like you thought it would be, the great thing is that you have most likely generated several other life purpose ideas.
Your life purpose might slightly change as you gain new skills and interests. That's why it is great to update yourself by repeating this exercise every few years.
Overall, this Ikigai exercise is a true game changer as it makes you think outside the box, helping you to come up with new ideas that would be difficult to generate just by thinking.
Try it right away, by scribbling down your skills, interests, world needs and connecting them all to ideas for life purpose.
Give a meaning to your days and increase your motivation to the fullest.
I’m very interested in hearing whether you’ve found your life purpose, and whether you have done anything similar to find it. Please drop me a message, or comment below and let me know :)
I am very interested to hear your opinion and tips on what you'd like to read about in this blog, so you are more than welcome to leave a comment here, or contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura | MSc in Medical Science, Certified Mindfulness Life Coach
1. American Psychological Association. "Perseverance toward life goals can fend off depression, anxiety, panic disorders: Looking on the bright side also acts as a safeguard, according to 18-year study." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 May 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190502100852.htm>.
2. Drageset, Jorunn et al. “Crucial aspects promoting meaning and purpose in life: perceptions of nursing home residents.”BMC geriatricsvol. 17,1 254. 30 Oct. 2017, doi:10.1186/s12877-017-0650-x