Chapter 5 – Purpose

Purpose is ‘the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.’ {google search – ps, don’t reference using google searches}

Purpose is woven into everything we do, into the fabric of life.

At any given moment, you are engaged in an activity: eating, sleeping, studying, reading this book, talking to someone else, watching the world, etc. That activity serves a purpose, maybe multiple purposes. 

For example, writing this book:

  1. Fulfills the requirements of my job (develop wellbeing related resources for students) and thus allows me to get paid and support myself and my family.
  2. Gives me the feeling that I am valuable contribution to the world.
  3. Allows me to practice my writing and become a better writer.
  4. Allows me to educate people on the process of self-improvement and mental fitness.
  5. Gives me permission to read and absorb new ideas and concepts which facilitates my own self-improvement. 

Sometimes we are very conscious of the purpose of the activity we are engaged with. When you are very hungry, you understand that heading to the shops to purchase food is to satiate that hunger. 

Other times, we are less mindful of the purpose of an activity. I might spend a couple of hours mindlessly watching TV and not really be aware of the purpose of that activity (Is it relaxation? Is is learning? Is it distraction from a problem?).

A life with purpose is one where we become increasingly conscious of the purpose(s) underlying our choices and decisions and actions. 

A life with purpose is one where you can more clearly articulate:

  • What it is you are doing in your life 
  • Why it is you are doing those things 
  • What it is you are working towards (e.g. goals)
  • How it is you are working towards those things
  • Whether your chosen strategies for achieving what you want are working 
  • What needs to be put in place to successfully achieve what you are working towards

Why would you want to live a life with purpose?

When I was in my 20’s, I wasn’t really thinking much about life purpose. I was simply too busy getting done what I needed to get done to live, which for me was study (Clinical PhD), work and playing bad music in a band. 

But I had the luxury of not having to think too specifically about my life. I had had a good upbringing, a good education, my temperament was well suited to study and learning and I was afforded many opportunities during my life, many of which I had taken. I hadn’t thought deeply about my life at that stage, because I didn’t have to. Forces that were out of my control had shaped my life nicely up till that point. 

But other people aren’t in that situation, and fate doesn’t just continue to keep handing you good outcomes. Later in my life I discovered there are forces at play that aren’t going to automatically work in your favour or shape your life as you want it to be. I discovered that there is a point in everyone’s life where they have to deliberately assess where they are at, and start making conscious choices about pushing their life in the direction they want. 

That is where self-improvement comes in…… 

Self-improvement is a billion dollar industry. 

People pay big money to find the secret of happiness or productivity and plenty of people are willing to create and sell products that promise both. 

Whether the industry as a whole is healthy or not is a question for another time (check out this article by Mark Manson if you want a critical eye – https://markmanson.net/self-help), but I think the reason so many of us are drawn to self-improvement and self-development is that we want to take a more active role in shaping our lives. 

We realise there are physical, psychological, social and cultural forces at play, that we don’t have much control over, that are shaping the outcomes of our lives. We turn to self-improvement/ self-help/ self-development to try and wrestle back some of that control. 

We can’t get all the control back. 

But we can get a bit. 

We can become more purposeful and deliberate in our choices, decisions and actions. 

This doesn’t necessarily guarantee great outcomes or lasting happiness, but it does provide us with the sense of trying to be an active agent in our own lives – which itself is a powerful motivator.  

Thus I think people are drawn to self-improvement or self-development because it helps them in their efforts to live a life with purpose. 

For example, see the simple checklist below. Which of the listed reasons best describe your interest in self-improvement?

Don’t be surprised if you ticked a few things on this list. 

The items reflect core human psychological needs and motivators, so it is highly likely that a few will resonate with you.  

The point is not so much that you might find a reason (or reasons) for self-improvement, it is the clarification of what are your reasons for self-improvement. Clarifying why you are interested in self-improvement will help you choose what to work on. It might be the case that your reasons for wanting to self-improve are not on that list. Note them down somewhere if that is the case.

Your reasons for self-improvement might be very different from mine and that is OK. What connects us is the desire to live with more purpose and more deliberately. 

For the time being, you don’t need to do anything with the information you gained from doing the checklist. Simply note what your reasons for wanting to self-improve are. We’ll refer back to these later in the workbook as you start to work out what your unique self-improvement path will look like.  

Also, if you are thinking this is a relatively short exploration of the topic of purpose, don’t worry. We’ll bounce off this topic multiple times as we go through the rest of the book. In Chapter 8, you’ll find purpose discussed in the context of the process of self-improvement. In Chapters 10 and 11, you’ll find purpose discussed in terms of what role self-improvement might play in your life. 

For the time being, it is enough to note that self-improvement is a pathway to a life with purpose