It can be all too easy to blunder through life: mindlessness veering between mishaps, disasters and the odd victory along the way. A lingering sense of dissatisfaction trailing at our heels, no matter how much we eat / drink / exercise / binge watch Netflix* (*delete as appropriate). There is an alternative, however: a life lived on purpose and with purpose.

 In this article, we take a look at what it means to live a life on and with purpose in 2021, with reference to the ideas of best-selling author and motivational guru, Dan Pink. We’ll look at a range of practical strategies to prevent autopilot, mindless living and how you can discover and stay true to your own unique purpose. 

“The purpose of life is a life of purpose” - Robert Byrne.

Finding the purpose of our life can seem like a lifelong search.  Time spent reflecting on and working towards our own sense of purpose can drive us on to greater satisfaction and contentment in life.

Dan Pink on Drive

Dan Pink’s book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” was published in 2009 and quickly became a New York Times bestseller.  Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Drive explains how the traditional carrot and stick forms of motivation have limited efficacy.  Even the reward of a Rockstar’s salary doesn’t result in increased performance for anything other than tasks that require the most basic cognitive challenge.  In fact, Pink argues, such basic financial reward systems rarely work.  For complex tasks, it is intrinsic motivation that matters.  The research shows that humans are more likely to be engaged and motivated if they experience the three conditions of autonomy, mastery and purpose. 

“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.”  -  Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Autonomy and Motivation

Autonomy relates to our instinctive desire to be self-directed and have the ability to shape our own environment in some way.  We feel empowered when we are given some sense of control and ability to direct our own lives.  We see that expressed in our children, when our toddler says: “I want to do it!” And, it’s no different for us as we mature.  We enjoy being autonomous and feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when a task and situation allows us such autonomy. 

Mastery and Motivation

Mastery represents that human drive to develop and hone skills and knowledge.  To train, to grow, to learn.  Gaining a sense of mastery within a role or when completing a task provides us with the reward of satisfaction and an increased sense of self-efficacy.  Think of the toddler, again, who proudly exclaims “I did it!”  In this way, mastery becomes a reward in and of itself. 

Purpose and Motivation

Purpose is that desire we have to complete something of meaning and importance, to leave a legacy that demonstrates our values and who we are.  Philosophers and writers through the ages have pointed us towards the importance of finding meaning and purpose within our life.  A life lived with purpose is often regarded as a life well-lived.  Discovering and following our own unique purpose opens us up to experience that sense of a life well lived. 

Purpose can be thought of as the desire to do things which contribute in some way to something larger than ourselves.  When we spend more than half of our waking hours at work, having a felt sense that there is a purpose to what we do really matters.  We want to know that what we dedicate our time and efforts to matters in some way. 

The Challenges of Finding Purpose

If we are to develop practical strategies to prevent autopilot, mindless living, then we need to identify what the challenges to living on and with purpose are. Modern Western society bombards us with adverts, images and content from companies who want nothing more than for us to buy into their brand, their product, their purpose. With so many ways to consume content nowadays, we can easily become drawn into a rabbit hole of aimless scrolling online, trawling digital content, consuming adverts, shopping online and being fed on a diet of other people’s intentions for our own life. It’s no wonder, then, that 56% of social media users report feeling dissatisfied and a large dose of FOMO. That figure rises to 69% for millennials who experience FOMO on a daily, if not hourly basis. The antidote? To discover and remain committed to our own sense of purpose. That which is right for you.  

Purpose as an Antidote to Mindless Living

So, we know what a life lived on and with purpose looks like, and we’ve considered some of the 21st Century challenges to living a motivated life packed with purpose.  So, how do we go about discovering and living out our own unique purpose?

“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” – Socrates. 

There’s something to be said for self-reflection and self-awareness.  Taking time and space to get to know your own values, your own beliefs and what it is that gives you a sense of fulfilment in life is time well spent.  For some people, that comes by spending time in meditation, contemplation and thought alone.  Others benefit from the support of a coach or mentor.   

A helpful, if somewhat challenging tool to use in this reflection process is to ask yourself the question:  what would you want your epitaph to be?  What would you want people to say about you at your eulogy after your death?  How do you want people to remember you?  Such existential questioning provides a fast-track way to identifying your own sense of purpose and what you want to achieve, and who you want to be in life. 

If that feels like one step too far for now, an alternative question to ask yourself regularly can be:  “how satisfied am I, right now?”  LINK TO WHEEL This question raises your level of awareness and asks you to be mindful about your current experiencing.  In time, you will become more adept at noticing your wants, needs, fears and hopes, which will help you towards sensing whether you are living in line with your values and your life purpose.  

A Life on Purpose – the Takeaways.

So, to conclude, a life well lived is a life lived on purpose and with purpose.  Finding our sense of purpose can be something of an ongoing journey, so it makes sense to begin now.  We can navigate the many challenges that prevent mindful, purposeful living with purpose and satisfaction.   Time spent on growing in self-awareness is aN invaluable tool in equipping us to move towards as life of purpose.