A Pen-and-Paper Exercise for Finding your Purpose

AUTHOR

Steven Burns

Hi! I’m Steven. I’m a professional therapist, coach, trainer & author with over 20 years experience. I teach the latest psychological tools and techniques to help you transform and make a difference.

I love this exercise.

It’s simple but it can be profoundly insightful when it comes to discovering what your purpose(s) is/are.

It’s based on the idea that we have ‘High-Level Goals’ & ‘Low-Level Goals’.

High-level goals are your purposes, missions, and callings. They are the overall directions that contain the most meaning to you. There’s an argument to say that at the very top ‘high-level’, you’ll find your ultimate purpose in life.

Low-level goals are the outcomes and objectives you engage with in order to achieve your high-level goals.

So, for example, if your high-level goal is to ‘Help people maximise their potential’ then one of your low-level goals might be to ‘write a self-help book’.

The low-level goal is designed to serve the higher-level one.

But, one of the big problems people have is that they don’t know what their high-level goals are.

So they end up drowning in a sea of low-level goals that aren’t particularly relevant to their deeper purposes and, as a result, they don’t get as much meaning out of life as they’d like to.

So this exercise is a great way to pan the camera back and recognise what your higher-level, and more meaningful, goals are.

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Find your Purpose - the Cognitive method

-> Step 1: Make a list of all your Career Goals.

Make a list of 15 to 20 career goals that you have on a large piece of paper. I know you may think that this sounds a lot but, honestly, once you get started you’ll find it much easier than you think. In fact, often the difficulty is getting yourself to stop once you get into the flow of it.

-> Step 2: Give each of the goals an ‘importance’ score.

Look at your list of goals and gauge them on ‘importance’ – use a 0 to 10 scale (0 = couldn’t care less and 10 = ultra-important)

Put any goal that scores less than a 5 to the side – you can still pursue them but, for the purpose of the exercise, you want to focus on the more important ones.

-> Step 3: Look for themes.

Next you want to start looking for themes: examine the remaining goals – above 5 on the importance scale – and ask the following questions: 

  • For what Purpose?
  • In order to Achieve what?
  • What is that an example of? 

These questions will help you pan the camera back and recognise the ‘themes’ that the goals belong to.

It helps you discover your higher-level goals.

-> Step 4: Repeat and work your way up to the higher-level goals.

Keep asking these questions until you arrive at a common theme – an overarching goal that the lower-level ones, in some way, fit into.

Below, you can see a simplified example of this process:

In the above diagram, my low-level goals are ‘online training’, ‘live training’, and ‘1-2-1 coaching’ – you could also go even lower by delving into the specific daily tasks I do to achieve these goals.

But when you pan the camera back and look for the higher-level goals – the overarching themes that these lower-level goals fit into – you eventually reach ‘Exploring Human Potential and helping others to do likewise’.

So, for me, as long as I’m doing something that fits into this overarching, high-level goal, I feel a deep sense of purpose and meaning. It will fit and resonate deeply with me.

When you approach your goals in this way, it allows you to be flexible while at the same time being faithful to your overarching cause.

Your lower-level goals are negotiable but the top-level one is not.

For me, I don’t see ‘being a coach’ as my calling, it’s just one way of expressing ‘Exploring human potential and helping others to do likewise’. And there are many lower-level goals and activities that can also be used to further this cause.

So perhaps, at some point, I’ll stop being a coach and start doing something different. As long as it still fits with my top-level goal I’ll still feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose. 

It’s a great way to think about your goals. It makes it possible for you to maintain the pursuit of a cause that you find deeply meaningful while still retaining a level of fluidity.

So give the exercise a go. See what comes up. It’s a more ‘cognitive’ method for finding your purpose but I think it can be very revealing.

And feel free to share what your overarching theme is!

Be well,

Steven

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