How to define your purpose in life: 8 ways to understand yourself better

How many times have you heard someone say: “I don’t know what my life purpose is!”

Truth is, many of us go through life like this… 

…And the more we affirm it, the more stuck we feel.

Not knowing your life purpose can feel like a never ending cycle, but it doesn’t have to be like this!

You see, there are ways you can better understand yourself in order to define your life purpose.

You just need to know what to do! These eight steps will help you on your journey.

1) Search inwards

I’m going to ask you a pretty big question.

This is just for you to think about by yourself; you don’t need to stand up in front of an audience and announce it.

So: Who are you?

As in, who really are you?

I don’t mean, what’s your name, your age or your address, or even if you’re a Millennial or Gen Z. 

Forget all of the labels for a minute, and think about who you really are at your core.

Maybe you’ve never thought about this before, and you can’t see past the labels such as: 

  • I’m a student of psychology
  • I’m an actress
  • I’m in my early twenties
  • I’m a new dad

Yes, these are things that make us who we are… But I really want you to think about who you are without all of those things.

I want you to think about what sort of person you are.

For example:

  • Are you someone that has a lot of love for nature?
  • Do you feel happiest when you’re by the sea?
  • Are you excited by life and go-go-go?
  • Are you slow and methodical? 

Take some time to think about who you are by reflecting on a time in your life:

Such as:

I brought so much energy to my mid-twenties; I showed discipline and commitment and I showed up for myself. During this time, I showed myself that I am someone who follows through on things I say I am going to do. It also taught me to have trust in myself and my decision making.

The trick is to really think about who you are at your core, and what your true essence is about… Rather than the labels!

2) Think about what brings you joy and fulfillment 

In my experience, understanding my values has helped me work out what’s important to me…

…And it’s given me insight into my purpose.

You see, if we go through life without thinking about what really matters to us then we’ll just end up ‘falling’ into things before we think:

Wait, how did I get here?

I know someone who’s like this right now in their life and I can see it’s because they haven’t taken the time to sit down and think about their values.

Instead, they took the same job as a friend because it looked like a good way to earn money and, just a few months in, I can see it’s making them miserable!

So what does this mean for you?

It’s necessary for you to get clear on your values – and to think about what really excites you and brings you fulfillment – and to double down on these things.

Is it having a sense of achievement? Is it a challenge or maybe having compassion on the other hand?

Simply, I believe that it’s no accident that we’re drawn to certain things.

In my opinion, I believe they’re indications of our greater purpose.

For example, some of my core values include:

  • Authenticity 
  • Communication

And, as you can tell if you read Ideapod regularly, these are central to the work I put out.

You see, I believe it’s my purpose to put out authentic work and to help other people through communicating.

If you want to get more of an insight about what your values are, to help you define your purpose in life, I suggest working with this free checklist by Jeanette Brown.

What’s more, it’s not something you should do just once – but something you should return to time and time again!

Our values can always change.

3) Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is incredible at making us intentional about the decisions we make in life.

Just as I explained, that person I know doesn’t use any mindfulness… And it’s got them to a place of thinking: this isn’t what I want to be doing with my life.

Because they went through life with their eyes shut and not connecting their values with their decisions, they’ve ended up having a ‘yikes’ moment. 

On the other hand, mindfulness encourages us to move through life with our eyes open…

…It encourages us to be present in every decision we make and to not let life pull us in a direction we don’t want to go in. 

You see, when we use mindfulness, we can stop and think about the decision we make. 

Before we act on something, mindfulness allows us to think:

a) Does this feel good?

b) Why do I want to do this?

c) Is this in alignment with me?

I’ve used mindfulness on-and-off throughout my life…

…And I won’t beat around the bush: I’ve felt the most empowered and in control of my life during the times I’ve been more mindful.

During this time, it’s helped me to think about what matters to me and what my larger purpose is.

So what does ‘mindfulness’ look like?

It can take so many forms, including:

  • Having a journaling practice where you get your thoughts out and reflect on them
  • Spending more time in nature and without distractions
  • Actively having a digital detox 
  • Meditating 
  • Practicing yoga
  • Doing breathwork 

These are just a handful of ways we can bring in mindfulness.

Just choosing one for starters is a powerful move to help you become more aware of the power you have to make decisions for yourself, and to assure they’re in alignment with you.

4) Write down a life vision statement 

You might have heard of making mood boards, but have you heard of writing a life vision statement?

This is exactly what you’re likely imaging it is:

A statement that defines the vision for your life.

Not much to ask, right?

You’re not alone if you feel scared by it: I thought it sounded terrifying the first time I was told to do it!

But although it might sound like an incredibly daunting and impossible undertaking, remember that whatever you write isn’t set in stone.

So, take the pressure off yourself… 

If you don’t like the way the statement sounds, you can change it!

What’s more, you could change it immediately, change it tomorrow or in a year’s time.

You see, just as we grow, our life visions change.

But it’s a great idea to start by something down today if you want a way to better understand yourself.

This will help you get clarity on where you want to go and what you want to do.

In my experience, it helped me take inspired action.

It gave me a jolt of energy and made me feel really intentional!

Now, remember this is just for you to see again…

…So there doesn’t need to be loads of pressure around it sounding perfect and writing like an Oscar speech.

Instead, write something that you can keep besides your bed or even on your phone.

Ideally, you want to keep this life vision statement within sight so you can revisit it and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing, and where you ultimately want to go!

5) Spend time with people who inspire you

Have you ever heard of the saying that we are the sum of the people we spend the most time with?

In other words, the people we hang out with have an ability to rub off on us more than we probably realize…

…We actually become like those people!

So if we hang out with people who don’t know where they’re going in life or are visibly lazy then it’s going to affect us.

For that reason, it’s so important that we spend time with people who inspire us and encourage us to grow.

Once I came to terms with the fact that the people around us have a massive impact on how we see the world, I started getting very intentional about who I let into my inner circle.

I also made a point of going to events where I could meet people that I valued and to be around their energy.

You should do the same!

It could be a networking event, a talk about a subject you’re super passionate about, or a supper club!

What’s more, the more time we spend with people who inspire us, the more we can start to think about what it is about them that inspires us. 

supportive friend How to define your purpose in life: 8 ways to understand yourself better

There’s something else I do as well: 

I have a list of people that I don’t know, who I consider to be massive inspirations for me, in terms of how they are professionally but also who they seem like they are and what they care about.

It includes people who have put out really interesting and impactful work in the world, who have contributed to social and environmental causes, and who have designed beautiful lives for themselves. 

Now, the reason I did this was so I could look at what it is about these people that I admire and to join the dots between different people.

I have to say, it’s been one of the most eye-opening exercises I’ve done to help me think about what I’m drawn to and what I care about.

Simply put, I can’t recommend it enough if you want to better understand yourself and to get to the bottom about what your life purpose really is.

6) Explore your passions

Now, be honest with yourself: 

Are you someone who makes time for hobbies, or someone who is constantly working and then trying to squeeze in social obligations during the rest of the time?

Don’t feel bad if you’re more like the second person…

…Truth is, this is the reality for most people!

It’s often the case that we go through life just ‘doing’ and we end up feeling like it’s impossible to take up hobbies and do things that we’d like to do. 

We just never get around to it.

This was my reality for many, many years until I decided that it was time to start exploring some of my passions and interests that I’d been ‘meaning’ to.

To be honest, I’d just had enough of feeling like I was on a hamster wheel and not allowing myself to explore my potential – and very possibly my purpose!

And it was much easier than I thought to work a new passion and hobby into my schedule. 

So what did I do?

Well, I’d been meaning to explore my creativity outside of my work, so… I started an art class.

It was as simple as searching for it online, enrolling and then turning up! 

I’ve found that it just takes a few hours a week out of my schedule, and it allows me to become really present with a craft while not thinking about work or any obligations for a while! 

What’s more, the art class has allowed me to see that I’m much more creative and able than I thought I was.  

Simply put, it allowed me to tap into my creative potential and it generally made me feel more open-minded about the variety of things I can do.

What does this mean for you?

Well, it’s easy for us humans to put ourselves in boxes and to say:

I do this thing; this is my job and who I am.

But it’s limited thinking and it restricts us from exploring different things that we might even be better at.

By exploring a passion and turning it into a hobby and just something you start out by doing for fun, you might discover something that you’re brilliant at. 

7) Reflect on your life experiences

The experiences you’ve had in your life, whether positive or negative, are a treasure trove of insights into your purpose.

Often, our biggest challenges are what bring us the most profound wisdom and understanding about ourselves and our place in the world.

Perhaps there are instances in your life when you’ve felt truly alive, filled with a sense of passion or purpose.

Or, on the contrary, moments of difficulty that pushed you to grow, adapt and learn. Reflecting on these can offer clues about what matters most to you and what direction you may want to take in life.

In these moments, you might have found strength or skills you didn’t know you possessed, or discovered passions and values that light you up. Maybe you found a way to help others, or maybe you found a way to better yourself. All of these are signs pointing to your greater life purpose.

I recommend setting aside some quiet time to reflect on these pivotal life experiences, perhaps through journaling or meditation. Write about these moments in detail, the emotions you felt, the lessons you learned, and how they’ve shaped you. You might be surprised at the patterns and passions that reveal themselves.

8) Try new things and be open to change

Sometimes, we get so caught up in our routines and comfort zones that we miss out on opportunities that could lead us closer to our purpose.

Trying new things exposes you to different experiences, perspectives, and possibilities that you might not have encountered otherwise.

If you have been considering trying something new—be it a hobby, a course, a job, a volunteer position—go for it. Even if it seems daunting or out of your comfort zone, the lessons and growth that can come from it can provide invaluable insights into your purpose.

Furthermore, always be open to change.

Life is a dynamic, ever-changing journey, and so too should be our understanding of our purpose. Our purpose isn’t a static destination but rather an evolving journey. It changes as we grow, learn, and experience life.

Most importantly, have fun with the process of figuring out what it is you love to do… And do more of it!

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Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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