Finding Your Purpose in Life Is a Game. This Is Your 5-Stage Strategy Guide.
I remember when I was 20 years old, I was a very difficult character. I was audacious, arrogant and really annoying. I had trouble getting along with my surroundings and I was constantly getting into trouble trying to prove other people wrong. To be honest with you, I can’t blame my behavior only to me and my character.
I need to also blame the people who were my biggest influencers at the time. Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Bukowski, all played their part in the emergence of this bold persona of mine.
I can’t really explain what was wrong with me. I was studying electrical engineering and instead of looking up to people like Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein I was trying to follow advice promoted by lonely Czech novelists, radical German philosophers and American pulp-fiction writers.
Eight years later, although audacity turned into respect, arrogance into understanding, and annoyance into proactive listening I still find myself reading and being highly influenced by those people. I guess you can change your actions, your behavior, and your goals, but you can’t change who you really are.
Realizing this process helped me reach a very important conclusion with regards to our choices and how these are made. I came to understand that usually, our choices in life don’t align completely with our needs and beliefs. Usually, we make choices based on necessity, advice from elders, or societal norms. Especially at the fragile age of 20, unless you have been immersed in a specific lifestyle defined by concrete goals and actions at a younger age, you will rarely find yourself doing what you really want. Or at least what you think you want.
And that’s probably the main reason behind most people’s confusion at this stage. They find themselves in a situation where they do something that they don’t want but simultaneously, they don’t really know what they want. They have some vague ideas and thoughts that could lead them somewhere but they don’t really know which idea is the best and most importantly how to put it into practice.
In our instant gratification culture, it’s easy to forget that most personal achievements do not occur as a single static event in time, but rather as a long, gradual events that we’re hardly aware of as they are happening.
It goes without saying that every single one of us is capable of achieving great things. The difference however between people who are satisfied with their achievements and those who are not, is that the satisfied ones have achieved what they really wanted.
In simple words: the ones that have a life purpose. And here is where a small subtlety comes in. In order to understand what you really want, you first need to understand who you really are.
STAGE 1: Start from Character Development. Define Your Persona.
Character development is a topic people don’t learn at school. It is a gradually evolving process that occurs while we experience different events in our lives. I would like to divide these events into two categories – static events and dynamic events.
We can easily understand the difference between the two if we focus on their origin and also how they relate to each other. Generally speaking, static events are considered events that occur almost conventionally. Their lifespan is quite lengthy and they usually lead to a low-growth mental state. Characteristic examples of these events include:
- A boring job
- A stagnant romantic relationship
- A toxic friendship
Dynamic events, on the other hand, are events that result after our own personal will and pursuit. Their lifespan varies depending on how well we can evaluate their benefit in our lives and they usually play an incremental role in our character development. Typical examples include:
- An adventurous trip
- The development of a business idea
- The initiative to meet and cultivate new relationships
- The participation in a humanitarian mission
- The process of learning a new skill
- Reading books
, to name a few. Something important to note here is that static events are also dynamic during their initial stage. What impacts their transformation from dynamic to static is usually our inability to keep ourselves interested in them and also the way their processes affect our interest.
A great example that can accurately illustrate this point is a job at a random corporation. Let’s say that John is a Software Engineer at a medium-sized IT firm. He has the classic 9-5 schedule and he works in a very specific project that takes up most of his time at work. He works behind a desk cubicle and he is allowed to have a small break for an hour around 1pm. He has limited involvement in decision-making and the connection with his colleagues is quite rare and dull.
This is a very typical example of a static event that characterizes our times. John obviously experiences unpleasant feelings during this event, which dominates the biggest part of his life. Even if we could see a small room for character development during this event, this wouldn’t impact him tremendously.
Jake, on the other hand, works as a software engineer in a small startup. He has quite a flexible working schedule, meaning that he can work whenever he wants and also sometimes work from home. The startup environment is quite creative and innovative in terms of organizational, structural and spatial design. The founders decided on a flat organizational structure, sharing a “The people who define the choices have more power than the people making the choice” philosophy. Jake needs to be in a constant interaction with his colleagues and also make sure that their relationships are based on ideas like mutual respect, collaboration, enthusiasm, trust, and clarity.
Working at this specific startup is quite a dynamic and also challenging event. It can be considered lengthy, depending on the period Jake decides to be part of the startup, but the time he spends there is also affected by more dynamic events that contribute to his progress.
Understanding the idea of static and dynamic events and their importance in one’s character development is paramount. Especially when we make an association with the idea of one’s self and understanding who we really are, those events are extremely crucial in understanding and eventually shaping our persona.
Having the ability to evaluate the events in our lives and eventually categorize them based on the impact they can have on our character’s development, is an incredibly valuable tool. Most of the ideas we promote and communicate through our website were conceived because of our ability to choose dynamic over static events. Ideas like:
- Emotional Intelligence
- Social Intelligence
The magic of understanding the idea of character development is a process that will eventually lead to a mentality shift and consequently to a reality shift. You will start experiencing new events and new ideas that will ultimately lead to a strong and congruent persona.
Realizing the existence of this persona is probably the most important step towards understanding what you really want.
STAGE 2: Define What You Really Want.
Apparently, the most challenging headache for people who have, or are in the process of defining their persona, is that they find themselves facing difficulties deciding upon their preferred skills and options.
They might not be extremely good at something but they can be good at many things. And that’s probably the reality for most of the Millennials nowadays.
Consequently, another challenging question arises. How do you make use of all these skills so that you get what you really want?
A great way to tackle this abstraction is to adhere to a concept widely known as Systems Thinking. The main idea behind this concept is that in order to manage a system effectively, you need to focus on the interactions of its parts rather than their behavior taken separately. This idea finds application usually in business and managerial processes but as a philosophy, it can be applied to many areas of our lives.
See yourself as a whole that exists of many different parts. These parts are your skills. In order for the whole to work effectively, all the parts need to be in congruence and also be developed equally.
Let’s try and illustrate this idea in a more tangible way, by using the example of an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur isn’t good at one skill called entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is actually a mixture of skills. It is a combination of knowledge in areas like marketing, business, psychology, social intelligence, emotional intelligence, focus etc.
Obviously, an entrepreneur cannot master all these skills. He can, however, achieve a great level of ability in each one of them so he can become successful in managing their system.
Another great example that demonstrates the importance of systems thinking is dating. A very common fallacy for most men is that dating is one skill and that in order to become better with women they need to invest in a skill called dating. Unfortunately, as I have found out after many years of social interactions, this isn’t the case.
Dating, just like entrepreneurship, is a combination of skills. It is a system that consists of parts like body language, social intelligence, emotional intelligence, flow and perceived value, among others. If you just try to trick yourself into believing that you will read a “Dating Guide” that it will lead to success, you will most probably fail.
Evidently, defining what you really want is not as simple as some people tend to believe. It’s actually quite a complex process that manifests itself in a systemic way. Changing our perspective with regards to what we want and viewing it from a more systemic angle can actually resolve many unsolved problems or events that we considered problems in the first place.
Advancing from my last point, Russel Ackoff, one of the pioneers in the field of systems thinking, dared to say:
“Through systems thinking, we have come to doubt the existence of problems and solutions to them.”
Solutions to complex problems and answers to complex questions usually derive from changing our perception and thinking outside the box. Understanding the totality of these concepts and starting to build mental models that can support their reasoning is probably the only way to go.
STAGE 3: Developing Mental Models – Mastering Productivity
A mental model is a way of looking at the world.
Put simply, mental models are the set of tools that you use to think. Each mental model offers a different framework that you can use to look at life or an individual life problem.
Steve Jobs’ idea to create a smartphone that revolutionized the mobile industry was based on a unique mental model that he could pull out of his intellectual toolbox and use it to solve difficult problems. Jobs wasn’t necessarily incredibly smart. He just had this unique ability to identify mental models and use them to view problems from a different perspective.
In order to exhibit the unquestionable importance of mental models, I am going to investigate an area where mental models usually shine – The area of productivity. Productivity, although quite a challenging idea in our pursuit for purpose in life, it is probably the most typical example of mental models in practice.
Because of its arbitrary nature, productivity is considered a common mental models problem. All emotional processes that take place during our attempt to define and eventually master productivity are a result of our inability to identify productivity as a complex problem that requires an unconventional approach.
Sitting in front of your computer the whole day and instead of 5 hours of productive work, you manage to achieve only 1 or 2, is a typical example of our inability to identify productivity as a complex problem. Especially when it comes to becoming good at something you really want, inability to master productivity can be considered as the biggest hurdle in your way.
Therefore, I will present my personal favorite mental models, which I consider my most powerful allies in my attempt to become more productive. They were all inspired by productivity master James Clear and I like to refer to them as the “Infamous Triad of Productivity:”
- The Two-Minute Rule
- The Eisenhower Box
- Warren Buffet’s 25-5 Rule
The Two-Minute Rule
When it comes to procrastination we all know that the reason we procrastinate has nothing to do with the difficulty of the task. We just avoid some tasks for completely random reasons.
- I feel hungry
- My girlfriend just texted me and I need to reply
- That dancing cat in that gif is sooo cute
The 2–Minute Rule overcomes procrastination and laziness by making the action-taking process extremely easy.
There are two parts to the 2–Minute Rule:
Part 1 — If It Takes Less than Two Minutes, Then Do It Now.
This precious piece of advice is suggested by David Allen in his bestselling book, “Getting Things Done. The art of Stress-Free Productivity.” If you take a minute to consider how many things we put off that we could get done in two minutes or less, you will be amazed. Typical examples include:
- Taking out the garbage
- Washing your dishes after you eat
- Cleaning up clutter
- Creating your task list
- Cleaning your email box
Part 2 — When You Start a New Habit, It Should Take Less than Two Minutes to Begin with It.
When it comes to habit-performing tasks, the most difficult part is the take-off. That small time frame in the beginning of the task until you get immersed in it and enter a flow state.
The idea behind this small but effective rule is to force yourself to stay in the task for at least two minutes, even if you find it extremely difficult to do so.
Want to become a better writer? Start writing for two minutes and you will often find yourself writing for an hour.
Want to become a better programmer? Start coding for two minutes and you will often find yourself coding for hours.
Want to start working out more? Do a warm-up with push-ups for two minutes and you will get fired up for the rest of the training session.
You get the idea. The reason the two-minute rule is so powerful is that these two minutes are enough to get your mind from a passive state to an active state.
Once it gets into that state, anything is possible.
The Eisenhower Box
Dwight Eisenhower, apart from being the 34th president of the United States and a five-star general in the United States army, he was also famous for his productivity skills. More specifically he introduced the famous Eisenhower Decision Matrix, which is a highly effective tool that can help you separate your actions based on four possibilities.
- Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
- Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
- Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
- Neither urgent not important (tasks that you will eliminate).
The great thing about this matrix is that it can be used for broad productivity plans (“How should I spend my time each week?”) and for smaller, daily plans (“What should I do today?”).
Here is an example of what my Eisenhower Decision Matrix looks like for today:
I find the Eisenhower Matrix extremely useful when it comes to your daily task list. Once you have listed all the tasks for the day, you can add them in the matrix based on importance. The matrix will give you a more concrete view of the tasks. This not only helps you prioritize better but it also helps you organize your time more effectively.
It goes without saying that you should start with the most difficult tasks first because you want to take advantage of your brain while it is rested and ready for action. Important but not urgent tasks are perfect for the end of the day because they require less mental capacity. Taking care of them after you have finished with the urgent ones can be a relaxing and sometimes even rewarding process.
Warren Buffet’s 25-5 Rule
One of the most famous Warren Buffet stories is the one about his personal airplane pilot Mike Flint.
One day, Mike Flint was talking about his career priorities with Warren Buffett and Buffet asked him to go through a 3-step exercise.
STEP 1: Buffet asked Flint to write down his top 25 career goals.
STEP 2: Then, Buffett asked Flint to review his list and highlight his top 5 goals.
STEP 3: At this point, Flint had two lists. The 5 items he had highlighted were List A and the 20 items he had not circled were List B.
Flint confirmed that he would start working on his top 5 goals right away. And that’s when Buffett asked him about the second list, “And what about the ones you didn’t circle?”
Flint replied, “Well, the top 5 are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit. They are not as urgent, but I still plan to give them a dedicated effort.”
To which Buffett replied, “No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t highlight just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”
Buffet is undoubtedly one of the most successful people on the planet. But this success wasn’t a result of luck. Buffet understood from an early age that our mind, albeit very powerful instrument, it has its own limits. If you underestimate its power and think you can actually focus on more things than your mind can process, you will most probably fail in most of them. His 25-5 rule is one of the most famous productivity hacks I have ever encountered.
As you have probably realized by now, all three mental models used in my “Infamous Triad of Productivity,” are based on the same principle – Prioritize tasks. When you have this idea well established, you can actually identify the events in your life that require your utmost attention and put all your effort into them. This will unquestionably make you more productive.
STAGE 4: Work on Your Emotional State.
While searching for their life purpose, what most people disregard is the significance of a healthy emotional state. Although it is quite debatable if and how we can maintain a high emotional state, it is crucial to strive upon seeking activities that can ensure the sustainability and endurance of healthy emotions.
Back in 2010, after reading Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of Now” for the first time, I came face to face with a very daunting challenge. Tolle suggests that negative emotions are just superficial creations of our mind that if understood and processed accurately can be tamed and even eliminated. Looking back to my early 20s, I remember that most of my unpleasant and also embarrassing moments were a result of my inability to understand and manage those emotions. The challenge Tolle set about was probably the most impactful moment in my life thus far.
Through tons of research and personal experimentation, I came to understand that a healthy emotional state can be sustained by investing in the three following areas:
I was about to use the term emotional resilience to define the first area of importance, but after reading “Antifragile – Things that gain from disorder” by Nicholas Taleb, I became an evangelist of the term antifragile. As the author suggests in his book:
“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
The biggest underlying factor that indicates the power of this idea is that anitfragility gives you room to get something positive out of negative events in your life, whereas resilience doesn’t.
Where a resilient character reacts with apathy and passivity, an antifragile character reacts positively and creatively. Such a mentality shift not only increases the chance of enduring negative emotions but it also indicates that they can be molded into something positive, thus improving our emotional state levels.
2) A Healthy Body and Mind Balance
Although I predominantly like to promote mind-enhancing activities to body-enhancing ones, the importance of a healthy balance between the two cannot be understated. You will or, most probably, have already read numerous articles and studies on the topic. What most of them fail to achieve, however, is to give you a concrete reason with regards to how these activities boost your emotional state. In my humble opinion, the reason is quite straightforward.
When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain.
Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as “euphoric.” That feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life. As a result, exercising can:
- Reduce stress
- Ward off anxiety and feelings of depression
- Boost self-esteem
- Improve sleep
Mind activity is most usually connected to reading. Deciding to go through the process of opening your mind to another person’s thoughts and ideas can help you boost your emotional state in a couple of ways.
Firstly, you increase your knowledge in different areas and you become less prone to confusion when facing questions concerning complex topics.
Secondly, if you identify yourself with the ideas promoted by the writer, you somehow experience a feeling of self-validation. You understand that you are not the only person having those thoughts or concerns and if you come from a place of emotional desperation, this process can help you eliminate it and also give you hope for a brighter future.
3) Gradually Boosting Serotonin Levels
This fascinating neurotransmitter called serotonin is the primary source of high emotional state levels. Although its significance in our well-being cannot be ignored, sometimes its pursuit can lead to some of our most thoughtless actions. Fortunately or unfortunately, when it comes to working with your emotional state, its existence is paramount. What we need to consider is how to define a strategy that can help us establish its presence in a balanced way.
The main sources of serotonin can be divided into the following four categories:
Physical and Emotional Intimacy with Another Person:
Emotional and physical connection with other people is a huge factor when it comes to serotonin levels. Apart from the hormone itself being released during physical and emotional contact, its appearance is also evident in the byproducts of this connection. Self-confidence and self-validation are probably the main feelings that indicate the impact of this connection in our lives.
We all know that a bad diet affects our health negatively, and mental health suffers as a result. The stomach is the main point of impact of a bad diet and it is also called the “second brain.” There lies the enteric nervous system, which also has neurons similar to the ones brain has. In fact, 95% of serotonin, is produced inside the bowels.
I don’t want to delve into specific foods that increase serotonin levels. What I would suggest however is being conscious about your diet and also spending more time in preparing a great meal or dinner. It’s not only the ingredients that count, but also the process you go through while creating it and eventually enjoying it. A dinner at an expensive restaurant that serves extraordinary dishes is also highly suggested from time to time.
I need to stress out the importance of party-related activities not only because it is a way to get in touch with the other three areas suggested, but also because they are probably the best way to deal with the eventuality of a burnout state.
Especially when you decide to work on your productivity levels, you will realize that burnout is inevitable. Party-related activities need to occur at least two times per week in order for the required serotonin levels to be reached and also to help the mind recover from a burnout state caused by too much work.
I would only suggest working with drugs if you feel that the other activities don’t work as expected. It is also crucial to understand that you can work with drugs only when you have reached a state of mind that suggests your capability of controlling the drug and not the other way around.
STAGE 5: Domination Is Near. You Will Never Achieve World Domination Alone.
After almost 4000 words, we managed to reach the final stage of our attempt to define what it means “finding purpose in life.” In this final stage I will try and somehow disengage your focus from solely yourself and place it to the people in your environment and how they should be managed in order for you to experience a healthier lifestyle.
I know that the word manage might sound politically incorrect because it can be associated with manipulation or immoral behavior. However, if you are an ambitious person, you will most probably realize at some point that your relationships, just like your life, need to be managed effectively in order to get the most out of them. Unfortunately, most people fail to invest in this area and end up experiencing feelings of dissatisfaction and regret.
These feelings usually originate from our attempt to view the world from a more utopian angle, hoping that things will work out alone. Sadly, once reality hits us hard, then we start to pay more attention to the importance of management.
In my attempt to get into the nuts and bolts of how to do it effectively, I decided to divide the people who surround us into three main categories; the party people, the partners and the followers.
Although you should take my advice here with a grain of salt, this categorization wasn’t a result of some snap in the moment epiphany. It is a result of years of social interactions and experiments and is also influenced by the opinions of well-known and respected psychologists and philosophers. The purpose of this categorization is not to create stereotypes and discrimination among your relationships, but to give you a better understanding of behavioral dynamics and how you should use them to get the most out of your relationships. Now let’s try and analyze each category a bit more thoroughly.
1) The Party People
Those are people in your environment who can be great assets when it comes to social gatherings. They are usually extroverted by nature and can easily adapt to dynamic and high-energy environments. If you are an introverted character, those people can help you discover your extroverted edge and also help you create new acquaintances. If you are an extroverted character, these people can supplement you in a great way and also boost your social value even more.
The caveat when it comes to party people is that their management requires extra attention when you want to keep them around you for a long time. They are usually people who seek validation and will most probably demand from you to reach their energy levels in order to get along with them.
There are usually three ways to successfully manage them:
- Give them validation in small amounts so they can keep coming back for it.
- Don’t stay too close to them and avoid speaking about personal matters that have no relation to the party environment.
- If you feel comfortable with meeting new people, introduce them to each other and also use a churn-approach when you see that the fun you used to have with them is close to being jeopardized.
2) The Partners
These are people who you can build a strong emotional connection with. This connection usually comes from sharing common beliefs, values, and ideas. They can become great romantic partners, business partners or intellectual partners and you can experience mutual benefit when it comes to emotional and intellectual activities.
The success of your relationship is founded upon the ideas of respect, loyalty, and empathy. If these ideas are not present, a partnership can never flourish and grow. Both of you need to be constantly aware their presence and actively communicate it through your words and actions.
It is also crucial to understand that if your relationship with them branches out to the other two categories, you are flirting with the idea of imbalance. Partying with them for example, although it is an option, if the requirements of the party environment are not satisfied, you may find yourself questioning your relationship with them and vice versa.
3) The Followers
These are people who admire you a lot and believe that they can be positively influenced by your presence. Although we have the bad habit of associating the word “follower” with something negative, we need to realize that all of us are or were followers at some point in our lives. So the idea of a follower is great if you are conscious about the help you can provide to them and they to you.
From your perspective, a follower is a person that respects you a lot and looks up to you, thus helping you boost your confidence and increase your value as a person. From their perspective, the interaction with you can help them solve some personal problems and also put them on the right track for further growth.
Followers can become partners at some point, depending on how well you can evaluate your relationship with them. In order for this to be accomplished, both of you need to become aware of it and move from a follower-leader to a leader-leader approach in your relationship.
Although the three categories are open to further analysis, they are the only categorization you need.
It is always up to you how and why you will decide to manage your relationships but at the end of the day the famous African proverb,
“If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go with others.”
, makes more and more sense.
If you see your life as a game, and yourself as the main character, you will soon realize that you have around 30,000 days (~82 years) to play. Finding your life purpose can be achieved anywhere between those 30,000 days.
Some players achieve it early, others will never achieve it. The level of achievement, however, is quite arbitrary and depends totally on you and your standards.
Regardless of your standards, what matters the most is your strategy. All five of the stages mentioned in this article are ways to define an effective strategy. A strategy that will make the game easier and the achievement more rewarding.
Now go out there and start playing.
The game is not easy. It will become easier if you start immersing yourself in activities that challenge the norms in your life. “30 Challenges – 30 Days – Zero Excuses” is a great place to start.
Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to get my articles in your inbox when they come out. It is thought-provoking, free, easy to unsubscribe and some great resources will await you once you confirm your subscription.
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