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A Well Lived Life of Purpose https://t.co/mOrp11WvXh

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Purpose Mindfulness Leo Babauta
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Wanting More Time for Your Meaningful Work https://t.co/LAyJYqKQV8

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The Quest for Impact, Not Productivity https://t.co/hNcrxaWPfI

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Purpose Leo Babauta
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Staying Connected to Meaning in Your Work https://t.co/XIipdfpl2U

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Purpose Leo Babauta
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A Well Lived Life of Purpose - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

Most of the people I know and work with want a life of meaning and purpose, not a life where we just get by …

A well lived life, that feels meaningful.

But this isn’t taught in schools, and most of us feel completely unsure of how to move towards this.

I’m not going to fully answer how to live a life of purpose in this article … but I’d love to talk about how to move in that direction.

Commitment

The first thing you might consider is committing yourself to finding a life of purpose. How important is that to you? Are you willing to move into uncertainty for this, or is comfort and safety more important to you at the moment?

To commit, you have to commit in the gut. To tell yourself that this is important enough to devote yourself to, to dedicate time, to practice with the uncdertainty. Commit to yourself, on paper. Then to others.

Exploration

The second thing to consder is embarking on an adventure of exploring your purpose, if you don’t already have a good sense of it. It’s not as simple as asking, “What would I like to do?” or doing a web search for the answer. You have to explore it, and bringing a sense of adventure might be just the right approach.

Here’s how I usually recommend exploring purpose:

  1. Make a list of things that you think might be meaningful to you — helping children in need, helping people reduce stress, traveling to help communities in need, etc. Put anything on the list that’s even remotely possible or interesting, don’t limit yourself here. Hint: I’ve found that the most meaningful things are when you’re helping other people with something you care about.
  2. Ask yourself which 3-5 of these would be most meaningful. If one really stands out — maybe it’s the thing you’ve been wanting to do for years — then that’s where to start. But maybe you’re not sure, so pick 3-5. This is your short list.
  3. Of those, let your gut choose the top one. If you absolutely don’t know, either choose randomly, or ask a friend. This isn’t your final answer, but just the one you’re going to start with.
  4. Choose a 2-week version of this top possibility. For example, if you want to help people with stress, could you help 1 person over video calls and email for 2 weeks? This is the mini-version of your possible purpose. Explore this for 2 weeks, really pouring yourself into it.
  5. If this really resonates, make a one-month version of it and continue to explore. If it doesn’t, pick the next thing on your short list. Do a 2-week version of that. Repeat until you find something to explore for a month or longer.

This is the iterative method of purpose exploration. You try a mini-version of something for a couple weeks. Maybe longer. And keep doing this until you hit on something.

Notice if you feel like avoiding this process, or a part of the process. This is your uncertainty showing up as fear. That’s completely OK, but you might ask whether you’d like to get support with that uncertainty, so you don’t have to be stopped.

A Well Lived Life

There are an infinite number of possibilities for living a well lived life. You might meditate on a mountain for years, or enjoy the simple things. You might enjoy time with loved ones, or explore culinary pleasures. You might read all day, or listen to music. You might get your work done, and come home satisfied from a job well done.

For me, one of the biggest components of a well lived life — other than loved ones and a profound appreciation of life — is doing something that feels meaningful. And that has usually been helping others with something that’s meaningful to them.

If you can serve others, make their lives better in some small way (or a big way) … it feels incredibly meaningful. Much more than simply traveling or building up wealth or enjoying good food or having fun. Those are all great, but they don’t feel as meaningful to me.

If you can hit on something like that, that feels meaningful … then a well lived life becomes simple:

Spend quality time with loved ones.

Take care of yourself.

Find profound appreciation for the joy of life.

And serve others in a meaningful way.

It’s simple, but not always easy. And that makes it even richer.

By Leo Babauta Most of the people I know and work with want a life of meaning and purpose, not a life where we just get by … A well lived life, that feels meaningful. But this isn’t taught in schools, and most of us feel completely unsure of how to move towards this. I’m […]

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about 1 year ago
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Wanting More Time for Your Meaningful Work - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

A member of my Fearless Training Program has a full-time business that she loves, but isn’t the meaningful work she’d like to do in the world. She struggles with finding enough time for that meaningful work.

Can you relate to this? The rest of our life fills up all the space — how can we find enough time to focus on what’s really important?

This is a common problem for anyone who wants to launch a new venture, volunteer, create art, write a book, build an audience or a brand … how do we create the time when we’re already busy and overloaded?

I’m going to share some ideas in this article:

  1. Create structure for all the stuff in your life
  2. Create even more space
  3. Really pour yourself into it
  4. Bring some Zen to disruptions & frustrations
  5. Replenish yourself
  6. Bring freedom, joy & lit-upness to any activity

These are all meant to address various problems that we face when we’re making time for our meaningful work. You can decide which ones might apply to your life.

Let’s take a look!

Create Structure in Your Life

Our lives can feel overwhelming, with too many things to do! We have chores and small tasks and messages to answer, bills to pay, dishes to wash, people to contact, and much more. So how do we handle all of this?

First, it can feel overwhelming when it’s a huge pile of stuff and seemingly not enough time.

Second, the small stuff will overwhelm all the available space, because it always feels urgent when we’re feeling behind and overwhelmed.

So one good answer is to create structure. Create spaces to deal with all the things in your life:

  • Bill Pay Mondays
  • Inbox Zero Tuesdays
  • Admin Fridays
  • House Chore Party Saturdays
  • Email and messages Sacred Hour – daily at 4pm
  • Morning planning & intentions
  • Monthly taxes day
  • Meaningful Work Play Time at 10am daily
  • And so on

Not these specific spaces — your structure will be different than these. But if you have a space for all the stuff, you can relax and know that it will be taken care of.

What structure can you create to take care of everything important, while creating structured and intentional space for your meaningful work?

Create Even More Space

Let’s say you’re so busy that you can only find 30 minutes a week for your meaningful work — it’s a great start! But take it as a starting point.

Maybe you can create more time by bundling your emails and messages into a certain hour each day. Maybe you can free up some time by hiring a babysitter, a house cleaner, someone on Craigslist to haul away your junk for you. Someone to answer your customer service emails, or an admin asssitant to take care of routine tasks.

Or maybe you can eliminate or simplify some things to create more space. Get out of commitments. Tell people No. Ask for postponements.

Sometimes we can cut out distractions, like social media or video watching or news/website reading. If we’re honest, there’s a lot of wasted time in our days that can be streamlined for the sake of what’s truly important.

Get creative! Sometimes it takes a little time investment to simplify, but then it pays off in space in a week or two.

Really Pour Yourself Into It

Once you have the space, it can be hard to focus. All the other stuff is calling to you! Maybe you spend the first 20 minutes of the 40 minutes you’ve carved out just getting ready. Maybe the whole focus block gets pushed back until later because you feel something else is more urgent.

Create the structure to make the meaningful work happen. Sometimes it means doing it on a video call with someone else — each of you do your meaningful work on mute for an hour.

But when you’re in the focus block — pour yourself into it. Give it your full being. Be all in.

Don’t half ass it. Whole ass it.

Bring Some Zen to Disruptions

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we get disrupted. Our kid interrupts wanting a snack. Our spouse interrupts with their latest frustration. A message comes in that sidetracks us.

And then we can get frustrated or angry. That’s normal! Give yourself a breath or two, and some compassion.

Then let it go. Relax, breathe, and accept the interruption as just a natural part of the chaos of life. It doesn’t have to derail you completely. See the gift in the interruption. Find the gratitude for having this person in your life.

Then simply return to the meaningful task, with your whole self.

Replenish Yourself

It can be hard to find focus when we’re drained, anxious, exhausted, feeling resigned & resentful. We just don’t have the focus or capacity to face anything.

So it can be a great act of leadership to recognize this, and take care of it. A great act of generosity to yourself and your meaningful work.

Recharge your batteries, give yourself nurturing and nourishment, replenish yourself so that you can return with full life force.

Some ideas:

  • Get more sleep — shut down earlier and let yourself relax into deep, nourishing sleep.
  • Get outdoors daily. Go for a walk or run, enjoy the quiet beauty of nature.
  • Take a hot bath. Drink some tea while doing nothing else. Take some space.
  • Any kind of self-care is helpful: a nap, yoga, a workout, therapy, talk with a friend, get a massage, meditate.

More space, more relaxing, more nourishing.

Bring Freedom, Joy & Lit-upness to Every Activity

We can feel trapped because we’re craving freedom, but our day job isn’t allowing for it. We can feel drained and discouraged because our day job feels draining, stressful, dull.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! We can bring joy and freedom to any activity, including our routine work.

What would it be like to do the activity you normally experience as suffocating … with a sense of freedom and joy?

What if you could do the dull routine activities with vitality? What if you could be lit up in any moment you liked?

This is a possibility few people allow themselves. I encourage you to explore it.

What could your life be like, bringing freedom and joy to anything you liked?

By Leo Babauta A member of my Fearless Training Program has a full-time business that she loves, but isn’t the meaningful work she’d like to do in the world. She struggles with finding enough time for that meaningful work. Can you relate to this? The rest of our life fills up all the space — […]

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about 1 year ago
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Staying Connected to Meaning in Your Work - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

For anyone trying to do meaningful work, feeling connected to that meaning can be a big challenge.

It turns out, even if you can stay focused on your meaningful work for most of the day … it’s easy to lose connection to why it’s meaningful. To why you care about doing this in the first place.

We get stuck in the drudgery of doing endless meaningless tasks, stuck in task mode, rather than feeling that the tasks are meaningful ways to spend our day.

So how do we deal with this challenge? Not surprisingly, the answer is practice.

Let’s take a look.

Have a Deeper Why

If you haven’t done this step yet, don’t skip it. We need to find a deeper reason to do our work, other than, “To get paid,” or “Because it’s on my list or in my inbox,” or “Because other people are waiting for me to do it.”

If we don’t have a deeper reason, work becomes meaningless drudgery. We can put up with it for years, but it won’t feel like a meaningful way to spend our lives. It won’t feel inspired .

So why do you care about doing what you do?

What makes this meaningful to you?

There are lots of possible answers … here are a few:

  • Because you’re helping people you care about
  • To make a change in the world that feels powerful
  • To help people who are struggling or in pain
  • To preserve something you care about
  • To protect or serve your loved ones
  • It’s an act of love for yourself or others

In my experience, the most meaningful reasons to do anything are to serve others, out of love. But sometimes, we have to start by loving ourselves — that’s incredibly meaningful as well.

So get clear on your Why. Feel connected to it .

Set Rituals to Connect with Meaning

It turns out, just knowing why something is meaningful isn’t enough — we tend to forget it as soon as we get into Doing mode.

And so having points during your day when you connect to your meaning is a good idea. Create some rituals that will remind you to practice feeling connected.

Some simple examples:

  • A short 2-5 minute meditation in the morning or evening, where you visualize the people you care about, and practice connecting to their hearts
  • A devotional practice on your yoga mat, or in front of an altar, where you think about the struggles of the people you’re helping, and devote your work to them
  • A photo, Buddha statue, vase of flowers, candle — some object that will remind you to pause and practice feeling connected to your Why
  • A short moment of pause, where you set intentions before you start writing or answering messages (for example) — intentions of serving people you care about

What rituals would you like to create to connect to your meaning?

Practice Connecting to Meaning

Rituals are structure in our lives to help us remember to feel connected to meaning … but they won’t really do anything if we just go through the motions.

We have to practice really feeling the meaning.

So how do we do that? For me, it’s about feeling it in my heart. I practice feeling the love and devotion for the people I care about (all of you!), picturing any difficulties, struggle, pain or fear that you might have, and wishing you all happiness. Basically, a version of lovingkindness meditation, aimed specifically at the people I’m trying to serve.

I practice standing as Love, in my being. I practice feeling compassion in my heart. I practice feeling devotion to those I care deeply about, in my core. And then I see what flows from that — writing an article like this, recording a video, sending an email or message.

I practice trying to reconnect to that feeling as I’m writing or doing the task. I’ll forget, and lose connection, over and over again. That’s OK — it’s not about being perfect. It’s about coming back to meaning, over and over.

Because it makes every single thing I do so much more meaningful. Because it infuses my life with meaning. This is an inspired life! I wish you nothing less.

By Leo Babauta For anyone trying to do meaningful work, feeling connected to that meaning can be a big challenge. It turns out, even if you can stay focused on your meaningful work for most of the day … it’s easy to lose connection to why it’s meaningful. To why you care about doing this […]

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about 1 year ago
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The Practice of Listening to Find Purpose

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” ~Rumi

By Leo Babauta

Very often, our lives are so filled with busyness and distraction that we have no space to actually listen to what life is calling us to do.

Think about your day so far, and your day yesterday: how much of it was spent in busywork and distraction? Messaging, social media, videos and news, reading favorite websites, answering emails and doing errands, replying and reacting.

In the middle of this craziness, do we ever have space for silence? For creation, contemplation, reflection? And for a practice that I think we do too little of much of the time: listening.

The practice of listening is about creating a little space for silence, and then listening to what you need to do right now:

  • What have you committed to doing that you’re not doing?
  • Why is what you’re doing now important?
  • What do you need?
  • What do the people you care about need?
  • What are you being called on to do?
  • What would be the most impactful or meaningful thing you could do right now?
  • How do you want to spend the next month of your life?
  • What do you care most deeply about? Are you willing to commit yourself to it?

These are the kinds of questions to ask in this purposeful listening practice. But more important than the questions is how you listen:

  1. Create some space by taking a break from devices and busyness . Stop and get somewhere where you can have stillness — a walk in nature, dropping into sitting meditation, dropping into child’s pose on the floor, having a cup of tea, sitting out on your porch, finding a bench in a park.
  2. Now just find silence and stillness and ask a question . You can ask any of the questions above, or whatever feels important for you right now. One of my favorites is, “What am I being called to do right now?”
  3. Keep yourself in that stillness and silence, and listen for the answer . Breathe deeply. Feel how your body feels right now. And then listen to the answer that comes up for you. Your gut has an answer. Maybe it’s not the perfect answer, but it’s something to start with. Listen until you have clarity.

It’s that simple. Pause in a moment of stillness and silence. Ask a question. Listen for the answer.

This can be used in all areas of your life: your relationships, your health, your finances, your work, your meaningful contribution to the world.

How can you practice this throughout the day?

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” ~Rumi By Leo Babauta Very often, our lives are so filled with busyness and distraction that we have no space to actually listen to what life is calling us to do. Think about your day […]

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about 1 year ago
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Live on Purpose

“Our purpose here on earth: to manifest the very nature of our spirit, which is touched by the spirit of God.”

~Rumi

By Leo Babauta

So often we live our lives drifting, getting by, trying to find comfort and pleasure, doing what we need to do, doing things out of habit, getting lost in the busywork, going through the motions, getting caught up in our thoughts, getting lost in distractions, trying to stick to something but then reverting to habitual patterns, dealing with one crisis after another, putting out fires and sweeping up messes, dealing tiredness and stress and depression and anxiety, trying to keep our heads above water, trying to make ends meet, falling behind and getting overwhelmed, struggling and not wanting to face our problems, getting mired in a pit of neverending tasks, losing our days and weeks because they all blend together.

This is the human condition, and it is beautiful.

But what would it be like to live with purpose? To have meaning in the work that we do, and to structure our lives with that purpose in mind, and with the most meaningful relationships and activities?

What would it be like to live on purpose?

To have intention to our actions, have a purpose to drive us, to put everything we have into everything we do?

The more we live on purpose and do our best in every single thing we do, the more meaningful our lives will be.

Let’s explore this idea of living on purpose.

Getting Clarity on Your Purpose

Not everyone is walking around saying, “Yep, I know exactly what my purpose is in life!” In fact, most people don’t ask the question, and if they do, they might not believe there is such a thing as purpose.

That’s because there isn’t inherently a purpose in our lives — we have to create it . If we don’t, our actions feel drifting and meaningless.

So how do we figure out that purpose? It’s a matter of creating an inquiry, and then listening. Then putting it into action. This is worth doing, by the way, even if you feel you have some idea of your purpose.

We’ll get to the inquiry in a moment, but this process looks like this:

  1. Start asking some questions (inquiry) that opens us to thinking about what is meaningful to us . See the next section. This is about opening to inquiry and seeing what comes up.
  2. Start listening . This is the part that many people skip — they might ask the questions but then not really feel they’re coming up with meaningful answers. That’s because we have to listen. In silence and solitude. So go out in nature, and walk in silence (no music or podcasts or audiobooks). Or sit in silence. Ask the questions below. Listen to what comes up. Listen some more. Ask some more. It’s like having a dialog with God — or the universe, or your inner consciousness. Ask and listen. Speak and see what comes out.
  3. Take action to get clarity . Many people make the mistake of thinking they need clarity before they can put it into action, but that’s actually the reverse of how it works. You get an idea but no real clarity — then you try it out and see how it works. Does it feel meaningful? Which parts of it scare you? What do you need to change in order to make it happen? You might find that it’s not for you and you need to try something else out. Or that something related to your original idea is actually closer to your purpose. It’s an exploration, and through this exploration you start to get some clarity.

This isn’t a one-off process, actually. It’s an ongoing one, of getting more and more clarity. So even if you think you are pretty close to your purpose, keep this process going. It might never end (I don’t know yet).

The Purpose Inquiry

There’s no right way to do this process of inquiry, except to turn toward the questions and the possibilities.

Some questions to start you in the process:

  • What people have you helped in your work made the work feel more meaningful than usual?
  • What people have problems that really speak to your heart, that move you to want to help?
  • What have you done in your life that felt most meaningful? (It doesn’t have to be around work.)
  • What books have you read, videos watched, courses taken … that really lit you up?
  • When have you worked with people who really lit you up?
  • Who has inspired you the most? Who have you inspired?

Again, these are just to get you started. Ask questions like this that open you to feeling meaning, that open you to new ways of seeing things.

Then go out in silence and listen. Journal. Listen some more. Talk to yourself (or God or the universe). Then listen (to yourself, God or the universe). See what comes up. Then take action.

Living on Purpose

Once you have a little clarity (you don’t need very much), you can take some action.

Help one person.

Help another, then another.

Write about what you learned helping them.

Create something for someone.

Give that creation to a few others.

Launch something.

Be a part of something. Start something new.

Each day, ask what one thing you could do to live your purpose out.

Eventually, you start to have a bigger vision for what you can do with this purpose. Challenge yourself to make it even bigger.

Now bring that vision into your daily life:

  1. Bring your bigger vision into smaller steps until you have a purposeful task to do today.
  2. Structure your life so that you are creating the space for the purpose.
  3. Bring practices to your life that help you work with the habitual patterns that get in the way of purposeful work (patterns like procrastination, distraction, overcommitting, etc.).
  4. Structure your life to support this purposeful work — meditation, eating, fitness, reading to get you to the most clear, inspired place you can get to.
  5. Do every single activity the absolute best you can. This doesn’t mean exhausting yourself, but doing each thing with full intention and care, instead of “half” doing it as many of us are prone to doing.

If you can bring these five elements into your life, you are living on purpose.

p.s. If you’re ready to live your life on purpose, train with me in my Fearless Training Program or check out my latest creation:

The Fearless Purpose Training Package: A System for the Uncertainty of Your Meaningful Work

“If you do your best always, over and over again, you will become a master of transformation.”

~Don Miguel Ruiz

“Our purpose here on earth: to manifest the very nature of our spirit, which is touched by the spirit of God.” ~Rumi By Leo Babauta So often we live our lives drifting, getting by, trying to find comfort and pleasure, doing what we need to do, doing things out of habit, getting lost in the […]

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about 1 year ago
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The Deep Uncertainty of Meaningful Work

By Leo Babauta

A man I know wanted to create a non-profit organization that was going to help give people a voice who don’t have that voice in our society.

He felt really strongly about this issue, and knew that this would have a big impact on people who he cared deeply about.

But he kept putting off starting.

He was like a million others who want to do meaningful work: write a book, fight for those who are powerless, create a startup, code a phone app that could change lives, volunteer at a charity, launch a business that has a heart. We put off doing this work because of deep uncertainty.

This man, like many of you, wasn’t sure if he could do it. He wasn’t sure how to go about doing it. He was worried that people would judge him, worried about what they might say. He didn’t know what path to take, was overwhelmed by how much there was to do, discouraged that he kept having to start over.

These are just a small subset of the doubt, fear and uncertainty we all face when we think about doing something meaningful.

So this man made a list. Everything he had to do. He picked the first thing on the list, and told himself he’d do it tomorrow.

Tomorrow came, and it turns out he needed to organize all the files on his computer. Oh, and clean his desk and also his bedroom and kitchen. Once these things were done, he’d be all clear to go.

He started the next day, but wondered if he was using the right tools. He did a search and spent the day researching the best tools for what he needed to do. That lead to a lot of other research, so that he didn’t feel he was procrastinating.

The tools research led him to research a bunch of other things, and he felt good doing this research. He spent weeks in the research phase — not tackling the things on his list but just reading and searching and taking notes. He told himself he was doing the meaningful work.

He decided he needed to get back to that first task on his list, so he told himself to do it tomorrow. Tomorrow came, but he decided to check his email first, to see if anything important was in his inbox. He also answered messages, checked some news websites, answered some more emails, started organizing all the things he had to do, and paid some bills. That lasted several days. If he got all these things clear, then he’d be ready to work on the non-profit.

You can see where this is going. He found lots of reasons not to actually do the meaningful work. He was feeling worse and worse about himself at this point.

But the people who he wanted to serve are those who continued to suffer. He himself was in a pretty comfortable life, other than the angst of not taking action. But those who he wanted to help were still suffering, because he couldn’t face the uncertainty.

The story isn’t over yet. He’s still avoiding the uncertainty … but it’s possible he’ll turn and face it. Practice with it with full mindfulness. Be absolutely courageous and present with it. And then begin to open up to it, letting it transform him like a fire transforms metal. It’s difficult at first but he can relax into it and fall in love with it.

The key is to open up to the deep uncertainty of the meaningful work. Recognize it as a necessary component of that work, not something to be feared or hated or avoided, but embraced and loved. It’s like the uncertainty of falling in love — how boring would a relationship be without the shakiness of that uncertainty? We can learn to recognize the uncertainty of our meaningful work as the thrill of exploration, falling in love, adventure, learning, creating, playing, or serving those we love.

Devoting ourselves to those we love helps us to open up to the uncertainty, to relax into it, because we allow our minds to open beyond the smallness of our self-concern. We see that there’s more to this than worrying about our own comfort, and realize that the most meaningful moments in our lives were achieved with discomfort, and that wasn’t a coincidence — the uncertainty and discomfort are a necessary component for us to do anything meaningful .

We can train in this. With love.

This is the training I’m doing myself, and helping more than a hundred other trainees with in my Fearless Training Program . The deep uncertainty of meaningful work. It’s the best place to train, because your own transformation can help you do the work that impacts thousands of others.

By Leo Babauta A man I know wanted to create a non-profit organization that was going to help give people a voice who don’t have that voice in our society. He felt really strongly about this issue, and knew that this would have a big impact on people who he cared deeply about. But he […]

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about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago
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Connecting Your Work Tasks to Meaning

By Leo Babauta

I’m really good at getting a lot of things done, taking action, piling up a buttload of completed tasks.

Action isn’t my problem — it’s making the tasks themselves feel more meaningful.

Do any of you have that problem, that your work just feels like busywork, not super meaningful?

By the way, if your problem is not taking action … here’s my action rules:

  1. Pick important things to work on
  2. Do only one of them at a time
  3. Set aside everything else and do only that one task
  4. Make it smaller so it’s easier to start
  5. Feel the joy of getting stuff done

And yes, getting stuff done is so much fun. But at the end of the day, you just churned through a whole bunch of things, and it doesn’t feel that meaningful. Sure, at least you didn’t just procrastinate all day, didn’t fritter the day away in distractions … but there’s more to life than just churning and being super busy.

Let’s talk instead about meaning.

The Joy of Meaningful Work

Not everyone has the luxury of doing meaningful work — maybe you have to work at a fast food restaurant just to buy groceries, for example. I get that. I’m incredibly lucky to have work that I find meaningful.

But it is one of the most incredible things I’ve been able to create in my life. Purposeful work. Work that feels like I’m doing something good in the world.

People in all kinds of fields have found meaningful work — it’s usually when you’ve done some good in the lives of others. Teachers who see a kid’s eyes light up when they do a science experiment or read a good story. Nurses who help someone who is in pain. Volunteers who help with a project that makes a community better. Writers who inform or delight or provoke. Mothers who help babies grow into wonderful people. A bus driver who keeps his students safe so they can learn. Scientists who are advancing human knowledge. Yoga teachers who bring a measure of inner peace to people’s mornings. A flower gardener whose product will make people’s homes happier. A counselor who helps someone deal with their grief or anxiety. A software engineer whose app empowers creators. An artist whose work gives people a new way of seeing the world. A personal trainer who helps her clients get healthier. A coach who helps his clients make breakthroughs in their lives.

And it’s my belief that anyone can find meaning in their work. Work in an office? Maybe it can feel meaningful to serve your team so that their work gets done easier, or so that the project they’re doing actually gets done. Maybe you help brighten people’s day with your positivity or sense of humor. Maybe you delight your customers with your service. Work as a janitor? Imagine not cleaning for a week and think about how miserable people would be — your work makes their lives better, even if they don’t realize it. A feeling of meaning can come even if the people benefitting don’t realize what you’ve done. Just knowing you’ve made lives better is a wonderful thing.

Meaning is anything that makes lives better — your own life included. If you are putting smiles on people’s faces, helping them find mindfulness, helping them make a living, making their jobs easier or their headaches smaller … you’re doing something meaningful.

Meaningful work is all around us, and it is deeply satisfying. Even joyful, if we can connect to that meaning instead of going through the motions.

Connecting Your Work Tasks to Meaning

It’s one thing to realize how meaningful your work is … and another to actually feel that meaning throughout the day.

The key tools to help you connect any task to meaning are these:

  1. The Pause . Before you start a task, pause. Then check in with yourself about why this is meaningful (see next two tools). If you’re in the middle of the task and you’ve gotten into Get It Done mode, pause. Check-in. If you’re moving through your day mindlessly, pause. Check-in again. Do this all day long — pause and check in. Then do the next things on this list.
  2. The Why . When you pause, check in and ask yourself why you’re doing this. Why is it meaningful? Whose life will be made better in some small way? For example, as I write this, I imagine one of you might feel that their work is a little more meaningful. Maybe two of you. That warms my heart (see next step). As I went to yoga class with my daughter this morning, it felt really meaningful to be bringing mindfulness and activity into her life. As I did a coaching call with someone today, it felt meaningful to support their incredible work in the world. As I did chinups with my son this afternoon, it felt meaningful to be bonding with him doing something active. Why does this matter to you? Why is this important enough to be in your life? Connect your task to this Why.
  3. The Heart . It’s one thing to intellectually know why you’re doing something, and to know in your head why it’s meaningful … but quite another to feel the meaning in your heart. When you think about someone’s life being made better, try to feel the pleasure of doing something good for them. How often do we let ourselves feel pleasure? Feel the love you have for them, in your heart. Feel the joy of putting a smile on their face or easing their burden. You don’t need them to know — but it’s a wonderful thing to do this for them.

It’s that simple. Pause. Check in with your Why. And feel the pleasure, the joy, the love, in your heart.

Keep coming back to that, and tell me your life isn’t better.

By Leo Babauta I’m really good at getting a lot of things done, taking action, piling up a buttload of completed tasks. Action isn’t my problem — it’s making the tasks themselves feel more meaningful. Do any of you have that problem, that your work just feels like busywork, not super meaningful? By the way, […]

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When Fear is Stopping You From Pursuing Meaningful Work

By Leo Babauta

I was having a discussion with a friend recently who is holding himself back from doing the purposeful work he thinks he wants to pursue.

What’s holding him back?

Fear of putting himself out there in public. Fear of failure. Fear of being judged. Fear of choosing the wrong path. Fear of not being good enough.

Do any of these fears sound familiar? They’re very common, and hold a lot of people back from pushing themselves into the discomfort and uncertainty of meaningful work.

These fears cause us to procrastinate, distract ourselves, comfort ourselves with food and social media and shopping and games, avoid even thinking about it, and beat ourselves up for not doing anything.

If we could deal with these fears, we’d be rock stars.

I’d like to share a few techniques that will help, if you put them into practice.

Exposure Therapy: Don’t Start at the Superbowl

Most people make the mistake of imagining themselves at the scariest part of the journey of their meaningful work — speaking in front of a huge crowd if you want to do public presentations, having an audience of hundreds of thousands of people if you want to write a blog or do a podcast, managing a huge team if you want to run a non-profit organization.

But that’s like wanting to be a football player and starting at the Superbowl. You’re not ready for that kind of pressure. Instead, start with youth football, high school football, and then college football before even considering the big leagues.

If you’re an author, this means just write one blog post. No one will read it at first, so there’s no pressure. Then write another.

If you want to do public speaking, just speak in front of a few friends. Then a group of 10 people. One small step at a time, and you’ll get more and more prepared as you do each step.

This is known as “exposure therapy” — exposing you gradually to the thing you fear, starting with the least scary version of it. It is quite effective, and you can use it by structuring your progress gradually, starting very small.

Allow Yourself to Feel the Fear

This is where we bring in mindfulness — when you’re feeling fear, instead of turning away from it or trying to escape/avoid it … try turning towards it. Actually allow yourself to feel the fear. We don’t often want to feel it, but we have a greater capacity to feel fear than we give ourselves credit for.

Try it: notice how the fear feels in your body. Not your story about it, but the actual physical sensations of the fear in your body. Allow yourself to stay with it, to be with it, to tell yourself that it’s OK. Be friendly towards yourself and the feeling of fear, gentle, curious, open.

You will transform your relationship with it, even if it doesn’t go away. In fact, you’ll start to realize that you don’t need to get rid of the fear, you don’t need to do anything about it. It’s not a problem, it’s just a feeling, just an experience, just a part of the meaningful work you want to do.

Practice Dropping Your Ego

Fear comes up because we have a story about what might happen to us — for example, “If I try to write this book (or start this business), I’ll fail, people will judge me, because I’m not good enough.” (The last part might not be vocalized but is underlying the story.) This is natural, and it’s good to notice what our story is, to become more aware of it, and then to start to see its power over us.

Once we become more aware of the story, we can practice dropping it. And dropping the ego (self-centeredness) that is at the center of the story. How? By dropping into the present moment, becoming aware of the sensations of the body, the breath, the fear, and everything that surrounds you.

Dropping into the present moment, becoming fully immersed in what is happening right now, our ego drops away. The story about what might happen drops away. We can’t think about both at the same time. So the story will come back (along with our self concern) and then we practice dropping everything again and being present. Arise and drop, over and over, until we get good at letting go and being here.

Being in the present, we can do the work. Take the next step. Not worry about ourselves, but instead take action for the sake of the people we most deeply want to serve.

Open, Open, Open to Joy

So we’re taking small steps (exposing ourselves gradually to the fear), we’re feeling the fear, we’re dropping the ego and stepping into the present … now from this place, we can practice opening.

What is practicing opening like? Imagine that you have to do the hard work to get your meaningful project started. You feel the fear and resistance, stay present with it, but open to the action of the task in front of you. You become fully present with the task, opening your mind and heart to it. You start to fully appreciate the beauty and joy of the task, opening yourself to this incredible experience, which might include discomfort, uncertainty, fear and resistance. All of it.

It’s all mixed in with the joy and gratitude you feel for being here, now, with this task. Doing it for people you care about. It’s fantastic, and you have the privilege of being able to do it.

If you’d like to dive deep into facing this fear, come practice with me in my Fearless Training Program . We’re going to train in this together.

By Leo Babauta I was having a discussion with a friend recently who is holding himself back from doing the purposeful work he thinks he wants to pursue. What’s holding him back? Fear of putting himself out there in public. Fear of failure. Fear of being judged. Fear of choosing the wrong path. Fear of […]

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A Guide to a Life of Purpose

“Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.” ~Rumi

By Leo Babauta

One of the things I want of people who join the Fearless Training Program is to have some kind of deeper purpose in life.

That purpose could be a lot of things:

  • To make the lives of people better through coaching, writing, podcasting
  • To serve an audience, a small team, a group of people in your community
  • To raise kids who are self-sufficient and happy with themselves
  • To help others feel empowered to speak out, to pursue their dreams, to feel heard
  • To help those in need, those who are suffering
  • To be a good person to everyone you meet, so that they might feel the magic of kindness
  • To dedicate your life to helping others get enlightened so that they are freed from suffering (the Bodhisattva path)

And millions of other possibilities. You don’t have to be making a living off of your passion — as long as you feel you are doing something meaningful, and you care deeply about those who you’re serving.

The training has to be about something bigger than yourself. It’s not just about self-improvement, but growth to serve others.

Two big reasons it’s important to have some kind of purpose bigger than yourself:

  1. You need a deep reason : If you don’t have a deeper reason for doing the training, you’ll wuss out when things get hard. And when things get hard, that’s when things get really good. That’s when true change happens.
  2. You need to get out of your closed-in world : Much of the time, we’re very concerned about ourselves . About how we look, about what people think about us, about whether we’re being treated right, about why they have to be like that to us, whether we’ll get what we want, about whether we’re good enough. Our self-concern is natural, but it closes us in to a very small world of self-concern that makes us less happy, less content.

Let’s look at these a little closer. And then talk about how to find your deeper purpose, and beyond that, how to live a life of purpose.

A Deeper Reason to Push Into Discomfort

Imagine this: you decide to go into a weeklong meditation retreat, because it would be nice to be more mindful. Sounds really nice, right?

But then you get to the retreat, and after a brief intro, they have you sit and meditate. Then walk a bit, in silence, meditating as you walk. Then sitting in meditation. Repeat until you eat in silence. Go to bed early, because tomorrow you’re going to meditate all day, speaking to no one. As you get to your room, you realize this is way harder than you thought when you fantasized about it.

You get through the second day, but again in your room, you start to think about escaping. You don’t want to do this anymore. You don’t really care about this meditation enough to keep doing it when your hips are sore, your back is tired, your mind is tired.

This is a key juncture: do you quit or do you keep training?

The truth is that if you can push into the discomfort, with love, and keep going … it’ll be an amazing breakthrough for you, an opening up of your habitual patterns. It’ll be a place of growth, of learning, of tremendous change.

This is the kind of training that you need to put yourself in if you want to grow. Not a meditation retreat, necessarily, but any kind of practice that makes you want to retreat. It doesn’t have to be hardcore, just something that causes you to be uncomfortable, that causes your old habitual patterns to come up.

At this point, if you have something you care about — a group of people you really love, who you want to serve — you can stay in this place of discomfort and growth.

If you don’t, you’ll probably run. Because why put yourself through that?

You need the deeper reason.

A Way Out of Our Closed-In World

Besides giving you a deeper reason to push into discomfort … having a purpose expands your world.

Most of us live worried about ourselves most of the time, worried about whether or not:

  • We get what we want
  • We’re in discomfort, pain, illness
  • We have bodies we like
  • Other people are treating us nicely or fairly
  • People think highly of us or not
  • Things are difficult, stressful, overwhelming
  • Things go the way we like, things are orderly, things are pleasurable

And so forth. We want what we want, we want others to be nice to us and think highly of us, we want to be happy and good looking, etc.

But this is a narrow world. It’s small — focused only on ourselves and what we want or don’t want.

Having a bigger purpose, focused on helping others, broadens that world. It expands our view so that we’re thinking of others and ourselves, and how we are all interconnected.

It’s a much more fulfilling way to live.

How to Find the Purpose

That’s all great, but how do you find your purpose if you don’t have a clue where to start looking?

There are two guiding principles:

  1. Clear away all distractions , and
  2. Listen deeply

If you don’t have a clear purpose yet, if you haven’t found work or an activity that gives you fulfillment and meaning … it would help to make looking for that your main purpose. Your entire focus is on seeking a purpose.

So clear everything out, and have no distractions. Simplify things so that you can start looking. Clear your schedule as much as you can, drop your commitments to the extent that you can (as they’re not meaningful to you anyway).

Then do this:

  1. Make a list of everything you do right now. Which ones give you meaning and fulfillment? Which don’t?
  2. Make a list of things you’ve done in the past that have given you meaning. Are there any connections between them? Any connections to the ones on your current list?
  3. Open to suffering in your life. Things become more meaningful when you’ve been through suffering — it’s not something to be avoided, but something to work with, something to grow with, a path to deeper meaning. Think about the most meaningful experiences in your life — they probably involved other people, and they probably involved some kind of suffering.
  4. Take time in silence. Out in nature, on a couch meditating. Use the silence to listen — to your heart, to the infinite, to your deeper consciousness. Really listen. Open yourself to not knowing.
  5. Open to the not knowing even as you interact with others and read books and online articles. What are people saying that feels meaningful? What inspiration can you find?
  6. Open yourself to others: their challenges, their feedback.
  7. Listening, listening … then pick something and take action. You won’t really know until you get started, so pick anything that feels remotely right: volunteer, work at a non-profit, write a blog or a book, start recording something, find someone to help as best you can. Get started, take action, and see what happens.

You do not have to have the perfect answer to get started. That’s a need for perfection, a need for knowing. Instead, embrace not-knowing, and just start.

How to Live a Life of Purpose

Once you’ve found an approximation of your purpose, some kind of meaningful activity … now it’s time to live a life of deeper purpose.

There’s no one way to do that … but here are some ideas:

  1. Start to cultivate a list of guiding principles . Gather them from books, from things that speak to you, from things you’ve learned over the years. These are not things you need to be hardened around, but values and ideas that seem to guide you well. Keep the list somewhere visible. Live by these principles as much as you can, adjusting your behavior regularly if needed, tossing out or revising principles as you learn, not holding to them too tightly.
  2. Keep your purpose front of mind . Every day, reflect on your purpose. How are you living it? How can you go deeper or expand with it? What one or two things can you do today to serve that purpose?
  3. Set an intention with each task . If you’re going to write an article, record a video, clean a church floor, see a patient … start that activity by setting an intention to serve the people you care deeply about with love, mindfulness, devotion, or whatever you want to bring to that activity. It helps to set the intention, because the activity becomes filled with purpose, instead of something not very meaningful.
  4. Have regular reviews . I’ve found that it’s one thing to have an intention, but it’s another to actually live it. We forget, we get distracted, we fall into habitual patterns. To get us back on track, it really helps to have regular reviews. For example: have a 5-minute review at the end of the day — how did you do today? How can you get better? Maybe write 1-2 sentences in a journal. Or just reflect on it. Do the same each week: plan out your week on Sundays (for example), but also review your past week. How can you adjust for the upcoming week? And each month, and each year. Put these on your calendar and don’t skip it when the review date comes up!
  5. Have people hold your purpose in their hearts . Find at least 1-2 other people (and ideally more) who will hold your purpose in their hearts. That means: you tell them about it, they care about you and what you’re doing, and they’ll ask you about it, maybe support your mission in some way. They’ll challenge you if they feel you’re not doing everything you can or living your best life. They’ll share their mission with you. They’ll be on the journey with you, because no one fulfills their deepest purpose alone.
  6. Connect to your fulfillment . Reflect on the meaning you get from fulfilling your purpose. Don’t just go through the motions — feel it, deeply. Feel the love you’re offering (and receiving) as you push into this purpose. See the good you’re doing for others. Live your life as love.

It’s not something that happens overnight, and it’s not always simple to live a life of purpose. But putting these ideas into practice, you’ll feel a greater sense of meaning in your life.

Have a purpose and want to train in pushing into the discomfort and uncertainty of that purpose? Train with me in my Fearless Training Program .

“Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.” ~Rumi By Leo Babauta One of the things I want of people who join the Fearless Training Program is to have some kind of deeper purpose in life. That purpose could be a lot of things: To make the lives of people better through […]

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How to Choose Your Purpose-Filled Career

By Leo Babauta

The other day, I was thinking about what advice I’d give to my teen-age son and nephew as they think about what work they want to do in the world, as they grow up … and at first, I thought of the usual ways people think about it …

When people think about choosing work that’s filled with purpose, they often do it in one of several ways:

  1. Think about what they like to do . If they like writing or playing video games or doing crafts, they might consider these things. This is not a bad way to go, of course, but you can’t always make money doing things you like (like video games, smoking pot or drinking beer). And sometimes things you like are better as a hobby or side passion.
  2. Think about what pays enough, that they can do, and that doesn’t sound so bad . Maybe a doctor, engineer, lawyer? Or maybe that’s out of your educational reach so you choose teacher, office work, retail worker or landscape work. These (and many other possibilities) are all great choices, but often it’s not something you’re really passionate about. It’s kind of like just doing something because it’s there — not very inspired.
  3. You’re already doing it . If you somehow got a job to make money but didn’t do it that consciously, because you had no idea what you want to do … you might still be doing that years later. It’s your default, so you keep doing it. That’s not super inspired either, because often you’re just clocking in.

So these common ways are not horrible ways to choose a career … but there’s another way that is (perhaps) better:

Try to do something to help others or make the world better, that you might enjoy .

Before you move on, consider the possibilities of serving others or making the world a better place:

  • Volunteering to help the elderly, the homeless, underprivileged children, disaster relief, building homes for the homeless, taking care of animals, etc.
  • Becoming a doctor or nurse or massage therapist or physical therapist or fitness trainer because you really want to help heal people or make them healthy.
  • Taking care of children, teaching or studying child counseling, because you really want to help children get a great start in life, or blossom into who they want to be.
  • Becoming an entrepreneur, or learning to program and then starting an app company that will change the world in a better way.
  • Getting into government or social work to improve the conditions of the community you live in.
  • Writing or coaching or teaching people online to help them solve their problems, improve their lives.
  • Making fun spaces, restaurants, activities, hikes, so that people can find joy in their lives.
  • Becoming a yoga or meditation teacher so people can find peace in their lives.
  • Becoming a scientist to help alleviate the environmental crisis or find a cure for a terrible disease.

And so on. Each of these are just one of many possibilities of making someone’s life better, of serving a community, of making the world better. Each of them is filled with purpose, and if you choose one of them for that purpose, you will serve in that work feeling a sense of purpose each day.

There are endless ways to do that, of course — you could be a manager that serves a team, a customer service representative that puts smiles on people’s faces, a web designer that helps businesses shine online, and so forth. The point isn’t how you serve the world, but just serving the world in some way will help you feel filled with purpose.

If you choose a purposeful job that also seems like fun, that seems enjoyable, you’re way further along than most people.

It doesn’t have to be a typical job, either. You can volunteer or create something that doesn’t exist in your area (a place for peace and relaxation, a place for adults to play, a place for animal lovers to connect to each other), you could just connect other people of similar interests and make their lives better through connection and community. These don’t seem like typical jobs, but I bet you that if you served people in these (and other) ways, you’ll eventually find a career doing that, a career that feels purposeful and beautiful. It can take awhile to actually make a living doing it, but it will very likely happen. And even if it doesn’t, you still served people in a wonderful way, and were happy doing it.

By Leo Babauta The other day, I was thinking about what advice I’d give to my teen-age son and nephew as they think about what work they want to do in the world, as they grow up … and at first, I thought of the usual ways people think about it … When people think […]

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To Find Your Deeper Purpose, Listen

By Leo Babauta

I’ve found that if we can create a connection between our daily actions and our deeper purpose in life, then each day will be incredibly fulfilling.

Unfortunately most people haven’t found their “deeper purpose” in life, and many don’t even believe they have one. That’s OK, but if you’re one of those who would like to create a more fulfilling life, I have one word of advice for you.

Listen .

OK, I’ll have a few more words to add to that!

The way that I found my deeper purpose (and I’m still refining it every day) is by listening to what’s in my heart, as corny as that might sound. I listened to what I felt most deeply, what moved me, what made me feel shaky but in awe of life.

To listen, I had to stop letting myself be distracted. I had to create space to listen: shut off the Internet and all devices, not watch TV, get away from everything else, even for a little bit. I had to create silence and stillness, so that listening was even possible.

If you create this space, this silence … notice what you feel. It won’t be obvious what it means at first, but after listening for awhile, you’ll notice what you yearn for. What gives you joy, a sense of adventure, a sense of play. What creates pain and the wish to salve that pain. What you are afraid of, what fills you with doubt, what makes you want to run.

Eventually you’ll get an inkling: “Oh, I really love working with kids!” You won’t know what that means, but you’ll have a direction, and you’ll start to explore it. You’ll find a way to work with kids, and after awhile, if you keep listening , you’ll discover the parts of working with kids that moves you the most. You’ll hone in on that. You’ll refine, listen some more, and strip away the fat of that purpose, until it gets to its essence. You’ll find your gift to offer to the world.

And each step along the way, you’ll be walking the path of that purpose, exploring and discovering how to best offer your gift.

A Few Stories of Others Without a Purpose

Many people either know they haven’t found their purpose but don’t even start looking … or they have it in front of them but don’t recognize it, and don’t connect to it.

I’ve been working with people on this and here are a few examples … maybe you’ll connect with one of them.

  1. One woman is a family lawyer and she says she doesn’t have a “deeper purpose” in life, she just stays really busy doing her work, helping her clients, which she does enjoy. As I worked with her, it became clear that she was serving these clients in a powerful way. When they were facing the hardest times in their lives, she was there for them, guiding them when they felt lost. She stood for them when they were on their knees and had no hope. She made them feel safe when the world around them was collapsing. She had a powerful purpose, but she didn’t know how to see it. What she needed to do was ask herself what gift she was giving in the world (or ask friends who might see it better). Then feel deeply connected to that gift.
  2. I worked with a man who was a manager at a very busy service operation — he managed a large team and stayed busy from start to finish each day, putting out fires and keeping the team on track. He didn’t feel that there was a deeper purpose there. As we talked, it became clear that he was an incredibly competent leader, keeping his team motivated, staying fully focused in the middle of chaos, keeping a huge machine running so that others might relax, and doing it all with energy and a smile. This was a huge gift he was giving to each team member, to the people they served. Again, he needed to see this gift, and let himself connect to it and be moved by it.
  3. Another man felt he was a cog in a machine, on a team that didn’t do anything very worthwhile in the world. But this man showed up every day with a huge smile on his face, bringing energy and love and joy in every room he entered. He was very competent, constantly serving those around him. I told him to start looking for another job, but he should also recognize that no matter where he is, he bring his gift of energy, service, happiness and a brilliant smile to everyone he meets and works with. He still had some searching to do, but he should recognize and appreciate his gift.
  4. Another woman worked in finance, and honestly didn’t enjoy the work. She wanted to start her own company, create something beautiful in the world. She was excited to start out on this new adventure, but also filled with doubt and uncertainty about how to do it. I urged her to do it, as soon as she was able, because I was confident that she’d bring her energy and sense of adventurousness to the new venture. And she had a gift just waiting to be offered to the world.

Those are just a handful of examples, but the common threads are that 1) most people don’t recognize their own gift, and might need help from friends to see it, and 2) once you recognize that gift, you need to either find a way to offer it to the world, or if you’re already giving that gift, connect deeply with it on a daily basis so that you can be fulfilled by offering it.

My Purpose-Filled Journey

I started my current journey about a dozen years ago, in a dark place in my life, not feeling fulfilled, not happy with who I was, not knowing how to get out of my rut.

I started by just creating one change in my life (quitting smoking), which finally stuck after failing seven times, after I decided to pour my whole being into that one change. Then one change at a time, I started changing my whole life, pouring myself into each habit change.

Eventually, I was in a very different place in my life, and I started Zen Habits. I found that my gift was to share how I changed my life, and help others change theirs. Offer the inspiration of my story, the usefulness of the details of my change, and my compassion to others who were struggling in the same way.

Discovering this purpose was powerfully moving for me. I was energized, and poured myself into it.

A few years later, I discovered that I needed to help people find compassion for themselves. They were struggling with harshness and self-criticism. So I shifted, exploring self-compassion for myself and a way to share that with others. I went deeper into mindfulness and love. This was incredibly fulfilling.

Recently I’ve discovered the joy of working with people in person, and I’ve been discovering a new layer of my purpose, refining it even further. Now I’ve learned, by continually listening to my heart, that I want to:

  • Lead people on a life-changing journey of greater simplicity and focus, purpose-filled work, mindfulness and whole-hearted connection.
  • Help people dive into uncertainty and discomfort with joy, instead of running from it, letting themselves be moved by their purpose.
  • Help people reconnect to a sense of wholeness, and let go of what causes them pain and struggle.

This is my deeper purpose at the moment, according to what resonates inside of me. This is what I’m moved to do, my gift as I understand it.

By Leo Babauta I’ve found that if we can create a connection between our daily actions and our deeper purpose in life, then each day will be incredibly fulfilling. Unfortunately most people haven’t found their “deeper purpose” in life, and many don’t even believe they have one. That’s OK, but if you’re one of those […]

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Bring Purpose & Mindfulness to Your Work

By Leo Babauta

Our work lives are filled with busyness, distraction, procrastination, responding to messages, checking on messages, and getting lost down rabbit holes.

We struggle to be mindful and to focus on our meaningful work.

And yet, many of us want to create a life of meaning, focus, and mindfulness.

We know this, and yet we struggle. Why? What keeps us from this life of mindful focus and meaningful work?

In this guide, I’ll talk about why we get pulled away, and then how to bring mindfulness to the process to find focus and create an impact with your work.

Why We Can’t Focus

If you think about how you spent your last few days, most of us would say we’re more distracted than we like. We procrastinate more. Or we’re super busy, responding to a thousand things, making lots of decisions, and not very mindful during this chaotic work day.

What’s going on? A number of things:

  1. We’re actually afraid to focus . The work we want to focus on is hard, full of uncertainty, uncomfortable. We want to do it, but we’re putting off the moment we have to enter into this uncertain space. We’re going to the “comfort food” of our distractions instead of the discomfort of the focus.
  2. We’re afraid to simplify . To focus, we have to clear away all our distractions, say no to social media, our phones, our messages, our email. We have to say no to the easier tasks that we’re really good at. This kind of simplicity is uncomfortable for many people, and again, we go to “comfort food” distractions and easy tasks instead.
  3. We’re constantly pulled away . You might put yourself in a space of simplicity and focus … but then your attention gets pulled away. We have so many notifications, so many messages, so many shiny distractions … and our attention is like a little monkey jumping from tree to tree. In some ways, this is because technology is designed to grab our attention . But we allow this to happen.
  4. We’re unsure about what path to take . We know we should focus, but shouldn’t we also be doing this other important task? Or those three pretty important tasks? Or checking for an important message/email that might come in? We have fear of missing something important, fear of choosing the wrong thing, fear of taking the wrong path when there are many available. This uncertainty can freeze us, or cause us to constantly switch.

OK, so it’s fear, uncertainty, discomfort, and pulled attention. How can we bring mindfulness to bear on these four horsepersons of distraction?

Bring Mindfulness Into the Arena

Armed with the knowledge of why we’re not able to focus, we’re going to further arm ourselves with mindfulness and walk confidently into the arena of meaningful work.

The first thing to acknowledge is that it’s OK to be afraid, OK to want to comfort yourself with easy tasks and distractions, OK to feel uncertainty. We’re not horrible people for being this way … we’re human. So we can look at our habits and smile on them with unconditional friendliness.

Let’s practice mindfulness in our workday with a series of questions.

QUESTION 1: What’s the best way to structure my day?

In this inquiry, we’re wondering if it’s best to constantly switch from messaging app to messaging app, from email to social media, from news sites to blogs, from small admin tasks to other quick tasks … filling up our day and not focusing on our most meaningful work.

In my own inquiry, it brings mindfulness to how I spend my time, how fragmented I allow my attention to be … and then it brings me to an intention to simplify and focus. I still need to check email and messages and do the smaller tasks … but I can lump them together at certain times of the day, and clear space for big chunks of focus and meaningful work. This intention isn’t always met, but the inquiry brings me closer to it.

QUESTION 2: What do I want to focus on?

This isn’t a question many people ask themselves each day. Ideally, you’d ask it at the beginning of each day, but also at various points throughout the day. It shifts you: you go from, “What should I check right now” or “What can I quickly do right now?” to “What is the meaningful work I want to do now and give my full focus to?”

In other words, what do I care deeply about? What kind of dent do I want to make in the world, and how can I start to make that dent right now?

It shifts from saying yes to your million things and messages, to saying no to those million things … so you can say yes to your meaningful work. So you can say yes to complete focus and mindfulness.

QUESTION 3: Why am I not focusing on it?

If you picked something to focus on and you’re working on it, great! But if you’re not … why not? What’s getting in your way? What are you afraid of? What are you comforting yourself with?

If you can identify the fear, instead of allowing yourself to habitually run from this fear … lean into it. Go towards it. Allow yourself to feel the fear, and stay in it, befriend it. Then go into your focus zone, in the middle of the fear, and let the fear be your guide and your friend. It means you are alive, that you are pushing yourself into discomfort for the sake of what you care deeply about, that you are creating meaningful work instead of running. Beautiful!

QUESTION 5: What is my intention as I focus?

As you get started with a focused session, even if it’s only for 10-20 minutes … it helps to ritualize it. Have a clear beginning, and even a clear end. What will you do to mark the beginning? Maybe stretch, smile at your work, and set an intention. An intention isn’t a goal, but how you want to go about doing the task … for example, I might say, “I want to stay focused on this task, put myself into this uncertainty for the sake of the people I care about and serve, and stay present in the middle of it.”

Keep this intention in your heart as you put yourself into this focus session.

QUESTION 6: What is this moment like, as I work in stillness?

Now you’re in the middle of the focus session … bring mindfulness to that task. That’s simply a matter of awareness and curiosity.

Bring awareness by asking: what is it like right now? What sensations can I notice? How does my heart feel as I take this gorgeous action, filled with uncertainty?

Bring curiosity when you feel like switching tasks and running … by asking, “I want to run from uncertainty, but what would it be like to stay?” The truth is, we don’t know. We think we know that we won’t like it, but actually we don’t really know until it happens. So take the curiosity stance: seek to find out. Come to this task with an open mind, and you might find a gentle wonder that you didn’t expect, in the middle of your meaningful work.

Now, you can do this for your meaningful work, but you can also do this for any task — responding to an email, answering a text message, reading an article online, contemplating a decision with care.

Bringing purpose and mindfulness to your work can be a place filled with joy, if you allow yourself to move into that space with intention and curiosity, inquiry and love.

By Leo Babauta Our work lives are filled with busyness, distraction, procrastination, responding to messages, checking on messages, and getting lost down rabbit holes. We struggle to be mindful and to focus on our meaningful work. And yet, many of us want to create a life of meaning, focus, and mindfulness. We know this, and […]

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Purpose Mindfulness Leo Babauta
about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago

I want to start an organization to teach young boys and girls healthy ways to deal with depression and anxiety. Something I wish was available to the kids in my community growing up.

12 months ago

The trick to creating a true game is figuring out what your audience is interested in and tapping into those genuine challenges or desires ✨ It’s about coming up with a challenge that’s so immersive it puts players in a flow state. https://t.co/uQ3IpCsWmN

Real learning happens when we work intensely on things that matter to us. And no one gets this better than kids. That’s why they drag their feet as they walk to school in the fall and sprint as far away as they can in the spring.

We’re all here for a limited time. Spend it with people you love, doing work that matters. The rest is bs. Waiting for a miracle to happen 🙏🏼❤️😭 https://t.co/arblnYRS6C