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What is your life purpose and who cares, anyway?

When most of us do something, when most of us make life decisions, we rarely make them past pursuing what feels good or what wins us the most approval from others. Sometimes we have a subset of values that we pay heed to, but few of us ever ask ourselves “What is the message that my life is sending to the world?”

That may sound pretty deep and heady, but it’s a question of your legacy. If you died tomorrow, how would people remember you? That you were a “nice guy” who was nice to have a few laughs with? Or did you stand for something? Did you affect people’s lives? Did you change things. Is there a message attached to your existence. And if not, why not?

This may sound like a bunch of fluff, but its the exact questioning of purpose and legacy that helped renown psychiatrist Viktor Frankl survive a Nazi concentration camp. It then inspired a whole branch of therapy known as “logotherapy”.

This is real stuff.

Let’s start things off with a simple question:

“If you could do anything without chance of failure, and without constraints of time and money, what would you do?”

This is the primary question. If the answer isn’t an immediate, “What I’m doing now,” then something’s wrong. And this report will hopefully help you fix it.

Writers and thinkers from David Deida to Camille Paglia to Sigmund Freud himself have commented on how important it is to a man’s identity and self-esteem that he has a clear life mission and that he’s consistently working towards it.

There have been a number of major societal shifts in the past few decades — feminism, the information economy, more broken homes and fewer marriages — men greatly lack that clear vision and purpose they were once given in their lives.

It’s my opinion that this greatly affects the overall psychology of the male population. Boys growing up without clear roles to fill, without obvious purposes to fill, meander through their early life reacting and following whatever is put before them. As a result, they never cultivate the independence and self-esteem that comes with following their purpose. They never learn to assert themselves, they remain woefully unaware of their emotional realities and their personal relationships suffer, particularly those with women.

I didn’t have to look far to realize this either. Back when I was coaching men in person regularly on how to be better with women, every time I worked with a guy who was either unemployed and/or lived at home with his parents and/or hated his job, he inevitably would do terribly with women. Often despite the fact he was good-looking and a cool guy.

I even felt it myself back in 2007. In college I had been doing great with women. Then I graduated, loafed around, held a few part time jobs and ended up broke and living on my friend’s couch for a while. Suddenly the ladies had no interest in me. And not only that, but I became pretty down and didn’t feel good about myself anymore. It wasn’t until I started my business and got it going that things began to turn around again.

A lot of men are endlessly frustrated with aspects of their lives. Whether it be their inability to get with women, to make friends, or just that they’re always insecure and unhappy.

A possible cause for this is a lack of direction and purpose in your life.

And the amazing thing is, a lot of people don’t ever actually sit down and THINK about this stuff. They were always told to go to this school or that school, so they went. Then they were told to get this job or that job. So they did that too.

They never sat down and asked the question written above.

We will be answering that question in this report. We’ll be breaking it down into parts and answering it in such a way that you’ll be able to work towards the answer over the coming months and years.

And then a year from now, you’ll ask it again, re-evaluate, and begin working towards it again. Hopefully each time you do this exercise, you’ll be a step closer.

The system presented in this report can be done repeatedly over a long period of time. I recommend doing it once a year. The first day of each year is a great option, but you can do it whenever.

I’ve done some form of this exercise every year for four years now. When I started, I was broke, struggling with a new business, living alone and not living a very healthy lifestyle. Now, four years later, I’m living the life of my dreams. In fact, I can unequivocally say that this is the first year ever in my life that I answer the prime question with an immediate, “What I am doing now.” And I think that’s a pretty astounding success. Especially at my age.

This system is an adaptation of a similar exercise a good friend of mine has done every year for over a decade. I’ve modified it over the years and it’s been influenced by some other goal-setting techniques I’ve come across. So you may recognize parts of it. It’s not revolutionary by any means.

But it works. And that’s what’s important.

I will spare you all of the science and information behind goal-setting techniques and why writing things down seems to have a “magical” effect on your brain. I’m just going to tell you flat out:

  • Do these exercises in a quiet place without distractions
  • Take your time, don’t rush through it.
  • Write everything down yourself and keep it. This is important.
  • Periodically check back and review your goals at the end of it throughout the year.

In this report, I’ll be giving some brief examples of each step of the exercise but will not complete them myself. This is just to give you some ideas and help you get started.

Step 1: Brainstorming

The first step is the easiest and probably the most fun. Pull out a blank sheet of paper and make sure you have a clock nearby.

Take 20 minutes to yourself, and write down everything you would like to do in your life before you die. Everything. No matter how big or small, how trivial or important. Just keep writing. Absolutely anything and everything that comes to mind, put it down on the piece of paper.

This should start out very easy but get harder as the time goes by. Hold yourself to 20 minutes! Chances are the last 5-10 minutes you’ll be straining your brain. But keep going anyway.

Example:

Things I’d like to do before I die…

Learn to box
Get a graduate degree
Speak five languages
Complete a triathlon
Live in China
Go to the north pole
Visit the pyramids
Play chess in the park
Take a trip somewhere nice with my mom
Get married
Have kids
Etc.

As you do this first exercise, you may feel yourself get self-conscious or start judging some of your answers.

Stop doing this!

Seriously, this list is just between you and yourself. There’s absolutely no reason to be ashamed of anything you write. And if you do find yourself hesitant to write too much down, perhaps you should ask yourself why you’re so scared of accepting many of your own impulses.

On the other hand, chances are, when you’re writing your list, 2-3 entries are going to pop out at you, like giant strobe lights on your page. The specific entries may surprise you as well. This is good.

If you particularly have a lot of surprises on your list, or if a lot of your entries have got you thinking or reconsidering some things already, even better… In fact, if you feel like you’re already processing a lot, you may want to put the pen and paper down before the second step and take a break for a few hours.

Step 2: Ideal Life, Long-Term

Now that you’ve got your brainstorm list and you’ve come up with more ideas of things to do than you’ll ever need, it’s time to start honing in on what you ideal life should look like.

This is where things start to get interesting, and a little bit real. But you’ll still have to use your imagination quite a bit and tap into some desires that you may not have known were there.

Take another sheet of paper and spend 20 minutes writing down the following:

Describe your ideal life five years from now. Describe it in as much detail as possible. Describe where you would live, what you would do each day, what job you’d have, who you’d spend your time with, what you’d spend your time doing. Take your time and be as specific as possible.

Example:

My ideal life in five years would be me living in California, probably San Diego. I’d have my own place near the beach. My work hours would be flexible so I could go surfing often. I’d be focused much more on freelance coding and programming rather than stuck to any individual firm, so I’d have a lot more control over my work load and pay. I’d have a hot blonde girlfriend who would be awesome to hang out with. I’d get back into painting, and do it from time to time each week, maybe even sell a few of them. Etc….

Chances are, once you finish this, your mind will already be brainstorming ways to connect the dots from now to then. This is good. We’ve now got your mind working actively on figuring out ways to achieve your dreams. This is a fundamental first step. You’re now motivating yourself from your own desires and not simply by pleasing others!

Step 3: Ideal Life, Short-Term

Now that you’ve got your brainstorm list and you’ve come up with more ideas of things to do than you’ll ever need, it’s time to start honing in on what you ideal life should look like.

This exercise is exactly like the last one, except instead of projecting your ideal life in five years, you are going to project it for one year.

Make sure your choices are realistic and attainable, but also that they are a step towards your answer for Step 2.

Example:

In a year, I will have started my freelance business, and will have saved $20k. I’ll be able to approach girls when I go out on the weekend. I’ll also have a gym membership and will be regularly going and working out. Etc.

As you’ll notice, this projection is getting far more actionable. In fact, after you’ve written it, it should be pretty obvious many of the steps you can start taking towards it.

But wait, we’re not done yet…

Step 4: Passion/Time Ratio

Now it’s time to really dig into your life and what you’re spending your time doing and root out the activities that aren’t serving you or moving you toward your ideal life.

This exercise is a three-parter and will probably take a bit longer than the others.

  1. On a clean sheet of paper, make three columns. In the first column write down everything you spend your time doing each day. Ignore the small things like brushing your teeth or showering or sleeping. Focus on the big ones.
  2. Once you can’t think of anything else, go back and in the second column write down how many hours per week you generally spend doing this activity. If it’s something larger like traveling or seasonal like going to White Sox games or something, then just specify that in this column — “two weeks per year,” or “10 Saturdays per year,” or whatever.
  3. Finally, in the last column, give each item a rating, from 1-10 based on how much fulfillment you get from that activity. Basically how happy that activity makes you.

Example:

And so on…

Finally, once you’ve got your lists finished, go back through and look at how the numbers line up. Activities which you spend a lot of time doing should have high numbers. Activities you don’t spend much time doing should have low numbers. What we’re looking for are mismatches.

For instance, in the example above two big mismatches pop out at you…. the first is that the guy really doesn’t enjoy his job, and he works long hours. That sucks. It’s hard to be happy and motivated and confident when you’re dropping 50 weeks on something you only value at a 3.

The second mismatch is that he’s two hours a day of television, but doesn’t get much value out of it. Meanwhile, he’s averaging less less than an hour a day hanging out with friends, and that’s something he really values.

The answer for this person is clear: ditch the TV to spend more time with friends (or invite your friends over to watch TV with you), and get the job situation figured out.

And this is just from a short, very basic list. Chances are your list has a lot more going on in it.

Step 5: Actionable Goals

Finally, we’re at the last step — the step that you’re actually going to use and apply to your life.

From the previous four steps, you should have developed a pretty clear idea of what you need to be doing different, both in the short-term and in the long-term. Hopefully you’ve been made aware of things that you’d like to be a part of your life which currently aren’t. And hopefully you’ve identified some things that ARE part of your life, but you’d prefer they weren’t.

The final step is putting together a handful of goals for you to accomplish.

A few things to remember about goals:

  • They need to be actionable, i.e., they require a certain behavior to complete. For instance, “Feel more comfortable in social situations” is not an actionable goal. It’s not something that can be measured or counted. “Meet someone new without getting nervous,” IS an actionable goal. It can be measured and it’s clear once it’s been accomplished.
  • Set goals which are realistic within the given time frame. Setting goals that are too unreasonable is the quickest way to demotivate yourself.
  • Don’t set more than a few goals at a time. Another common mistake is when people try to adapt multiple major life changes simultaneously. Select a few important goals and then focus on them one at a time, preferably.

OK, now for the exercise itself. It’s another two parter.

  1. Write down 3-5 actionable goals for you to complete within the next year.
  2. Write down one thing you can do TODAY that will move you towards each goal.

Example:

Goal #1: Lose 15 pounds
Goal #2: Pass my CFA-I exam
Goal #3: Get a girlfriend

Actions for each goal: For goal #1, I can join a gym. For goal #2 I can buy a study guide to start studying. And for goal #3 I can join an internet dating site and/or go out tonight and approach five girls.

And that’s it. If you’ve completed everything in this guide, you now have a clearer long-term vision of what you want your life to look like, some definable, actionable goals to complete within the next year, AND starting places to begin moving towards those goals.

Like I said in the beginning, I recommend repeating this exercise each year. In my experience, it’s normal to meet most, but not all of the goals you set each year if you keep on top of them. Maybe two out of three.

If you do these exercises consistently for a few years, you’ll realize a couple things:

  1. That your priorities will change with time, and what you may consider very important today, may not seem as important a year from now.
  2. That the more of your goals that you achieve, the easier it’ll become to achieve subsequent goals.
    Because that’s the beauty of all of this. Discipline is a skill. It needs to be exercised and it gets stronger. Achieving goals based on your internal desires and motivations builds self-esteem, and will increase your motivation into the future.

Doing this sets off a chain reaction, that if you follow it long enough, implementing change into your life will become easier and easier. And one day, years from now, you’ll look back, and maybe you won’t even recognize the person you are now.

And that’ll be a good thing…

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18 Responses to The Life Purpose Guide

  1. […] The Life Purpose Guide How to 80/20 Your Life […]

  2. Almog says:

    Happy to see this posted here rather than on a PDF. Excellent information.

  3. […] you didn’t know where to start, I also recommend that you download Mark Manson’s Life Purpose Guide on PostMasculine.com in which he outlines a great goal setting exercise that you can complete in […]

  4. derekscruggs says:

    (Context – I just got back from a workshop with David Deida and it had a really powerful effect on me. I found this article after searching your site for his name.)
     
    Without starting a rabbit-hole discussion about everything he talks about, I’m curious what you think about one thing he suggested: that the way to find your life purpose (ideally) is to go off to some cabin in the woods with no distractions – no magazines, books, Internet etc. Spend a week or maybe even a month or more there and just experience the agony of being alone. I’m going through a transition right now and considering doing this. What do you think?

    • @derekscruggs Interesting. I would say it’s a great idea, but it’s not in and of itself. 
       
      I think the reason he recommends such a thing is that for many of us to understand what we’re most passionate about and what we ACTUALLY care about the most, we need to get away from all of the external validation and pressure to do X, Y, Z. 
       
      There have been a number of things in my life that I *thought* I loved, but later realized it was some form of addiction or based on a need for approval. Other times I’ve thought I just kind of liked something and later realized I loved it once the noise got out of the way. 
       
      So I think it’s a good exercise, but it needs to be coupled with an active search and doing. Going and sitting in a cabin by yourself, while useful for other reasons, won’t magically show you what you’re meant to do. But it will give you clearer perspective when you return to some of your activitives on what they ACTUALLY mean to you.

      • derekscruggs says:

        @postmasculine Good thoughts. He also suggests trying different things after you come back to the real world. So if you have a purpose of, say, helping people, but you likely will have to try several different versions of that idea (counseling/coaching, writing, motivational speaking etc) before you find one you can commit to for the 5 to 10 years it takes to see it through.

  5. mercutio says:

    One thing that’s holding me back is that my life purpose is acting, but I feel like it’s a profession where I am pre-judged as a man of color. So there is a conflict in values, meaning that I believe a person should succeed based on their merit, not how they look. I’ve been half assed about my career (if you can call it that), and yes, men of color have done well in the field but at 32 years old, I feel like I’m just too far behind the ball now, wasted a lot of time in my 20’s doing drugs and having low self esteem. The thing is, biased though this may be, I’m a damn good actor if I may so myself. I’ve tried to create my own work but never managed to finish anything because writing is an art form unto itself and requires its own rigor and learning curve and discipline. Cognitive dissonance is a bitch. I hate to end it there but, you know, I really don’t have anything more to say right now.

    • derekscruggs says:

      @mercutio If I may make a suggestion, find a partner of some sort. It could be a writer, or a video guy or someone else. Main thing is it’s someone who 1) you can share a vision with of what’s possible and 2) will hold you accountable (and vice versa). This doesn’t guarantee success, but having done a lot of startups I’ve found that it’s extremely helpful to have someone on your team who can help you come up with ideas and also keep your spirits up through the tough times.

      • mercutio says:

        @derekscruggs Thanks for the feedback and yes, I agree having a partner is very important. Its interesting you mention your experience with start ups. I’m currently set to begin online freelancing as a copywriter. Mark’s articles have inspired me to do the whole travel around the whole and work for yourself thing.

  6. […] The Guide to Happiness The Guide to Wealth The Guide to Courage The Guide to Attract Women Self-Discipline Minimalism The Life Purpose Guide […]

  7. […] Society rewards the valueless with superficial benefits. But developing strong core values are the foundation of lifelong happiness and fulfillment. They’re the prerequisite for any semblance of a healthy relationship, romantic or otherwise. They’re the compass that guides your life purpose. […]

  8. dave says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8Hu465KL1w

    45min lecture on “how to live given the certainty of death” at YALE – this might help 😉

  9. Aries says:

    Lack of purpose is becoming the central issue in my life. I’m completely lost at this point.
    There is such lack of motivation that I feel like a 70 year old. I feel tired.

    I will do this exercise to my fullest and see where it takes me.

    Great article.

  10. Jesper says:

    Best article I’ve ever read in my entire life, dude great job and thanks a lot for sharing.

  11. […] Life Purpose […]

  12. AGirl says:

    I know this is a site for males, but a lot of the posts here, I have found them to be helpful for me as a female also. Because for females, we need to have goals and lives other than just trying to get physically attractive and sweet. When there is no man around to pay for us, we need careers to pay for ourselves. And females need travellings, readings, and careers too at least for self fulfilment if not only for getting boyfriends.

    I followed the guided from right this article seriously a few months ago. I hope things come along nicely so that the two goals which I set up for myself for this year can come true.

    I stumbled upon similar sites which look like this called manosphere types of blogs. But the content there horrifies me and disgusts me on the ways they talk about women. This blog postmasculine seems way more reasonable in my opinion. Though maybe about 5% content from it I saw, I still feel bad about it with similar feelings to other manosphere articles. But the vast majorities, I think they are based on assumptions of creating values to societies and dealing with men and women issues on reciprocal term, which is nice. And the advices on wealth/travel etc can benefit women as well.

    • Mark Manson says:

      This site was largely designed to be a healthy alternative to manosphere sites. Some of the older posts from 2009-2010 are definitely a little bit chauvinistic, but they reflect my own personal growth.

      And yes, much of the site is applicable to women as well!

  13. Empty says:

    I can’t get past step 1. I don’t know what I want.

    The best I could do was to make a half-hearted list of things that I think I am (or thought I was) interested in. But for every item I wrote down, I asked myself… “do I really care about this? Am I actually interested?” I responded to each question with a shrug and said, “I don’t know… not really, I guess.” It’s not that I’m afraid of trying and failing. I can’t think of a single thing that I look forward to, or that I get excited about. I feel like I don’t care about anything, that I’m not interested in anything.

    I have been depressed for a long time. I’ve tried therapy 3 times, and each time, I felt like the therapist blew me off — “you’re fine, it’s all in your head”. They wouldn’t even give me a diagnosis.

    What do I do now? How do I find out what I want?

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