3 Short Exercises To Help You Root Out Your Purpose

By Harrison Bach & Harley McKee, Edited by Josie Yoon

A theme among the world’s longest living populations — known as the Blue Zones — is having a greater sense of purpose. Studies show that living with purpose is associated with many benefits such as greater longevity, mental acuity and financial security.

Discovering purpose requires asking the question: What matters to me, and why?

Only you can answer this for yourself. Generally, your purpose will serve others and reflect your most cherished values. Here are some ideas and exercises to help you start exploring:

Ask yourself important questions

Any attempt at self-exploration begins with a commitment to looking inward, even if it’s uncomfortable. You can start small. The questions are not meant to be overly intimidating.

Here are some good questions to consider:

  • What is most important to you, and why?
  • What do you want to do to improve the lives of others?
  • What work lights up your world?
  • What values do you hold most deeply?
  • What personal goals align with your values?

You can ask just one of these to start. Spend a few minutes thinking and writing about it. The answers do not need to come immediately. The questioning is what matters.

Notice how you contribute to others

Purpose is often rooted in compassion. You may not have your “what” or “how” figured out yet, but your “why” will likely involve improving the lives of others in some way.

Determining our “why” helps us endure the challenges that come along with doing meaningful work. As Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Focus on one or two small things you could do to positively impact someone’s day. Try to notice when you do something that helps someone. At the end of the day, write down a couple positive things you did for others, no matter how small they seem.

Cultivate higher emotions

The Berkeley Greater Good Science Center notes that positive emotions increase our sense of connectedness to the world. When we experience elevated feelings like love, wholeness, and awe, we have an increased desire to participate in and contribute to society. We experience these emotions naturally, but also when we deliberately cultivate them with practice.

To start cultivating positive emotions, try reflecting on the good things that happen in your life. Take a couple minutes to write about one thing that went well recently and one thing you’re looking forward to in the near future. You can do this every few days and see what happens.

Final Thoughts

To better understand your unique purpose, it’s good to think, better to write, and best to act. It’s normal to be unsure of where you are headed. Purpose evolves and shifts over time with experience and reflection. Try to carve out some time to ask important questions and practice small acts of compassion and generosity.



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Bringing USC students insights and practices for better living.