If your current job is draining and unfulfilling but you don’t know what to do instead, or you’re thinking about moving to a new city or country but you don’t know where, or you want to go back to school but you’re not sure what to study, then you’re at one of the many crossroads of life, moments which require a deliberate pause to tap into the truth of the heart before going any further.
So how do you do that? How do you find out what your deepest Inner Being really wants? How do you block out the confusion of the world and your hyperactive mind, and take action that supports your genuine calling? How do you distinguish between what you actually want to do and what you think you want to do or what society wants you to do?
In my own life, I’ve found the most effective way to come to an important revelation is to tap into a positive feedback loop consisting of four steps that promote insight into my true nature and purpose: inspiration, action, boredom, and action.
When it comes to purpose, by the way, I don’t like to look at it as “finding” my purpose, but rather “exploring” my purpose. Human beings are dynamic creatures and we don’t have a one-dimensional, fixed purpose in life. We have a variety of interests, talents, experiences, and identities that intersect in different ways and different points in our lives, offering a number of plausible and perfectly correct avenues for contributing to the world during each of those unique moments and stages of our lives.
The trick is to identify what’s in your intersection at any given time, and understand how you can honor and play with those variables to the best of your ability. You are ever-changing, and so what you’re meant to be doing in the world is also evolving — it’s a pulse you must consistently keep your finger on. Let’s get you started.
Step 1: Inspiration
The first thing to do is enter into a period of deliberate, rapid-fire inspiration. I do this in the form of weekend retreats every few months, where I spend two days straight plowing through books, documentaries, podcasts, and intelligent articles on topics I’m actively interested in and other “weird” topics I don’t know much about. I also spend time (productively) stalking and contacting people on Facebook and LinkedIn, observing exactly what about their experience I find most attractive and brainstorming ways to incorporate those elements into my own life.
Then, I dedicate two technology-free hours every evening to making it through my weekly book, and I schedule at least one “coffee date” per week to get to know someone new. By doing this, I maintain a consistent and well-balanced diet of inspiration.
Step 2: Action
Ever heard the phrase, “When you pray, move your feet?” Inspiring people, books, movies, and articles can only take you so far. You have to get out there and try it all on for size. After digesting the new people and ideas I purposefully expose myself to, I brainstorm “tiny experiments” as I call them, to gain experience in my areas of interest, both new and old. If I become intrigued by agriculture, I find a way to work on a farm for the weekend.
If I think I want to run workshops, I give a free seminar in my hometown. If I discover a passion for public health, I shadow a social worker in a local clinic for a day. Only through firsthand experience, by walking a few steps along one of the paths on your crossroads, can you give yourself meaningful material to reflect on and make a well-informed decision.
Step 3: Boredom
This is the heart of what makes this method successful: the alternation of action and pause, exploration and boredom. We must move our feet, try things out, force ourselves to grow through hands-on experience, but we must also act and step back and observe what reaction that action has provoked. Everything we do shuffles things around inside us, so stopping to take inventory is essential to digesting the information and experiences from our outside world and seeing what place they have in our inner world.
On the extreme end of the spectrum, I recently did a 10-day silent meditation retreat in India, which I found to be very intense and commensurately life-affirming, but I also undertake meaningful reflection right at home through regular weekend retreats. Every few months, I isolate myself in silence for two full days and nights with no phone, no books, no computer, no TV, no leaving the house, no nothing, except my journal, my meditation techniques, and my thoughts. It’s excruciatingly boring.
That’s the idea.
I write, I sit, I meditate, I think, I let my mind wander, sometimes I give myself topics to think about at different parts of the day (family, career, self, friends, boys) and inevitably, right at the brink of insanity and loneliness, the creative flow comes. Ideas and revelations that had been brewing in my subconscious spring up to the surface, and I come away flooded by a tidal wave of inspiration, but inspiration from within. I ask myself questions, and the answers come, from within. I’ve learned that boredom is a marvelous tool for self-awareness, decision-making, creativity, and good energy.
Step 4: Action
At the end of two days of silence and isolation (just imagine 10 days of that in India!), I’m raring to go. The last evening my of weekends away is dedicated to coming up with an action plan: What other little experiments can I do? Who do I need to meet next? How do all these revelations impact my daily life? How can I put all this into practice?
During these retreats, I inevitably come up with to-do lists, topics and people I’m curious about, books I want to read, pages of goals and ideas, and visions of how to bring it all to life. Then, Monday morning comes and I’m free! I have a renewed appetite for life, and I’m excited to walk the talk and get back out in the world with purpose.
An ever-evolving awareness
To keep your finger on the ever-evolving “pulse” of your purpose, you must be consistently rotate through these stages and allow the positive feedback loop they naturally generate to drop an anchor of understanding deeper and deeper into the ocean of your Inner Being. The more you seek inspiration, the better awareness you have of what possible actions you can take in the world.
The more you use an active and action-oriented method of exploration, the more necessary intervals of boredom become for you to marry the world’s external stimuli with your Inner Truth. The marriage of internal and external stimuli then motivates further purpose-filled action, which gives birth to more inspiration, and the cycle continues.
But don’t take my word for it — experiment with this technique and experience the results for yourself.