Start With Purpose3 min read

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,

and go to the grave with the song still in them.

―Henry David Thoreau

Your aspiration or purpose is your why, the reason for your journey. It is the dream, desire, or ambition that moves you to action. It’s what you want to achieve, experience, or become. The greater your aspiration, the greater is the fuel for your journey.

That fuel is essential for overcoming the inevitable challenges—such as unexpected events, distractions, self-doubt, procrastination, confusion, criticism, failure, or rejection. Without an aspiration, self-discipline becomes difficult, feeling like a chore or even outright meaningless. With a heart-felt purpose, self-discipline can feel exciting, meaningful, and promising. You’ll go through pain, discomfort, and sacrifice because you have good reason to keep your commitments.

As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a why can bear almost any how.”

Every activity that you can connect to a deeper purpose will be energized with meaning and vitality. This changes everything.

Let’s say we want to encourage Mark, an executive in our company, to meditate. If we simply say “sit quietly every day for ten minutes and watch your breath”, because “it’s good for you”, how likely is he to adopt a consistent practice, with depth and vitality?

By contrast, let’s say we find out Mark aspires to grow as a leader and a man. We can suggest that the most important thing for him on that journey is to master his mind, becoming a leader of himself by being more calm, centered, and focused in his daily life, and then growing as a leader of others. Then we can explain that meditation is a powerful tool that supports this transformation. Now, it’s more likely Mark is eagerly asking, “How long should I meditate for, and how often?”!

Studies show that people with a stronger sense of purpose:

  • live longer
  • experience less depression, cardiovascular diseases, and Alzheimer’s
  • have better immune systems
  • are more engaged at work
  • feel more love and connection
  • experience a greater sense of abundance

Despite being extremely important for living and thriving, most people don’t have a deep aspiration. The current climate of busyness, materialism, and cynicism doesn’t help either. As a society, we are living in a crisis of meaning. Dr. Viktor Frankl, PhD, calls it the “existential vacuum”, which he deems responsible for the three major societal ills: aggression, addiction, and depression.

Having no purpose kills us from the inside, little by little, and we don’t even notice. If we feel unneeded, with no mission… then life feels boring, stale, and empty. We may attempt to fill it with pleasure, money and fun, but we will never be fulfilled. Not until we touch that deeper pain or deeper desire that exists within.

We all need to aspire to something deeply meaningful for us—something that stretches us and keeps us engaged. 

When you have a purpose, you are not waiting for things to happen—you are making them happen. You are not waiting to feel like doing the work; you do it regardless of how you feel. Because it’s key to who you are.

And if you can connect this aspiration to an ideal greater than yourself, that’s even better. With that you will have access to strength that is also greater than yourself. The seven steps of the Aspiration Pillar of Mindful Self-Discipline is here to guide you through this journey.

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.


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