lesson 5: connecting everything to purpose

Want to sustain your focus and maintain discipline even in the face of challenging behavior changes?  We learned this lesson (and 4 others) from those who’ve done it best.

Last year we began a study, called the CHAMPIONS study, in which we interviewed elite athletes and soldiers to better understand their habits and how they created and sustained discipline.  Our method was simple, ask a lot of questions.

We didn’t really know what to look for, so at the risk of sounding naïve, we asked them about everything…our 36 questions ranged from how often they trained to how they slept, ate, and exercised, to what they read and who influenced them most.  One of the most powerful observations was also one of the least surprising.

They are driven by a big WHY.

If you’ve watched Simon Senik’s TED talk, How great leaders inspire action, or read his book, Start With Why, this discovery won’t surprise you.  Just like great leaders, high performers start with WHY.  As former Navy SEAL, Len Same, told us, “BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals) are great when you are safe at base, but when people start shooting at you, you’d better have a BHOW, a big hilarious outrageous why.”

A big why can keep you going when you are ready to quit.  It can motivate you to make a few more calls when your sales juices aren’t really flowing.  It can add meaning and significance to the most mundane of activities.  You’ve heard about the janitor who described his work as “beating cancer” or “sending astronauts to the moon”, right?  They had a big why.

Great.  So what’s your purpose?  What is your why?

Uh-oh. Turns out, this simple question can vex people for a lifetime. Few people have written goals, but even fewer have a written purpose.  So, we decided to take a fresh stab at helping people develop their purpose.

We believe you have found your purpose when you can answer the questions, “Who are you?” and “Why are you here?”  To tackle these questions, we need to break them down further to understand your unique identity.  And, we believe this identity lies in the overlap of three circles:

1) Talents. Part of your identity is understanding how you are different from other people.  God made you unique, and when it comes to excelling in life, the first stop is to discover your strengths. What do you do best and enjoy doing most?  To quote Jim Collins, the power is in the ‘and’.

2) Beliefs. Even if you come up with a similar top 5 talents as a friend or colleague, rest assured you are different in other ways.  The next element that makes you unique is your beliefs.  No one has lived your life…no one.

Your triumphs and challenges give you unique perspective on life, and if you are like most people, it is your challenges that have taught you most.  So what is your life story?  What have you learned from experience that others have not?  And, what are your core values?

3) Influence. Finally, consider your circle of influence.  Who is in it?  And, who is influencing you?  Who should be in it and who should be influencing you to achieve your potential?

The old saying goes that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.  Are those really the people who are going to help you apply your unique talents and beliefs to greatest effect?  Are you investing in the people you most want to influence?


The final step: write it down.

Rather than tackle your purpose with a single pen stroke, we suggest you draw from all three circles.  State who you are in terms of your unique talents and beliefs, and express whom you want to influence, for what reason.

Sure you could gloss over this, perhaps giving it some thought between other activities, but that doesn’t cut it.  If you really want to get clear on your purpose, write it out.  The good news: you can always revise it later.

For me, here you go:

I am a resilient and hard-working optimist.  I believe God made me this way to look for answers, seek greater insights, and share what I learn with others to help them grow.  I am passionate about positive people, positive cultures, and the pursuit of excellence in all things large and small.

Perfect?  Hardly.  But it’s a start, and it gets me kinda fired up about working hard.  It checks my attitude when I’m having an off day.  And, it inspires me to be a positive influence on my wife and kids, my extended family members, my friends and colleagues, my clients, and my community.  That’s really all I could ask for.

What about you?  I’d love to hear your purpose!