Find Your Purpose & Meaning in Life with Guiding Principles
Guiding principles are a succinct summation of what you value in life and what makes life meaningful for you. It's the highest level that we want to keep our daily actions true to and aligned with. They are an essential component of the PPV life operating system, or any effective life management framework.
In the previous essay, we discussed Identity Sculpting — or how to deliberately shape your self-identity. This is a major step toward becoming the person you need to become to achieve the things you want to achieve in life.
In this essay series, we explore creating systems in our lives to perform better and achieve what matters most to each of us. And in order to create these systems, we must know what matters most to each of us — a clear sense of our Guiding Principles.
A practical, actionable approach to finding Your Purpose & Meaning
A comprehensive exploration of this could take months or years, but I want to provide a practical framework to make progress with this on your own. Of course, guidance in the process by an experienced coach can help and we have a more extensive and structured approach to this in the Notion Life Design course. But you can make good progress and learn a lot about yourself by diving in on your own as well.
Most efforts to tackle this are highly conceptual and abstract. This is fine and can be valuable, but leaves you not knowing what to actually do. You just end up with a list of questions and answers and no actionable path to implement it in your life. This is a practical and actionable approach you can implement.
When asked “What do you Value?”, most people are not sure. The questions is usually met with blank stares or obvious, superficial answers — and the answers are often just regurgitations of what we think we're expected to say. Let’s get past that.
Creating Our Meaning in Life
In terms of meaning in life, we must create our own meaning — it is not bestowed upon us. We don't inherently have meaning. We create it. This is one of the highest purposes in life — to create your meaning in the world.
Our meaning almost always comes from responsibility. No responsibility, no meaning, no purpose.
If you want meaning and purpose, you must accept responsibility.
Use what you learn about your values here to choose your responsibilities. Put yourself in a position where other people can depend on you. Then don't let them down. Over-deliver.
This does not mean ignoring yourself or your own needs. You need to build yourself as well so you have the strength and resources to deliver on your purpose.
So how do we understand what we value in life?
Instead of starting with that end-point question, let's work our way to it with more accessible and clear steps. First ask:
- What are the experiences in your life that have meant the most to you? (good or bad) The ones that have made the biggest impact, either way. List them.
- Who are the people?
- What are the places?
Separate the good ones and the bad ones into two lists. Dig deeper, add to it:
- What times, places, and experiences are you most grateful for?
- Which do you regret the most?
- What have you overcome that was meaningful to you?
Look back and document in writing these activities — review your past journals or calendars, ask family members to discuss and help with your memory.
- First, look broadly at the biggest events in your entire life.
- Then look micro at the week-to-week challenges, victories, and disappointments you routinely encounter.
Lay it all out on a timeline.
With this captured, study it all (in written form) looking for patterns.
- What is recurring?
- Are any clear feedback loops?
- Food & health?
- Learning a new skill
- Self-criticism and despair
Reflect on what this says about you.
- What has improved your life and felt meaningful & rewarding?
- Negative? Hurt you and held you back?
- Are there instances that felt good at the time but on reflection looking back don't feel good? Regret?
- Are there things that were unpleasant at the time, but in reflection are meaningful and rewarding?
Study these real-world situations for where you find meaning and what you value. Mine these past experiences and memories. This process makes it tangible, it brings clarity through specifics.
The patterns and clear tangible points of meaning and value here will show you what you value and what you find meaningful. Document it. You will ultimately want to create more of these valued activities and experiences in your life.
Take the insights from here and now define them in short bullet points — grouped into these three categories:
- What I Value
- Where I find purpose and meaning in life
- How I will live to maximize this value and meaning in life
...these are your Guiding Principles.
Review these regularly. In our Pillars, Pipelines & Vaults (PPV) system we have a synced block with these Guiding Principles written clearly. We reflect on them briefly at the beginning of each Weekly Review to stay close to them.
Before any major decisions, check in on these Guiding Principles to help guide you.
Establish goals aligned with these values and sources of meaning. Take on responsibility that will produce more of this purpose and meaning.
Make a practice of capturing your experiences and studying them for further patterns and indications of value & meaning in your life. Watch for signs of change over time. Your Guiding Principles can and should change as you grow and learn.
In upcoming essays and videos, we will discuss further how to apply these insights in life.
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