8 Ways to Lead a More Purposeful Life

You wake up, go about your daily routine, get your work done, pay your bills. Perhaps you find time to exercise, cook for your family, do some cleaning. You whittle away at your seemingly never-ending to-do list until, suddenly, it’s time to go to sleep so you can wake up and do it all over again.

It’s easy to become immersed in the "must do" and neglect the "want to do" these days. Every so often, maybe you emerge from the daily grind to wonder, "Is this really all there is?" You might find yourself wondering if there is a deeper purpose you haven’t yet discovered.

"Purpose is different from goals like eating better, getting a raise or spending more time outdoors," explains licensed clinical counselor Karen Koenig. "It’s a consciousness about why you are alive and an intention to use your time on this planet for a particular reason. It’s about living with intention and attention."

The good news: It is possible to lead a meaningful, purpose-driven life—even while tending to all of the tedious tasks that must get done. Here’s how:

1. Focus on the present moment.

This might seem impossible when you’re constantly playing catch-up and looking ahead to what’s next, but slowing down and savoring the here and now is important for your mental health.

Psychotherapist Lisa Bahar says it’s all about striking a balance between the "doing mind" and the "being mind." The "doing mind" is focused on completing tasks and achieving goals; the "being mind" is focused on the current moment without ruminating, being preoccupied or obsessing about the outcome. Bahar offers the example of hiking, as you are in the moment and enjoying the surroundings while also focused on your destination.

2. Plan for the future.

While it’s important to appreciate the present moment, it’s also important to know where you want to go and take steps to get there.

When creating your plan, Bahar says to first make a list of all your values and priorities. This might include working on current relationships, starting new relationships or creating a self-care plan that includes exercise, decreased substance use and healthy eating. Next, sort your list in order of priority and identify reasonable action steps. 

"Make sure your plan is based on what your soul is asking for, not what others say you ‘should’ be doing or what you used to do," says Simply: Health Coaching's Liza Baker. "Very often, we listen to everyone around us before we listen to our own wisdom."

3. Identify your "why."

What motivates and inspires you? As Baker was taught during her coaching training, "Your why should make you cry." That's how powerful a real "why" must be. To find yours, Baker suggests asking yourself "why" at least five times, until you’ve drilled down to the essence of what’s driving you.

4. View setbacks as springboards.

When something "negative" happens, we tend to go into a downward spiral. Baker recommends trying to catch yourself just before (or even just as) you go into that tailspin.

"Ask why something is happening for you rather than to you," she says. "This will make you look at events from a different perspective—often a more positive and objective one—and it opens up the possibility that you have options, perhaps even better ones."

For instance, if you sprain your ankle and can’t run, your first reaction might be anger, disappointment and despair. But if you seek out a positive spin, you might discover that you have more time to take on new projects or try a yoga practice.

5. Help people who need it.

As Baker points out, sometimes the best way to help ourselves is to give back to others that have helped us in the past—whether it’s individuals, institutions or organizations—or to pay it forward by helping those who are on the path we've already traveled. "It's a great way to get out of our heads and into our hearts and bodies," she notes.

6. Be selective in the content you consume.

From social media to news and entertainment, the content you consume can have a huge influence on your mood and outlook.

"If certain content is causing you distress, arguments or judgments, it is probably not wise to have it channeled to you," says Bahar. "Seek guidance through your spiritual practice and be disciplined by identifying material that is helpful versus harmful to feed your brain and psyche."

7. Prioritize your joy.

At the core of living a purpose-driven life is recognizing that your joy matters, notes life coach Kendra Davies. "When you follow your bliss, your calling or your purpose, everything else will fall into place," she says. "When you look at your to-do list or goals, prioritize the things that will bring you the most joy—not in just the accomplishment or final outcome, but in the actual process of completing them." When joy is prioritized, Davies adds, financial security, fulfillment and peace of mind are more likely to follow.

8. Take the first step today, even if it’s a small one.

"Don't wait for Monday, the first of the month or the new year," says Baker. "Instead, figure out why you're not getting started today—could it be that the goal you've set doesn't really light you up?" Identifying the right goal with positive intentions will inspire you to get started right away.