What I Talk About When I Talk About Purpose?
There is an idea that has been discussed an ungodly amount of times in popular culture and has probably been linked in your mind to woo-woo spirituality before. But, alas, research has nevertheless proven as a crucial aspect of a life lived to the highest potential: Purpose.
Why you do what you do.
What motivates you, deep within.
Traditionally linked to some mystical endeavor, research has proven over and over again (specifically within the science of peak performance) that having a self-transcending motivation is one of the critical aspects of becoming proficient at what you do.
After all, achieving & sustaining peak performance implies surpassing your skill level and reaching past the outer limits of your ability, which inevitably comes with a lot of mental resistance and pain.
Having a purpose breeds a strong will to survive, endure and thrive in the face of pain and resistance, which is what ultimately makes the difference between getting to a whole new level or breaking down before that is even a possibility.
Between transcending your identity, or remaining stuck in your old, underperforming, self.
You may be asking yourself: why is that? Why do you need something more significant than yourself to push through the pain of self-mastery? Because of how your mind works. Because of your psychological makeup.
Deeply-rooted within you, there is something that I’m sure you have heard a thousand times: some people call it the “ego”, others call it “the central governor.” It serves as a protective mechanism that is biologically programmed to shut you down and turn in the other direction every time you experience pain and discomfort.
Once a certain pain threshold is crossed, your mind wants to shut down and stop whatever it is that you are doing that is causing pain, to protect you. That threshold comes in different shapes or forms. Navy Seals, for example, routinely say that it comes at about 40% is your actual capacity. Everytime you feel you can’t do more; you are only 40% done.
Researchers on the science of Peak Performance haven’t agreed on a particular level, but everyone agrees that such a protective evolutionary mechanism indeed exists. This idea first appears in the psychological literature at the beginning of the XXth Century, so this is not something new, nor has it been invented by endurance athletes like David Goggins (huge fan).
Achieving Peak Performance, therefore, implies overcoming that central governor and pushing through the pain and discomfort that arises every time you break your old self and build a new, better, one.
No matter the scale and scope of our Purpose (you might want to become the best possible version of yourself to create a worthy family, or create a long-lasting change for your country), and no matter your background, age or occupation, having a self-transcending purpose is the key to unlocking a whole new level of personal performance. Especially if you are fighting for something that is bound to have an impact on others.
But not all purposes are created equal. The best way of ensuring that you break through your self-imposed limits is to create a self-transcending purpose and chase it with all your heart. To the extent that you can link your goals to a higher calling, something that goes beyond yourself, you shall prevail. When faced with formidable challenges and your mind is telling you to quit, ask yourself why you are putting that fight up in the first place, and you shall find renewed forces to keep fighting.
Peak Performance equation
The equation here is straightforward: Purpose fosters motivation, motivation lets us enjoy a higher perception of effort, and having a greater perception of effort often results in a much better performance. A higher performance gets us closer to our Purpose, and therefore the cycle starts again.
Having a purpose not only will help you defeat your central-governor every time it arises. Most importantly, it will turn you into an effective human being. When you know what your Purpose is, effectiveness becomes the default mode of action, and you don’t waste time on things that don’t matter. If you lack Purpose, you will bang your head against many walls trying to find what makes your heart tick and your mind focus.
Purpose, when understood well, works as the ultimate compass that guides you towards your goals.
This is one of the key differences between top performers and low performers. In essence, the former are ultra-motivated because they are following their bliss (conscious or subconsciously), while the latter struggle to keep their motivation and achieve their goals because they intimately don’t care about them.
Ones chase their Purpose, others don’t.
The most successful entrepreneurs I know are those that care about the service they provide in a particular manner: their motivation transcends success or profit. They want to serve customers.
This fact is intimately linked to human psychology that has traditionally been widely discussed in art and culture throughout the centuries.
One of the most famous American writers of the XIXth Century, Mark Twain, famously asserted that “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.
The day you are born and the day you create/find your Purpose.
Purpose, therefore, isn’t the same as passion. “Follow your passion” is terrible advice, because we all have different passions (things we inherently like), most of which are inward-directed, selfish, and probably lead us away from service to others.
Your limbic system holds the answer
Purpose is something that is based on one of the two most primal emotions we feel: Love (the other being Pain). It is based on something you instinctually love doing, sharing, and becoming better at. Purpose must be based on your most primal emotions.
Why? Because of how the brain is configured.
Your emotions reside in a part of your brain called “the limbic system,” on top of which your rational side (your consciousness) operates. 90%-95% of what you usually do is subconscious, based on the instinctual reactions of your limbic system. No matter how hard you try, you can’t escape the gravitational pull of your limbic system in the long term.
This is the reason why all the motivational hacks you have been learning don’t work. They don’t address the root cause of your procrastination – that you don’t like what you do.
As simple, and as powerful, at that.
You need to learn how to shape your Purpose in order to live a meaningful life (at a peak performance level, that is).
We all have a purpose that stems from our limbic system and makes you uniquely you. It is something that needs to be unearthed from within, polished through iteration & feedback loops, and perfected through the interactions with others.
Finally, remember that Purpose isn’t a destination but a direction. It isn’t defined in strict terms, because life is a messy thing that surprises us always… and force us to modify our plans.
But the direction stays more or less the same, defined under the same conditions we discussed above: rooted in your limbic system, preferably outwards-directed and directed against the ego every time we need to push through the pain.
Real-life example: Elon Musk
A good example of this would be Elon Musk.
Elon Musk, whose Purpose is “to help humanity by solving the world’s most pressing problems,” is passionate about acquiring knowledge through reading. When he was a kid, he spent all his waking hours reading, willing to acquire as much knowledge as possible. No matter where he went, he will always have a book on him.
But, alas, he didn’t build a life around his love for reading. He didn’t turn his passion for reading into a self-serving career. He didn’t identify his “purpose” with text.
Instead, he went on building a meaningful life path that uses his early interest in acquiring knowledge to create a meaningful, long-lasting, & positive effect in his community.
Which, in this case, is planetary.
So how do you find and shape your Purpose, you may be asking?
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Thanks for reading.