How to Stop Feeling Aimless, By Giving Yourself a Purpose

by Tim Arendse on February 17

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That Sunday, I woke up without a purpose.

I could hear my son making noise over the baby monitor, which meant it was time for me to get out of bed. I grabbed my phone and clothes, and shambled out of the bedroom.

An hour later, he still wasn’t up, and I’d spent the entire time on Reddit, reading bad news and bad jokes. I was on my second cup of coffee, and I was dreading the moment my kids finally got up. I love my kids, but on a morning like this, I just wanted to be left alone.

‘”I’m not like this during the week,” I thought. “What’s so different about Sundays?”

The difference was that on weekdays, I have work, and on Saturdays, the kids have swimming. I actually have a reason to get out of bed. On Sundays, I get up and . . . exist.

Why Purpose is a Big Deal

I firmly believe that life is better when you have something to apply yourself to. We all know that one person who stayed out of the workforce for too long, and now they can’t find themselves anything to do. That’s what happens when you don’t have a purpose. You become aimless.

I’m not suggesting that every waking moment has to be productive. I’m saying that you should have a reason to get out of bed.

Four Ways Having a Purpose Improves Your Life

1. Having a purpose gives you momentum – When I wake up on a workday, I’m immediately active. I have something I’m working towards (even if it’s just getting ready for work). That momentum carries me from one thing to the next, until my kids to go bed. Admittedly, this is when the momentum usually stops.

Why does it stop? Because for the most part, purpose disappears. I have a handful of activities that I cycle through (surfing the web, video games, TV, writing), but there’s no rhyme or reason.

While I’m currently struggling with “nighttime” purpose, I have found that in periods that I’m very active (working out, judo, chopping lots of wood), I’m much more present overall. If you’re active and know what I’m talking about, please do share your experience in the comments.

2. Having a purpose gets you out of a funk – Not only does purpose give you daily momentum, it’s a powerful motivator. It’s like fuel for your spirit. Without it, you’ll fall into the cycle of unfulfilling activities, as we see with people who have been out of the workforce for too long.

A purpose can start out simple. I find the act of folding laundry to be soulless drudgery. I get that crisp, folded clothes are better than wrinkled clothes picked up off the floor, but it’s not enough. I need to inject a higher purpose into that chore. So, I aim to be the best laundry-folder in the world. I test different techniques (sort pants, shirts, socks; fold everything; put away systematically), try to get my towels folded perfectly square, and so on. Eventually it’s done, and I enjoyed myself.

If you find your life lacking purpose, you can aim higher than becoming a world-class laundry-folder. When I write for this blog, I imagine that my words are contributing to human knowledge, and that someone is going to take what I’m writing here and make it even better. My purpose is to share my experience for the benefit of the human race.

3. Having a purpose can improve your processes – In my laundry anecdote, I gave a clear example of how appointing a purpose can improve your processes (as well as boost you out of your funk). When you give yourself a purpose, you’re committing to being fully present in that moment. You stop wishing you were doing something else and pay attention to what you’re doing right now. In a world marred with distraction, this is powerful.

When you’re fully paying attention, you start to notice things. You become curious. You might notice that something you’ve been doing for a long time doesn’t work as well as you thought it did.

Tidying up is always a big one for me. I’ll decide to reorganize my closet, and once I get down to the last random knick-knacks, I throw them all in a box and put them back. Wasn’t the purpose of reorganizing to get rid of stuff like that?

4. Having a purpose allows you to lead – No one follows a person who has no purpose. This is very obvious when you have kids. On the day I woke up with no purpose, my kids acted downright rotten.

If you have a boss who has no purpose, you’d probably say they just don’t care. Chances are, you don’t care either.

When you take on a powerful purpose, people want to follow you. They want to see what you’ll do next. They want to join you because they know that someone with a purpose goes places.

As a boss myself, I see the power of purpose everyday. People like to know that they’re doing something that matters. It makes them feel important. It creates a good work environment.

Even if you’re not an employer, you can still lead. Look at all the people with blogs, podcasts, and Youtube channels who bring a powerful message. Decide your purpose, and deliver your message.

Waking Up With Purpose

I decided that on the following Sunday, I wanted to wake up with purpose. I started thinking about it on Saturday. What would be a good reason for me to get up? I settled on cooking.

By the time my kids got up, I had make pancakes. An hour later, I had a double batch of butter chicken in the slow cooker. After that, the kids and I made cookies.

An amazing thing happened: that momentum carried throughout the entire day. No one in my family ever seemed adrift, bored, or merely in a state of existence. We were always present in what we were doing.

If you find yourself staring woefully at the clock, waiting for the moment when you can finally do what you want, or aimlessly surfing the internet for hours a day, I highly recommend experimenting with purpose. I haven’t been playing with it for very long, but the results are definitely there.

Also, this isn’t the final word on purpose. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. People have been telling me to read Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now. If you have suggestions, leave them below.

Lastly, I’d like to hear what you think. How do you feel when you consciously give yourself purpose? How do you feel when you don’t have one?

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Tim Arendse

When he’s not playing with his kids, Tim is finding new ways to make his life more efficient. He likes to draw inspiration from unlikely sources, like Minecraft, and is willing to explore almost any paradigm if he thinks there’s something to learn. He also hates bananas, loves candy, and holds strong opinions about the best brand of beer.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Unaiza February 17, 2016 at 1:08 pm

That was one great, motivational read! Thank you Tim for sharing the ideas.
I can totally relate to how having a purpose makes me super charged and active! I usually write down my tasks for the next day on my planner at night, that gives me enough kick for the next day 😀
I remember a motivational article written by my colleague, it will be totally amazing for your readers: http://aimzfolio.com/revamp-your-motivation-with-these-tips-in-just-3-minutes/

Thanks

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Sandra February 18, 2016 at 9:06 am

I absolutely agree with this. It is so much easier to have a productive day if you know in advance what you need to do, and you start the day out right!

Interestingly enough, if I start the day out being physically active (exercise, cleaning up, cooking, etc) I find it very difficult that day to do anything creative. If, however, I start the day out creative (writing, thinking about what to write, reading, etc), I find it very difficult to be physically active that day. Interesting thoughts.

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Sue Rawlinson February 19, 2016 at 1:21 am

Hi Tim, I always enjoy your posts and this one is no exception. How endearing it is that you find purpose in folding laundry! I think that is great and I totally understand and empathise with you. Eighteen months ago I was made redundant with a letter that said I was “excessive to requirements”. Fortunately, I am of an age and circumstances where I can retire but, I tell you, that is not easy. When I was employed I had all sorts of plans for retirement like teaching myself Photoshop. Instead I have been struggling with the existential angst of the latter phase of life and being not necessary to anyone or anything. At the same time I have resisted going back into paid employment as I am determined to negotiate this phase of life with more grace than I have yet acquired. My new plan, a most one at this stage, is to find a reason to get up early and like Sandra I think being physically active helps. I plan on going to my local yoga class a few times a week which always makes me feel better. Good luck to you. Keep up your writing, it is helpful!!

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Sue Rawlinson February 19, 2016 at 1:30 am

Correction : that HR note said “excess to requirements” not “excessive”. Sorry.

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Andrea (Happy Careerista) February 20, 2016 at 7:01 am

Powerful, and needs to be read by so many who keep walking around without a purpose in life. Well written!

https://happycareerista.wordpress.com/2016/02/20/darren-hardy-keeping-the-love-and-intimacy-alive/

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Molly Gibson Kirby February 22, 2016 at 11:24 am

This is so powerful! Having a purpose is really important I find it feels so good once you have one.

Perfect read for a Monday morning

oxo

Molly
thebookofmolly.com

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Hera February 22, 2016 at 11:43 am

Great post! I find that I am the same way. I am very much a routine person during the week, but on the weekends if I don’t have anything going on, hours will fly by before I get anything done. Thanks for sharing!

Hera

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Stella February 22, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Hi! I really like your post. It is spiritual and grounding.
We are m’crafters too. What servers do you play on? My 11-year old daughter is always looking for friends to build and play with. We host on our server too. Cheers.

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Aylen February 22, 2016 at 1:49 pm

Great post, thanks for sharing!

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LaKisha Riddick February 22, 2016 at 2:28 pm

Yes!!! I agree. When I wake up with purpose, I feel ambitious, accomplished and productive! My creative juices are flowing! When I don’t, I allow everything to become a distraction. I become consumed with procrastination. Thank you so much for sharing this post. It is so true!

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Alissia Haggard February 22, 2016 at 2:58 pm

I love this- this is something I really struggled with when my kids were younger. I felt like the day ran me. Great tips!

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Daniela February 22, 2016 at 9:58 pm

This. All of this. I could not agree more. For me, setting daily goals for myself is my purpose. Not goals like “clean the house”, “get new plates for my car”, but more fun and challenging goals like “Go to a Hip Hop class” or “Try the new coffee shop”. For me, those are rewarding and fun and they get the ball rolling to do all of the other things that aren’t as fun. Purpose can be anything! Big or small. This was great!

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Noel Rosos March 3, 2016 at 8:47 am

Great post Tim! I can identify with you on the wanting-to-be-alone part. I’ve had my moments too. I absolutely agree about everything you said about having a purpose. It’s hard to go through life “aimless” because if you’re living life that way, you’re just drifting and letting life take you to wherever. You will hit nothing if you don’t have a target.

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