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How to find your purpose in life (ikigai) by starting small

posted in: Ikigai | 0

Have you ever felt like you didn’t know what you were meant for or what your purpose in life was? Were there ever times when you felt like you were just “passing through”, living day by day and hoping something will change? If so, then you may need to do a bit of searching for your ikigai, or rather, your purpose in life. In this article, we will look at how to find your purpose in life (ikigai) by starting small.

Ikigai is personal

The Japanese swear by the centuries-old concept known as ikigai. They believe that everyone has ikigai and all you really need to do is find yours. If you do, you will indeed live a long and happy, meaningful life.

In this sense, people often translate ikigai as ‘your reason for living.” Note that we should probably emphasize the word ‘your‘.

One of the beauties of ikigai is that there is no one size fits all. Your ikigai and my ikigai are most likely, quite different.

For example, there are some people whose ikigai is grandiose and far beyond themselves. The late Steve Jobs comes to mind, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and millions of others renowned for pursuing their purpose in life to literally change the world.

With no disrespect intended, for many others, ikigai may be much less worldly and more personal. An example might be as simple as exercising every day, taking care of your family, or working within their community or profession.

Regardless of the scale at which one pursues ikigai, there is one similarity or common thread between each person that is evident in all who follow their purpose. It is passion.

Passion, though unique to each of us, is essential for ikigai. Without it, it would be quite difficult to maintain a life of purpose and meaningfulness.

Finding your ikigai

For most people, answering a question such as, “What is your purpose in life?” can be quite daunting. Indeed, there are not many people who put much thought or effort into knowing their purpose. There are even some who struggle to come up with an answer.

This is unfortunate, especially because so many people spend a lot of time doing “other” things that give them little satisfaction. In some cases, people’s lives consist of eating – working – entertaining – sleeping, and not too often engaging in the activities that they want to do, which seems a bit pointless.

So, what can you do to start yourself on this journey when you have no inclination as to what your ikigai is or want you really want to do? Well, here are four small steps to start you on your path to ikigai.

Two road signs that say choice and pointing in two directions
Image by Gerd Altmann

Step 1: make a choice to pursue a purpose

Whether you find and follow your ikigai or not is completely your choice and yours alone. You need no permission from anyone nor do you need any approval. The only person you have to answer to is yourself. This cannot be overstated.

Granted, finding your purpose in life may not be an easy thing to do, especially if you are unsure of what it is you want to be. But the first real step in finding your ikigai is to start deliberately. In other words, you must make a commitment to yourself that you will follow through with your actions and you must never give up, not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

Ikigai is not a goal that you reach. It is the life that you live from now until forever.

That is not to say that your thoughts, feelings, and actions will not change. Because they will. What most people don’t understand about ikigai is that it is also changeable. Indeed it is unavoidable. In fact, it is expected.

There are so many things out of our control that may cause us to think and behave differently, which is totally fine as long as it keeps you in a positive motion. These changes cannot be helped and you must go with the flow.

But, once you start living a life with purpose and meaning, you will never think twice about doing anything other than that. So, make a choice. Commit yourself to make a better life for yourself.

A brush in the shape of a woman's face and is looking into a mirror
Image by 5598375

Step 2: take an objective look at yourself

Now that you are committed to taking the next step, it is time to take an objective look at yourself.

Start by describing to yourself in specific terms. Think about your daily life, the good, the bad and the ugly. Be mindful of what you think. What do you tell yourself? What occupies your mind? Do you like your thoughts? Do they encourage you to take the next step or do they remind you of things you’d rather not be doing?

The cumulative answer to those questions should act as a proverbial springboard for you.

If you are unsatisfied with your answers, it may be time to reconsider what you are telling yourself. Positive thinking is not just telling yourself the good things, but also refraining from telling yourself the negative things. It is also known as positive reinforcement.

The same is true on the actions you take following those thoughts.

Think about it. How habitual is your morning routine? How mindful are you in the actions you take each morning? 

It may sound silly, but when you brush your teeth do you take care in doing so or do you just go through the motions? Both your mind and body will become habitual beings if you allow them to.

It is, therefore, necessary to start, however small, by understanding what you are doing and why. Further to that, are you enjoying it?

This is true when considering your free time, your busy time, your occupation, hobbies, and more. In other words, what is it that you are passionate about? It doesn’t have to be any smaller than world domination or bigger than playing the harmonica, but try to answer those things about yourself.

A life unexamined is not helping you to get to where you want to be.

Dirt road surrounded by trees as a metaphor to move forward
Image by Steve Buissinne

Step 3: Move forward

Hopefully, you are able to look at yourself and identify what your passions are. With that, you should now have some ideas or at the very least a direction to follow. 

The next step is to take action on those ideas. Because, if all you are doing is analyzing yourself, then you are not moving forward and will never get anywhere.

Incidentally, though it is tempting to look at ikigai from the perspective of “What do I want to do in life,” it is not always the best way to approach it, especially if you are just starting out. In other words, you don’t need to raise the hurdle so high at the beginning and there is no need to make such a wild leap forward if you are not ready for it. If you do, you run the risk of overload and may find that the dream is somewhat unattainable. You could be inadvertently setting yourself up for failure.

Obviously, this would be the wrong approach.

Try not to get caught up in looking for something beyond what is in front of you. Instead, take small steps forward and grow as your passion grows. Get involved. You can start as small as you like or take bigger steps if you choose, but you don’t need to spend any more time or money than you are comfortable with.

Personally, I think a great place to start your journey is the internet.

On the internet, there are literally millions of videos and blogs from which you can learn something. There are so many people out there producing fantastic content on lots of great ideas. Blogs, YouTube, forums, websites and more! Watch those videos. Try that new recipe or workout tip. There are even thousands of social media groups and channels as well. Surely you can find something that is in line with your passion.

And when you do, move on it.

Talk to such like-minded people, engage with them and learn from them. Get your mind and body moving.

A woman with a daily planner writing her schedule
Image by rawpixel

Step 4: Create a habit

Finally, the frequency of your small steps will determine whether or not you can build momentum and form new habits.

Just imagine if you took a little time each day to learn a little more on that topic you are interested in or spend a little more time doing the things that matter to you most. How would you feel?

Consider how you would feel at the end of your first month? What could you accomplish if you continued it for two months? Three months? What would your life look like after 5 years?

You would certainly be impressed by your results.

The best thing about creating these little habits is that you will grow and learn new things.

New ideas, new conversations, new habits have a tendency to snowball into bigger and hopefully better things. Above all, you will be creating moment after moment of ikigai in your life. More and more, your precious moments will fill with activities you actually enjoy doing!

How awesome is that?

Finding your ikigai

For most people, answering a question such as, “What is your purpose in life?” can be quite daunting. Indeed, there are not many people who put much thought or effort into knowing their purpose. There are even some who struggle to come up with an answer.

This is unfortunate, especially because so many people spend a lot of time doing “other” things that give them little satisfaction. In some cases, people’s lives consist of eating – working – entertaining – sleeping, and not too often engaging in the activities that they want to do, which seems a bit pointless.

So, what can you do to start your self on this journey when you have no inclination as to what your ikigai is or want you really want to do? Well, here are four small steps to start you on your path to ikigai.

So, start now. What are you waiting for?

You are as young today than you ever will be, and you have all the time in the world ahead of yourself. Don’t squander that time doing the things that you don’t want to do. Get out there and start by making a conscious choice to live your life as you want it.

Though it is not hard to begin, in order to break out of that mundane, status quo, life-draining, poor excuse for a life, you will have to change the way you live. It may be that you start small. But once you do, don’t give up on it. Continue it! Eventually, over a number of days, you will have created a habit that will carry you from small to bigger.

Most of all, you will be on your way to living a wonderfully meaningful life.

Surely one day you will look back and know that you made the right commitment to yourself. You will begin to see things differently, start appreciating the small things in life and become more aware of your surroundings. Energetic and proactive. You will know what it means to live.

Start today. Start right now!

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