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How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach

Let’s say you’re feeling unmotivated, unsure of yourself, aimless, can’t find your passion, directionless, not clear on what your purpose in life is.

You’re in good company — most people are in the same boat.

Now, there about a million things online telling you how to find your passion in life, and that’s a good thing. It’s a search worth undergoing.

I’m not going to give you a fool-proof method, or a 5-step method, nor share my passion manifesto with you today.

I’m going to give you a one-step method.

However, that one step is a doozy.

The One Step to Finding Your Purpose

It’s simply this: learn to get outside your personal bubble.

Your personal bubble is the small world you live in (we all have one), where you are the center of the universe. You are concerned with your wellbeing, with not wanting to look bad, with succeeding in life, with your personal pleasure (good food, good music, good sex, etc.).

This is the bubble we all live in most of the time, and people who say they don’t are trying to prove something.

When someone tells you you look fat, this only hurts because you’re in your personal bubble. You take that statement (a colleague who says you look fat) and believe that it’s about you, and feel the pain or embarrassment of how the statement affects you. It matters a lot, because in your bubble, what matters most is how everything affects you personally.

I’m the same way, and so is everyone else.

Some other problems caused by this personal bubble:

  • In our bubble, we’re concerned with our pleasure and comfort, and try not to be uncomfortable. This is why we don’t exercise, why we don’t only eat healthy food.
  • This fear of being uncomfortable is also why we get anxious at the thought of meeting strangers. It hampers our social lives, our love lives.
  • Because we don’t want to look bad, we are afraid of failing. So we don’t tackle tough things.
  • We procrastinate because of this fear of failing, this fear of discomfort.
  • When someone does or says something, we relate that event with how it affect us, and this can cause anger or pain or irritation.
  • We expect people to try to give us what we want, and when they don’t, we get frustrated or angry.

Actually, pretty much all our problems are caused by this bubble.

Including the difficulty in finding our life purpose. But more on that in a minute — I ask for your patience here, because this is important.

What Happens When We Get Out of the Bubble

If we can learn to get outside this personal bubble, and see things from a less self-centered approach, we can see some amazing things:

  • When someone says or does something, it’s not really about us — it’s about pain or fear or confusion they’re feeling, or a desire they have. Not us.
  • When we have an urge for temporary pleasure (TV, social media, junk food, porn), we can see that this urge is a simple passing physical sensation, and not the center of the universe.
  • We can start to see that our personal desires are actually pretty trivial, and that there’s more to life than trying to meet our pleasures and shy from our discomfort. There’s more than our little fears. Including: the pain and suffering of other people, and compassion for them. Compassion for all living beings. Wanting to make the world better.
  • We can tie our daily actions, like learning about how our minds and bodies and habits work, or getting healthy, or creating something, not only to our personal satisfaction and success (trivial things) but to how they help others, how they make the lives of others better, how they might lessen the suffering of others.

We become less self-centered, and begin to have a wider view. Everything changes, from letting go of fear and anger and procrastination, to changing our habits and finding work that matters.

How does this relate to finding our life purpose? Let’s explore that.

The Wider View, and Our Life Purpose

Once we get out of the bubble, and see things with a wider view, we can start a journey along a path like this:

  1. We can start to see the needs of others, and feel for their suffering.
  2. We then work to make their lives better, and lessen their suffering.
  3. Even if we aren’t good at that, we can learn skills that help us to be better at it. It’s the intention that matters.
  4. As we go about our daily work, we can tie our actions to this greater purpose. Learning to program or become healthy (for example) isn’t just for our betterment, but for the betterment of others, even in a small way. This gives us motivation on a moment-to-moment basis. When we lose motivation, we need to get back out of our bubble, shed our concern for our discomfort and fears, and tie ourselves to a bigger purpose.

In this path, it doesn’t matter what specific actions you take or skills you learn to make people’s lives better. What career you choose is not important — what matters is the bigger purpose. You can always change your career and learn new skills later, as you learn other ways to fulfill this purpose. You’ll learn over time.

What matters is becoming bigger than yourself. Once you do, you learn that you have a purpose in life.

How to Get Out of the Bubble

Sounds great, but getting outside this personal bubble isn’t as easy as just saying, “Let it be so.” It takes work.

First, you must see when you’re stuck in the bubble. Whenever you’re angry, frustrated, irritated, fearful, anxious, procrastinating, feeling hurt, wishing people would be different … you’re in the bubble. These are signs. You are at the center of your universe, and everything is relating to you and your feelings. When you can’t stick to habits, or have a hard time with a diet, you’re in the bubble. Your momentary pleasure is what matters in this bubble. Outside the bubble, they’re just little events (sensations of desire, urges) that can be let go of.

Second, when you notice that you’re in the bubble, expand your mind and heart. See the bigger picture. Feel what others must be feeling. Try to understand rather than condemning. See how little and petty your concerns and fears have been. Realize that if others treat you badly, it’s not about you, but about their suffering.

Third, wish others well. Genuinely want their happiness, just as you want your own happiness. See their suffering and wish for it to end or lessen.

Fourth, see how you can help. How can you lessen the suffering of others? Sometimes it’s just by paying attention, just listening. Other times you just need to be there, just lend a hand. You don’t need to go around solving everyone’s problems — they probably don’t want that. Just be there for them. And see if you can make people’s lives better — create something to make them smile. Make one little part of their world — a cup of tea, an article of clothing you’ve sewn — be a little space of goodness.

Repeat this process multiple times a day, and you’ll get better at it.

You’ll learn to be bigger than yourself. You’ll learn that the life we’ve been given is a gift, and we must make the most of it, and not waste a second. You’ll learn that there is nothing more fulfilling than making the lives of others a little better.

Zen Habits

Leo Babuata
Chapters
Neither Averting Nor Craving in Each Moment
How Taking Care of My Finances Changed My Life
Tips for Traveling with Kids
My Grand Travel Experiment
The Parent I Aspire to Be
The Best & Less-than-Best Motivations for Learning
The Miracle of Suspending Mis-Belief
7 Strategies for Dealing with Toxic People
Finding Motivation on Important But Non-Urgent Tasks
Learning Tips for the Top 8 Learning Challenges
The 30-Day Learning Challenge
The Place Where You Are
Feeling Determined to Change
Practicing Non-Judgment
Hold Your Own Feet to the Fire
Don’t Waste Your Opportunity
How to Beat Procrastination with Daily Training
The Time When We’ll Be Present & Content
A Simple, Powerful Self-Compassion Method
When Others Frustrate You
Your Internet Habits Create Your Reality
The Case for Replacing Exercise with Play
Leave Yourself Wanting More
Fail Faster at Habits
The Anti-Bucket List
Getting Started with the Discipline Habit
The Case for Caring About Your Work
Questions of Priority
The Futility of Always Pushing Myself to Be More
Pare Down with the Declutter Habit
You’re Not Doing Life Wrong
Getting Lost in Just Doing
An Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit
The Source of Contentment
Savor Discipline: Merge the Interests of Your Future & Present Selves
What You Can Say Instead of “I Don’t Feel Like It”
The Things That Get in the Way of Doing
The Girl Who Saw Through the Illusions
A Gradual Approach to Healthy Eating
Unconditional Acceptance of Yourself
My Typical Day: How I Get People to Think I’m Productive
The Contentment Habit
The Delightfully Short Guide to Reading More Books
In Praise of Limits
The Art of Being My Dad
5 Ideas to Create an Amazing 2015
Essential Zen Habits of 2014
Karate Chop
Practicing Slowness & Being Present
Overwhelmed by All the Changes You Want to Make
My 2014 Successes and Failures
Finding the Motivation to Change Your Entire Life
When You’re Lonely
The Brain’s Fast Mode
5 Questions to Simplify Your Life During the Holidays
The Zen Habits Holiday Gift Guide
The Four Hidden Habit Skills
The Power of Delay
Overwhelmed & Rushed? Do a Stress Assess
Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book
Please Support the Zen Habits Book
Are You a Lift or Drag Force?
When Resistance Smacks You in the Face
When Your Plate is Too Full
The Quickstart Guide to Quitting a Bad Habit
The Zen Habits Book is Almost Done
A Quick Guide to Gaining Confidence When You Socialize
The Empty Container
The Realization
A Guide to Changing Self-Destructive Behaviors
Pushing Past the Terrifying Dip in Motivation
It’s Not Too Late to Change Bad Habits
The Smart Way to Stick to Habits
My Most Effective Learning Tools
What I Do When I Fail
How to Put Your Writing in Public
The Productive Sprint
The Biggest Reasons You Haven’t Changed Your Habits
Seized by the Thunderhold of Fear
What to Eat for Fat Loss
The Heartbreaking Cruelty of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Brief Guide to Overcoming Instant Gratification
How to Get Motivated After a Vacation
7 Strategies for Facing Your Internet/TV Addiction
How to Breathe
7 Discipline-Mastering Practices
7 Rules That Keep My Life Simple
An Education in the Majestic Sierra Nevada
The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes
How to Believe in Yourself
Don’t Waste a Moment
How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach
How to Be Great
Making Yourself Work
Inhabit the Moment
How to Master the Art of Living
The Delusional Fantasies We Live With Each Day
Living the Simple Life
How to Be Prepared for Anything
Turn Toward the Problem
The End of the Day Philosophy
The Painful Beauty of Impermanence
How to Change Other People
Pursuing Happiness When It’s Already Within You
The Quickstart Guide to a Decluttered Home
Parental Zen: How to Keep Your Cool as a Parent
Looking for Love
How to Stop Your Habit Changes From Getting Derailed
Why We Have Regret
The Essence of Fatherhood: 6 Simple Lessons
A Call for Revolt: Advertising is the Anti-Minimalism
The Frustratingly Slow Pace of Making Changes
My Struggles with Eating Boring Food
The No Procrastination Challenge
Creating a Lovely Morning
A Father’s Manifesto: Raising Young Men Who Respect Women
Turn Inspiration Into Action
Coming Back From a Setback
The Gift
A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life
No Excuses: Minimalism with Kids
How to Make a Marriage Work
Love Notes
Flavorless: My Month of Food Boringness
The Letting Go Ebook, Free
The Miracle of the Self-Compassion Habit
How I Tackle a Big Writing Project
The Habit Action List
The Reality of This Moment
Confidence in Your Business
10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do
On Making It Through Tough Journeys
The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most
What to Think About During Exercise
You’ll Be OK
The Most Important Two Minutes of Your Life
A Call for Compassion for the Defenseless
The Cure for Your Distraction Syndrome
You’re Not Worse Than Other People
Being Mindful of Your Stress
What if You Didn’t Have to Worry About Yourself?
The Universe of a Single Task
Simplifying Is Painful
Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant
How I Cleaned House & Simplified My Work Life
The Busy Person’s Guide to Reducing Stress
My Month Without a Smartphone
What I’ve Learned as a Writer
What the Exercise Habit Did For Me
Fear is the Root of Your Problems
This Moment
36 Lessons I’ve Learned About Habits
The 3 Do-What-You-Love Conundrums
How I Conduct My Business
Constant Task Switching
The Habits of Five Amazing Founders
The Incredible Importance of Sleep for Habits & Motivation
What Really Motivates Us to Stick to a Project?
I Tried to Quit & It’s Too Hard!
Unwired: A Month With Limited Internet, & Now No Cell Phone
Procrastination is a Mindfulness Problem
Letting Go of Judging People
Don’t Scratch the Itch
Become Happy in the Face of Physical Misery
How Repetition Can Kickstart a Habit
Zen Productivity
When You’re Feeling Self-Doubt & a Lack of Motivation
The Child That Holds Us Back
Stateless Mindset
My Month of (Almost) No Internet
12 Changes for 2014
Essential Zen Habits of 2013
The Fear of Being Alone
The Calm Approach
Things Every Man Should Own
Family Gatherings: The Ultimate Mindfulness Training Ground
Letter to an 18-year-old on the Career Path Less Traveled
A Method to Find Balance
16 Surprising Lessons from My First 50-Mile Ultramarathon
The Simple Fitness Habit Holiday Challenge
Struggles with My Morning Internet Fast
Surrender, Mindfulness & Entrepreneurship
How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating, & Love Letting Go
Finding Focus
When You Run Out of Ideas
The Necessary Art of Subtraction
Jealousy & Suffering
How Creativity Works, & How to Do It
Self-Discipline in 5 Sentences
Make It Your Job
Developing Selfless Compassion
Lyrical Learning, & Why We Learn Habits Wrong
A Month Without Sugar
Why I Read (+ a Dozen Book Recommendations)
12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools
Burn Down the Farm
My Most Minimal Travel Setup Yet
The Exquisite Habits of the Founder of Blue Bottle Coffee
3 Little Tricks to Deal With People Who Offend You
My Healthiest Travel Routine Yet
Startup Founder Megan Casey’s Habits of Priorities
My Pursuit of the Art of Living
A Month Without TV or Video
The Way of No Debt
Letting Go: How to Live With the Loss of a Loved One
The Way to Be
Ramit Sethi’s Entrepreneurial Habits
The Time to Shut Down
The Pain & Beauty of Life Changes
8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator
Zen Mountain: Leave It All Behind
Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different
Finding Quiet and Mindfulness Through Food
My Failed Month of ‘No Sitting’
The Thinking Habit That Changed My Life
Liking Healthy Foods is a Choice
Unschoolery: My New Blog on Unschooling
My Advice for Starting a Business
Creating Your Habit Environment
Travel Lessons with My Family
Easier Decision-Making: Conduct Experiments
Simplify: Let Go of Your Crutches
The Fear of Being Found a Fraud
The Flexible Mind
Declutter Your Life
A Month Without Coffee
The Healthful Vegan Diet
Living the Quiet Life
The Art of Tasting Chocolate Mindfully
Why Fear of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life
The Habits of Happiness
How to Keep Habits Going During Travel
A Year of Living Without
The Key Habits of Organization
I Failed
Vegan Guide to San Francisco
The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Secret to Dad Greatness
Habits: A Simple Change in Mindset Changes Everything
The Worry That You’re Doing the Wrong Thing Right Now
6 Steps To Being More Creative
How I Finally Faced My Weight & Debt Problems
Working with the Obstacles in Your Path
9 Rules for a Simpler Day
The Little Book of Contentment
The Obstacle is the Path
5 Lessons in Contentment from Billionaires Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger
Smile in Each Moment
A Guide to Practical Compassion
6 Steps To Healing Yourself
The 7-Day Vegan Challenge
Why You Should Write Daily
Achieving Without Goals
Flowing with the Stresses of Kids (or anyone else)
Habit Mastery: Creating the New Normal
Defeat Distraction: Refocusing with Purpose
Expanding the Envelope: A Method for Beating Anger
A Guide to Practical Contentment
The Practice of Work Mind & Vacation Mind, Simultaneously
How to Eat Real Food Without Spending Hours in the Kitchen
Quitting Your Habits
The 38 Best Methods of Successful Exercisers
How To Make It Impossible To Fail
The Not Knowing Path of Being an Entrepreneur
How to Change Your Life: A User’s Guide
Getting Your Family On Board with Life Changes
How to Stick to a Habit When Life Falls Apart
Zen Mind in the Middle of Chaos & Stress
Create a Sacred Space in Your Heart
Meditation: The Most Fundamental Habit
Creating the Genuine Connections We Long For
Tremors of Psychitude: One Little Trick to Find Purpose and Motivation
Create the Habits of Being Lean, in 7 Years
Walled-in: Life Without Facebook
The 7 Habits of Calmness
The Four Habits that Form Habits
Advice to My Kids
My 10 Essential Email Habits
The Daily Checklist
Sticking to a Habit: The Definitive Guide
The Meditation Diet: How I Lost 60+ lbs. by Savoring
The Power of Habit Investments
Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe
The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early
Do Less: A Short Guide
How to Savor Life
What We Lack in a Hyperconnected World
Simplify the Internet
12 Rules to Live By
The New Rules of Fitness for 2013
52 Changes for 2013
The Unprocrastination Month, and the Relaunch of the Sea Change Program
Essential Zen Habits of 2012
The Other Person is Never the Problem
The Do Plan, or Why We Know But Don’t Do
28 Brilliant Tips for Living Life
The Clutter-free Holiday Guide
The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better
Tim Ferriss vs. Leo Babauta Showdown: On Whether Goals Suck
The Work You Love is Waiting For You
The 7-Step Method to Find Focus for Writing
The Buy-Nothing Holiday Survival Guide
Challenge: Buy Nothing Until 2013
How to Learn Anything
Shaken By Life’s Beauty, Shaken
Untrack: Letting Go of the Stress of Measuring
15 Great Excuses Not to Form the Fitness Habit
How to Make Health Insurance a Bad Bet
Why the Fitness Habit is More Important Than the Plan
The Willingness to Think Differently
Create a Superhealth Community
A Vegan Tour of NYC