What does purpose feel like?

Purpose can be defined as ‘the feeling of being determined to do or achieve something.’ But how would you characterise that feeling – how do you know when you are experiencing it?

You can certainly feel a sense of purpose when you are focused on and determined to achieve your goals – and you can experience this with both large goals and small goals, related to both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. But what are the actual feelings or sensations we experience?

Tony Robbins

When I was in my late twenties, I was a big fan of Tony Robbins, a well-known motivational speaker and personal coach to the rich and famous. On my 40-minute train commute into Nagoya, I used to listen to his Personal Power program on my iPod. I found his teachings and banter both entertaining and helpful; they actually made those long daily train commutes enjoyable. 

While I wouldn’t want to discount the positive impact of Robbins’s work, I find that it resonates with me less now that I am older and have more life experience.

Ego-inflating hype and hoopla 

One sentiment I find particularly hard to relate to is that ‘success’ is equivalent to ‘accumulation of wealth’ – and that ‘The path to success is to take massive, determined action’. This is a direct quote from Robbins’s website; this sort of thinking is common in the self-help movement.

It is a sentiment that would have appealed to me many years ago, but now I find it to be the epitome of the unrealistic, ego-inflating hype and hoopla that encourage people to overlook the sort of objectives and activities that are more likely to facilitate ikigai-kan.

Ken Mogi Wisdom

Let’s compare Robbins’s quote with something that Ken Mogi shared on his Youtube channel: ‘You can have your grand goals, but it is important to start small.’

Mogi’s quote is humble and realistic, acknowledging that every journey requires us to start with one small step and then take another, again and again as we head towards our destination. This need to progress gradually and to achieve each successive small goal in pursuit of the grand one is what gives us the sense of purpose that is so key to ikigai. It does not require ‘massive action’, but instead allows us the freedom to do what we can, when we can.

Finding Purpose in the Small

As this suggests, you don't need to chase a huge payoff or achieve something big to feel a sense of purpose. Rather, this can emerge in association with whatever you choose to focus on – even the small chores you do every day, or the pursuit of your hobbies.

It's important to focus on and find purpose, or a sense of purpose, in the small things, because these are what comprise the bulk of life and so they are what will likely become your most meaningful moments and rewarding achievements. This was a sentiment shared by Mogi when we had a virtual chat over coffee on my sixth podcast episode:

‘I think it's very important to realise that it's often the small things that make us rock because at the end of the day, we're living in a global economy and you feel pressure to do better and prove yourself so you tend to focus on big goals. But that's not really the thing that makes up your ikigai. Ikigai starts from very small things, like just having a cup of coffee, just like I'm doing now.’

The Japanese spirit of purpose

I have really enjoyed the discussions I've had with Ken Mogi. He has so much wisdom and an incredible knack for articulating his insights on ikigai. Another of his pearls of wisdom that has become a mantra of mine is: 

It is the Japanese spirit to pursue something in a subdued but sustained manner, rather than, in flamboyant fashion, seek short-lived satisfaction of momentary needs.’

Let’s embrace Mogi’s wisdom and take heed of his advice and find purpose in the small, and by doing things properly in a sustained manner in the pursuit of mastery.