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How having a purpose can help us

Not many of us would nominate January as our favourite month. The days are short, wet and dark and it’s easy to find ourselves low on money and positivity after a busy and tiring Christmas period.

However, the start of the year is also a great time to review our aims and purpose in life. With purpose – be it an overarching life goal or a short-term challenge – comes a clearer pathway through the dark and difficult winter days.

As expressed by the 20th Century American writer, Robert Byrne, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”

The benefits of purpose

Having clarity about our aims and ambitions can make it easier to get up in the morning. A purpose instils us with energy, gives us a sense of direction, encourages engagement with the world around us and creates a clearer sense of self. Having a purpose provides us with a focus and a sense of achievement as we work towards our target.

Studies have shown that when people feel like they are contributing to a higher purpose, they often have a healthier and happier outlook. They can also prove more resilient to stress.

How to find a purpose

Finding an overarching purpose in life isn’t easy. But start small. Think about what you love to do and what you are good at. Think about how you can contribute to the world – be that in the workplace, in your relationships with friends and family, to the environment or to your community.

Our purpose might take the form of a personal challenge or goal that helps us to stay focused and on track and moving forward with conviction. By setting ourselves realistic challenges and resolutions we can nurture a sense of purpose in our lives.

Here are some pointers on how to find purpose this January:

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~ Make resolutions – and make them achievable

Many of us make resolutions each New Year. But, quite frankly, that’s the easy part. Sticking to them and seeing them through is much, much harder.

Don’t make your resolutions and aims too wide reaching, unattainable or general. This can make failure more likely, which in turn leads to feelings of self-defeat. Instead of saying, “I'm going to get fitter this year” opt for “This year I'm going to go swimming twice a week.” It’s a tangible and realistic goal, which will help you succeed.

~ Track and reward your success

Create a spreadsheet or a wall chart so you can easily keep an eye on your progress. You might have resolved to cut back on caffeine. If so, make a record of each day that you stick to one cup of coffee so you can see at the end of each week and month how well you’re doing. In a month where you’ve achieved your aim, reward yourself: treat yourself to that new coffee machine you’ve been coveting!

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~ Set yourself a physical challenge

Whatever the parameters of your physical abilities, having something to train towards creates purpose. It might be a 10K, a half marathon, or simply a commitment to walk to work once a week.

As well as improving our fitness, exercise has an added benefit. When we get our body moving, our brain’s hypothalamus and pituitary gland produce neurochemicals called endorphins, which create a sense of euphoria and well-being and help to combat stress.

Physical activity also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin which all play an important role in regulating mood. Exercise actually helps us to feel happier.

~ Find work you enjoy and think about the master plan

“Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it,” stated Stephen Hawking. A job certainly offers us structure, focus and clear targets. But it is also easy to get stuck in the rat race. Take a step back from your day-to-day tasks and think – what is my aim and purpose? Where do I see myself professionally in five, ten, even twenty year’s time?

With a greater purpose in mind, check in with it every week. Are you still working towards this goal? Has your purpose changed? If it has, be clear about how and why. Always have an eye on the prize and how you’re going to get there.

Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.
John F. Kennedy

~ Take on an organised challenge

Challenging ourselves to a lifestyle change – short or long-term – can be a great way to find purpose. And more and more of us are getting involved…

Veganuary is a charity inspiring people to try a plant-based diet in the first month of the year. This year record numbers of us (around 50,000!) have signed up to the campaign – forgoing meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey for 31 days.

As well as promoting the animal right’s argument, and the fact that going vegan helps to prevent animal production based pollution, the Veganuary website says that “More than 75% of people who have tried going vegan for a month report an improvement in their health.”

Alcohol Change also has a campaign that’s growing exponentially each year. Dry January is the UK's one-month alcohol-free challenge where, with the help of an app, people can choose to ditch booze for a whole month. According to the campaign website, 88% of participants saved money, 71% of participants had better sleep, 67% had more energy and 58% of participants lost weight.

~ Find a cause you feel passionate about

A purpose doesn’t have to be about self-advancement. Volunteering for a charity or campaigning for a cause we believe in can give us purpose, as well as helping to boost our self-worth, happiness and sense of fulfillment.

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