How would you like to improve your energy reserves? I know. I know. That’s a loaded question. No matter our age we’ll always take more energy. Having energy makes life more fun. It makes tasks that can be daunting seem just a little lighter if we have plenty of energy.
So what can we do to really power up our energy reservoir? Well, it turns out one of the single best generators of personal energy is purpose. Purpose is a unique source of energy and power.
Energy lights a fire for focus, direction, passion and perseverance. To get a quick sense of the power of your own purpose, stop right now and answer a few questions. Try to rank each question on a scale of 1-10.
- How excited are you to get to work in the morning?
- How much do you enjoy what you do for its own sake rather than for what it gets you?
- How accountable do you hold yourself to a deeply held set of values?
If your answers to these questions total 27 or more, it suggests you already bring a significant sense of purpose to what you do. If your answers fall below 22, you are more likely going through the motions.
Throughout much of my career I’ve been a master of going through the motions. It wasn’t until I started evaluating that which I truly value that I tapped into a life of true meaning and purpose. The best part is it has allowed me at the age of 47 to be as energetic as I was at 27 (well almost).
One of my favorite books, and I refer to it often, is “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl. In this book he writes, “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
So how do we begin to tap into this well of energy and purpose. First, we must do what many mystics, masters of meditation, Carl Jung and many others have said. We must wake up. We must know ourselves intimately. Once we truly discover who we are and what we value then we must begin designing our life and actions to match with our most deeply held values.
Purpose becomes a more powerful source of energy when it moves from being externally to internally motivated. Extrinsic motivation reflects the desire to get more of something that we don’t feel we have enough of: money, approval, social standing, power or even love.
Intrinsic motivation grows out of the desire to engage in an activity because we value it for the inherent satisfaction it provides. Researchers have long found that intrinsic motivation tends to prompt more sustaining energy. A study conducted by the University of Rochester’s Human Motivation Research Group found, for example, that people whose motivation was authentic-defined as “self-authored”- exhibited more interest, excitement and confidence, as well as greater persistence, creativity and performance than a control group of subjects who were motivated largely by external demands and rewards.
Study after study shows there is little correlation between money and happiness or motivation once our basic needs are met. That is to say if someone has all the food, shelter and safety they need, giving them more money isn’t going to move the energy needle all that much.
Here is an example of shifting something from the external to the internal. There is a scripture in the Christian Bible which reads, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men..” Colossians 3:23.
As you can see, this is something one must align with a belief and value based on their being a follower of Christ. Therefore, they are not working merely for external forces such as the need to provide food, shelter and transportation. They are doing their work based on an intrinsic value and motivation as a Christian.
This can completely change the mindset of doing work that is seemingly mundane and otherwise draining. It allows for us to match all work with deeply held values.
Deeply held values fuel the energy on which purpose is built. They define an enduring code of conduct–the rules of engagement in the journey to bring our vision for ourselves to life. The pursuit of power or wealth or fame may all be sources of motivation, but these goals are external and often fill deficiency needs rather than serving growth and transformation. We may value being the wealthiest person at the country club but these are not values as I am defining them here.
Values provide a source of inspiration buried deep within us that cannot be taken away. If we do become the wealthiest member of the country club but lose all our money the values we hold remain. Therefore, we are still whole internally.
To find your true values takes time. It takes deliberate action and focus. Do not take this lightly. Take the time to meditate on this enormous question. What is it I truly value?
Here is an exercise to help you start to determine and define your values.
- Jump ahead to the end of your life. What are the three most important lessons you have learned and why are they so critical?
- Think of someone that you deeply respect. Describe three qualities in this person that you most admire.
- Who are you at your best?
- What one-sentence inscription would you like to see on your tombstone that would capture who you really were in your life?
Each of these questions is a means of discovering the values that will define your “rules of engagement” in whatever mission you are on.
Virtue=value in action
We may hold generosity as a value, but the virtue is behaving generously. Our values don’t have power unless they are manifested in virtue. How many times lately have we heard the term “virtue signaling.” Signaling virtue is easy. Actually being virtuous is a much different matter.
Someone once said, “character is doing the right thing when no one is looking.” Well, virtue is putting our values into action when no one is looking or demanding it. It’s not about holding values but putting them into action. This can be a powerful thing.
There’s a reason why we see someone with strong conviction moving with energy and passion we can’t even comprehend. An example that comes to mind is Tony Robbins. I remember watching his infomercials as a kid. Now thirty plus years later he’s still going. The guy puts on seminars that will go on for days. He will stay on stage as long as 8 hours at a time. He just turned 60!
How does he do it? He has matched that which he values most (helping people overcome obstacles that prevent them to be their best) with his vocation. I’ve never seen another speaker with his energy and endurance at any age. It’s nuts.
Here is a great personal testimony of putting values into action. I have not had a drop of alcohol in over three years. It has nothing to do with my religious beliefs or past alcohol abuse. It’s because I place such a high value on my health and wellness. I love a good scotch. I really do. Put me in front of an episode of Mad Men with a bag of Stacy’s Naked Pita chips and a Johnny Walker on the rocks, and I’m a happy man.
However, I value my health and slowing the aging process more than the pleasure I derive from drinking. This makes not drinking so much easier. If I only relied on willpower this would be a much different story. I wouldn’t have a deep well of internal “intrinsic” value to draw from. This makes denying myself the drink require a lot less mental and emotional energy.
I encourage you to take the time to identify your values. Take the time to identify them. Then once you know that which you value most in yourself and others begin to match those values with your actions. You find things that once may sap you of mental and physical energy start to serve as generators of energy.
A values driven life is going to give your life more passion, commitment and perseverance that you ever thought possible.