Are you just coasting through life reacting to what comes your way? Have you ever wondered if there is something bigger out there for you? We just covered the meaning of life and how it is unique to you as an individual. The next step is simply asking the following question:
Who do you aspire to be?
This article is the second in a series of essays on Aspirational Thinking.
It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future... And this is his salvation in the most difficult moments of his existence, although he sometimes has to force his mind to the task.
— Viktor Frankl
An aspiration is not just a big goal in life that you hope to achieve. It is actually about becoming the person you are meant to be. It is about changing your identity. It is a way of life that gives you meaning and purpose.
Finding your meaning in life and living it sure sounds like a lot of work at first. Among other things, you may be thinking...
Here is the problem: You will always be busy with other things in your life. Those rare empty spaces tend to get filled quickly with all manner of things that distract you from your real purpose in life. When you have occasion to reflect on what you dream of one day becoming, the sheer size of it can be overwhelming. That feeling is akin to hitting a brick wall.
Big things are scary, and they tend to instantly kill whatever motivation you have to change. They require large amounts of willpower, which itself is a scarce resource that is difficult to sustain for long periods of time. The perennial New Year's resolution is perhaps the best example of something big that almost always fails to stick.
Insight 5: Aspirations establish a way of life that gives you meaning and purpose.
Can one tiny change transform your life? It’s unlikely you would say so. But what if you made another? And another? And another? At some point, you will have to admit that your life was transformed by one small change.
— James Clear
What if I told you there was a way to change your identity and to fulfill your purpose, regardless of how busy you are?
With just a smidgen of discipline, the way forward is quite simple.
Instead of going big all at once, go small. Take the first step. In the spirit of kaizen, small things are more approachable, less scary and often easily accomplished. They don't require much, if any, willpower. And once you take the first step, you take another step.
Use small steps to make small changes that get you closer to your aspirations. Use aspirations as your North Star to guide the way.
Insight 6: Aspirations guide. Small steps transform.
What shapes our lives are the questions we ask, refuse to ask, or never think to ask.
— Sam Keen
Your first step is to identify one or more aspirations. Before doing so, let's take a quick look at some examples.
Here are some ineffective examples of aspirations:
These types of aspirations focus on ancient human desires and material outcomes. You become a slave to fortune, fame and power. The happiness you think these things will bring you turns out to be a mirage — always visible in the distance but never within reach.
These things don't make you a happier, more fulfilled person. They are side effects or byproducts for people earnestly pursuing a greater cause. They ensue.
Insight 7: Success, like happiness, is the byproduct of one's commitment to a greater cause.
Here are some effective examples of aspirations:
The list of effective aspirations are endless. How do you settle on one that matters most to you right now? We are going to use a technique called introspection. You start by asking yourself the following questions:
Then answer with...
Write down whatever pops into your mind. Be honest with yourself. Remove all filters and expand your thinking. Anything is possible at this point. Be bold and adventurous.
Insight 8: Effective aspirations are bold and adventurous, precisely because you are capable of so much more than you know.
The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, "Thus far and no farther."
Now that you have a list of aspirations, focus on building towards them one at a time. The last thing we want to do at this point is to overwhelm you with multiple aspirations at once. As your second small step, that means choosing only one of them to start with. Remember, always make things as small as possible. Don't bite off more than you can handle. This process should never feel like work. It should feel more like great therapy.
All types of aspirations will change you, often in ways you cannot define at the start. That is because each aspiration is a life adventure. Small changes in behavior occur initially, but those changes compound over time and lead to a change in identity. You will recognize this important threshold when your aspiration has a gravity of its own that constantly attracts your attention. The aspiration no longer pushes you. It pulls you. Think of settling into a comfortable groove or floating along a strong, warm current.
So how do you choose? Here is some food for thought:
If you are still unsure, find groups of people who are what you aspire to be and learn more about them. Read or watch what they publish. Follow them on social media if possible. Engage them and other followers in conversation. You may be surprised how eager they are to share wisdom gained from their own adventures. Remember to do the same for others later.
Insight 9: Each step you take toward an aspiration moves you one step closer to your meaning and purpose in life.
Insight 10: You will know that an aspiration has taken firm root when it starts pulling you instead of pushing you.
Congratulations on dreaming up your initial list of aspirations and choosing one to shoot for. You have already taken two small steps toward becoming who you are meant to be. Let's explore making your first aspiration a reality in the next article of this series.