Have you ever wasted an inordinate amount of time just scrolling down your preferred social media platform?
You look down at the clock and your heart drops to your stomach. The clock reads:
“You should’ve stopped doing this half an hour ago.”
At least it’s honest.
Social media is designed with “scroll-ability” in mind. It hijacks your attention span by producing new flashy experiences each time you scroll.
The easy answer is to simply unplug yourself from social media. But there’s a reason why that’s the easy answer.
It’s a band-aid for a more serious issue. A lack of purpose.
What a lack of purpose looks like
Imagine being in a grocery store and you’re hungry. But you don’t know what you want, so you follow your “intuition.” There are a row of chips conveniently placed in front of the entrance and your mouth starts to water.
So you grab a cart and you start to fill it with some chips. Now that you have some chips, you decide you need something to wash it down with.
How convenient. There’s the soft drink aisle right next to the chip aisle. You grab some drinks and as you place them into your cart, you catch something from the corner of your eye.
So you roll your cart over and start selecting your favorite candies to place into your cart. A customer rolls up behind you and politely gestures to move past. You smile and as you move your cart out the way, you take a peek at their cart and a big red box sits in the middle of it.
You get the idea.
What a sense of purpose looks like
You make a mental note of what you need as you walk into the grocery store. Eggs, ham, milk, and bread.
You walk to the back and grab some ham. Then you make your way to the eggs and milk. Then you grab some bread.
You pay for it and leave.
Your Life’s Task
The difference is clear, when you move with a sense of purpose, nothing is wasted, neither time nor steps.
When you move without a sense of purpose, our sense of immediate gratification takes over and hijacks our attention. In today’s increasingly distracting world, our attention span has shrunk to that of a goldfish’s. Social media, grocery stores, smartphones, are all designed to take advantage of our lack of purpose, providing us with instant gratification after instant gratification and wasting our precious time.
To make use out of every minute of the day, you have to have a grocery list, something that holds your trip to the grocery store together.
You need a Life’s Task (as coined by Robert Greene in his book Mastery).
What is a Life’s Task?
What is your Life’s Task and more importantly, how will it create a sense of purpose in our lives?
Your Life’s Task is a vocation that culminates within it all the things in life you hold dear. Perhaps you have an affinity for adventure. Or a passion for self-expression. Or both.
Your Life’s Task, then, is the manifestation of your affinities in form of a task, an activity. Something that causes your soul to dance whenever you engage in it.
My Life’s Task is something that involved unbridled creativity and intense problem solving. Some, like John Coltrane, are drawn to music because of how it allows for untainted self-expression and countless adventures.
How it will change your life
You have probably heard of the shocking truth behind motivation by now. In short, extrinsic motivators such as rewards and punishments are not only less effective than intrinsic motivators but can actually diminish the quality of work.
To be more productive, one must be able to tap into their intrinsic motivation. Something that comes naturally when you find your Life’s Task.
When you have a goal to achieve, even something as mundane as rest becomes purposeful.
You won’t have to find activities to fill your time as you would be engulfed by Life’s Task, day and night.
The line between work and play will cease to exist. What is tedious and boring to others in your Life’s task, you’ll find fascinating. Tiny details multiply in magnitude and you’ll pour over them with laser-like focus.
When you engage in your Life’s task, you become one with the task at hand and it infuses you with a sense of power. A certain sense of focus that you only experience when you feel completely at ease.
Your Life’s task will be both a source of comfort and a source of intense productivity.
How you find your Life’s Task
In his book Mastery, Robert Greene dictates 5 strategies you can use to discover your Life’s Task.
They are as follows:
- Return to your origins – The primal inclination strategy. Think back to your childhood when you were young and impressionable, when you have yet to be tainted by the sophistication of the world. Were there any objects or activities that you had a profound connection with? Something that made you feel alive or filled you with an intense curiosity? For Albert Einstein, he was moved by a compass given to him by his father as a present. Immediately transfixed to the implications of such a device, he set off to make it his life’s work to discover the truths that lie hidden in the world around us.
- Occupy the perfect niche- The Darwinian strategy. Sometimes your perfect vocation doesn’t exist. Yet. You have inclinations pulling you into different directions, but no place to call home. Evolve. Carve out your own niche. You have two options here:
- Adjoin your inclinations and your Life’s Task will be at the intersection. Yoky Matsuoka, for example, who pioneered the field of neurobotics – the design of robots that possessed simulated versions of human neurology.
- Or you can steadily evolve into a narrower and narrower niche. You move from job to job, each with the purpose of being closer and closer to your interests. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran followed this path and had many jobs before finding his Life’s Task in neuroscience.
- Avoid the false path- The rebellion strategy. There are many distractions that lead us off the path of our Life’s Task. We may fall influence to the ways of the world chasing money, attention, or validation rather that what makes our soul dance. Because of this, even if we were to attain the rewards we were chasing we still feel unsatisfied. We must avoid this at all cost and constantly ask ourselves why we choose a particular vocation.
- Let go of the past – The adaption strategy. You are never too deep into a career or too old to make a change. You have no loyalty to any career or company, or any position in life you hold. Your only loyalty is to yourself and your Life’s Task. It is in your best interest, then, to continually adapt to the circumstances around you. Look forward and see the opportunities that are present rather than the time wasted or the ways of the past. You do not hold onto the past because it will only drag you down. Instead you stay on your toes, adaptable and ready for anything that comes.
- Find your way back- The life-or-death strategy. Sometimes straying too far off your Life’s Task brings about some existential crisis. This is when you don’t know to do or where to go. All you know is life as you know cannot continue any further and there needs to be change. It is this sudden realization that the life you’re living and the life you want to live is not in accordance when you will take your first steps toward your Life’s Task. Buckminster Fuller came close to the edge of committing suicide before backing off and realizing what he had to do. He had tried his whole life to fit into the wrong puzzle. Now he vowed to never stray off course from his experience and to listen to his own voice at every step. It would pay off. He would go on to design inexpensive and energy-efficient forms of transportation and shelter and the invention of the geodesic dome. He had found his Life’s Task.
Wrapping it all up
It would seem something as natural as your Life’s Task to be easy to find. But that is not true. Only when the stars align do you find your Life’s Task early. These are your Einsteins, Kobe Bryants, Mozarts, and such. For many finding their Life’s Task is a struggle, a struggle between the demands of the world and the cries of their soul.
Now more than ever is finding your Life’s Task, not just necessary, but extremely accessible. Thousands of resources lay at the palm of our hands through the form of books, articles on the internet, classes at your community college, or even classes on Udacity.
On the other hand we live in times of extreme distraction as well. Each second, then, is a battle between your Life’s Task and your primitive desire for instant gratification. The earlier you find your Life’s Task, the easier you will find it to delay gratification and appeal to a higher level of entertainment.
To live a purposeful and productive life, one must find their Life’s Task. When the work is the entertainment, what is there that can stop you?
I’m curious. Where do you think your inclinations fall? What is your Life’s Task? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. I would love to hear from you.