A Simple Soul-Searching Strategy

There are always points in life, specifically periods of significant life changes, when we need to go back to the drawing board and figure out who we are and what we stand for.

Here's a short list of steps that could be useful in jumpstarting your soul-searching process (along with recommended books for more comprehensive tips and ideas).  

1. PHILOSOPHY 

First and foremost you need to have a philosophy for life – an overarching set of principles that not only give you meaning but also help guide your decision-making.

It can be religious-based (e.g. Christianity), borrowed from schools of philosophies (e.g. Stoicism), or a combination of different schools of thought. 

Whatever it is, you need a foundation upon which you establish a meaning for life. Without that as a base, you'll be like a ship without an anchor blowing wherever the wind takes you. 

For instance, I am agnostic so I don't worry too much about why we are here or how we got here, but I still appreciate and borrow select passages from certain religious texts because I think they are still applicable to everyday living.

I most closely associate with the Stoic school of thought because it is rooted in nature and logic (and the tenets of self-control and overcoming destructive emotions resonate with me). 

2. VALUES 

Once you have a high-level philosophy of life, this  needs to be translated into a short set of core values.

These are a bit more specific and granular — almost like a set of rules or standards of living. These are the principles that help you make decisions on a daily basis. 

My values on a high-level are beauty, simplicity, and creativity. Of course I have more color under each of these but, in general, when faced with difficult decisions I often ask myself whether or not I'd be violating any of these if I go down a particular course of action. 

3. PURPOSE

From your unique set of values you can craft a mission or purpose for life. No, don't wait for some miraculous revelation. Determine a mission for your own life.

My purpose is to constantly work on aligning all aspects of my life so they allow for the freedom and flexibility to pursue, without restriction, the simple pleasures that bring me joy, the creative service that allows me to inspire others, and the beauty that makes life worth living. 

You too should have a short easy-to-remember statement of purpose that gets you excited about facing each day.  

4. THEMES

Now you need to identify the most important areas of life to work on right now. What seems especially off or out of alignment with your life purpose?

We all have a "wheel of life" comprised of key themes like career, money, education, relationships, health, and interests. Ideally you'd want these all to map well into your life's purpose. 

But, in reality, they probably don't and it's impossible to improve them all at one time. So rank your themes and then tackle the ones that you believe are most urgent.

I assess my themes on a monthly and quarterly basis in an attempt to identify and correct areas that are way off course.  

5. TACTICS

Your values will determine how you choose to improve on your themes. However you will still need a set of tactics (i.e. actionable ideas) that can empower you to make change.

For example, one big idea that I put in place a couple of years ago was to not work a traditional 9-to-5 and be self-employed so I could have the time and space to carry out my purpose. 

Sometimes you'll try a tactic that won't work: that doesn't necessarily mean you need to change your values or your philosophy!  First, try a few other ideas. 

CONCLUSION 

Of course all of the above is much easier said than done but remember that the process itself can be simple. With a process at the very least you've overcome the most difficult step in finding self: knowing what to do, how, and why. 

Below are a set of books that can help you with your soul-searching process. I also suggest reading A Master List of Personal Development Books  for more recommendations. 

 

The 5 Love Languages

A New Earth

Antifragile

The Black Swan

Creativity, Inc.

The Culture Code

Does it Matter

The Four Agreements

How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life

How Will You Measure Your Life

The Lessons of History

Man's Search for Meaning

Meditations

The Power of Now

The Purpose Driven Life

The Richest Man Who Ever Lived

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Switch

You Can Heal Your Life


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