4 Steps to Finding Your Purpose and Defining Your Life Priorities




Yesterday, we looked at 7 Steps for Prioritizing Your Goals.  Today we’re going to look at step 1–Defining Your Priorities–more in depth.  You’ll need:

  • Pen and Paper
  • Index cards
  • or your favorite freeform text editor.  Mine is Scapple.

1. Make a list of things that matter to you.

Aim for about 10-15. More than that and you’re going to have trouble organizing them. Everyone’s priorities are a little different, but I’ve put together a list of the most common ones I could find:
Owning A Home
Social Responsibility
The Environment

They should be enough to get you started. If you’re looking for more complete checklist in downloadable format, stay tuned for the end of the series.

2. Ask Yourself “Why?”

For each item on your list, write a sentence or two about why they matter to you.

3. Rank your list.

You can do this by simply putting numbers next to the items that are most important to you. Be honest with yourself about the order you’re choosing. When I did mine, my first instinct was to put “family” and “friends” at the top of the list. I grew up in a 3rd generation Irish American family where I was taught that “family” comes first, “friends” come next, and anything else is immaterial. Well, those aren’t my priorities, but I didn’t realize it until I looked at my list and noticed how uncomfortable I felt. You’re going to spend some time grouping the list in different ways later, so don’t worry about getting this perfect. The reason we start here is to help generate the kind of “gut reaction” I was talking about earlier. How you feel about the list when you see it ranked will give you a great indication of where you might need to change a priority.

3. Group your priorities.

Re-write your list on index cards, post-its or in a free-form text editor like Scapple. Use one card or note for each item. Place the most important ones in the center and group others around them. The least important ones go at the outer edge.It doesn’t matter if you have more than one in the center, but try to place the ones that feel most important at the top and the others underneath it. Here’s mine:

Priorities 1


I added some color and spacing to make it easier to process:

Priorities 1.2
But remember! At first mine looked like this:
Priorities 2

I knew it was wrong for me, and I kept nudging things around.

Then I got them where I needed them to be and felt guilty!

When I went back to my “Why?” list, I realized that all my answers had a common thread–a connection to my spiritual life.

Priorities 3

That’s how I came to the next step in this process and found where my real priority is.

4. Look for connections and common themes

This will help you hone in on what resonates with you deeply. When you know what resonates with you, you have an important advantage for staying motivated or getting motivated again after a setback. You can take charge of your feelings by realigning your actions with core values and purpose. Your “Why?” answers are a good place to look for this.

This is what my document looked like by the time I was done.

Priorities 3..1jpg

Once I saw it, all my discomfort vanished because I understood what was motivating me and what I really wanted to do with my life.  Once I grasped those things, it was much easier for me to start making hard decisions about which goals I would pursue and how much time I would give to activities both in and out of my priority web.

Right now, my top priorities are:

  • Pursuing my spiritual path
  • Making use of my talents
  • Having a positive impact on society
  • Professional and personal growth

That doesn’t mean family and friends stopped being important (spirituality without relationships is basically useless) or that my priorities can’t shift.  But this is where I am and what I want for my life.  Now I can chose goals that will help me live the life  I really want.