road leading to mountain peaks

Life Purpose Exercise: Examine Your Peak Experiences

Overall, the greatest focus of coaching by far is upon the present and future. But to clarify life purpose, it’s sometimes necessary to review where you’ve been.

I did a powerful exercise during my own coaching and coach training: an assessment of the enjoyable activities in which I’ve engaged since a very early age. This was a much more “macro” version of the behavioral assessments I did with a large leadership consulting firm, where I observed and analyzed the management behaviors of executives across the span of a day, and identified behavioral “trends.”

Slightly different forms of this self-assessment exercise include the following:

  • Identifying “peak experiences,” or specific times when you felt like you were acting from a deeper purpose, were having the most fun, or felt a deep sense of fulfillment. This may also be described as times of experiencing “flow,” or a state of total present-moment absorption in an activity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
  • Identifying specific times when you were creating things that were very important to you, to establish a list of items in your “creative core” (Elkin, 2003). Alongside this, it’s helpful to identify WHY you chose to create these things.
  • Looking forward to the future, predicting what peak experiences and accomplishments you desire–either through placing them on a “life timeline” spanning your entire life, or by sketching out how you’d like your eulogy to read (Ellis and Lankowitz, 1995).

Such self-analysis, especially done with the guidance of a coach (because we all have our blind spots; and note that I’m simplifying the process here), is useful for several reasons:

  • It may remind you of activities you once enjoyed, but gave up at some point. These are likely still a part of your core, and if you’ve pushed them aside, they may continue to compete for your energy. By identifying and honestly acknowledging these parts of yourself, you may live more powerfully. They may inform career, recreation, and other aspects of life.
  • Through asking yourself the proper questions, your collection of past and desired peak experiences and creations may yield clues about your values, your definition of life purpose, and your strengths.
  • It allows you to reflect upon the period of time in your life when you were likely the most honest with yourselves–as a child.
  • It provides a powerful foundation of experiences and accomplishments to draw upon when you’re faced with future challenges, and visions of your desired future to motivate you.

The following pictures illustrate me having “peak experiences” when I was younger–I went through a lot of old pictures as part of my self-assessment.

dave wearing headphones 1

dave headphones 2

The two pictures above motivated me to be honest with myself about how much I enjoy music, especially music composition. I had neglected this hobby for several years, thinking I could just “push it aside,” but it led to a great deal of frustration. When I rediscovered these pictures, it forced me to realize that music really has been a core part of my being since a very early age.

Not too long afterwards, I enthusiastically created the space in our home for a small music studio. Additionally, this self-acknowledgment added to my observations that creativity and innovation are an important part of my life purpose.

I chuckled out loud when I rediscovered this Big Wheel picture, because it reinforced how much I’ve always enjoyed activities related to cycling and the outdoors.

dave on big wheel

Additionally, it reminded me of the “exploratory adventure rides” I used to take with friends in a very nearby park–these weren’t so far removed from the cross-country bicycle trip I did many years later, right after college; or from the Southwestern slot canyon hike that my wife and I did just a few years ago.

This assessment helped me to realize that I’m energized by activities that allow for a sense of adventure, discovery and learning–for me, life coaching provides a great deal of this! Also, it’s helped me to more consciously identify the types of activities that provide me with the greatest amount of “recharge.”

Related to the above exercises, I sometimes employ a conversation opener that generally leads to much more energetic conversations than, “So what do you do?” I often ask, “What do you most enjoy doing?” If the person pauses for too long, I add, “This may or may not include your current job.”

This opener avoids lengthy conversations where someone rambles on about a job they strongly dislike, decreasing their own energy as well as that of everyone around them. It also provides a quick gateway to where a person’s passion and energy really lie, and may lead to a realization that changes their life. (Don’t underestimate this!) Finally, it helps to whittle away our society’s tendency to place too much emphasis upon formal occupational titles as a primary factor of self-definition and status.

Predefined job and occupation titles, while useful for maintaining an organized society, can squelch individuality and creativity if overused. In some cases, creating one’s own job or career may prove to be the most sensible option. I encourage you to give your own conversations a refreshing twist with this new technique.

References

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper Collins.

Elkin, B. (2003). Simplicity and Success. Trafford Publishing.

Ellis, D. & Lankowitz, S. (1995). Human Being: A Manual for Happiness, Health, Love and Wealth. Breakthrough Enterprises, Inc.

Photo by Flickr user Nestor Galina. Size and resolution adjusted. License.

Dave welcomes phone-based life, career, and transition coaching clients from around the world.

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