Shortly after midnight, eastern standard time, on November 7, 2012, President Barack Obama stepped out onto a stage in Chicago, cheered on by a stadium full enthusiastic supporters eager to hear the acceptance speech for his second term. The rockin’ music that accompanied his walk to the lectern was Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours. One particular lyric in that song really grabbed me: “Ooh baby, you set my soul on fire!”
Whether you like Obama or not (and by the way, I do) it seems that the people of America, really do set his soul on fire. Although some have said he’s an introvert, his entire career has been dedicated to public service. He seems to enjoy the limelight, the rough and tumble of politics, and doing his job with indefatigable energy. He seems to be living his passion, serving and leading the raucous bunch that make up the citizens of America.
So what does this have to do with habits or behavioral change? Nothing. My blog today is not about politics, but about passion – whatever sets your soul on fire. So let me ask: What absorbs your attention and energy? What gives you a reason to get up every morning and look forward to each day? What gives you a sense of purpose that brings fulfillment and enriches the lives around you?
It’s my opinion many of our unwanted habits and self-sabotaging behaviors mask unacknowledged conflicts about defining and pursuing a purposeful life. By worrying, obsessing, and focusing attention and energy on compulsions, habits, addictions, procrastination, anger, anxiety, and feeling victimized, we avoid life’s biggest question: What are you living for?
In my book, Why Do I Keep Doing This?, I wrote about my belief that one of humanity’s deepest values is to live meaningfully. England’s inspirational writer, James Allen (1864 – 1912), put it succinctly: “You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration,” Unwanted habits constitute our controlling desires; stumbling blocks on the way to realizing our dominant aspirations.
What sets your soul on fire? For some, that’s a scary question. Some people hesitate to define their purpose because they fear others will disapprove. It could mean change and sacrifice. Devoting one’s life to an overriding passion could mean forsaking other, less important activities – maybe even those in which one has made a considerable investment of time and money. For some, it brings the requirement to stop being a victim. It could mean making tough decisions and standing by them. It could mean believing in a pursuit so breath-taking, it’s impossible to imagine doing anything else.
Is it worth it? Yes. Here’s why: define your purpose, live it, and you will then eliminate about 90 percent of self-sabotage. You will know very clearly what matters most and what you can dispense with or ignore. You will know what absolutely energizes you. You will get out of your own way and love your life. You will come to terms with yourself as a human being with glorious accomplishments and massive shortcomings, and you will keep going, regardless. When you identify your purpose, it will drive you and you will get really clear on what your life is all about.
One of my favorite authors, Bill O’Hanlon, produced an audio CD entitled Let Your Soul be Your Pilot: Finding Your Direction in Life. In it, he said we can determine our life purpose in three ways: through our wounds, our anger, and our bliss. These are life’s way of grabbing us by the lapels and shouting, “This is what you are supposed to do!”
Having purpose doesn’t mean life will always be rosy. It only means that life becomes more rewarding and meaningful. You realize that the meaning of negative events in your life is not who to blame, or how much you hurt, but what you can do to heal and how you respond to the calling in the event.
You’ll also have fewer regrets. Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent years working with terminal patients and asking them about their biggest regrets in life. In her book: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, she said that her patients’ number one regret was, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Living your purpose means that you make decisions based on authenticity and integrity with your values, rather than on pleasing others.