A Former Navy SEAL’s Guide To Giving Your Work More Purpose

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A Navy SEAL climbs up a ladder attached to the side of a gas and oil platform during training to prepare an upcoming deployment.
Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Adam Henderson

Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.


It’s much easier said than done.

Working with purpose, whether it is the mental focus or the spiritual passion that guides you, is a powerful thing.

Of course, there’s a difference in working with purpose and working with busyness. When you work with purpose, you’re fulfilling your long-term needs; when you work to appear busy, you’re satisfying short-term needs — you know, those superficial behaviors that don’t really improve you or the business.

More so, if you’re working without purpose, then chances are others aren’t either, which means there’s a much greater challenge here: a misaligned organization. In these instances, it’s more often physical stress (i.e., emotion) that serves as the guiding purpose rather than personal meaning (i.e., spiritual).

If busyness is part of your daily schedule, ask yourself these four questions:

1. How do your actions align with company goals, team goals, and personal goals?

If the answer is, “I have no idea,” then try setting goals to make sure they do. Goal setting helps you in two ways: it helps you unearth the values and beliefs that drive you by identifying what’s really important to you; and it focuses your attention on a strategy to fulfill them. Once you identify what’s important to you and a plan to “get there,” you now have a foundation for self-directed motivation. Boom!

2. How do you imagine yourself engaging in activities that realize your goals?

If you can’t physically take part in something, use visualization to trick your mind into believing it’s real. When you visualize your actions, feelings, and responses to a potential situation that is yet to occur, you fool your mind into believing it has actually happened so that when that situation arises, your brain just goes through the motions again because it believes it has already been there. And let’s face it; some of our minds are easier to trick than others.

3. How do you focus to achieve your goals?

I don’t know about you, but when I see that little white email icon appear on my Outlook menu indicating new email has arrived, I have an immediate impulse to check it (only to find some silly offer from someone that I thought I unsubscribed from).

Of all the office distractions that arise out of nowhere, email is the most toxic, which is why focus is so important.

Specifically, you want to create cues that compel you to “be” and to “do.” Anything else is just a distraction. If you’re not being the person you want to be, or doing the things you want to do, then what you’re really focusing on is wasted effort. When you do tasks out of habit and fail to question their validity, it’s a clear absence of purpose, or lack of thought behind what you're doing. Justify why you do the things you do. Put some thought into how much value they bring and decide if they’re worth continuing.

And, if impulse or habit do get the better of you, ask yourself…

4. What activities don’t contribute to your goals?

As mentioned before, impulse control isn’t easy. It takes not only concerted effort but the skill of awareness to be cognizant of it and the will to remedy it. After all, being aware a challenge exists is no good without designing the action to overcome it.

To succeed in anything requires a clear purpose, and business is no different. Remember, there’s a difference between activity and achievement. The ability to focus and create consistency of purpose while adapting to change puts you at a competitive advantage.

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