Have you ever heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon? If not, I bet you’ve experienced it. It can also be called frequency illusion or recency illusion. It occurs when you learn something new and then begin to recognize that new thing everywhere.
If you’ve ever purchased a new (to you) car and afterward began to notice that same car everywhere you go, then you have experienced this phenomenon. It seems that almost every time I’ve acquired a new car, everyone else decided to purchase that same make and model; even the same color.
Once this begins, it is usually reinforced in the brain by two other phenomena. The first is called selective attention, which is a heightened awareness of the thing for which you are looking, such as your new car. The second effect is called confirmation bias. As you experience more sightings this car, your brain confirms that you are definitely seeing more of those cars than before.
I have been experiencing these three phenomena lately with respect to life purpose. For many years, I was unaware of the resources and benefits related to discovering one’s purpose. It was not on my radar screen so I didn’t notice it. I was enjoying making a life after college and not thinking about bigger or more strategic direction.
When Rick Warren published the first version of The Purpose Driven Life in 2002, I was familiar with his work for churches, but discounted its benefits and the application to life. In hindsight, with over 32 million copies sold, I may have been premature in my conclusion.
As my awareness increased, I began to notice more books declaring the benefits of identifying purpose and more articles about successful people who lived by a clear purpose. Yet, for various reasons, I remained skeptical of the idea. Work and family were also consuming larger amounts of my life. It was not important to me, so I didn’t ‘have the time.’
Fast forward now to 2017 and things have changed. It took me a while to see it, which admittedly is my modus operandi, but I now get it. I am now experiencing for myself the benefits so many others have received through discovering their purpose. As such, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is in full effect.
My awakening to this is intentionally integrated with my faith in God—it is at the core of my purpose. But it has also been shaped by various authors. Here are a few key quotes that form the foundation of what I’ve come to believe about purpose:
“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” —Greg McKeown, Essentialism
“When there is an alignment of our skills, abilities, talents, personality traits, and passions we will recognize [our purpose.] We will experience work that is fulfilling, meaningful, purposeful, and profitable.”—Dan Miller, 48 Days To The Work You Love
“People lose their way when they lose their why.” —Michael Hyatt, Living Forward
“I think God’s hope and plan for us is pretty simple to figure out. Add your whole life, your loves, your passions, and your interests together with what God said He wants us to be about, and that’s your [purpose.]” —Bob Goff, Love Does
It took a significant career pivot for me to make discovering my life purpose a priority. I also learned a few key things during the process.
First, the process isn’t as complicated as I thought it would be. The goal is to craft something that is specific, yet simple, and resonates with who you are.
Second, it takes effort and focus to clearly state your purpose. If you don’t prioritize the work, it will not happen.
Third, the real power comes from turning the purpose statement into real life activity. That is when the benefits start to accrue.
So how is your story unfolding? Are you like I used to be—not sure where you are going or why? If so, then maybe it’s time to discover your purpose and begin orienting your life around it. I can tell you from firsthand experience, it is worth the investment—for yourself and those you care about.