The Ridiculous Effectiveness of Singleminded Devotion to a Purpose
By Leo Babauta
People I’ve been coaching lately have been stuck in indecision about what purpose they should pursue. At this kind of crossroads, we can become plagued by doubt.
And that makes sense: if you’re not sure what your purpose is, then going after a single choice can feel really uncertain. How do I know if this is the thing? What if I suck at it, if I fail, if I make the wrong choice?
But getting stuck in this kind of doubt and indecision is often much worse than making a single choice and failing at it. If you fail at something, at least you gave it a shot, and you learned something valuable. You practiced taking action, you practiced working with fear, you empowered that choice, and now you can empower the next one.
If you’re stuck in inaction and doubt, you often just feel crappy about yourself. You get zero results staying in this kind of false safety.
So making a choice to pursue a single purpose — even if you’re unsure about it — can be one of the most powerful things we can do.
It can get us ridiculously big results, just from making that choice to devote ourselves to one thing. It’s the most effective action you can take.
The Effects of Being Stuck
Though it makes complete sense to be afraid of making the wrong choice, of looking like an idiot, of being judged by other people if we fail … it gets us bad results:
- Indecision can have us waffling back and forth between various options, which means we are giving only partial effort to each option, if that. We’ll get crappy results from this partial effort.
- Doubt can mean that we make zero decisions and take zero actions. We will get crappy results from this, of course. Not starting that nonprofit means you help zero people. Not creating your art means you’ll never express yourself fully nor will you light people up.
- Not pursuing a path means we don’t learn anything. This might be the biggest downside of them all — taking action is a way to learn, both about how to pursue this particular purpose and about whether this is the right purpose for us. If you pursue the path of teaching music, you will learn much more about teaching music than doing nothing — and if you’ll have fun in the process, you might learn that it’s something that feels like your calling.
- All of this makes us feel crappy about ourselves. And this might be the worst part of all about this — we feel terrible about ourselves for being stuck, for not pursuing a path that feels meaningful. Sometimes people will resign themselves to this and say that they’re content with it, but in my experience they’re actually feeling bad about themselves for being resigned.
This leaves us with a few key lessons:
- Inaction and indecision is a choice. It’s often much worse than making a bad choice.
- There is not really a wrong choice. Making a decision is a way to learn something, so even if it turns out the choice you made isn’t right for you, you can only learn that by making that choice and taking action.
- Our biggest fear is often that people will think we’re idiots for trying something we’re not good at. This assumes that people actually care what life choices we make. Most people don’t, and we let ourselves be controlled by our imagination of what their opinion is. So it’s often better to assume that no one’s opinion but your own matters in this kind of choice.
The Results of Singleminded Devotion
Let’s contrast those kinds of results with what happens if we pursue a single purpose with full devotion.
Pick a single path to pursue (for awhile, at least), and you’ll find:
- You’ll learn a lot about the craft. If you wanted to make craft jewelry, by pursuing it wholeheartedly, you’ll get much better at making jewelry. You’ll learn about tools, materials, methods, what people like, and how to express yourself.
- You’ll learn a lot about yourself. You’ll learn what lights you up, what makes your heart sing, what struggles you still have to learn about, what you don’t know, what you love. You’ll learn about whether this is what you’re called to do, if you listen to your heart as you do it.
- You’ll learn about dealing with doubt, with struggles, with fear. And these are necessary lessons for pursuing any calling.
- You learn about taking action, and singleminded focus.
- The results you get from this action and focus are incredible — if you’re creating art, you’ll create more than ever before. If you’re producing movies or writing code, you’ll have a greater output and better quality than you could ever hope for otherwise.
- You’ll help way more people this way.
- You’ll feel so much better about yourself through taking action than you would otherwise.
- By removing the waffling of indecision, you free up a ton of mental energy that is spent trying to decide. The cost of constant indecision on our mental health and energy is often unnoticed and incalculable.
I’m not here to pretend that choosing one path and pursuing it with all of your heart is perfect and never difficult. Of course it can be hard and scary. But not pursuing one path is also hard and scary. And wholehearted pursuit of purpose has so much more possibility available.
Taking the Leap of Faith
So how do we choose a purpose to pursue when we’re not sure?
By removing certainty as a condition for action.
By asking your heart what might be your calling. What makes your heart sing? What have you always been afraid to pursue but secretly wonder if it’s your thing? What possibilities have you shut down? What have you been waffling about?
Whatever answers come up, write them down. Look at the list, sit with it, give yourself space to actually feel in your heart what you’re being called to do. Give yourself a week’s deadline to sit with it. At the end of the week, feel in your heart what is calling you the strongest. Then trust that.
Commit. You’ll have doubts and fears. Commit anyway. Tell someone what you’re going to do, and commit for a period of time. Let’s say a year. Or 6 months if a year feels impossible. If even that feels too much, you could commit for 3 months. But commit.
Take a leap of faith. This is required. Ask yourself how you’d pursue it if you knew for certain. Then give yourself completely to this purpose, as if your life depended on it.