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Do you have clarity in your personal mission? ... find your why..

(updated: 5-Aug-23)

I believe that the vast majority of people don't understand their mission at all, and with the increasing demands for speed, virtuality, change, complexity, and often ambiguity, most individuals become somewhat lost. Yet, in everyone's life, there come situations when they are uncertain about how to behave, what their values are, or which direction to take.

If you want to delve deeper into your personal mission, I recommend the author Stephen R. Covey and his book "First Things First," which he co-authored. In this book, you will find guidance on how to prepare such a personal mission, or you can try using a "build and mission statement" approach. However, if this path doesn't suit you (because books may not cover everything and not everything will immediately click), I suggest contacting a professional ICF coach.

Your personal mission will remind you of what is important and valuable to you, guiding you in your decisions. It will help you create your own future instead of leaving it to be determined by other people, society, or life circumstances.

Some examples of personal missions

Denise Morrison, CEO Campbell Soup Company

To serve as a leader, live a balanced life, and apply ethical principles to make a significant difference"

Denise Morrison, CEO Campbell Soup Company

In an Morrison said, “The personal mission statement was important for me because I believe that you can’t lead others unless you have a strong sense of who you are and what you stand for. For me, living a balanced life means nurturing the academic, physical, and spiritual aspects of my life so I can maintain a sense of well-being and self-esteem.”

Oprah Winfrey, Founder of own, The Oprah Winfrey Network

"To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be."

Oprah Winfrey, Founder of own, The Oprah Winfrey Network

In an issue of O magazine, Winfrey recalls watching her grandmother churn butter and wash clothes in a cast-iron pot in the yard.

A small voice inside of her told her that her life would be more than hanging clothes on a line. She eventually realized she wanted to be a teacher, but “I never imagined it would be on TV,” she writes.

Sir Richard Branson, founder The Virgin Group

"To have fun in [my] journey through life and learn from [my] mistakes."

Branson shared his personal mission statement in an interview with Motivated magazine. He added that “In business, know how to be a good leader and always try to bring out the best in people. It’s very simple: listen to them, trust in them, believe in them, respect them, and let them have a go!”

What do we understand by a personal mission?

A personal mission declares the actions you will take in your life. The mission can be both specific and broader in scope. An effective mission is one that is concise and uses language that expresses your deepest values in action. (see examples of personal missions)

There are different ways to process a mission, either for an individual or a company. Once it is formulated, you can verify it, for example, by comparing it with whether such a mission activates your vision or aligns with your deepest values. A certified ICF coach typically knows the procedures to create and validate such a mission with you.

One of the methods to define such a personal mission, according to Erickson Coaching International, is to briefly and honestly answer the following fundamental questions:

  1. Who? Define who you are in your mission.

  2. What? What do you focus on?

  3. How? What do you need to fulfill your mission?

  4. For whom? For whom is the mission intended?

  5. Where? Environmental and ecological information related to the mission.

  6. Why? Who benefits from the personal mission..

Why is it beneficial to have clarity in your personal mission?

This topic was brought to my attention by the book "Presence" by Amy Cuddy, in which she interconnects interesting aspects of psychology and sociology related to self-assurance, which is essentially synonymous with a personal mission. Amy states that it's not enough to just recognize the values, qualities, and strengths that represent your best authentic self. You must affirm and trust your answers.

External situations that threaten our sense of self often lead to the feeling of societal rejection and disagreement (e.g., not being accepted into a university, losing a job, the end of a romantic relationship, making a mistake in front of others, confiding in someone who reacts critically). Our response to such threats is like an internal alarm that prompts us to reaffirm our identity. It's about reminding ourselves of what truly matters most and who we really are. Essentially, it is a method of self-assurance or setting a personal mission, which has been studied through hundreds of studies, many involving simple experiments. What was the experiment about?

Self-assurance in values

People go through a list of common core values (family, friends, health and physical fitness, creativity, hard work, professional achievements, religion, kindness, service to others, etc.). They choose one or two values that are most important to their identity - closest to their essence. Then, they write a short reflection on why these values are important to them and when the significance of these values was affirmed in their lives.

The Social Stress Test or How Self-assurance/Personal Mission Works?

The Social Stress Test was designed to expose participants to a high degree of stress and to allow psychologists to study their reaction to a challenging situation in the realms of sociology and psychology.

How the Social Stress Test was conducted

Participants in the test were tasked with delivering an impromptu speech in front of a group of evaluators. Before delivering the unprepared speech, the researchers randomly assigned participants to one of two tasks:

  • Write a brief reflection on one of their core personal values, or

  • Write about a value that is not part of their self-definition.

The evaluators were instructed to appear stern and unapproachable. After giving their speech, participants had one more task: for five minutes, they had to count aloud backward from the number 2083 in thirteens while the evaluators repeatedly shouted at them: “Go faster!“

After the speech and the unpleasant task of counting backward, the emotional state of the subjects was measured.

  • They measured the cortisol levels in saliva - a stress hormone that is released mainly in situations related to social criticism. Many studies have shown that the social stress test increases cortisol levels. Importantly, people who wrote about their important personal values just before this test exhibited significantly lower levels (almost unrecordable cortisol concentration) of this hormone compared to members of the second group.

  • A similar test took place several years later under conditions of real stress, during midterm exams. However, instead of cortisol, they measured the level of adrenaline, which indicates stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (related to the fight-or-flight response). Among students who engaged in self-assurance in values a few weeks before the exams, no changes in adrenaline levels were observed. In contrast, in the weeks leading up to the exams, the concentration of adrenaline significantly increased in the other students.

Students who were most concerned (suffering from prejudices like "I can't handle the exam," "I'm stupid," "It's all a matter of chance," etc.) benefited the most from self-assurance in values.

Interestingly, the participants reassured themselves about their core personal values, not about the values or abilities related to the challenging task they had to deal with.

Self-assurance in values works best when a person is under pressure and facing significant challenges.

In conclusion

It seems that we need to remind ourselves of some important aspects of our best selves, which are part of our personal mission. Once we know who we are, we will strengthen our sense of purpose in life, and in addition, boost our self-confidence and improve our performance. By the way, what experiences have you had with creating a personal mission for yourself?


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