You wake up with clarity and direction.
By the time you’ve brushed your teeth, you’ve already processed what your nonnegotiable priorities for the day are and identified your incremental steps to live into your ideal future self.
You make decisions with ease that would otherwise derail an average person. These aren’t “hard” decisions for you, after all. By the time you’ve considered what’s needed and the stakes involved, the choice has basically already been made for you.
When you read these lines, does this sound like something from an infomercial?
It’s not. This is what life can be like for people who have created a personal mission statement.
What is a Personal Mission Statement?
A personal mission statement is a collection of sentences that captures what you want to achieve in life, the values that drive your decisions, and the motivating factors in your life that push you to keep going.
Many people get intimidated by the idea of writing a personal mission statement, expecting it to be one of those thought exercises that takes hours to complete and pages of development.
In reality, a personal mission statement doesn’t have to be either of those things. I’ve had clients develop life-changing mission statements that were four sentences, and they were able to do so after a single one-hour coaching session.
I’ve also had my own personal mission statement that was five paragraphs long and close to 500 words.
For those completing an initial effort, I usually recommend they shoot for a single paragraph of 5-10 sentences. At the same time, though, I tell them not to limit their effort and to let the exercise run where it may. The most important element is to focus on capturing your thoughts and not worry about editing. The goal is to get a working copy you can begin using and that will evolve with you.
Why is It Needed?
Why should you go through the effort of completing a personal mission statement?
A personal mission statement is not intended to be a destination that you arrive to, but should instead capture the process you’re committing to in an effort to live into an intended future self. You establish a direction for yourself in terms of how you’re going to live, and then your personal mission statement ensures you’re following that path.
Yet, the days are long and the weeks are short. If a person isn’t living with intention and practicing daily reflection, then months will fly by – potentially years – and you’ll be in the exact same position your past self was in. Or worse.
When you focus on the process of living into your personal mission statement you gain a unique sense of perspective. I have beginners read their statements when they wake up, usually by having them print it and place it by their toothbrush. I then have them ask out loud what they’re going to do that day to turn that intention into a realization. Then, at the end of the day they reread the statement another time and complete a quick reflection based on the single question, “How did I do today with living into my mission statement?”
By focusing on the daily journey you’ll gain a stronger sense of perspective around your personal growth, rather than letting your sense of self be lost to the passing days.
And when you’re living with a strong sense of direction and with intention setting, you’re creating space to celebrate the many daily victories in your life – and you’ll find your motivation skyrocketing. Life is a game of momentum, after all.
It may seem daunting to commit to a path of constant growth if you feel stuck where you currently are. But most likely, you’ve already come a long way through past obstacles. It’s all too easy to view past adversities as if they were never difficult.
Seriously. Give the assertion a quick test. Take an obstacle that you’ve conquered and write it down on a piece of paper. Assign it a score from 1-10, 1 being easy and 10 being very difficult. Then give yourself 5 minutes to try and remember all the details of the obstacle. Where were you in life when you faced it? Don’t forget, we often view past adversities through the lens of our current stage of development rather than where we truly were at the time – maturity, knowledge and skills, etc. When you’ve captured as much of a true recollection as you can, reassess the score you initially gave that obstacle. Did it increase?
At least 9 times out of 10, when I complete this exercise with clients they give the obstacle a higher score. Much higher.
Honor your past self and all your achievements. Creating a personal mission statement and actively living into it will ensure you do.
The 3 Key Components
There are three key components of a personal mission statement: direction, values, and necessity.
Your direction is your plan, it’s what you’re trying to achieve. Again, this isn’t about a destination so much as it’s a vision of growth. The former is about specificity, the latter is concerned with process and description. If you state exactly how you want to be, then – for many people – this creates an all or nothing criteria for success.
You either get that specific job title and income level or you don’t. It’s a destination.
But when you instead focus on direction the exercise becomes one concerned with development. It’s about the journey.
Rather than a job title, your direction could be “I’ll focus on personal growth by taking online courses and reading books, all in an effort to grow a focused skill set in project management and digital marketing.”
You personal values are the guardrails in your life. They’re an outline of the main determinants you use to make any major decision in your life. In fact, once you get these in place and begin practicing them, you’ll even find your smaller decisions getting made with a level of automaticity.
Your values can be beliefs or commitments. Think of them as a sort of rules for life engagement.
One of my wife’s core values is “create daily experiences”. Therefore, almost all decisions made for our family – big or small – are run through this belief. Family vacations are a non-negotiable and planned with the whole family’s involvement. We have stacks of board games readily on hand for Family Fun Time, and there is no shortage of art supplies and encouragement for creativity.
If there was ever a question for her of “make this big purchase” or “make this trip with the family”, the latter is made with no hesitation. She has no concern for the latest and greatest model of car. Instead, she wants those resources dedicated to creating experiences.
She is unequivocally clear in this value.
What happens when you don’t have clearly defined values? I wish I could say this has occurred only once or even twice, but the following scenario has happened more than a handful of times with my clients. I’ll get a call in the late afternoon or early evening. The client will say they just made this huge life decision, to which I’ll first ask them to slow down and then run their decision making process by me.
I’ll listen and then get the inevitable, “Oh my god, what did I just do?”
There are very few people on Earth who could navigate a stressful work day, handle the stress of trying to get out a few minutes early to go look at a property or investment opportunity, go through the process of learning all about that, and then have a professional sales person look them in the eye and put them on the spot for a decision.
Of course most people make an emotional decision in that moment. We’re all finite creatures of time, energy, and attention.
But when your values are clearly outlined and always present, you protect yourself from these moments of stress. It’s not up to your fatigued self to make the decision in that moment. You pull your values out and run the decision through each of them.
The final component of a personal mission statement is necessity, or an identification of why you get up in the morning, do the work, and push through the hardships.
When you make a declaration of necessity, you’re responding to the challenge of having no choice but to succeed.
Here’s a short personal story that captures this in action. When I moved into a new office last year, I found my level of performance flagging after the first few weeks and I could not figure out why.
I had more space, and had a new stand up desk that I absolutely loved. The room was bigger and I could walk literal laps during client calls. I even had a designated writing space since my older desk still had its own space in the room.
I chalked it up to just being a new space, when one afternoon my wife pointed out that I hadn’t put up the pictures of my daughters and notes that I have always had hanging on the wall in my clear line of sight.
I felt like an idiot. Any time I’m ever tempted to become distracted or to call it a day when I hit the proverbial wall, I just look at those photos and read their words and I remind myself of why I push myself to the limit on a daily basis. My daughters are my necessity.
Find yours. Make it part of your personal mission statement, and then create your own visual reminders.
How to Do It
How do you create a personal mission statement?
Honestly, it’s as straightforward as walking through a series of questions and then creating a single, coherent response. Again, there is no set template you have to achieve since the impact of the exercise is so dependent on your personal context.
Still, here are some questions that can walk through in an effort to get your first draft going. Once you have this, begin living into it with the daily reflection rhythms I spoke of earlier. And keep in mind, you’re not going to get this perfect on your first try. This isn’t about getting that initial effort perfect before you start practicing it. This exercise is about getting something on paper that you can begin using, and then treating your personal mission statement as a living document that evolves with you.
Just get something down and start using it. The hardest part is getting it down, but the editing process is easy once you have experience to drive it.
What do I truly see myself capable of achieving? Try to describe your “greatest self”. (Forget being “realistic” or just regurgitating what someone else has determined for you. This is about you and your dreams.)
When do I feel the greatest sense of joy? When do I experience the greatest sense of fulfillment? (Some people need to separate this into the personal and professional, and that’s fine.)
What are the most important aspects of your life? Why are these things important? (This could be family, career, legacy, or anything that holds value for you. But you have to be able to speak to the why.)
If I were to die tomorrow, what legacy would I leave? What do I want this legacy to be? (This is about defining that gap and determining the guiding elements to close it.)
When am I most motivated to achieve something? When do I find myself most engaged? (You want to capture the context surrounding these moments. What were the stakes? What did failure mean?)
When I have a task or obstacle that seems impossible – or have had in the past – why do I decide to push through and still attempt to achieve? (This is also the “why do you get up in the morning” type of question. Why persevere?)
Your Mission Statement = Direction + Values + Necessity
Direction. What are you wanting to achieve, and – even more importantly – who do you want to become? What does that future version of yourself look like?
Values. These are the frameworks by which you make all decisions, big or small. They’re the guideposts that ensure you stay on track, in that direction you’ve created for yourself.
Necessity. And this is why you continue the journey – through obstacles, hardships – through it all. This is why you keep moving.