“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

I used to be obsessed with the notion of finding my purpose in life. In my quest to do so, I read a crap-load of books and scoured the internet and Googled a lot.

I didn’t get very far in the end. I found a lot of interesting information, yes, but I couldn’t apply it to anything that made much sense to me. Maybe it was because I was pretty closed off to the suggestions in the pages of the books and online-articles and resources I found, or perhaps it was simply down to my impatience – I didn’t want to sit and think and put in the work and answer test questions, I wanted to know NOW. Why wouldn’t Google just give me the answer?

It was through my love of running, the simple feat of putting one foot in front of the other, that eventually pointed me towards my purpose in life. Not in an overwhelming, ‘everything now makes perfect sense’ kind-of-way, but more a notion of, ‘oh, so this is what it feels like to have some direction’.

Let me explain:

When I started training for my first marathon, I realised very quickly that something in my brain responded enthusiastically to goal-setting and clear objectives, or, as most of us know it, a marathon training plan. I found my marathon training plan online, it was very basic and it spanned a total of 16 weeks. I taped it to my fridge. Each day, week and month, for the next 16 weeks, gave me an overview of what my training entailed, and I would set out each day, to achieve what the training plan said. It was a very simple and enjoyable experience.

It was a very simple and enjoyable experience because completing a marathon was something I really wanted to do – it was a very clear goal in my mind – and so I set out to a complete that goal using the marathon training plan, literally step by step and day by day.

Of course, the training plan wasn’t without its set-backs and I found that I became very ‘stuck’ to my training plan, often to the detriment of my physical and emotional health. Going out and running 12 miles, “because the training plan said so”, despite feeling utterly exhausted and in need of an impromptu rest day – slowly taught me the art of listening to myself – and as a consequence, I realised that it was sometimes necessary, and ok, to make useful adjustments to the action-steps towards my goal. These useful adjustments were not an excuse to slack off or intentionally miss a run. But more a gut-check on doing what was right for me in that particular situation, with the end goal of my marathon still in clear view. Cutting a scheduled 12 mile run to 9 miles, or skipping the run completely and going to a yoga class instead, was often far more effective than going for the 12 mile run, busting my ass and feeling miserable as a result.

When I crossed the finish line of that first marathon, I felt really fucking proud of myself. I had got to that 26.2 mile point by my own merit – through physical and emotional hard work, determination, focus and strength. It felt amazing and I felt alive. I realised that this is what it must feel like to have a purpose, to work towards something, to have a clear vision of what I wanted and to go and grab it by the balls.

I pondered a lot after that first marathon. Mostly about what else I could achieve in my life if I set out to achieve other goals in the same way, and with the same outlook as I had to complete my first marathon. I realised that it was quite a straightforward process and so from that point on, I decided that I would always set goals for myself, in every aspect of my life.

I haven’t looked back.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote on the giant blackboard in the hallway of my home, “My word for 2013 is success“. Success, for me, meant the launch of the three business ideas that were swirling around in my mind. (One, two, three: Launched). Success meant leaving my job, the one I have been dreadfully unhappy in for the last two years. (I leave on the 16th August). Most importantly, success meant happiness. And happiness means, overall, doing the things I want to do in life, such as learning new stuff, eating healthily, writing more often here on this blog and spending time with my girlfriend, Kristin – the kind of time where you really see and listen to each other, you know? Happiness also means doing pretty wild stuff – the kind of thing that makes your palms sweat and your heart race and catapults you way out of your comfort zone – such as the really rather giant decision to run from Los Angeles to New York with my friend, Nicole. (My training for that starts next week).

And behind everything I set out to do, whether it’s drinking a green smoothie every single morning instead of reaching for a sugar-laden cereal, or a trans-America run that will take 4 months and a boat-load of mental perseverance, there’s a goal-setting process, and it looks very similar to my first-marathon plan.

Sometimes, I don’t always know that I want to achieve in life, or work towards; I hit foggy patches, where I feel a little off-kilter and way-laid. I’m sure you know the feeling, right? I have a very easy antidote to this, however: I spend 10 minutes or so writing down all the things I don’t want. I guess it works like reverse psychology or something. It’s very effective.

I recently listened to a goal-setting audiobook, by Brian Tracy, and something he said really struck me. He said, “People with clear written goals, accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine”.

He’s so right. And a marathon plan taught me that.