The Power of a Great Purpose

The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s serves as one of the most historic movements in the United States of America. African Americans, who had never been treated as equals in the entire history of the American South, finally said “enough”.

It was time to stop being treated as second-class citizens. It was time to stop being abused for the sake of their color, and it was time to make a stand against the oppression they had faced for centuries. And the catalyst of the entire movement was one simple seamstress who would not give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. [1]

Rosa Parks’ simple act of defiance was the spark that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) needed to inspire the community. Her story inspired thousands to risk losing their jobs, to risk endangering themselves and their families, and to risk their very way of life to become a part of a movement that had little chance of success.

The people who first began protesting in the civil right’s movement risked everything they hold dear in order to fight for a purpose greater than themselves. And it did not stop there. A brilliant orator by the name of Martin Luther King jr. became the leader of the movement and not only inspired thousands to join this radical cause, but to do so through peaceful protest.

Imagine the willpower needed to not only take on this much risk, but to resist fighting back against oppressively violent communities. But through it all, Parks and King continued to inspire more and more people to join them. To potentially lose everything, including their own lives, in order to peacefully fight for the greater purpose of equal opportunities for everyone.

Each person was able to reach a level of willpower and determination that many of us could only dream of. These people changed an entire way of life that was unjust – and it happened all because of a great purpose.

How Purpose Changes Perspective

Compared to this, our daily struggle to eat healthy, or finish that book we've been reading seems completely insignificant – and that is precisely the point. That is how powerful of an impact purpose can have on our willpower. It can completely change our perspective to view the struggle and hardships we must face as insignificant compared to what we are fighting for.

When it comes down to it, many of the decisions that we make depend on our perspective of the situation. Doing something as simple as changing how you say “no” to a temptation can lower your craving for it [2]. Saying that you “get to” do something rather than you “have to” do something will make it more enjoyable [3]. And if we see the monotony of the daily grind as insignificant compared to the purpose we are working toward, we will be far more likely to achieve it.

An alcoholic who gives up drinking to become a good role model for his kids will be far more likely to quit than someone who has a court order to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. An athlete who is training for her first 10K will be far more likely to stick to her workout plan than someone who just runs recreationally. And it is easier for someone to get out of bed in the morning if they derive purpose out of their daily work than if they are doing a menial job. That is the power of having a purpose, and it is fueled by inspiration.

The Power of Inspiration

We have all experienced the feeling of inspiration at some point in our lives. It may have been from a story on the news, a story in history, a speech by a great leader, or by someone close to us. When we become inspired, we get a rush of energy that we feel can take us to new heights. True inspiration provides us with willpower that we did not even know we were capable of.

So what really happens in the brain when we get this feeling of inspiration? Researchers tested this to see what was happening in the brains of people who were inspired. They saw that the prefrontal cortex - the area of the brain a that is responsible for thinking about our long-term goals - lit up after people saw an inspirational speech. [4

The neurons in this part of the brain started firing and the participants felt a rush of energy as they began to believe in their dreams and goals. What these results proved is that by becoming inspired, we give the part of the brain responsible for willpower more energy. We make it easier for ourselves to think, decide and act on what we really want in life. 

Even without any exercises to strengthen our willpower, without giving our willpower more fuel and without breaking up the tasks into manageable chunks. None of those tactics can give you as much willpower as the right inspiration. 

In fact, almost every great story of sheer willpower started with having a higher purpose. Kobe Bryant scored zero points in his basketball camp at the age of 12 and thought about giving up basketball forever. But then he turned to Michael Jordan’s story of getting cut from his high school basketball team. That inspired Kobe to work even harder than Michael did to make it to the NBA.

Joe DeSena, founder of the "Spartan Race", was an athlete all of his life. So when the doctors told him that he would never run again, he had a greater purpose to prove to them that his injured hip could not change his identity as an athlete. And Jure Robic, arguably the world's greatest ultra-endurance athlete, had a harsh childhood. This gave him a purpose to push himself out of the Slovenian slums and become a world-class athlete whose records may never be broken.

There are many tactics that you can use to give yourself more willpower on this site - and there are still many to come - but there is no better way to achieve great things than an inspiring purpose.

Beware of Inspiration Without Action

There is one thing to beware of with inspiration. When we use inspiration to visualize the future, rather than take action, we can fall into a trap. Our brains are so good at visualization that we can see our future selves with the results that we’re trying to get extremely vividly.

When we visualize our future selves, we can get a false sense of reward as if it has already happened for us. And when we get that sense of reward we can lose the motivation to actually take action toward it. [5]

We are especially susceptible to making this mistake when we first set out to accomplish our goals. Most people get inspired to make a "big change" in their lives, then set an unrealistic plan to accomplish it. They then lose hope when they realize how much work they need to do.

Remember the last time you set a New Year’s Resolution. You were probably extremely excited as you wrote down all of the goals that you had for the upcoming year.

It was a fun process as you visualized what the “new you” would look like after a full year of diet and exercise. You imagined how much more money you would have now that you had the discipline to avoid those impulse purchases. All of this visualization left you feeling optimistic, self-confident and happy.

But then the monotonous work came. It was cold and the last thing you wanted to do was get up early and run. You were stressed from a full day of work and the take-out menu looked a lot more enticing than the prospect of cooking a healthy meal. Then your favorite store was having a sale and you just had to take advantage.

Once those difficult choices came, that inspiration and motivation you once had were nowhere to be found. But it is in these moments when we need to take action that inspiration matters the most. Not when we are visualizing our goals for the year, but when we are working toward them. Not right after you sign up for your gym membership, but 1 month into it and the last thing you want to do is go.

In these moments, find the greater purpose that you are working toward. Find the person who inspires you. Remember the reason that you are going through these tough times and you will find the strength to take action towards what you really want.


Great accomplishments always start with a great purpose. Whether it is starting a movement that means equal opportunities to millions, or finally sticking to your goal of becoming healthy. A great purpose changes our perspective to see that the daily grind we are going through is worth the price.

Unfortunately, we usually find our purpose and inspiration when we are coming up with our goals. We visualize the “after photo” of what our life will be like when we accomplish our goals and get a rush of inspiration to make it happen. But once the daily monotony comes, we lose this inspiration and lose sight of what we really want.

Don’t let this happen to you. When you are tired or stressed and the last thing you want to do is make progress toward your goals, remember the purpose you are fighting for. Remember why you set those goals in the first place and find your inspiration to make them happen. If you can see things from this perspective, you will find the strength to accomplish great things!


  1. Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York: Random House, 2012. Print.
  2. Patrick, Vanessa M., and Henrik Hagtvedt. "“I Don’t” versus “I Can’t”: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior." Journal of Consumer Research 39.2 (2012): 371-81
  3. Clear, James. "How to Be Thankful For Life by Changing Just One Word." 28 Nov. 2013
  4. McGonigal, Kelly. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. New York: Avery, 2012.
  5. Fishbach, Ayelet, and Ravi Dhar. "Goals as Excuses or Guides: The Liberating Effect of Perceived Goal Progress on Choice." Journal of Consumer Research 32.3 (2005): 370-77.