Illustration by Monika Aichele

1. Find Your Passion
The first part of figuring out how you want to spend your one and only life: identifying the activities that make you light up—the things you love to do more than anything else. Use this exercise to zero in on them.

Try it now: Print our guide to choosing your top 5 passions

Got your list? Great. Now whittle it down.

Ask yourself, If I had to choose between the first activity and the second, which is more appealing to me? If you get stuck, close your eyes and envision a life in which the first activity plays a major role and the second doesn't exist. Now envision a life in which the second activity plays a major role and the first doesn't exist. Which image feels better? Once you have your answer, put your finger on the winner and compare that choice with the third activity.

Repeat this exercise all the way around the loop, moving your finger to the winning activity after each comparison; when you complete the loop, your finger will be on your number one passion. Write that activity at the top of the list below, and draw an X over the activity in the loop. Now repeat this process four more times (always starting from the top), and each time, skip the X-ed out activities.

You've just found your top five passions.

This exercise was created by Janet Bray Attwood and Chris Attwood, coauthors of The Passion Test: The Effortless Path to Discovering Your Life Purpose (Plume).

Next: What are some of your best qualities and assets?

Illustration by Monika Aichele

2. Take Stock of Your Strengths
Identifying your true talents isn't always easy. The trick: Let someone else do it for you.

How often have you gotten a compliment on your creativity or your patience or your resilience, only to wave it off, assuming that these strengths must come easily to everyone? In my 30 years as a lifestyle/career coach and author, the mistake I see people make time and again is failing to recognize their talents. An honest inventory may be difficult—even impossible—for you to do yourself. So sit with a friend and try this exercise. It's a new twist on something I call the Self-Correcting Life Scenario, and it's one of my favorites.—Barbara Sher

Try it now: 6 steps to identifying your true talents

Need help coming up with personality strengths? These words may provide some inspiration.

Next: Find out what drives you

Illustration by Monika Aichele

3. Tap Your Motivation
Having a goal is great. But as Martha Beck can tell you, making sure you have the incentive to stick with it is even better.

Now that you've framed your passion as a goal, it's time to think about what you'll need to stay passionate as you pursue it. Everyone has innate preferences for certain kinds of experience. Some people live to connect socially, others crave moments of personal insight, while still others thrive on the feeling of being the best. Whatever drives you, if you act in accordance with that drive as you move toward your goals, you'll tend to stay on track. If there's a disconnect, you're far more likely to find reasons to lose interest.

This part of our workbook will help you figure out, motivation-wise, what makes you tick. That insight will, in turn, help you reassess the feasibility of your goal. Think of it as a reality check for your dreams.

Take this quiz to identify your motivation style

Next: How realistic are your goals?

Illustration by Monika Aichele

Reality-Check Your Goal
Write down the goal you created with your friend in Step 2.

Now, in light of your primary motivation style(s), reconsider this goal. How well does it correspond to the type of rewards and incentives you need?

You may find that your goal doesn't match your inner drive: You'd love to row across the Atlantic solo, say, but you're driven by Connection. Maybe in choosing, you were unconsciously influenced by other people's opinions, or by your own sense of what constitutes a "worthwhile" way to spend your time. Whatever the reason, if your goal simply doesn't match your heart's desires, now is the time to choose again. Go back and look at the second and third passions you identified in Step 1, and revisit your strengths in Step 2. Aligning your ambitions with your true personality is an important part of staying healthy, resilient, and enthusiastic.

Of course, there are also goals that seem an unlikely fit for a given motivation style but can be tweaked to give you more of the incentive you need. For example, if your goal is running a marathon but your motivation preference is Enlightenment, you could turn your training into "running meditation." If you're an Accomplishment junkie and you want to help victims of domestic violence, you could propose a specific goal-oriented project at a local shelter, or have two teams of volunteers compete to collect the most donations.

Even if your goal is well aligned with your motivation style, you can probably amp it up. For example, if you value Connection and your goal involves saving oily seabirds from tanker accidents, can you bring your loved ones together to bond with you on a mercy mission? If you thrive on Influence and your goal involves working for civil rights, can you initiate a social-media outreach plan as part of the project?

If you're a Connection lover, ask yourself: How could I add more social interaction to my goal?

If you're a Security lover, ask yourself: How could I add more financial rewards to my goal?

If you're an Influence lover, ask yourself: How could I add more leadership to my goal?

If you're an Accomplishment lover, ask yourself: How could I add more competition to my goal?

If you're an Enlightenment lover, ask yourself: How could I add more freedom to my goal?

Restate your goal here, modifying it to increase the reward that motivates you most.

Next: Get ready to move forward!

Illustration by Monika Aichele

Forging Ahead
As you move toward your goal, make sure to fill every possible step with the rewards that motivate you best.

If you crave Connection, look for mentors who can guide you, a group that can support you, and ways to get your family involved in your activities. Say your goal is learning to knit: Find out if there's a knitting circle at your local yarn store; join, a social network for needlework aficionados; try to get your mother or daughter to learn alongside you.

If Security is what drives you, avoid risks and embrace structure so you can relax and enjoy what you're doing, feeling safe and worry-free. If your goal is doing yoga but the cost of classes stresses you out, offer to assist the teacher before class in exchange for free lessons. If you long to travel, start with all-inclusive packages that take care of the details for you.

If you're motivated by a need for Accomplishment, try to make everything a game in which you can shoot for a clear goal and compete, even if you're only competing with yourself. If your goal is writing poetry, start taking part in poetry slams. If your goal is becoming fluent in Chinese, enlist a like-minded buddy and see who can get through language-learning software with the highest score.

If you're an Influence lover, don't hesitate to set group goals and galvanize others to help you achieve them. Why just volunteer to help famine victims in Somalia when you can organize a fund-raiser yourself? Why just master a new skill—whether it's composting or woodcarving—when you can launch a blog that tells others how they can do it, too? Waiting for other people to set the agenda will only frustrate you. Leadership will fulfill you.

If you're most engaged by the quest for Enlightenment, don't put yourself in situations that compromise your sense of freedom: getting in shape by joining a fierce "boot camp" class at your gym, plowing through a book you don't like because everyone else in your club is reading it. Instead, devote yourself to meaningful pursuits—taking self-guided nature hikes, perhaps, or cooking mindfully with plants you've grown yourself. Everything you do can fuel your sense of inner awakening, and when it does, you'll be up and running.

Next: You're ready. You're set. It's time to...

Illustration by Monika Aichele

4. Go!
Your passion—bolstered by strengths, fueled by motivation—is crystallizing into a plan. Now what?

First you need to know exactly what's holding you back. Try this exercise.