Why Ask “Why?” – And why ask it five times?
It’s good to have some clarity in life: a clear vision about the future and a well-articulated plan on how we’ll get there. I know that, for me, sometimes my day-to-day routine forms such a rut that it’s easy to forget what is truly important. Today it’s time to get back to what matters most.
How do we know what really matters? What are the emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial influences that drive our actions? Thinking about these leads us to The Big Question: What is our purpose? These are heady questions indeed, and perhaps the best approach to answering them is to begin with the why.
I believe that in order to get to the root of our actions, we need to understand the why of our actions. Let’s explore this.
Why we are still working?
The other day, my wife and I were talking about why we are still working.This is a typical conversation we have, questioning how long we should work, who might quit first, and how much money will be enough for our future. Then the question was posed about whether we should continue our aggressive pace in paying down the last of our debt snowball.I find myself second-guessing our debt payment schedule all the time.
Then I noticed a great post by a fellow blogger talking about knowing your “why.”
Later that day, I saw this post that Travis wrote over at The Enemy of Debt. In it, he writes about understanding your why to help achieve your goals.Talk about synchronicity and perfect timing!
I felt compelled to leave a comment at Travis’ blog. As I was thinking about what to write, I remembered a mental tool I learned years ago. Here it is: Ask yourself why five times to get to the core of the motivation for your goal, wishes, or actions.
My comments on Travis’ site:
The timing of reading this post is uncanny. My wife and I were just discussing the same thing!
Another way to get to the root of the why is to ask the why question five times. After each “why,” you provide an answer and then you pose another “why” question as it relates to that answer. An example:
1) Why do I want to be debt free?
I don’t want to owe money to anyone.
2) Why don’t I want to owe money to anyone?
I want to reduce my spending and reach financial independence ASAP!
3) Why do I want to reduce my spending and reach financial independence ASAP?
Because I don’t want to rely on a job for income.
4) Why don’t I want to rely on a job for income?
I want to retire from work and live on my passive income.
5) Why do I want to retire from work and live on my passive income?
So I can pursue my interests outside of the need to work for money and set my own schedule, living the location–independent life that means so much to me and to my wife.
This brought back some memories from the time when my daughters were younger.It seems that children go through different developmental stages of behaviors and this routine of asking “why?” is a phase they went through.Anyone who has raised kids will remember this phase, as it can lead down quite an interesting conversation path with your young children!
Why is the sky blue?
Why do I have to eat my vegetables?
Why can’t I have what my friend has?
These innocent “why” questions help young kids understand the world. Reflecting on the “why” questions, I began to think about my own whys in terms of financial freedom.
Let’s get personal about my “why.”
Why do I want to be financially independent?Is it so I can jet around the world like a rock star—doing summers in the Hamptons and winters in Aspen or St. Thomas? Do I want to be able to buy anything I want, anytime I feel like it? Or, is it that idea of never needing to work again that provides the greatest inspiration?
Asking these questions requires reflection on the motivations and driving forces for goals and desires. Keep in mind that we are emotional and illogical creatures and our decision-making is most likely biased and flawed. If we reflect on that fact, at least we will not be completely oblivious to the variables that influence our decisions.
For me, I think knowing my why reveals thought processes, motivations, and the energy behind the reasons I have taken particular courses in my life. Let’s look at another example—my answers to some “why” questions:
- “Why” do I wish to become financially independent (FI)?
I wish to become FI because I no longer want to rely on an employer to cover my living expenses.
I feel that I am not pursuing my true calling due to the need to spend so many hours working.
I feel that joy and bliss are drained out of me after a day of working for my employer.
I don’t love what I do for a living and I want to escape the 9-to-5 workplace.
I want to find my younger self again, with tons of energy, motivation, joy, and laughter in life.
What would happen if I kept going down this path with several more “whys?” Should I go there just to see what terrible monster lurks under the rock? Maybe I will learn something new about my motivations.
How about asking yourself the “why” question five times right now? Focus on an important major goal or direction you are considering in your life. Are you getting the answers you might have expected?
Go ahead, I will wait… 🙂
It is great to know your “why.”
I recommend that you take the time to ask “Why?” five times if you have not already completed this simple but thought-provoking exercise. Maybe we need to ask the “why” question ten times to get to the motivation or inspiration behind dreams and goals.
Why do we go to space today? Why did we have a goal to go to the moon in the 1960s?
It is important to write down your answers. My wife and I have been asking ourselves similar questions for years; as a result we have arrived at hundreds of goals and plans. Reflecting on those notes, it is quite interesting to read some of our past ideas and to understand what our mental picture was at the time.
To get the most out of this approach, we need to appreciate the underlying forces that are often based in emotions or past experiences. Perhaps our goals formulate with a desire to live a certain way based on what we think will provide us happiness. We need to stop, reflect, and recognize the answers uncovered by the five whys.