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Why is Asking Why So Important?

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

Like a toddler trying to understand a new concept, I constantly ask "why." I've found that if I don't ask myself "why" there is a strong possibility that I will follow a different path because I've misunderstood my thoughts and feelings. By being mindful of asking yourself "why" you place yourself in the best position to truly understand yourself.

Essentially, what you do is go down a rabbit hole of asking yourself "why." You ask yourself why to a feeling or thought that you have, get the answer, and ask yourself why you feel that or think that again. If you can, do that process once again. I think being able to ask yourself why at least three times is best. Going through this exercise will get you to the real root of the thought or feeling. Let me show you.

Here's an example.

1. Take any feeling or thought. I'm feeling bummed today.

2. Why do I feel bummed today?

3. A: Because. Ok - this won't work here! You need to dig for the process to work. This is hard, I get it but it's worth it. Don't cop-out. Think of when your mood shifted. What were you doing, who were you with, what were you thinking? If you're just bummed today and can't really pinpoint it today, ok, but try again another time. Trust me.

A: So you've thought about it. I'm bummed today because I didn't have the chance to hang with, snap, or talk to ......today.

4. Why are you bummed that you missed that opportunity?

A. I really enjoy their company and I've realized being around them makes me happy.

Asking why three times isn't always necessary. Sometimes, you get there faster. Here, there has just been a realization that not having that interaction had an impact. That's great! You can go further by asking why they make you happy. Do they support you, have the same values, appreciate you for who you are? You might discover more than you thought! Keep digging.

Alternate example.

1. I'm feeling bummed today.

2. Why do I feel bummed today?

3. A: Because I overheard some things people that I hang with say that were hurtful or not what I believe.

4. Why did their thoughts or actions make you bummed?

A. Because I thought I enjoyed their company and I want it to work.

5. Why do you want to be friends with them?

A. They have a bunch of friends.

6. Why is their circle of friends important to you?

A. I just want to have friends.

Here, asking "why" revealed that being around certain people was having a negative impact. Maybe they always realized that something was off with the relationship but not the "why." It just wasn't quite right. Now there is a deeper understanding surrounding the thoughts and feelings.

The purpose of this exercise is to shift your focus from broad, seemingly innocuous thoughts and feelings and distilling them into something specific. Taiichi Ohono, a Japanese engineer who developed the Toyota Production System, would ask his staff to continually ask themselves "why" to get to the foundation of the issue. The same process that is used by engineers can be applied to any circumstance and deliver results. What you do with that information is up to you but you are now one step closer to understanding you.

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