Start With Why
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With anything you do in life you first have to start with ’why’. Why, do you ask? Great question - it is because if you don’t, you will not be convincing and you will not get as much benefit out of the thing you are doing. Chances are you’ve heard someone say
before you do anything, you should decide what you’re trying to get out of it. When one does everything they do with a clear focus and intent, that is a true sign of an aware being.
My intention for the last post was to help you see the value in improving your awareness. Now I intend to show you the power or starting with ’why’. This is an example of intention in action. Before we get into it, I want you to get an idea in your head about what you want to learn from this article and how you’re going to use the power of asking ’why’ in your life. Apply this to everything you do and you will soon see how much of an impact a simple thing can make.
When we see people around us acting like sheep or zombies - not truly thinking and not really living - it is almost always because they fail to think about ’why’ and to clarify an intention for themselves. I know, because I used to be one of those people.
I first learned the idea of starting with why from a great Ted talk I heard from Simon Sinek. I’m going to take the liberty to boil it down for you as much as I can, because I believe that it holds some very important concepts and I know it will also help you not only in everything you do, but it will also be a big factor in improving your level of awareness.
The idea he was trying to share can be cut down into two simple things. His talk was business oriented, but his idea was something that can be extrapolated and used in many different contexts and scenarios. I will share with you just a couple of ways that I personally think this idea can come in handy. I also encourage you that whenever you find a great idea and think that it might not seem directly relevant to what you are doing, to think again. Think deeper about how this can be applied to your situation, because it almost surely can. Great ideas should never go to waste.
The gist of the talk is the following: in his years of research he has found that there are three main ways through which people communicate, but that the third level (the level of ’why’) is only used effectively by the most successful of organizations.
What is a business? It is people offering their solutions to problems, their products, to others who are willing to buy those solutions - customers. The first level of communication that Simon says exist between businesses and their customers is the thing that everyone knows about their business. It is: WHAT I DO. Everyone who is in business, no matter how bad the business, can tell you what they do. A computer store sells computers, a bookstore sells books, a gym provides you with a space to work out, etc. Now it gets a little bit trickier, when you move toward the second level of communication. Not everyone can tell you this one says Simon, although if they want to be successful it’s an absolute necessity. It is: HOW THEY DO WHAT THEY DO. You’d be surprised how many times businesses just aren’t aware. It’s extremely important for a business to know what sets them apart and how they are doing what they are doing in a more effective way than the competition.
Now we move into what Simon says is the really important part. It is the: WHY ARE YOU DOING WHAT YOU ARE DOING. Sure, they can all tell you that they are doing it for the money - but that is not really a compelling reason. Money should always be the result of your intention, not the intention itself. As a result, the businesses that are unable to sell others on ’why exactly’ they are in business can never really get traction. The ’why’ aspect is extremely important - It is the only thing that can reach your brain on the most fundamental level and really affect behavior.
Surprisingly, Sinek says that the reason this is true has to do more with biology than with psychology. It has to do with the way the brain developed. First in its evolution, there were the deeper levels of the brain, which are called the reptilian brain and the limbic brain. After them came the neocortex. The neocortex is responsible for our rational, analytical thought and for language. This part of the brain enables us to express WHAT we’re doing. The thing is, even if we couldn’t express it - we would still be doing it. It is not the neocortex that controls behavior - it is the other two sections of the brain. They are responsible for all of our feelings and actions. They are responsible for the HOW and WHY. Communicating from the outside in, first starting with the WHAT, then moving on to the HOW and WHY is a great way to tell vast amounts of information and to organize it well, but it is not the best way to drive behavior. So if you don’t know WHY you do what you do and if that is what people respond to, then how will you ever inspire anyone to action, least of all yourself?
Now comes a catch. Even if you do have these three communication techniques mastered you might still be unable to affect peoples’ decisions. There is a simple thing that you must do to make a significant change. Reverse the order. You must not star with WHAT, then move to HOW and finally WHY. You must always start to communicate with WHY.
Let me show you an example of this technique in action. Let’s imagine that you are selling computers. A typical sales pitch might go something like this:
We sell computers (what we do), that have a beautiful design and awesome and unique features (how we do it/how we are different). A more advanced pitch would also add in something along the lines of
we do this, because we want to ease your lives, by making technology as intuitive and as easy to use as possible (why we do it). Adding this caviar makes a huge difference. However, imagine reversing the order.
We strive to make your lives easier by making technology as intuitive and easy to use as possible. We have found a way to do this through our beautifully designed computers that have awesome, unique features.Can you see how much better this sounds? Furthermore, this is also a philosophy that is good to have in your business for the sake of adaptability - if you have a WHY goal, instead of a WHAT goal, then you are more free to pivot around the WHAT, in order to be able to achieve the WHY. People will view this as good business. If you are married to the WHAT, however, a change might put people off and make them feel that something doesn’t feel right.
All of this is to say that people don’t buy WHAT you do they buy WHY you do it. This is the only way to influence people’s decisions and to make a difference in their behavior. Simon says that this is the best way to sell your products if you are a business. I say that it is also one of the best ways to improve your life.
How do you do that? Well... if you want to affect others people behavior you have to appeal to the WHY. If you want to affect your behavior... you have to appeal to the WHY - to that reptilian part of your brain. How many times have you hated doing something that you had to do simply because people told you to do it, without explaining the significance. Just think of how differently it might’ve been if they had taken the time to share with you WHY it had to be done. I used to ask ’why’ a lot - but what I mostly got was something akin to
because it is important or
because I say so. That is a terrible motivator. To motivate someone you have to actually explain why something is important and how it has the possibility to change their life.
You need to take the time to convince yourself about WHY you need to do what you need to do. Most people’s awareness suffers because they are always in a state of wondering what is going on around them. They are like zombies, barely even reacting to life. They are not shaping their lives. If you are one of those people, there’s nothing to be ashamed about - it’s a widespread phenomenon, but you need to stop right now. The less you wonder about things the more aware you become.
The key is to learn to treat yourself like a customer and to realize that you are also the person best qualified to sell your goals to that customer. Don’t sell yourself on what you must do, without starting with WHY - don’t even try, because that won’t work. At the end of the day what you do serves as a proof of what you believe. Simply put, your actions are a reflection of your beliefs. So sell yourself on your beliefs instead. WHY are they important? WHY are you doing what you are doing?
If you just keep asking ’why’, you will get to the bottom of it all. You will start focusing more of your energy on the things that matter.
You now have a powerful tool that most people will never have the privilege of knowing. You now have the knowledge that behavior is governed above all else by WHY. With this tool at your disposal, you can start to positively affect your own live. Take the time to internalize this and the benefits will be countless.
What do you think about the power of why? Share your thoughts in the comments below.