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How to Find Your Why… Minus the Emotional Trauma

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Earlier this year I exchanged some emails with one of our readers about the question/process of finding our whys.

The idea that came out of it was that some people go through emotional trauma or experiential circumstance that is SO GOOD or SO BAD… it pushes them into action and gets them to change their life. But the question remains: what if you’re an “average person” who has never been through that – what can you then do to find your why?

Here are the collected thoughts of the team at Asian Efficiency based on our own experience and working with clients and customers over the past few years.

An Unfortunate Fact

It’s an unfortunate fact that a lot of people today don’t really have a strong why. In fact, some of these people are the people that I grew up with in Australia. I’m also willing to bet that you’ll meet most of these people in the developed world.

Why the developed world?

Well, in the developing world, your why is usually to SURVIVE. This means doing whatever it takes to put food on the table for yourself, your family and the people around you. From mass media you can see the difference and that you haven’t yet reached the level of comfort that exists in developed nations.

In contrast, take the developed world. Life is extremely comfortable. In fact, if you don’t excel/choose to do nothing, usually the government or friends and family will take of you (note: America seems to be the exception to this rule).

I know plenty of people who get by just fine working a basic job… and worse case, their family has some money set aside for them or the government will step in if anything goes awry.

The simple reason that these people are not driven – and don’t have a strong why – is because they have no reason for it.

In fact, I would say that most people are actually like this. We’ve mentioned this before, but if you’re reading this, you fall into that 1% of the world that really cares about improving themselves and the world around them – most people simply are not wired that way.

So the question remains – what can these “average” people do to discover or uncover their why? To set them on their path towards doing the things that they were born to do?

Here are 6 different ways that can trigger a “oh, that’s why I’m doing this” moment.

1. Emotional Trauma/Experiential Circumstance


Emotional trauma or experiential circumstance is the first and probably most common way that people discover their why. It was what Jon (the reader who I exchanged emails with) mentioned in his email to me.

This usually takes the form of one singular event that hurls us into action.

It can be a health crisis – like a heart attack.

It can be the passing of someone close – like a childhood friend, or a death in the family that turns you into the primary breadwinner.

It can be a traumatic incident – a physical accident or an emotional trauma.

It can also be experiential, like chancing upon an inspiring talk or meeting someone you really respect. This might be something like attending a Tony Robbins talk. Or, it can be something less glitzy – I have a cousin who heard a talk about the petroleum industry when he was younger, and he’s been inspired to pursue a career and knowledge in that field ever since.

This trauma or experience can be good or bad, but the one thing that this trigger has in common is that it is entirely up to fate and circumstance – you simply cannot engineer it.

2. From the Ground Up/Building Your Own Leverage

reading books

This one comes from Thanh.

I innocuously texted him “Hey, quick question. How would you recommend that people go about finding their Why if they don’t have one?”

His first response was “read books”.

After thinking about it for a bit, my take is quite similar – read books, gather knowledge and build a strong why from the ground up.

Here’s an example.

Say you have the tiniest, tiniest (and I do mean tiniest) inkling to want to improve your health. What do you do?

You read, and read, and read and ask questions, and acquire a lot of information.

And every little bit of knowledge that you acquire helps you build up the belief that you NEED to be healthy and forms a strong WHY for becoming and staying healthy.

The way that this works is quite ingenious. By exposing yourself to lots of new ideas and perspectives, you start to create the tiniest of beliefs (or doubt or ideas) about different topic areas, and over time, these can grow into entire belief systems and ways of life. Kind of like Inception.

Another analogy would be like planting a seed – and simply over time and with water, sunlight and air… it grows into a strong, solid tree.

All anyone really needs for this is to have just enough will power to plant that one tiny idea… and then to back it up over time with reading and the slow acquisition of knowledge.

3. Unlimited Whys


If the idea of reading lots and lots of books is too much, then you can “force” the discovery of a why through the unlimited whys technique.

This is a variation of the 5 Whys technique and is best done with someone else asking you the questions.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Take a list of EVERYTHING that you want in your life, superficial, meaningful or otherwise.
  2. Bombard each thing with a string of “why” questions until you get to the core of what it is that you exactly want.
  3. Tally up the cores – you’ll end up with only 1 or 2 main whys.

It’s that straightforward – by asking “why” enough times, you can very quickly get to the core why behind everything else.

4. Experiential Learning


Experiential learning is similar to the idea of experiential circumstance, except that instead of waiting for something to happen, you’re going out into the world and trying new things.

Simply put, the more things that you are exposed to, the more triggers that exist for potentially sparking a big why.

This is not a bad solution for people who have become extremely comfortable in their situation – it breaks routine, and it gets you out of your comfort zone.

This can be anything from:

  • Reading lots of books.
  • Learning new skills.
  • A change in career.
  • Starting a new business.
  • Take on a new hobby.
  • And so on.

There’s a lot here but we’ll go into detail about #5 and #6 below, which are two special cases of Experiential Learning.

5. Travel Alone


In Anglo countries there is a concept called a “gap year,” where students take a year off between high school and college/university and travel the world on their own or with a group of friends.

This helps build character and the sense of being an individual with our own wants and needs… and can lead to the formation of a strong “why” for one’s life.

There is something inherent in the realization that you become entirely dependent on surviving by yourself and that you have to make do with what you have – and this can trigger or spark a strong why.

Note: This has become somewhat less effective given that we’re now always connected via smartphones and mobile Internet.

6. Take Lots of Time Off


Another way to potentially spark a why is to simply take time off from everything else.

Try it – do absolutely nothing for a week and see what happens.

In fact, it’s REALLY HARD to do nothing for a week. I would guess that most of us after 2-3 days will go a little stir-crazy and start to look for things to do.

And that is exactly what is meant to happen – our mind is supposed to seek out things to do, and our RAS will find things for us to try and hone in on.

By doing this, we’re letting our natural attention take over and lock in on the things that matter to us – and some of these things may end up sparking a why.

In Closing

So there you have it – 6 ways that we know of that an “average” person can go about discovering their why.

If you don’t have a strong why in your life yet, pick one of the ideas and run with it – you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

If you have another way that you stumbled across your why, we’d love to hear about it!

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1 Comment

Posted by Richard Lionheart  | June 12, 2014 at 5:15AM | Reply

I really enjoyed this article, I would personally add that this is a flexible and lifelong process. I think some people think that they are suddenly going to have an ephiny and everything will make sense. But, as with all things in life, finding the ‘why?’ in your life is complex and therefore is going to change along with you.

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