Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of WHY.
I can think of many circumstances in which WHY isn’t all that relevant or useful, such as the age-old question “why doesn’t X like/love/want me?” We can only guess the workings of other people’s minds and hearts, so trying to figure that out can lead to endless frustration if not complete insanity. Big, abstract questions like “why do I exist?” or “why did X happen to me?” can be powerful if approached from a psychological, philosophical or spiritual perspective, depending on what we’re hoping to learn. And then there are the questions that turn us into victims, like “why am I always so unlucky?”—which is just one really negative way to look at a situation and probably not too helpful.
The WHY I’m talking about is much more positive and concrete. Assuming you know what you want, why? I want X. Why do I want X? Why am I making the choices I’m making—to what purpose, for what reason? In the last few months, I’ve come to believe that knowing the WHY behind my own desires is key to achieving them.
Look at it this way: let’s say you want something. A relationship, a new job, a trip to Argentina. You want it so badly you can almost taste it—getting this thing is going to make your life AWESOME. You fantasize about how much better everything will be once in the relationship or on your fabulous vacation overseas. But when it comes to taking positive action to make your wish happen, it feels too hard. You’re STUCK, fearful, overwhelmed by all the obstacles standing in the way of your dream. And so instead of moving forward, you stay where you are, idealizing the thing you want but unable to determine how to get it. Every decision feels too hard, too big, there are too many problems to untangle first.
My theory is that if someone asked you WHY you want this thing that seems so far away, you wouldn’t be able to clearly articulate your reasons without negativity, circular reasoning (“I want it because I want it”) or uncertainty.
I believe that if we know WHY, the HOW begins to just happen. More effortlessly and easily than we can imagine, maybe without even noticing, we’ve started on the road to achieving what we want. The difference is defining what this desire would truly accomplish, other than meeting our idealized expectations. Instead of “I want a new job because I hate my job. A new one would be so much better!” it becomes “I want a new job because I want my work to challenge and inspire me. Because I want a career that’s rewarding and still gives me time off to travel. Because a new job can provide me with a higher income, greater satisfaction and opportunities for growth.”
Focusing on affirmative, unambiguous reasons, it’s much harder to feel stuck and unsure how to act, and much easier to feel inspired and optimistic. I have a lot of faith in the power of a positive outlook, that it makes all the difference in how we approach problems. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by lack, we feel energized by possibility. Instead of “I want to write a book because I want to be a bestselling author and be critically acclaimed,” a WHY that got me absolutely nowhere, I realized that I wanted to write books for fun. Because I wanted to have fun writing them, to create escapist, romantic adventures that someone could read by the pool all day or tear through in a weekend. Within months of recognizing my true object in wanting to write, I’d started my first novel—and in just over a year I’d written six more.
(On a side note, WHY is also a key element of writing a good story—when you envision a character’s psychology, personality and history, you understand why he or she might act or react a certain way, adding believability to the story and helping to create a convincing plot.)
Knowing WHY I want what I want isn’t going to change the fact that I face difficulties along the way, as we all do. But it expands and simplifies the process of moving forward. I’ve begun to notice that when I can honestly and insight-fully answer WHY to myself, everything seems to align. I’m at peace with my desires. I can surrender to the journey, empowered to make each choice as it presents itself, taking positive, effective action when action is required. When I feel overwhelmed by the thought of reaching a goal, I can guess that my WHY isn’t very clearly thought out. The truth is, I might not actually want that particular thing right now, even if I imagine it would make me happy. On closer examination, I’m not ready for it, my justifications for wanting it are fuzzy or non-existent—or involve “shoulds,” old beliefs about myself, or meeting the expectations of others, none of which will lead me to fulfillment.
A friend and I were just talking about this the other day, comparing the difference between the times in our lives when we felt overwhelmed and mired in problems, and times when we’ve been able to successfully make things happen. It wasn’t easier to act because our goals were less ambitious, or because we met fewer challenges along the way. The difference was that we knew exactly WHY we wanted something, believed in our reasons, let go of our preconceived ideas about HOW to get there or WHEN we’d have it, and found ourselves effortlessly, confidently and bravely taking our first steps on the path to achievement.
And that’s an amazing feeling.