I used to think I was smarter than others.
I was learning about personal finance and saving money while others were splurging so I could become rich.
I was asking for books and courses for Christmases and birthdays while others were asking for clothes and shoes so that the money invested would grow rather than decay through what was purchased.
I was working out every day while others watched Netflix.
In theory, this would make me happier. But it didn’t work out that way.
Eventually, I got burned out from the unhappiness and comparison. My reason to struggle, future pleasure, wasn’t good enough.
You can skip the parties and work super hard to get rich enough to go to more lavish parties one day, but are the sacrifices you make truly worth the extra happiness later on? Sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn’t.
Too often, people just go through the motions and suffer for a future they never reach or a future that doesn’t satisfy expectations. Vishen Lakhiani calls this a means goal, a goal that is a means to an end rather than an end itself.
Your culture has told you that a good job, car, house, and retirement is the key to happiness. Most people get caught up in the chase of promotions, raises, and job titles — and before they know it, they’re 50 years old and wondering why they went through hell to achieve so much that still doesn’t make them happy.
That’s why it’s important to define and plan out “end” goals instead. These are goals that are truly an end, not a means to an end. The billionaire, Ted Leonsis, illustrates this beautifully in his book The Business of Happiness.
In college, he got into a big argument with his roommate who was a slacker and had made him late for his Saturday job because he was making out with a girl. He blew up at his friend who responded by asking why he went to work. Ted responded it was to afford college. He asked why he wanted to afford college. Ted answered.
Like a child his roommate kept asking why, which lead down a series of angry explanations on how good grades would get him a good job which would get him a good income which would get him rich which would get him a pretty girl he could make out with. His roommate replied that he was just taking a shortcut to the final goal.
Our goals often require patience and hard work. But decide what you really want because there’s usually a path to get there quicker if you think smarter and learn from your mistakes. Ted stumbled across this “Ask Yourself Why 5 Times” technique by accident and it is a great example of the 5 Why’s Technique in action. But he wasn’t the first.
It’s a secret that many people have stumbled across in personal development. Marie Kondo, a organization consultant who has sold millions of copies of her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, wrote about this method in her book and concluded that happiness is everyone’s ultimate goal.
Tim Ferriss is great at this. I was listening to one episode of Tim’s podcast and he was doing a Q&A. One person asked him how he could live on a tropical island. Tim answered by saying that you want to work out the math and all the ways you can get there. Most people stop and assume that it will cost more than they have and think the only way to get there is to work and save until they’re old and can retire. But Tim disagrees.
In reality, there are many islands that have a low cost of living. They’re cheaper than you think if you did the math. Plus, why do you have to only spend money there? What about working or volunteering on that island?
Thinking creatively doesn’t just help identify new, faster ways of getting to your goal, it also helps you discover the details of what you really want. In this island example, the man may discover after working methods out, that he actually wants to live on an island and not have to work doing something he hates.
This may rule out volunteering but it at least helps him identify where he wants to go. If you don’t know where you want to go, you’re reducing your chances you’ll get there.
Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
-Alice in Wonderland
The Five Why Analysis Applied To Areas Other Than Happiness
This method is a great way to identify your true motives in life by being brutally honest and unearthing inefficient strategies for making your goals come true. This works for more than just happiness and big life goals.
The Ask why 5 times technique (It doesn’t have to be 5 exactly — asking too many times can get you to a mumbo-jumbo place that’s sometimes too philisophical) can help you with your career, business, or any system.
It was used by Toyota in its factories to identify the root cause of manufacturing problems. This “Why?, Why?” analysis can also be used to address specific personal or psychological problems that are holding you back in your performance at work or with a relationship. Almost as a form of therapy, it can sometimes unearth the big issue behind the symptoms. Here’s an example:
Problem: The manager is mad at you for not turning in projects on time and it’s anxiety-producing.
- Why is he mad? You were late with your assignment deadlines.
- Why were you late? Because you claimed you could do more than you could.
- Why did you claim you could do more than I could? (Here’s where it starts getting sensitive and you have to be brutally honest) You have a self-esteem issue because you were bullied in school and you have to overcompensate by claiming you can do more than you can.
You can go even deeper if you want:
- Why do you feel the need to overcompensate (or) why do you have low self-esteem? The bullying effected me and I can’t let it go or see my identify differently.
Ray Dalio is another supporter of asking why. In his book Principles, he explains how most people mistake a cause for an effect in organizations. Effects are usually statements of fact, while true causes are adjectives. To illustrate, a manager may claim the cause of his employee being late to the meeting was because this employee had previous work ahead of time that ran over. But if the manager continued his line of questioning from why that work ran over, he may discover the real cause is that his employee bad at time management.
Five is a random number. Don’t hold too closely to this number because it may cause you to ask why too many or too few times. Err on the side of asking why too many times because you can always remove a why when it gets too philosophical.
Sometimes, your questioning leads to a deep place inside of your mind that needs healing. Often, our obstacles come down to fear of failure, loss, or rejection, ego, and worry. That’s when a professional therapist or psychologist or psychology book can do wonders.
I have a question for you:
Have you used this Why technique before? If not, I challenge you to use it for your big life goals because it’s critically valuable to identifying what you want. Leave a comment about what you put below.