The Power Of Why

Why is a powerful question.
Your answer to that question is even more powerful. It defines your success. In fact, almost always your answer to why determines if you will succeed or fail. However, too often we fail to ask the question why. When making a decision, most people have a thought process that asks three questions in the following order:

  1. What
  2. How
  3. Why

Say for instance I want to be wealthy. My thought process might look something like this.

    What do I want? Lots of money
    How do I get it? Get a good job/start an awesome business/win the lottery
    Why should I do it? …So I can have lots of money

When a person starts with the idea that they want to just have a lot of money, there usually isn’t a greater reason behind it. Most people want money because we’re told money is good for you, like your vegetables. More money = More happiness – Right?

Well, if that’s true then why do you see so many rich people so unhappy and unfulfilled? Why does more money only seem to bring more problems [RIP BIG]. The reason is that these people finally have the what, but they sitll haven’t answered the reason why.

This happens all the time

Let’s take another scenario: physical fitness.  A lot of people have New Years Resolutions. They want to lose x number of pounds, but a lot of time, they don’t have solid reason why. Their thought process might look like this:

    What do I want? To lose weight
    How do I get it? Exercise, diet and exercise some more
    Why should I do it? To look good naked

Looking good naked is a good goal, but for a lot of people it’s not a strong enough reason why to keep them motivated to stay healthy. The idea of looking good naked will sustain you for a few workouts, but when things get tough and you start to hit the wall, a lot of people need a better reason than just that.

So why do we do this?

Check out this graphic.

Graphic Courtesy Of Matt Gartland

Most of the time, people operate from an outside-in attitude. They figure out what they want to do and how to do it, but neglect to reflect on why they’re doing it. This means that when they hit a snag in the road and start to question if they really “want” something in the first place, they don’t have an answer. They never answered the reason “why” they’re doing it in the first place. This usually ends up with them abandoning their new initiative when things get a too difficult. Even when they accomplish whatever it is they’re going after, they still feel like they haven’t “arrived.” The wealthy person isn’t happy because they have money, but no use for it. You can look good naked, but chances are that won’t be enough to keep you in the gym when you hit a wall.

True changes happens when people answer the why question.

The Biggest Loser is a popular show, but nobody would watch it if it was just about losing weight. The reason people watch it is because it’s a show about people answering the why question. It’s a story. It’s about people realizing that it’s not just about losing weight. It’s about people regaining their life, enjoying it, living longer and doing things they never thought were possible.

When I’m out attempting this list of impossible things, it’s not just because I wanted something to do. If I wanted something to do, I’d go play halo. There’s a bigger reason.

So why am I doing this?

I want to live a full life. I want to have meaning. I want to be interesting. I don’t want to limit myself to doing only the things that I think I’m capable of. I want to be able to do whatever I want. I don’t want to let things happen, I want to make things happen. I want to do impossible things.

That’s the why. When you have that answered, the what & how are easy easier. Chances are you probably have an idea of what you want out of life and the steps you need to take if you’re really serious about doing it. However, if you want to be successful in the long-haul, you’re going to need a good reason why. If you figure that out first, you’ll be able to keep going, even when what you’re doing seems impossible.

Big Thanks to Matt Gartland for the inspiration for this post as well as the graphic for it. I asked Matt of Healthy LifeStyle Design if I could share and elaborate on this graphic from his newly released manifesto – Fearless Health: How to Thrive in a Unhealthy World. It’s a great FREE resource if you’re looking for an solid understanding of the why it’s important to live a healthy life in the first place. You can learn more about FH here or download it immediately here. It’s completely free so don’t worry, I dont make any money off of this. I’m only recommending it, because I think it’s worth your time. Like everything on BIT, this post is ad-free and contains no affiliate-links If you have any questions on this, check out my zero-ads policy or shoot me an email.

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  1. James says

    Joel getting philosophical today…I like it. There is no better way to start off the day than reading your blog. If only everyone was as positive as you. Keep up the good work!

    And to answer your question from the other day. No, I haven’t found one yet. That darn CPA studying is getting in the way. I will keep you posted though.

    • says

      Haha, thanks James =) That’s one of the best compliments I’ve gotten! I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

      Keep searching and let me know when you find one!

  2. says

    Hey Joel!

    Massive thanks for sharing this excerpt and review of FEARLESS HEALTH.

    The Why-First mindset is an essential element both to FEARLESS HEALTH as well as any other meaningful effort. It’s the core of everything that we believe.

    Keep up the great stuff here at BIT – really fantastic stuff. Rock on!


  3. says

    What a great read this morning and really got me to pause and reflect. When I look back on things that I’ve attempted to do and for whatever reason never followed through with to completion I realize that I never answered the “why” questions. And even the things that I did accomplish, when I didn’t answer the why they just didn’t seem as fulfilling.

    I’m embarking on a journey, my own “impossible thing” to take my family and live in Indonesia. It’s a huge endeavor but I know it will be successful because I’ve already answered the why.

    I love this part you wrote: ” I don’t want to let things happen, I want to make things happen.” Living life to the fullest is all about making things happen. To conquor the seemingly impossible you have to make it happen.

    • says

      Good for you Matt! That’s the most important part. Any more details on the move yet?

      If you want something, you’ve got to go get it and not let anything get in your way. Make it happen!

  4. says

    Joel, it’s so funny the timing, but I’m coming out with a free ebook next week on my b-day (yay!) called Questions to Ask Yourself. Many of these questions entail the “why” component.

    Sometimes, we do things just because. Just because of tradition, just because of status quo, just because we’re told to … just because. We neglect the reasoning behind WHY we do WHAT we do.

    Realizing why we do things can dramatically change the way we think and view the world, and ultimately, ourselves.

    Thanks for another great post, Joel! Keep on rockin’ it!

  5. says

    Not taking the time to get to ‘why’ can cause a lot of bad times later on. If you don’t properly evaluate the motives behind you do what you do, your life will just be a constant circle of goals that are started yet never really met. I really enjoyed reading this. And thanks for the link :-)

  6. says

    I’m willing to play halo for life. haha just kidding. I’d like to live my life too.
    You remind me of a post from, where Colin (the author) wrote about living vs. just being a bum.

    There is so much out there for us to do, and we definitely aren’t doing us any good by sitting around. Opportunities are there for us to grasp!

    Just a quick question, where are you from?

    • says

      Not trying to knock Halo (I’ve played my fair share) but real life is definitely better =)

      Colin’s a great thinker & I’ve definitely been influenced a lot by him. Great guy.

      I’m from Chicago. Living in Indy. Why do you ask? :)

      • says

        Haha, no kidding. Just can’t get enough of that spartan lazer.

        Just wondering. A man can wonder can’t he? :p Nah but I’ll be in Michigan for college beginning september and I just wanted to know where all the impossible things were happening.

  7. says

    hi Joel – great insights and well written – keep these blog posts coming! Often people find there are multiple “why’s” and this has a reinforcing effect.

    When the going gets tough, the tough get going, as long as their “why” is strong enough!


  8. says

    I want to live remarkably. I want to travel the world, I want to help people accomplish their goals, and I want spend my days in happiness.

    Why? I used to think it was because I was terrified of a conventional life, but I’m realizing more and more, now, that there’s another reason below the surface: I’m terrified of wasting time.

    That’s an odd reason, and probably not the healthiest one I could muster, but it’s true. I’m not always sure what’ll happen when my time runs up, so I’ve become hyper-focused on making the minutes I have now the best they can be.

    Great post, Joel. Got me thinking. :)

    • says

      Thanks Matt! I think not wanting to waste time is a great reason. We only have so much time in our life & we need to take advantage of the time we have. We’re not guaranteed anything. Remembering that helps me keep going when I’m tempted to waste my time doing something unremarkable.

  9. says

    Simon Sinek talked about this very dichotomy in his talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”:

    But to be honest, I don’t really get this model. The part about starting with “why” is of course true. But it seems to me that putting the “how” part in the middle to get to “what” is just a convenient reversal of the the conventional. I’m not sure that either version is accurate.

    Surely the actual process is more like Why -> What -> How. Why is a purpose, What is a strategy, How is an implementation. That comes last of all, it seems to me. If you’re goal oriented, you need to decide what you want before you work out how (maybe you don’t even need to go that far, sometimes how takes care of itself).

    • says

      Good Rebuttal Lach! Someobody else just sent me stuff on Simon Sinek the other day. I haven’t heard of him before but it looks like he’s doing great stuff.

      I like your model too. Maybe I can clear up some of the thinking behind Why -> How -> What mentality. You need to start with a “why” to have a foundation. From there, the “how” isn’t necessarily “how i’m going to do the “what” but rather “how I’m going to fulfill the “why.” The “how” leads to the “what.” If I want to do impossible things, the “how” is how I’m going to go about doing it & the what are the actual things I’m going to do. I think of the “how” as the generic strategy plan & the “what” to be the final result. Does that make sense?

      I feel like we just did a monty python routine [who, what, why :) ]

      • says

        Okay, when you put it that way it does make more sense. I guess this mentality is not necessarily goal oriented (as in a means to an end), it’s about living the why. Not “how can I accomplish X”, but “how can I live in a way that is congruent with X (the why)”. “What” is the result—not necessarily one you choose from the outset, but one that is the natural consequence of living with purpose. As I was mulling this it also occurred to me that in some contexts, “what” and “how” are interchangeable. For instance, you might say “how are you going to accomplish that?” or “what are you going to do to accomplish that”. Same answer, probably.

  10. says

    I think that understanding “Why” is a big step towards setting out to do/accomplish something. Without a clear definition of why you’re doing something, it’s going to be hard to stay motivated and see it through.

  11. Jason says

    That was a really good article Joel, I often want to do things and have fulfilled a lot of things on my to do list.

    I often know that I want to try something, and to now sit back and reason that with a good reason why.

    I worked with a guy who gave me a piece of advice, often he was sent on course’s through work that he did not really care too much about,

    But his words have stuck with me ever since, you may remember and learn one thing from that course if that is the case then it was worthwhile.

    My own spin on that is this , it may not be the course that you learn something from, what about the people on the course you meet, your interaction with those people the place you go to, to be on the course?

    This will only work if you are open to life and its experiences

    Great blog by the way…

    I like your to do list? Have you ever fancied the adventure race across New Zealand?

  12. Josh says

    This was a great read, reminds me a lot of the “internal locus of control”, something that a lot of people here seem have developed. If anyone reading this hasn’t heard of it before, go and google it! :)

    And thanks for this incredible blog, I stumbled upon it at what I feel is a turning point in my life and it’s really helped me gather my thoughts about what I want to do with my future.

  13. Boney Joseph says

    Hi joel, thanks for the advice, i was a what? how? why? person now i’m not… This will really help me plan my imposible (not anymore) thing…

  14. Robert says

    Definitely check out Sinek’s book, Start With Why.
    Here’s my WHY:
    “To Glorify God (Higher Power); To Love and Be Loved; To Serve; To Inspire!”
    What’s yours?

  15. Neil Morbey says

    Inspiration site – thank you. I’m going to be more like you.

    I have a question – do you ever try to do TOO MUCH and crave a simpler life? Do you ever get exhausted and overwhelmed by the decisions to do impossible things?


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