“People have motives and thoughts of which they are unaware.” ~Albert Ellis

MasksEvery man is a mystery — and that doesn’t begin to cover it for every woman. Each of us is a mystery to one degree or another even to ourselves — unless we actively seek to discern why we do what we do.

We mostly don’t delve into this kind of self-inquiry. Who has the time? What would be the purpose anyway? So the rationalizations go.

But you cannot know why you are here unless you know why you do what you do. Have you ever picked up a tool in the housewares section of a store or the hardware department, held it up to the light and wondered, “What on earth does this thing do?” Someone more knowledgeable may reply, “That’s a gear puller” or “That’s an apple corer.” Now you know why it’s here, why someone might part with their hard earned money to possess it, and what use someone will put it to.

So what are you? You can begin to unravel it by examining not just what you do but why you do it. Answers will not come out of a single question either. You will have to peel it back layer by layer.

Down the Rabbit Hole

The key question is, “Why?” Why do you do that characteristic thing that you do? Why do you regularly choose this over that? Why do you push yourself to do this but let yourself off the hook every time for that?

The trick to this is to keep asking why. I don’t mean ask why about this, then why about that, then why about some other thing. I mean ask why about your answer to the last why. How do you know when to stop asking why? When the question no longer makes sense. When there is a stunned silence of realization that this is what lies at the foundation of it all.

What If I Don’t Want to Know?

If you haven’t made these kind of inquiries already, it may be that it never occurred to you to inquire. It may mean that you were never aware that you could inquire. But there is a good chance that you didn’t inquire because you didn’t want to know. It might be true right up to this very moment. But you can change your mind about it any time you want.

There is no reason to feel guilty about it. You only have this present moment and the past is already gone. Make your inquiry with a clear conscience.

You might be scared to inquire. What’s lurking deep down in the recesses of your motivations? Only this: the truth. The truth need not be feared. In fact, it can be very freeing to realize that you obsessively organize your paperclips now because you got yelled at once for having a messy bedroom when you were a kid. It brings perspective. It also offers you an opportunity to make a mindful choice where you didn’t in the past.

We all did childish things as a child. Why did we throw open the bedroom closet door or shine a flashlight under the bed? Because the light shriveled up the monsters of course. Asking why is your flashlight. The unstated things we fear shrivel and die in the light of scrutiny.

There Is Buried Treasure Too

It’s not all so bleak however. You will also uncover noble things that you didn’t give yourself credit for. You may find altruism or generosity, self-sacrifice or compassion. When you make this inquiry you afford yourself the opportunity to self-identify with all kinds of goodness. You may find strength or integrity or acceptance. Give yourself that gift by not stopping until you get to the ground floor of who you really are.

“How bad do you want to know why you do what you do?” click to tweet

Such self-examination takes effort. But as investments go, this one offers a phenomenal return. And as investments rarely do, it has virtually no risk. So start asking why and don’t stop until you hit bedrock. Then you will have a firm foundation upon which to build.

How many why’s did it take you to find out why you do what you do? Tell us about it by commenting below.

Photo credit: Richard Jonkman

How Bad Do You Want to Know Why You Do What You Do?
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2 thoughts on “How Bad Do You Want to Know Why You Do What You Do?

  • Permalink

    It took me 17. It was ridiculous! I think I was aware of maybe the first three answers. It kind of scared me to tell the truth. But I feel like I really learned something. I am going to have to catch my breath before I try this again but I am going to do it.

    • Permalink

      I can’t say it will take less “why’s” next time but it does get easier to ask the next “why” the more you do it.


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