Humans have an innate need to know why. We want the world to make sense. But, if you really think about it, making sense is usually not based on facts or we would all draw the same conclusions about why things are the way they are.
There are basically 3 kinds of why questions.
- The why of curiosity
- The why of challenge
- The why of understanding
It all comes down to the “sense” we are trying to make out of the question. And it looks different depending on our age and life experiences.
Toddlers are curious, and most of their questions are based on this curiosity. Why is the sky blue? Why are your hands wrinkly? Why is pee yellow? Why, why, why??? And you know if you have spent any time with a toddler, the follow-up “why’s” continue to infinity and beyond.
The why of challenge at this age can also start to emerge and quickly take the top position as the years tick on. Telling this tot that he can’t have a cookie may be met with a why accompanied by a furrowed brow and stomping foot. You, my friend, just entered the classic power struggle.
Guess what? At this age there is no chance of understanding being the motivating factor in making sense- don’t even waste your breath.
Fast forward to the teen years. While some curiosity remains, the majority of the why questions- easily identified by the “tone” behind the words- will be challenge. When dealing with teens, we need to understand the real question they are asking.
Are they trying to understand your decision or challenge it? Quickly access the motive, and refuse to engage in a logical vs. emotional conversation. You will lose.
Now, you’d think by the time we are adults we would get this. We still have to determine the real question behind our “why”.
Curiosity means we are lifelong learners, challenge can help us make wiser decisions.
We usually convince ourselves we are just trying to understand.
Think of a situation where you are questioning why something is, or isn’t, happening the way you want it to.
Let me pose 3 questions to help you.
- Am I curious and need to learn something? Google, YouTube, Ask a friend.
- Am I challenging myself or someone else? What’s my attitude? Am I needing to make a healthy change, or is my emotional inner toddler/ teen in the power struggle with my logical self.
- Am I trying to understand and am I willing to put some effort into finding a solution to the problem?
Here’s The Solution
You need to get to the basement of your why and then climb the stairs back to the top. These stairs will have at least 5 steps and maybe more. Let me explain:
In your situation above, make a statement about what doesn’t make sense to you.
Example: Why can’t I seem to get through my To Do list day after day?
Now, this is where we usually make excuses (or blame someone else).
I don’t have enough time.
There are too many interruptions.
Everyone expects me to take responsibility for their procrastination.
Are the excuses helping you solve the problem yet?
I’m giving you permission to go back to being a toddler- in fact, I insist.
Remember why, why, why?
PROBLEM: Why can’t I seem to get through my To Do list day after day?
- There’s not enough time, and interruptions and demands from others. Why?
- Everything seems urgent and I get frustrated. Why?
- I haven’t taken the time to determine my priorities. Why?
- My desk is a mess and I don’t have a plan. Why?
- I have a problem with boundaries and people-pleasing. Why?
Now we are getting to the bottom of it! Brainstorm some ideas on what you can do at the “bottom why” and who can help you. Then walk back up those stairs, one step at a time, until the problem is solved.