Why am I here? Why did they do this? Why did this happen to me?
Do these questions sound familiar? They might because they are asked every minute of every day of every year. Over and over until exhaustion. When bad happens, or when bad turns to worse, it is human to ask ourselves why? We are social creatures with immense curiosity.
‘Why’ activates your imagination and deepens your personal experience. Why do I exist? Why is the sky blue? Why, why, why? ‘Why’ gets you started on your journey. The problem is that sometimes asking why leads to more questions than answers. When you want to dig deep and get results, you need to ask a completely different question. A question that consists of changing two letters.
It’s time to embrace the power of ‘what.’
Our language is made up of content and context. The former is the definitions and questions and statements we make when taken at face value. The latter is the inflection, tone, and nonverbals, which clue us into the ‘real message’ below the words. I want to teach that ‘what’ holds infinitely more power and ability than ‘why.’
The problem of ‘why.’
To be sure, asking why is not a bad thing. ‘Why’ shows desire and thirst for knowledge. Whether the question reaches the deepest parts of the quantum field of physics or is contained in your personal bubble, ‘why’ engages our minds. However, there are some problems with the question why.
- Why is vague – Asking why something occurred opens you to a million possibilities with no way of narrowing down the options
- Why can create victim-speak – Asking “why I am in this predicament” can be the perfect setup for you against the world. Asking why this happened to me can hold you can create a division where you are always the victim and the world is always at fault
- Why is not solution-focused – Asking “why am I like this” prohibits you from looking outside your bubble and keeps your mind from expanding to potential solutions
To clarify, people are legitimately victimized every day. The above points are not meant to minimize the real dangers of life. The hope is that by switching to ‘what,’ you can find real-time, measurable solutions to the changes you desire.
The power of ‘what.’
Think about the difference between what and why. The word why can be left alone in a sentence while the word what begs further discovery. Two years ago I made a remarkable discovery into the dangers of ‘why.’ As of the time of this writing, I am 36 years old. Starting in 1999, every January 1st I would tell myself, “this is your year Dan. This will be the year you make a difference.” Every January 31st, I would ask myself why. “Why has nothing changed? Why am I doomed to failure?”
Then in 2016, I changed my entire vocabulary based on two letters. On January 1st I woke up and said “This IS my year. I WILL make a difference.” Then on January 2nd, I sat down and asked myself ‘what.’ “What did I miss that is holding me back? What did I do in 2015 that needs to be altered? What is my goal for this day, month, or year? What do I need to accomplish to meet those goals? What will be my measuring stick?”
All of these questions unfolded a wealth of information on my follies and faults. Once I moved past my five minutes of moping about, I got to work. I fashioned a five-page document answering all those questions and then ended with a single inquiry; “what do I want?” What I wanted was a change that could only be accomplished by active planning and deliberate motion. Asking ‘what’ brought me those plans and enabled my actions.
A bit over a year later, my ‘what’ has evolved into private practice, an equine-assisted psychotherapy program, resuming my tennis, loss of 10 pounds, and multiple writing and speaking engagements which continue to grow every week. The ‘what’ brought me a new life because instead of victimizing myself with why I took charge and looked at my contributions to the negative aspects of my life. All because of a simple word.
Remember that there are victims in this world. If you are being harmed, please seek emergency help. However, if you are seeking to make a change and feeling stuck or stagnant, try swapping two letters and asking yourself the most important question.
“What do I want and what do I need to do to get it?”