Have you ever found yourself saying something like, “I wish I worked out more. I am really out of shape.” Or, maybe you have said something more along the line of, “I have got to stop smoking.” We all have a “wish list” of things that we would like to either have or get rid of in our life. Still, how many of us actually ever do anything about it? As I look back on my own life, I see a lot of instant gratification, but not a lot of hard earned victories. Somewhere down the road, I stopped disciplining myself. I rarely achieve the things that I believe are most worthwhile. You and I, we know what we want. But the real question we should be asking ourselves isn’t “what do I want?” The real question, ironically is one of the very first questions we ever learned to ask. The question we should be asking is, “Why?” I believe that by asking ourselves this one question, we can turn our “wish list” into a “checklist.” That is what we will be discussing today.
“Why?” is not only a great question for us to ask; I believe it is one of the most important questions of our lives. So many times, we go through life wishing that our lives were different, but to what end? It’s like the Joker said in the Dark Knight, “I’m like a dog chasing cars, I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one, you know, I just do… things.” That’s how most of us live our lives. We do things out of necessity or simply to attain momentary comforts. I can easily see how grabbing a candy bar and smashing it down will make me happy. I don’t have to work for it; I don’t have to show any discipline; I just have to eat it. We have all these things that I know would be better for us, but we can’t see ourselves taking the hard steps needed to make a change. Most people don’t change because they feel that they ought to. Forget about tomorrow, most people would rather follow the small passions in their life that they can have today. If we are to do any different, then our way of thinking about life needs to change. That’s where the “Why?” question comes in.
When we ask ourselves, “What do I want?” we are clarifying what we don’t have that could make our lives better if we had it. Here are some examples: “I want a new car;” “I want a better paying job;” “I want to be a better father to my children.” All of these are worthy pursuits. The problem is, unless we answer the question “Why?” then we are likely not going to see any real change. Sure, we may push ourselves toward a few weeks of forward momentum. But, for those of us that are like me, we are just going to go back to what is immediate and comfortable. We need proper motivation. We need to know why we are doing what we are doing. Why do we want to achieve our goals?
Let me go back to one of the examples I just brought up: “I want a new car.” Let’s ask the question, “Why do I want a new car?” Now, let’s say that my reasoning is, “I want a new car, because I want to be able to go on long trips without fearing the car will break down.” Now, I will take it a little further: “I want a car so that I can take that trip to Texas I have always been dreaming about.” There’s my why! With this thought, I can start picturing what it would be like to be in Texas, driving around in a reliable car, seeing sights I haven’t been able to do with this old clunker that I have sitting in my driveway right now (this is all hypothetical). The more concrete the picture is in my mind, the more I start to build up a passion to make that dream a reality.
Once the passion becomes so strong, then I will start to think about how this dream might take shape. Next, I start thinking through what barriers are going to get in my way. If the picture in my head is desirable enough, I will be willing to push through the barriers so I can have that picture. With enough time, effort, and focus on my vision I will eventually accomplish my goal. If the picture in my head is more important to me than what I have now, then I will work toward something better. If not, then I will go back to my old ways. That’s how change works.
With all of this in mind, I want to give two disclaimers. First, I must caution you not to use shame as a motivator. Shame, in my professional experience, tends to lead down the path of self-destruction. I can’t think of a single time that I have seen a person make a healthy change, because they told themselves, “I will not accept myself if I don’t make a change.” It is far better for us to say, “I want to have respect for myself again” than to say, “I can’t look myself in the mirror until something is different.” I know that it sounds like I am mincing words here, but choosing to build ourselves up, ultimately will lead to a healthier outcome than shaming ourselves for not being where we want to be.
The second disclaimer is that we need to make sure that the picture that we have in our heads matches up with our values and beliefs. If I say that I want to have a bunch of money so that I can live like a rock star, I may be setting myself up for failure. Such a pursuit will not lead to true happiness, because it does not match up with what I believe is valuable for my life. We must make sure that we are not getting caught up in the “keeping up with the Joneses” junk that the rest of our culture is getting stuck in. If we are going to set goals for ourselves, then they ought to take us somewhere that we truly will want to be in the end.
I’m sure that this concept that I am presenting is not new information. Somewhere out there, someone is probably making a lot of money on a book written solely on this topic alone. We all know that something needs to change if we are going to get anywhere. Some people will say that you just don’t want it bad enough. I say that the real issue might be that we don’t truly know what we want. I think that asking ourselves why we want change to happen is a crucial first step. Once we can create a strong image that motivates us toward true momentum, I imagine that we will see change in a way that we have not yet experienced before. I challenge each of us to ask ourselves “why?” Let’s create a tomorrow that is greater than our today! As always, I appreciate any thoughts or questions you may have to share.