“What’s my Why?”
Oh, geeze. I don’t know. Um. My Why? Hmm. Wait, is that like, my “purpose” … on Earth? Wow. OK, let me think … (long, awkward, gut wrenching pause ensues) … man, I don’t even know where to start. And if I’m not curing cancer or ending world hunger … do I even have a Why?! Why is this Why? stuff so stressful?!
As it sits today, this question is broken. It’s simply too big. Too daunting. Unfair, really, to imply that we each have one, big, mythical obligation to the universe. And if we haven’t figured it out yet, welp, we better get on that before it’s too late!
We need to reframe the “What’s my Why?“ question completely. We can’t think about it in 50,000 foot, pie in the sky terms. We have to hit it at the ground level. What we have in front of us isn’t some all encompassing obligation.
What we have is an opportunity. An amazing opportunity. An everyday opportunity. A right NOW opportunity. It’s dead simple and right under our collective noses. We have an opportunity to:
Live everyday how we’d like to be remembered.
And guess what? When we reframe “What’s my Why?” and think in real world terms … THIS ⬆️ magically becomes the answer to the question! Think about it 😉 …
Everyday, we have an opportunity to make a lasting impact on the important people in our lives. To get in the zone and be our best selves. To be present. To be in the NOW. Especially in the tiniest moments (because that’s where lasting impact lives).
In this article, I want to demystify the “What’s my Why?” question and make it attainable for anybody and everybody. I’ll use the framework from Simon Sinek’s brilliant Start with Why Ted Talk to help us get all the way from Why? to How? to What? We’ll walk through a few exercises together and I’ll share how I use Bear and Things3 to capture my thoughts on these topics and put them into action.
Buckle up, y’all. It’s time to go all the way from What’s my Why? 🤔 to Impact 💥.
The Science Behind Why? & The Golden Circle
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.Simon Sinek
This quote hits me square because the power of asking Why? lives at any and every level. It spans far beyond the reaches of business and selling products. It’s also 💯 true in our relationships and our ability to impact others.
The science behind Why? is best explained in how the Golden Circle and human brain line up.
- The outside ring of the Golden Circle is the What? These are the actions we take towards achieving our Why? The What? aligns with the Neocortex. The Neocortex is responsible for all rational and analytical thought.
- The middle ring is the How? The How? is made up of the talents that make us unique. How we achieve our Why? is by being our best selves and playing to our built-in strengths as often as possible.
- The center of the circle is the Why? The Why? is the stuff that’s important to us. The How? & Why? rings correspond with the Limbic Brain (aka the Lizard Brain 🦎🧠😬). The Limbic Brain is responsible for our feelings, behaviors and decision making.
And if that sounds a little scary … it’s because it is! We don’t make decisions based on facts. Whether we realize it or not, the portion of our brain that most heavily influences our decision making has the rationality of a pre-pubescent teen whose emotions are jackhammering and rollercoastering out of control!
THIS is why understanding the Why? is so dang important (and powerful)!
Being Productive with a Purpose
This visual summarizes what it means to be Productive with a Purpose from the Why? to the How? to the What?
When you know your Why? (i.e. how you want to be remembered), and live your How? (i.e. your unique values, strengths & passions), this radiates in your Whats? (your actions and interactions with others).
Your Why? shines in everything you do and PEOPLE CAN FEEL IT.
The first step on our journey: To ask The Funeral Question.
Why? … The Funeral Question
How do I want to be remembered?
The Funeral Question starts at the end (literally, at your funeral 💀) and forces you to think about things in real life terms. It gets at your legacy. It gets you thinking about the stuff that should be really important to you.
… The people in your life (who is at your funeral?) … The impact you had on them? (what are they saying about you?) … your values, strengths & passions? (do they know what you were all about?) …
I love this question because it gets you thinking about the different areas of your life that are truly important. The People. Your role in their lives. The stuff that makes you your best YOU.
I call these important areas of focus your Why Buckets.
If you want to live how you’d like to be remembered, you need to nail down your Why Buckets first.
To dig into a big question like this, I like to Journal. I find that if you’re patient and persistent, Journaling can be a problem solving, answer finding weapon. I use Bear for all of my notes, journaling, blog posts, etc. Bear has a really flexible structure where you can add “Tags” to notes so you can easily group them together and find them later.
I add a #Purpose Tag to any Bear note that’s tied to my “Why Buckets.” This not only helps me keep these thoughts organized, it’s also really neat to go back later and revisit these notes to see what was important to me last week, last month or last year!
✍️ Let’s Journal on The Funeral Question
Alright, time to roll up your sleeves and do some work.
Pull up a blank note or pull out a sheet out paper. Seriously 😊. Time yourself … for the next 3 minutes, I want you to Journal on The Funeral Question. Ask yourself: How do I want to be remembered? Just write. Unfiltered. Whatever comes to mind …
And … GO …
(Queue the Final Jeopardy music …)
… 3 … 2 …1. Pencils up.
So, how was it? What did you uncover? Did you land on a few “Why Buckets” that feel right?
Full disclosure … 3 minutes isn’t nearly enough time to get to the finish line here. It’ll take more thought and introspection, but hopefully this little exercise has kick started something worth noodling on more in the future.
I’ve shared my Why Buckets below. It took me quite a bit of Journaling on the Funeral Question to get there. But each day, I always try to prioritize actions that will impact these areas of my life.
How? … The Billion Dollar Question
Going back to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, the Funeral Question helps you get at your “Why?” (Or rather, your “Why Buckets”).
How? you make an impact on each of your Why Buckets is by being your best self, as often as possible. You are at your very best when you’re modeling your Values, playing to your Strengths & pursuing your Passions.
This is what makes you unique … what makes you happiest … this is when time flies and you find yourself in “the zone.” I’m sure some of this came out when you Journaled on The Funeral Question.
To help you uncover your values, strengths & passions, a great question to ask is The Billion Dollar Question.
If I had a billion dollars and never had to work another day in my life, what would I do?
The point is to identify what makes you happy and straight up, do more of it … everyday!
✍️ Let’s Journal on the Billion Dollar Question
Alrighty … it’s time again to pull up a blank note or pull out a sheet out paper. For the next 3 minutes, I want you to Journal on The Billion Dollar Question. Think about your unique values, strengths & passions. Ask yourself: If I had a billion dollars and never had to work another day in my life, what would I do?
And … Go! …
(In case you get stuck, I’ve provided a cheat sheet with a bunch of common values and strengths. Which ones resonate with you the most?)
… 3 … 2 …1. Pencils up.
So, how was it? What did you uncover? When are you the happiest? When do you find yourself “in the zone?” Did you land on values, strengths and passions that feel right? Do they inspire you?
Similar to The Funeral Question, some additional Journaling will be required, 3 minutes is only the tip of the iceburg.
I’ve shared my top Values, Strengths & Passions below. It’s important to flesh these out and write them down so you can be intentional about putting yourself in a position to play to your best strengths as often as possible!
What? … Peel the Why Onion, Over & Over Again …
Now that you’ve noodled on the Why? & How? it’s time to dig into the What?
Lasting impact stems from your What? and occurs in that tiny space (aka: the NOW) where Purpose & Productivity collide.
I created a Productivity Fu Master Checklist. It’s a deep dive into how I use Things3 & Bear. Your Inbox sits at the top of your Productivity system and your Purpose is the foundation that holds the whole thing up.
I set my Why Buckets up as Areas in Things3. I flag each of them with a 💪 Me Tag so that I can easily filter and focus on these items when I want to. The goal is to identify simple Projects & todos (these are the actions) that will help you achieve your Why? I take my applicable #Purpose notes from Bear and paste links to them in Things3.
During my weekly and daily reviews, I always make it a point to prioritize a few 💪 ME specific todos. It should not be 90% Work / 10% Me items in your Today list. If that’s what you’re experiencing, it’s time to pump the brakes.
For each of your Why Buckets, you need to dig deep and “Peel the Why Onion” over and over again. Let’s say one of your Why Buckets is “To be a great dad / mom.” You’d Journal on the following questions …
- How do I want to be remembered as a dad / mom? (see what I did there?)
- What does it mean (to me) to be a great dad / mom?
- What would I want my kids to say about me when they’re older?
- What would I want my spouse, family, friends, etc say about me as a dad / mom?
- How can I play to my strengths as a dad / mom?
- And on it goes, Peel that Why Onion over and over again …
Each of these questions should kick off thoughts that lead to deeper layers of questions that lead to ideas that could turn into projects & todos that turn into actions you can take with your kids.
I wrote an article called The Why is Your Shark Repellent where I shared an example: I wanted to find a way to spend more quality time with my kids (Why Bucket = Great Dad). I also wanted to see if I could find a fun way to play to my strengths (The How? = Creativity). I like to draw, so I started an “art class” (The What? = This became a Project in Things3) where each night, I’d sit with my kids and we’d draw together (Recurring Todo in Things3). I got here by Journaling on what it meant to me to be a great dad … I peeled that Why Onion until it turned into something I could act on!
You’ll lather, rinse and repeat for each of your Why Buckets. The same questions apply whether you aspire to be a great spouse, leader, coach, teacher, teammate, if you’re a creative person, love animals, etc.
Full disclosure here: This process could (and should) take a while! When I went through this exercise, it took me weeks of Journaling sessions before I got to a place where I felt I had my arms around the opportunity in front of me.
And that’s ok, it’s not a race! When you are Journaling and wholly focused on important topics like this, don’t rush it. Go wherever your thoughts take you. Stick with a topic or idea as long as you need to. Get it down on paper. That way, you can be intentional about it going forward.
✍️ Let’s Journal. Pick ONE Why Bucket & Peel that Onion Over & Over again …
OK, last Journaling exercise … for now 👍. Pull up a blank note or pull out a sheet out paper. Pick one of your Why Buckets. For the next 3 minutes, I want you to Journal on that Why Bucket and Peel the Why Onion over and over again. Ask the questions above and see where they take you.
And … Go! …
… 3 … 2 … 1. Pencils down.
How’d that hit you? Do you have a sense of what it means (to you) to be a great … whatever it is that’s important to you?
I hope this will spark additional Journaling sessions that’ll turn into focused and intentional actions that will impact💥 the important people in your life♥️.
Share Your What’s My Why? To Impact Journey
Our Why? in life is simple, really. We have an opportunity to:
Live everyday how we’d like to be remembered.
When you know what’s important to you (your Why Buckets) and you know How? to be your best self (when you’re modeling your Values, playing to your Strengths & pursuing your Passions), you have an opportunity in your What? to be intentional and to make a lasting impact on others.
And you know what would make all of this really real? Let the important people in your life know what you’re up to. Share your journey with them. Be open. Be vulnerable. See if you’re thinking about the right things. Ask them: “What do you think it means for me to be a great (whatever it is … dad / mom / son / daughter / leader, etc)?” You’ll create a mini-support system and a layer of accountability at the same time. And maybe they’ll get curious and start on their own little journey …
As you continue on your What’s My Why? to Impact journey, please share updates in the comments below! I’d love to hear about your ah-ha moments and help you work through any roadblocks you run into.
Embrace this journey. Jump in with both feet. It starts NOW.
This is what being Productive 🤓 with a Purpose ♥️ is all about.