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Why Knowing Your “Why” Is Your Greatest Tool for Success

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Mountain man

Wow, this is hard! Did I really sign up for this? I am about to throw in the towel! Are these the questions keeping you up at night as you push yourself along your entrepreneurial journey? Unfortunately, this happens at all stages. We live in a noisy and competitive world and maintaining the status quo is no longer accepted. Which means we are constantly having to change directions and conquer doubts.  

Today more startups, apps, and ideas are entering into the marketplace than ever before, and it’s getting tougher and tougher to get the attention of your target audience. One day you’re on an extreme high and the next you find it hard to pick up the phone after a tough defeat. But what keeps us pushing even when all seems lost and traction is limited? Insanity? A short-term memory?

Not really, but kind of! If you find yourself able to push forward in spite of never-ending setbacks, then you have probably been able to identify your strong “why”. There are several kinds of whys, such as the “why you want to get that next sale.” But your strongest Why is the reason that you will continue to push for that sale even when the previous attempts have failed. Your strong “why” is the reason you continue to push when validation comes few and far between.

Why your “why” is so important.

Having a strong “why” is what keeps you in the fight when everyone else quits. A strong “why” is what motivates your team when all seems lost. A strong “why” is the reason you will succeed while everyone else fails.

In the back of your mind, you might have a vague understanding of your own why. But clearly defining and identifying this why is crucial for long-term success.  So how do you define your “why”? Or as I would say, your “internal motivator: Seven-whys deep.”

Let’s use a common goal like weight loss or getting fit. We all know at the start of each year millions of newly motivated resolutioners flock to the gym with hopes of changing their lifestyle and decreasing waistlines. Most of these individuals come face to face with the confining realities of their prior lifestyle, and remember why they didn’t workout in the first place.

“There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.” – William Barclay

Most individuals fail to succeed in their New Year’s Resolution goals, not because they lack commitment, but rather their “why” was too superficial. They didn’t dig deep enough or ask enough “why’s” to keep them pushing when life got in the way.

So what does this look like in application? Where do most fall off when it comes to the motivation wagon? When thinking about your goal, your weight loss journey, or even taking the entrepreneurship leap, first ask yourself “why do I want this?”

Example:

Person 1: I want to lose 10 pounds (this is where most people stop)

Person 2: Great! Why?

Person 1: Umm…(uncomfortable silence) Because I do!

Person 2: OK, what will losing 10 pounds do for you?

Person 1: Well it will help me fit into those jeans I used to fit into years ago.

Person 2: Great! So what will fitting in those jeans do for you?

Person 1: It will make me feel sexy!

Person 2: Great! What will feeling sexy do for you?

Person 1: Then Tyler (or insert any name here) will like me.

Person 2: Great! What will…?(I think you get my point.)

So, for Person 1, working out to get Tyler to notice her is what will get her to wake up at 5AM in the morning, change her eating habits, and get her on the right track towards her decreased waistline. Now, I know I will get hate mail from people saying, “That’s a superficial why!” Really!

See, the thing is I never told you your “why” had to be altruistic or even make much sense. The only purpose of defining your “why” is to help you, or push you, when you are facing tough challenges or when you feel like quitting.

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Your why is your motivator.

Sometimes the worst thing you can do for someone is to try to rationalize and justify their “why” for them. To them, their “why” is their motivator, their nonexistent exit strategy, their reason to continue when the whole world tells them to quit.

I know some people’s “whys” may sound crazy, but to them it makes perfect sense. For me, no matter what, I really only hear the negative because it motivates me to prove people wrong. Is it really not good enough?

Maybe…

Is my reasoning healthy? Probably not. But who cares as it keeps me pushing day and night to exceed my expectations from the day before. I am motivated by negative reinforcement over positive. I guess it’s the athlete in me.

For you though, whatever pushes you to move through the noise and past the struggle is the strongest weapon in your arsenal. The strong “why” will be the reason you think of alternative solutions instead of throwing in the towel.

Important Tip: Accept that your strong “why” may lose its effect and no longer keep you motivated. Don’t worry, that’s normal. If that ever happens, go back to the drawing board and restart the multi-level why process to redefine your internal motivation.

Memorize it, write it down and pin it to your dashboard or somewhere else you will see it regularly. This simple task will help you in business, fitness, or in any goal you wish to pursue.Remember, your “why” is a deadly weapon. Use it wisely!

What is your why and how has it propelled you towards success? Please leave your thoughts below!

AK Ikwuakor, also known as Coach AK, President and Founder of Empower 2 Play, is a Sports Humanitarian, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, former All-American Athlete and education expert who has worked with thousands of students and community leaders from around the world. AK uses sports-themed initiatives and VR technology to bridge cultures and communities as well as connect youth leaders from around the world to foster empathy and promote peace. AK has appeared in numerous print ads and TV commercials for companies such as Nike, Yurbuds, Women’s Health, Sony, Fox Sports, The Doctors and Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader? Unfortunately, he was not smarter than a 5th grader! AK is always looking to connect (Linkedin) with like-minded individuals wanting to make a positive impact on the world. The question is who are willing to take the risk?

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Joel

    Feb 3, 2017 at 2:54 am

    Yes!

    Dig deep in unravelling the mystery of a person’s “why”. Too often when asked the question, the answer is surface level. I like to ask the question a minimum of 5 times before I even begin to believe that I have cracked the surface.

    Losing 10 pounds simply isn’t enough. Nobody will ever stay motivated by only wanting to lose ten pounds. Fitting into my old jeans so I can look sexy again…now we are getting somewhere.

    It’s funny how articles like your pop up a day or two after I have the conversation with someone.

    A fresh, inviting read.

    Thanks AK

  2. Oli P.

    Dec 16, 2016 at 12:23 am

    Why? Good question i get it all the time when i talk about my goals for the next years …. Never really had an idea a long period of time. I knew i got to do it and I’ve done it. But a while ago I got depressed, life never works the way you imagine and so it was also with my engagement…. after months of sadness and questioning everything… the answer came. WHY? Because i need to prove myself that i can, and when you end up in a similar situation, that should be the motivation. You’ve done things that though were impossible and now this is one of them.

  3. Ayesha

    Dec 12, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    After reading this I feel so enlightened, this is the thing which i was searching around. I felt so awesome to know that people in this world have some serious motivations for their goals.

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Life

What Les Misérables Taught Me About Our Values

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Why Do We Have An Unconscious Bias and How Can We Manage It?

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When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?

As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?

Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.  

Let’s park this one for now and we will come back. 

Categorization is essential to our survival

There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses. 

The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.

An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.

In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.

When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting! 

Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.

  1. lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin 
  2. lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin

The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.

Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored. 

This amazing skill has its drawbacks

As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.

Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)

Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.  

This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.

Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.  

The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people

We can overcome unconscious bias 

Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals. 

Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms. 

Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds. 

The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals. 

What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!

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