The Why Exercise examines your automatic assumptions, bias, and programming. If you aren’t getting really annoyed or uncomfortable, it’s a good sign you need to keep digging. Knowing why you believe something or are pursuing a goal is increases your motivation. We’re far more likely to exercise because we believe it will reduce the chance of dementia or to reach our goal of completing the London Marathon than if we plan to exercise because our doctor says we should.

This is a great exercise to use whenever you are thinking of buying something or investing time or money in something especially on impulse or if it increases your debt. The Why Exercise causes you to slow down and examine your motivation — and your priorities.

Basic Exercise

  1. Make a statement.
    Example: I’m going to buy these headphones or I need to get a flu shot.
  2. Then ask yourself: “Why?”
  3. Now answer the question.
    Example: “Because they are exactly the headphones I’ve wanted for over a year and they are on sale” or “I always get a flu shot.”

Well, golly, that seems simple enough, Carolyn. This is a quick way to give yourself a pause and time to reflect. But now it’s time to go deeper.

Full Exercise

  • After providing your initial answer, ask yourself “Why” again.
    In some cases, you can simply be like the toddler who simply keeps asking, “Why?” Example: “I always get a flu shot.” “Why?” “Because my doctor tells me to.” Why? “Because the flu can make me very sick, even require hospitalization.” Why? “Because I’m getting older and am more susceptible to both catching the flu and the complications of the flu.” Why?” Because, among other things, the flu viruses are getting stronger and I have greater exposure.” “Why?” Because I’m spending more time in public places and with other people.” “Because I want to avoid becoming too isolated because it’s bad for my mental and emotional health to become isolated and fell alone.” And continues until you reach a point where you can confidently say, “Well, that makes complete sense” or “That’s a terrible reason!”
  • Now other cases may require framing the follow-up questions a little differently, focusing on the more specific aspects of your answer.
    For example, “I’m going to buy these headphones because they are exactly the headphones I’ve wanted for over a year and they are on sale.” You may want to start asking “Why are these the headphones I’ve wanted for over year?” “Because I’ve wanted wireless, Bluetooth, rechargeable, headphones with a mic from Bose?” “Why have you wanted them from Bose?” “Because I trust Bose, I like my old Bose headphones and every cheaper set of headphones I’ve bought didn’t work out so I wasted my money.” “Why not just use your old Bose headphones if you like them so much?” “Because the foam for the earpieces is cracking and crumbling and the wire keeps getting caught and jerking the headphones off my head when I work in the yard.”
  • Again, you keep asking a form of “why” until you either realize you are rationalizing, in error, or are absolutely making a good decision.

Don’t be too hasty to say, “Hey! I make a lot of sense!” Keep asking “why” questions past the point of initial annoyance or discomfort. The purpose of the exercise is to make us pause and explore our underlying reasons, motives, and patterns of behavior rather than simply doing what we usually or automatically do. 

Or as Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

And to discover the goals that you really value, try the Life or Bucket List exercise. (And then apply the Priority Planning Process technique to achieve your goals and aspirations.)


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