“Why” before “How”

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

Those seeking change look toward the mountain ahead, ambivalent to whether or not they should make the trek. They want to get to the top, but are comfortable and safe. Torn between these two competing desires, one may seek out professional advice on mountain-climbing, buy all the top-notch gear, and painstakingly plan their route, perpetually putting off the climb. This is the danger of putting the “how” before the “why”.

We all know people who’ve procrastinated by planning perfectionist plots, while never getting to the hard work of actually making a change. The problem with this approach is that it continues indefinitely, leaving the person wanting the end-goal, yet not having the level of motivation required to take action. The reason for this lack of motivation is the lack of focus on why one is pursuing a goal in the first place. When we connect with our own reasons for taking a particular course of action, we become motivated on a core emotional-level, providing the necessary fuel for action.

When someone comes to us looking for advice on how to make a change, we need to pause before jumping in and offering our assistance. Is this person stuck in perpetual planning? Perhaps they already know the answer and are seeking advice in place of taking action, giving them a false sense of accomplishment without having to start the hard work of change. We all love to help others and feel important when someone asks for our advice, but perhaps we need to take a step back sometimes and ask them why they want to make this change.

In practical terms, the conversation may look like this:

Friend: “I’m having some financial difficulties and think I need to stop going to the casino, what should I do to get back on track?”
You: “It looks like you are interested in making some important changes, can you first tell me more about your reasons for making this change?

Possible reasons that may surface during the conversation may include the ability to properly care for family/loved-ones, the ability to build a specific career, or perhaps spiritual/religious reasons. Whatever the reason, rather than jumping to advice, you can help them better by first having a conversation about their reasons for change.

The best map is useless if you’re not ready to take the trek. As stated by Friedrich Nietzsche, we can overcome almost any how by first connecting with our why.

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