When you set out to do anything in life, there is always something that stimulates you to do it. It could be a long-time dream, or it could be a slight hunger pain. But the point is we do not do anything without a “WHY”. Unfortunately, most of us go through life without a very strong “WHY”, we take the path of least resistance, we just do what others do or what others tell we should do. When you commit to eating healthy or exercising you end up reverting back to eating junk food or skipping a work out because something more important comes up and more important things continue to come up until your new commitment is a distant memory. Until the next time, you commit to something new.

               To understand why we do what we do we need to understand what motivates us. Why do we just do what others are doing? It goes back to our tribal days where if we found ourselves not fitting into the tribe we could run the risk of being exiled which could mean being eaten by wild animals, killed or taken prisoner by a competing tribe or a slow death caused starvation. It makes sense why, back then, it was in your best interest to fit in. So, when we change our eating habits and a friend invites us to a fast food restaurant we want please them so that they will accept us, and we will fit in. As a result, we drop our new eating habits and eat the burger with mayo. To be able to not eat the burger with Mayo you need to be able to clearly understand why eating healthy versus eating at a fast food restaurant is more important than fitting in. Your “WHY” needs to fulfill a more important need like being alive for your daughters’ wedding or to be able to hike the Appalachian Trail when you are 55. You also need to fulfill the need to belong, to do this you need to find other ways to fit in that do not involve going to fast food restaurants.

But what about us taking the path of least resistance? Our bodies and minds are trained to avoid pain which is a good thing when touching a hot stove, avoiding a sunburn, or stepping on sharp rocks. Avoiding hot objects and sharp objects is a good thing, the issue starts when there is too much comfort and we lose or resiliency and strength. Going to the gym makes us sore and requires us to perhaps acknowledge that we are not as fit as we would like to be, but it also increases our stamina and strength. So, when we feel a little tired or a bit sore it is easy to take the more comfortable path and skip the gym. Again your “WHY” for going to the gym needs to be stronger than your need for comfort. This is where you could use your need to fit in by finding a partner to go to the gym with. Your desire to be accepted will keep you going to the gym because your desire to keep your gym partner engaged will be more important than your desire for comfort. This, of course, might not be a strong enough motivator to go to the gym but for many people, it does do the trick.

When it comes to business a Strong “WHY” is also very important, it tells customers as well as employees why you do what you do. It is what motivates people to become passionate about a company and it tells employees how they should act. Simon Sinek in his book Start With WHY uses Apple as an example their why is “To challenge the status Quo” Where Micro-Soft was “A PC on every desk” both clear why’s but both reach very different groups of people. If you aren’t in the process of starting or running your own business, you might be wondering “why should I care about companies “WHY” because it will help you identify your buying habits or perhaps make you question them. When you buy a pair of shoes made by a 12-year-old in a sweatshop overseas who works 12 hours per day you are saying that you support child labour. If you support child labour then no problem, continue on your way, but maybe you have kids and the thought of them working in a factory for 12 hours per day does not sit right with you, maybe you should care about companies “WHY”. Your buying decisions carry a lot of power when it comes to the decisions companies make. To quote Peter Parker’s wise uncle Ben “with great power comes great responsibility”. So, acknowledge you have power and use it wisely.

Most people are aware that many manufacturers use child labour, yet we go and buy their products. This seems strange. Does it mean that we support child labour? Hopefully not. It comes back to our “WHY” again. Our desire to fit in again overrides our desire to do the right thing. Large shoe and clothing companies spend millions of dollars to get famous athletes and celebrities to endorse their products to trigger in us the following thought process “Celebrity A is wearing Brand B’s shoes, If I wear Brand B’s shoes people will associate me with Celebrity A and people will like me more” this works great for selling products but is our desire to fit in so great that we are willing to support child labour? If we don’t question “why we do what we do”, we can easily find ourselves making purchasing decisions that support child labour.

Think about history for a moment we look back on the Nazis’s and we ask how they could have done what they did in the concentration camps, or in Rwanda where millions were slaughtered by their neighbours. It was peoples desire to fit in that allowed them to do these things, or just decide to ignore what was going on because they saw everyone else doing it and that was easier than speaking up and risk being rejected by the group. When people look back at our time period they will likely think that we had so much prosperity and yet we blindly supported child labour so that we could indulge our desire to have more. They won’t likely talk about our desire to fit in, they will just say that we were greedy people who did not care about how our decisions caused suffering for others. So, think about how history will judge the decisions you make today.  

Hopefully, by now your perception of the importance of your “WHY” has changed. If you want to be able to make commitments and stick with them, and if you want to make conscious decisions that have a positive impact. Then when you find yourself making a new commitment, or starting a new enterprise ask “WHY” and look at all your other why’s and make sure your “WHY” is strong enough to overcome the lesser Why’s. If there is a “WHY” that you deem more important that’s fine acknowledge that and when it comes up, accept it as who are, remove any guilt and know where your decisions are coming from.

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