by Heather Self
Editors Note: This is part one of a three part series. Check back every Monday for the next few weeks for the full piece.
When it comes to goals, asking “why” you want to achieve something is necessary. Otherwise you’re just kind of floating around and you won’t get through. Especially for the tougher ones. The Universe (or however you look at it) needs to know why so it can send you ways to get it that will become solid. If you don’t have your “why”, it’s easier to get discouraged and give up.
The most famous “why” is perhaps when Sir George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest.
“Because it’s there.”
And that’s one of the more immediate questions I ask clients when they say they want to achieve something, but they can’t seem to get it. “Why? Why do you want this?” And then, to each answer, I’ll ask it again, “And why is that important?”
I don’t do this to frustrate them by answering a question with a question—I do this so they can start formulating understanding how to get there and how they can stay motivated. And even to sort out the discovery that it really isn’t a goal they want after all, and the dead ends came from the message to find something else. Many times they discover they’re following someone else’s why. That doesn’t mean it can’t become their own, but it has to resonate from within their heart as well. If it doesn’t, it’s not going to motivate you.
The thing with goals, is that the ones that are really important to us will force us to confront aspects of ourselves we’ve never chosen to look at before.
Sometimes some pretty rotten stuff. But this “stuff” is what’s holding us back.
The lack of confidence.
Other people’s opinions about us we’ve taken on as our own.
I talked, in an earlier post, about what I went through 11 years ago. During that time, as I wrote my book, and as I pounded away at the gym, I had an enormous number of insights about myself and a continual run of catharsis. If I didn’t have a why, I would have given up. What was my why? I’m not sure I can put it into words concisely. The best nutshell I can say is I knew I had to. And I began to really see the correlation between physical strength/power and mental strength power.
Your “why” also has to really resonate with you.
Sure, a goal may be centered around “just because” or “because it’s cool”, but for the goals that are connected to our souls and spirits, that won’t be enough. For someone out there, maybe that’s all that’s needed. But if it’s a really personal goal, you have to have a very solid why for getting there. Because the more personal it is, the more you’re going to bump up against those snickering, sniveling, sometimes-bullying gremlins sneaking around in you, living in corners of your thoughts and your heart.
Your “why” is what keeps you motivated.
Losing motivation now and then is normal, but if you hang onto your why, you’ll keep going. There’s a difference between just not feeling it for a day or two, but having that goal still sitting within you, but that’s enormously different than losing motivation. “Not feeling it”, but still having your “why”, also gives you permission to just kick off your goal-seeking shoes occasionally to take a break and get refreshed and renewed. Your “why” is what helps you find opportunities to act on, and it gives you the strength and courage to do so.
There was a Far Side cartoon that showed a happy fellow holding some weird-looking contraption, and the caption was, “Edgar finds his purpose.” Gary Larson said he based that cartoon on something someone told him—that her boyfriend, Edgar, was aimless and had no “why” in life, at least according to her father, who, one evening at dinner, blurted out, “The problem is you have no purpose, Edgar!”
And so Gary Larson drew Edgar finding his purpose, hoping that he actually had at some point. And while the “purpose” in the cartoon made no sense to us, it did to Edgar. And that’s all that mattered, because it was his. Edgar had found his why. And it was all his and only his. Maybe no one else will understand it…but that doesn’t matter. Because it’s his.
You know when you have a “why” that’s all yours.
You can feel it coming from your very core, from the marrow of your bones. And you still can when you aren’t feeling it for a few days, just more muted. You also know when you don’t have a “why”. There’s no resonance, no fire still burning in you, quietly or otherwise. You feel drained and your self-talk moves into can’t no don’t like impossible bleah unmotivated never get there and so on. All around talking yourself down and keeping yourself from sorting out what the wall really is. Walls, even several in a row, don’t necessarily mean “no”. Many times it’s a message of, “Hey–step back and take a look. You’re going about this in the wrong way.” Or, as I mentioned above, it could be it’s really not a goal for you, anyway. So why keep banging your head against it? Why keep trying in that instance?
If it is a goal that you know is yours and something you want to have and you take walls as “no” and you allow them to drain the motivation out of you, it means you’ve either lost sight of your “why”, or you never had it in the first place. Without a “why” your path will be aimless. You might have to do some serious soul-searching and digging way down into yourself. It might take some effort, but that’s what brings awarenesses leading to your “why” to light. And if you’re scared to do so, that’s okay. But allow yourself to do it anyway. Fear, when it’s around that kind of work, is just a way to divert you. It may feel like you have a starving tiger chasing you, but you really don’t.
To find your “why”, keep asking yourself why.
And ask yourself, Is this goal really mine?” And even, “Am I doing this for myself, or am I doing it so I don’t disappoint ________?” Become a little curious kid pestering an older person (brother, sister, parent), “Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?”
Sometimes that wall, that sense of “no” means you still have foundational work that you need to lay down. I have one particular goal I’m sensing on the near horizon that’s been about a decade in the making.
Yes, a decade.
I remember, a few years ago or so, feeling wracked with frustration (and tears) that I was nowhere near it, and then I realized, quite clearly, I have stuff I have to do first. So I set it aside, but I still kept it within my vision. I knew that when it came time, it would position itself before me again.
Goals do not always have a straight path. They’re often curlicued and labyrinthal. They don’t understand time in the sense of March 12 at 2:17 pm (most goals, at least personal ones, do not run on a tidy bus schedule). But goals understand timing. As in: Arriving when it’s best for you. This is something you can only control to a degree. While timing is everything…it’s also really not up to you.
I don’t care what your goal is as long as you have one–and one you believe in.
Maybe it’s being able to beat the underwater basket weaving or breath holding world record. Maybe it’s pulling your life together (in chunks, of course). Maybe it’s getting your pantry reorganized. Washing your car. Writing the Great American Novel. Whatevs, as a teen might say. Just do it because it’s yours, and you know why you’re doing it. Yes, there will be goals that don’t resonate with us and we still have to do them, but I can guarantee you, there’s still a why behind those, too.
Will you lose sight of your “why”?
Sure. That’s normal. As we shift and change, so does our reasoning. Then it comes back to asking yourself questions again to find it again. It could be you’ve met some requirements for building that foundation, and now you need time to let them set as you work on something else. Then sit down and work on the “why” behind the loss, if it really is one. If it’s truly your goal to have, it will come back to you.