If you’re stuck trying to find ways to achieve a goal or solve a problem, there’s a quick analysis tool that can put you back in perspective and save you hours of frustrated brainstorming. It’s as effective as it’s simple: all it takes is asking ‘why’…
Finding Your Motivation
Behind every goal you set or every problem you’re working on there’s a motivation. Even though the reasons we’re doing something are usually clear, next time you’re brainstorming solutions for a challenge you’re facing, take a few seconds and deliberately ask yourself:
“Why do I want this?”
Knowing your motivation is the most fundamental step before taking any action; after all, if you don’t know the reason for doing something, why do it in the first place? While this may seem blatantly obvious, the truth is that we often don’t consciously clarify the reasons for our actions beforehand.
Suppose you have the goal “Get more customers to my business”:
—“Why do I want to get more customers to my business?”
—”To increase sales” you may say.
Don’t try to be particularly clever about your answer: just give the first and most evident reason. While you may regard “to increase sales” as the most obvious of the possible answers, consciously bringing it to light accomplishes a lot: it gives you a fresh new perspective about your challenge.
That simple answer gives you an entire new dimension of brainstorming possibilities: if what you really want to accomplish is increasing sales, you don’t necessarily need to get more customers — What about making bigger sales each time? What about making your customers return more often?
Focusing too narrowly on a goal or problem without understanding your underlying motivations prevents you from coming up with many creative and effective solutions.
Motivation Comes in Layers
You can extract full benefit from this technique by realizing that your motivations are layered: each motivation is a way to fulfill a higher-level one. To find out upper levels of motivation, all you need is to keep asking ‘why’. In our example, the exercise could unfold like this:
—”Why do I want to get more customers to my business?”
—”To increase sales.”
—”Why do I want to increase sales?”
—”To expand my profits.”
—”Why do I want to increase my profits?”
—”To retire earlier.”
—”Why do I want to retire earlier?”
—”To spend more time with my family.”
Working the motivation ladder in this manner is a great way to find the perspective you’re more comfortable working with. You may be paralyzed about “getting more customers”, but brainstorming ways to “spend more time with family” may be much more appealing to you.
The trick is to find the motivation layer that resonates better with you and then work from there. When you purposefully think in terms of motivations, problems become multidimensional: you can always choose more effective approaches to get unstuck immediately.
More surprisingly, each level of motivation can bring you new insights that may drastically change the direction you approach your goal. In the example above, consider the high-level motivation “to spend more time with my family”: blindly tackling your lower-level motivation of “getting more customers to my business” may force you to spend even more hours at the office — which is the exact opposite of what you really want, isn’t it?
5 Main Benefits of Asking Why
There are many more reasons why considering your motivations can make all the difference in a brainstorming session. Here are just a few:
1. Multiplying your Creative Output
If you were stuck with only one goal to go after, now you have many more to choose from: that means that if you could accomplish it in a hundred different ways, now you can do it in five hundred ways or even more.
2. Bringing a Sense of Purpose
Even if you end up choosing the original challenge you had at hand, you’ll now work on it with a clearer purpose in your mind. This may give you just that extra enthusiasm boost that you need.
3. Spotting Misalignments
Just like in the example of discovering that ‘getting more customers’ really meant ‘spending more time with family’, you may find that a lower-level goal is misaligned or conflicting with a higher-level motivation. In this case, simply drop your lower-level goal and approach your objective from a higher-level one instead.
4. Finding broader solutions
Brainstorming at higher levels of abstraction can give you solutions that encompass multiple areas of your life and address many issues in a single blow.
5. Uncovering Personal Values and Mission
If you keep climbing the ‘why ladder’ as high as you can, you’ll notice that soon enough you’ll inescapably uncover your core personal values — and ultimately your life mission. This is an extremely simple and practical “bottom-up” approach to understanding what really matters to you.
It’s a Habit
We’re so used to just spitting out solutions to problems that, more often than not, we just get into auto-pilot mode — forgetting to connect with our underlying motivations. But asking ‘why’ is nothing more than a habit. In fact, it’s so simple and effective that all you need to do is to just get started.