WHY are you doing that?

| Bryan Landaas LCSW

I’ve been reading Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why and something struck me. Sinek proposed that the thing that separated the truly successful companies from the rest of the field was their steadfast focus on their values, what they stood for as a company. Sinek’s argument is that when consumers connect with the purpose/culture (i.e., the “why”) of a company, they are forging an emotional, not intellectual relationship with the company. When companies appeal mostly to the intellect of an individual, such as through pricing or product features/attributes, they create a much more superficial connection with the customer and the customer is much less likely to become life-long customers of the company. It becomes a transactional, what have you done for me lately kind of relationship.

As a therapist who primarily utilizes a cognitive-behavioral therapeutic approach called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, I always strive to start with the why with my clients. I strive to assist my clients with discovering, sorting out, and connecting with their deeply held values, what it is they want to stand for, what qualities of living feel “right” to them. When we appeal to our values, we’re engaging our emotional system. Values are not products of intellect. Values are emotionally-charged life directions.

To quote Sinek, “Starting with why is what inspires people to act.”

We’re all wired to act on our emotions by default. Our brains quickly take a stance on an issue, then we come up with reasons for why we either made the decision or hold that belief. This is why it is nearly (maybe wholly) impossible to change a person’s mind surrounding politics or religion through discussion alone. Religion and politics are largely driven by emotions, not rationality or intellect. People take their initial stance, based on their emotion, and then dig in their heals to defend it (for more info research “confirmation bias”).

But we can use this to our advantage. When we connect with our most deeply held values, we’re able talk ourselves into doing things that we otherwise wouldn’t. For example, one of the most challenging, yet effective, therapeutic interventions is exposure therapy for anxiety disorders, such as OCD or social anxiety. This treatment process requires that an individual gradually confronts feared situations, over and over again, for many months on end. Sounds like torture, right? Well, it would be if that person was trying to maximize comfort and safety. However, if that person instead connected to his value of “being a provider for his family” he wouldn’t view this process as torture but as a necessary, challenging growth process towards maintaining a job and providing for his family. He needs no justification or reason for this why. It is self-evident to him. And because it is self-evident he will be more likely to maintain his engagement in a process that he otherwise might avoid.

Put It In Practice:
As you go through each day, practice asking your self the question, “Why is this important?” (i.e., and why is that important?”) until your answer becomes, “It just is.” That is when you’ve discovered a value. Simply developing the habit of probing deeper into the various motivations behind your daily actions will reveal and connect you with what it is you truly value and can transform how you experience and engage in life.

Today's the day to make a change.