know your why - a view on the Mickelson Trail

Know Your Why: Rule for Intrepid Living #91

Have you ever worked toward a goal that just felt… lackluster? I know I have, and ultimately, my effort fell apart. Why? Because it wasn’t the right goal. So how can you know if a goal is right for you? Know Your Why.

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Having vague or unclear notions about wanting to change your life won’t equal positive change. It doesn’t matter how much you want things to be different — wanting isn’t enough. Desire doesn’t build objectives, measure progress, or give you an idea of what you need to achieve. To really succeed at getting what you want, you need to set goals.

Goals can look a lot like destinations, but without any roadmaps to get to that point most of us fall short. Believe me, I’m looking at myself in the metaphorical mirror when I write that, because I’m the king of falling short of goals. What I’ve learned is that you can’t set it and forget it. It isn’t enough to simply set the goal and assume you’ll figure out how to achieve it along the way. You have to build a plan or strategy that outlines steps you need to take along the way, sub-goals that you can achieve as you progress, and a system for developing the skills and knowledge you’ll need to complete your objective.

There is another challenge to goal-setting though, and that’s setting goals that don’t align with what you really want. I think one of the best examples of this is fitness goals. It’s all well and good to say, “I want to lose weight and build muscle so that I can be healthier.” That’s a fine goal. But that’s not why everyone wants to get in shape. If the real reason you want to lose weight and add muscle is so that you look good naked, it’s still a good goal, and if you’re honest with yourself about your motivation, you’re more likely to be successful.

What is your why?

When I told my friend about how I sometimes struggle to keep up with the steps needed to achieve a goal, he remarked, “you’ve got to know your why.”

I love that. If you know your why — understanding the real reasons behind your goals — you’ll be better able to commit and achieve.

So, what is your why? Be honest with yourself — you don’t have to tell me or anyone else. Nobody needs to know if your why seems selfish. Because here’s a secret: you are allowed to be a little self-serving. You are allowed to want and do things for yourself. If you want to lose weight so you can attract hotties, more power to you. Want to earn more money so that you can live in a nicer house? That’s perfectly acceptable. You are allowed to want things. Just don’t be evil.

Setting goals is important, but to be successful, they need to align with what you truly want. To be more effective at setting and achieving your goals, you need to know your why.

How do you figure this out? You would think it would be easy, and sometimes it is. Other times, it’s a real bear to figure out though. You may have to literally ask yourself why you want to achieve a certain goal, or why you want a certain outcome. You’ll almost always have a surface level answer — and it’s probably true to some extent. But if you spend some time really digging into the desire behind a goal, you’ll catch some serious insight into what you want and why you want it.

Know your why

Understanding your why is often an examination of values, and this is challenging — it can be hard to wrestle with the notion that we are at times vain, selfish, or otherwise imperfect. But we are. This isn’t something to feel bad about. A little bit of vanity, egotism, and even envy isn’t a terrible thing to have, as long as that isn’t all there is to you.

So how can you figure out what you value and uncover your why? For some this is simple and easy — they have an understanding of what they want and why they want it.

Others need a little guidance.

Start by asking yourself value-oriented questions, such as:

  • When have you felt the happiest or proudest? Are there times that you remember feeling exceptionally fulfilled? What contributed to those feelings — was it people, a place, or an activity of some kind?
  • Who or what inspires you? Can you think of specific people or experiences that have influenced you?
  • If money was not a concern, how would you spend your time?
  • Who and what are the most important to you?

As you get introspective and answer these questions honestly, you’ll start to gain an understanding of what really matters most to you. And again, this is helpful because it’s much harder to succeed at goals that don’t align with your values — you need to know why you really want something. You have to understand what’s actually driving you to want to accomplish something. You have to, as I now put it, know your why.

I spent a lot of time over the years working toward goals that I thought I was supposed to achieve. In doing so I was focusing on accomplishing things that other people cared about, but that I was honestly apathetic about. And while I did achieve some of those goals, I sure as hell didn’t do anything noteworthy. I didn’t know my why then. I do now.

When you know your why, you’re honest with yourself about why you want to accomplish your goal. Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to take a trip? Why do you want to earn more money? Why do you want to buy a motorcycle? These are all fine goals, but without understanding why you want them, even succeeding at them won’t be fulfilling. It’s only when you succeed at goals that align with your values that you find satisfaction. Achieving for the sake of achievement feels good in the moment, but in the long run it will leave you wanting.

If you know your why, the other stuff — from setting the goals to breaking them down, doing the work, and succeeding are much more straightforward. Maybe not easier, but definitely simpler. And in the long run, so much more fulfilling. So, know your why.

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