Why we avoid the whys, part 1

It was one of those late weekend afternoons when it’s too late to make any plans or call anybody, but still to early to go to bed. You know, you’re just sitting there, staring at the screen or whatever. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, because you’re not really doing anything.

So I’m click around Ken Robinson’s new book’s website, looking for something interesting, and I notice that he has a presentation on the 2nd of February in London. The entrance is free.

I look at the date for a few seconds. One thought slowly manifests itself:

“I have to be there.”

It all made sense at that moment. I had to be there. I had to listen to Ken Robinson. More importantly, I had two for me extremely important questions to ask him.

I get excited about the prospect of being in London in one week, listening to Ken Robinson. Really excited. I immediately and enthusiastically get to work.

In half an hour I get all the info I need on how to get a British visa in such a short time. I find a quite affordable plane ticket to London from Budapest. I sketch out the trip and calculate the expenses. It’s all ready. I just have to click play.

But I hesitate. I have exams next week. I need to study. The hunt for the visa requires a considerable amount of time which I really don’t have at the moment. And failing the exams, this time, was not an option. Other plans were at stake.

I still want to do it though. It just makes so much sense to do it. Or so I thought. I explain it to a few friends, and I get talked out of it pretty fast.

I contemplate doing it anyway. And I could have done it. I just had to press “play” in my head, and it would have happened.

But now I talk myself out of it.

Because when I asked myself: “Come on, don’t you see that this is the thing you want to do the most at the moment? Is there a single thing right now that’s inspiring you half as much to act?” – the question backfired on me: “Yeah, how come there isn’t a single thing that’s inspiring you half as much as this to act?”

It’s the sort of realization you can’t really argue with, because not only does it slap you in the face so hard that you know it’s true, you pretty much immediately realize all that it implies; and all that you should do.

It’s amazing to me how much having an aim, a goal, a purpose, gives meaning to so many other things, even to those it seems that it shouldn’t. It can even make you deal with really tedious things with zen-like calm and acceptance, sometimes bordering on enthusiasm.

Throwing out the garbage is a chore, but it isn’t if you see it as an another small opportunity to lose some weight, while going down and up the stairs. Or if it means you might stumble upon your cute neighbor. Or, if you’re, say, in love, when you’re just too happy to consider anything a chore.

Actually, the feeling I had for the idea of suddenly going in London was like a lighter version of falling in love. It became the main thing on my mind. It put me into a constant, general state of, how can I call it, quiet joy and enthusiasm. Everything else I did I was more motivated to do, and it was as if it was all imbued with a new, deeper meaning.

So, as I said it’s amazing how much our capacities and outlook change when we have a clear purpose, or simply something to look forward to. To quote Viktor Frankl (whose amazing book I’ll write about soon) who quotes Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.'” Of course, it’s not just about bearing the bad hows, it’s also about enjoying the good ones – even those you didn’t think could be enjoyed.

However, what’s even more amazing to me is that we aren’t applying this knowledge consciously and consistently. Why?

Why aren’t we defining the whys?

Why don’t you, right now, define at least one small goal? One which will make you happier, smarter, thinner, richer or whatever it is that you want?

Is it inconvenient right now? When isn’t it? Does it have to be a special day for planning? A special day, just for one small goal? Or you don’t know how to achieve your goal? While you sit here, surfing the whole internet? Where they even have guides on how to change television channels?

It’s like that changing yourself at this very moment is… weird. Like there should be some grand reason, extensive plan and thorough soul searching before deciding to finally organize your desktop. Like if there isn’t a Rocky soundtrack in the background, the change is not worth it. Or if you aren’t annoyed so much with the current situation that you just have to change it.

I’m making this a part 1, because I have many more thoughts on this issue, and I’m trying to walk this talk, and well… it’s going really good so far, but I feel it’s too early to talk about it. Beginnings are easy. It’s the plateaus that come in the middle which are a bitch to overcome. We’ll see if it’ll be different this time.

In the meantime, why don’t you also define a few whys?

7 Responses to “Why we avoid the whys, part 1”

  1. Pity about Ken :-(. There will be other opportunities. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see you beside him one day on TED talks :-)!

    You captured the essence of a great truth: Where there is a will, there’s a way. But for there to be a will, there has to be a goal. And every goal begins with a “Why”. Usually it stays there, too. Like a catalyst in an amazing chain reaction, it is just something that gets things rolling, then stands back and lets the gravity of our actions do their thing.

    Personally, I dream of going to Ireland, standing up on a jagged cliff side in a sweater and a beret, and watching the tides emerging from a cloudy horizon to crash against the rocks beneath. Why? I saw it in a dream some five years ago. And yet, if you gave me the money and a plane ticket NOW, I would probably run like hell in the other direction.

    Why? Because dreams aren’t goals. Sure, I can CHOOSE to make it a goal, infuse it with my will and give it purpose, but it will never be the dream I had. For that same reason, Jung, a man I admire, a man who was frightfully awake and aware, refused to go to Jerusalem, his dream destination, five times! I guess what I’m trying to say is, never confuse dreams with goals, and never let fantasy cloud the majesty of amorous garbage duty :-D.

    Sorry for getting a bit tangental.

    Capre diem, then dip it in chocolate.

  2. Aim can be defined in so many ways and it can come from various directions,in a different shape and intensity changeable by time,day or sometimes less.Every of them comes from some kind of daydreaming or nightdreaming and it’s them (dreams)that give a starting point to our goal.
    Did it ever happen to you to be so excited and exuberant just with a hint of some idea which might lead towards ‘goal’ but you still don’t have a clear landscape of it?Yet,you remain decisive to continue forward although the final destination is still not known but the energy fulfilling that ‘something’ is just enough to keep you on your track.

    Or did it ever happen to you to work hard,give all yourself to that special focus,sweat,cry,shout,kick,smell,enjoy in taking that way cause of what’s in the end of it-our ‘great picture’-and when you get very close to exultation , realise you don’t really want it anymore,it’s importance is much much smaller?

  3. Aha! Someone has been visiting Cracked.com! XD

    …a more insightfull comment up soon.. 😉

  4. @Velja

    You’re quite right about the goal-as-catalyst thing, but having a goal, a why, also gives you new momentum when you at some point (inevitably) lose it, because of some (yes, inevitable 🙂 problem, hindrance etc.

    Of course, dreams are a different thing from actual aims, just watch out not to go to the “if I’ve dreamt it, I won’t do it” extreme 🙂


    I can’t really remember of a situation where I didn’t “want it anymore” when very close to sweet success. IMO, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is something which motivates you to make those few last steps even faster.

    I’m not saying it can’t happen, of course – people can realize they don’t want something anymore in various situations, even when near success. Though I should say that motivation usually drops while you’re in that plateau of “things are happening, but you’re not really feeling the progress”, and maybe when near success, after so much hard work, you can feel like you’re in another plateau, when instead you’re so close to your goal.


    heheh, I was thinking of first linking to the how-to-use-scissors manual, but damn… a guide to changing TV channels? For AMERICANS? Priceless 😀

  5. Intriguing. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Just passing by.Btw, you website have great content!

    Don’t pay for your electricity any longer…
    Instead, the power company will pay YOU!


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