“Why on Earth did I do that?”
How often have you asked yourself this question, wondering why you behaved or acted the way you did? Many times we don’t understand why we do what we do. And even more frequently we are perplexed by the actions of others.
“Why did they do that?” we ask.
Finding the answer to this question is the first step in creating positive change.
So, why do we do what we do?
Because of how we want to feel.
Everything we do in life is motivated by one thing: our feelings. We do what we do because of how we think it will make us feel.
Think about it for a moment. You can take any action or behavior as an example and you will find that the underlying reason is a feeling that we want to experience or avoid.
For example, why do we want companionship? Because we believe it will make us feel secure, or content, or safe, or loved, or happy.
You may protest and say that you want to be with someone because of who they are, or because you love them. But what is it about them that makes you want to be with them? Why do you love them so much? Perhaps because they have always been there for you, which makes you feel loyal to them, or appreciate them. Maybe it’s because you just find them amazing. In other words, they amaze you, they make you feel amazed. If you dig deep enough, you will always find a feeling as the root, the source, the cause.
Ask a parent who selflessly gives to their child for years on end without ever expecting anything in return why they do what they do and usually the answer is something along the lines of, “Because I love them.” Underneath it all, the driving factor is emotion.
Why does someone want a fast sports car? Why do they rev the engine? It gives them a sense of power or excitement.
Why do we want a place to live? Security and comfort.
Why do we want success or prestige? Because of how it feels to receive these things.
Why do we avoid certain people? Because they make us feel annoyed, frustrated, angry, or some other unpleasant emotion.
If we see a large bear lunging towards us licking its lips, we will run. Why? Because we want to avoid the feeling of pain that bear could bring us.
Why do people go out to a party? Or have a drink? Or smoke? I think you get the point by now. It’s all about how we feel.
Or more specifically, it’s all about how we think we will feel.
Let’s take an example to illustrate more clearly what this really means.
Perhaps I ask you, “What is your biggest problem right now?”
And you reply, “Health problems. I am worried about my health.”
“Why are you worried?”
“Because I am afraid if this gets too serious, I won’t be able to help my family and I will become a burden on them.”
This person, in this aspect of their life, is motivated by fear; the fear of what might happen if their health deteriorates.
Let’s take another example.
You say to me, “Gosh, I really need a vacation!”
“Oh yeah, why?” I ask.
“Because I’m stressed! I just need to get away!”
“What are you going to do on vacation?”
“Oh I’ll just lay by the beach and take it easy. I’ll do nothing all day long but relax and not worry about a thing. It’ll be great!”
This person wants to take a vacation simply because of how they think it will make them feel: more relaxed and able to temporarily let go of their worries and fears.
These are just a couple of an infinite number of possible examples, but if you probe long enough, you find that we do what we do because we want to avoid the pain or experience the pleasure we think something will bring us. We want to feel a certain way.
A Powerful Exercise to Create Positive Change
Here is a very powerful exercise which can help you to bring about positive change in your life. Go ahead and give this a try:
Ask yourself, “What problems do I have, what is holding me back?” Answer truthfully. Then, have a dialogue with yourself and ask yourself “Why?” and “How does that make me feel?” until you uncover the root cause, the motivating feeling underneath it all.
Once you discover it, there often comes a powerful moment of clarity or an overwhelming realization. That alone may be enough to prompt you to change, to take action. Or maybe it will validate for you that you are already on the right path.
Awareness of why we do what we do is very powerful.
And doing this same thing with other people can help you to understand what motivates them. Then you can quickly build rapport, enhance or mend relationships, and help others bring about positive change in their lives. This is also arguably one of the most important factors in succeeding in sales or persuasion.
“So,” you might ask, “once we know what motivates us, then what do we do with this knowledge? How can this really help me?”
I will answer this in my next post by giving you one very simple question that you can ask to leverage this awareness and create real change in yourself and in others.
But to become effective at creating change, we have to first get good at finding the underlying emotion. So, for the next week, become an investigator of motivations. In everything you do, try to uncover the why. Do this in yourself and with others.
The more you practice this, the more insightful you will become.
Pay attention to what you discover and you may just find something profound. You may see yourself, and the world, in a whole new light.