Why You Need To Ask Why

And How it's Distinct From How

I’ve been reading Andy Andrews’ new book The Little Things: Why You Really Should Sweat the Small Stuff. In fact, I’m going to be reviewing it on Friday. One of the most profound insights from the book is the difference between How and Why.

“Why,” Andrews tells us, is a question we all grow up asking when we’re kids. Now that I’m the father of a toddler, I know what it means to be on the receiving end of constant “why” questions.

Girl pondering why

Our rational side asks “how” things are done. But it’s that childlike voice asking “why” that may have the most to teach us about reaching the next level in any area of our lives.

Meaningful Hows Need A Why

So often we move through life asking how to do things. Last week, I wrote three in-depth posts on how to cultivate a more rich prayer life. Neat. But what’s the point? What’s the purpose of cultivating a prayer life, or doing anything else, if you don’t want to?

If we just accept that things are done a certain way, we won’t ever innovate. We will just follow a path set before us in whatever it is, and that’s that.

Without why the United States wouldn’t have been founded, Rosa Parks wouldn’t have refused to give up her seat on the bus, and we wouldn’t have landed a man on the moon.

That isn’t to say we don’t need how. Getting a man on the moon means building a rocket, which requires someone who knows how to do that, and how to design it and how to put it together and how to mix the fuel so it flies off the Earth’s surface.

Why doesn’t lay out plans for a rocket, but it does ask if whatever is being done now is sufficient. Why also brings out the motivation to get things done. If that weren’t enough, you can apply John F. Kennedy’s formula and ask Why not, and your excuses vanish altogether.

You could say that every meaningful how always needs a why.

Why Reveals A Lot

If you have a relationship that isn’t where it should be, why? If it needs to get better, why? With that one question, you’ve answered an awful lot about the how and given yourself the springboard to make amends.

Once you know your why the how falls into place.

On a practical level, think of it this way. How many big-picture things have you gotten done in your life by just knowing how to do it?

There’s another thing about why which is pretty neat. It’s a compass pointing us towards our purpose. Why tells you not only your motivation for doing something, or reveals the issues with something, but it shows you when you’re going off course.

Michael Hyatt, a leadership expert I respect, often quotes his wife, Gail, about this very question of how why can be a compass in your life. Gail says:

You lose your way when you lose your why.

How true. When whatever you’re doing or wherever you’re going no longer has a why behind it, you might want to stop the car, get out, and look around. Without a clear why, it’s time to reassess.

For all these reasons, why is a question I’ve been using a lot more in my life as I try to live with more purpose. Look out for my book review of The Little Things on Friday for more wisdom from Andy Andrews!

Question: Has the question of “why” influenced your life in any meaningful way?