Values and Defining Your Why: Part 2
Posted by: Lexi Swenson & Irene Oyang | University of Denver Sport Psychology
Your Narrative & Your “Why”
We all have a narrative. Our narrative is our living storyline, our journey, our past, present, and future. It’s the melding of life events with our thoughts, perception, beliefs, values, and the meaning we assign to these events. Through our narrative, we are able to glean how we navigates the world and what is important to us.
So ask yourself, what is the narrative that you tell yourself about your life? Who are you and what is your role? Why do you play this role? What is your purpose in the story? By asking these challenging questions and really exploring your narrative, you may be able to discover an overarching theme within – the reason why you do what you do. This “why” is what gives us fuel, drives our decisions, and informs our lifestyle.
Motivation vs. Your “Why”
At first glance, motivation and your “why” can seem similar, even interchangeable. They both seem to give one fuel for striving towards one’s goals. So how does your “why” differ from your motivation?
Although motivation serves as a driving force towards a goal, it is situational. We can acknowledge on some level or relate to the feeling of being fired up while setting our New Year’s resolutions, only to have that motivational fire wane a few months later. We’ve all been excited at the idea of spending extra time on your own to work on your ball skills, only to falter when your schedule get busy with school work or other activities , and you suddenly find the option of not going to the field irresistible. What we’re trying to say is, motivation is fickle and localized. It can change day-to-day, moment-to-moment, and situation-to-situation.
On the other hand, your “why” has added layers of complexity that allow it to transcend situations and become a constant. Simply put, your “why” is your purpose. It is something we attach a great deal of significance and meaning to. Unlike motivation, which is situational, our “why” is ubiquitous and is a lifestyle. Why we do something can be something as simple as loving the way we feel when we do it. Perhaps you love soccer because it allows you to discover your best self and you find yourself living in alignment with your values of courage and hard work. Or, perhaps your purpose is something greater than yourself, such as wanting to overcome the odds so you can be a source of inspiration for others to do the same. Regardless of what your “why” is, it is something that resonates deeply with you and gives you a true sense of fulfillment.
Your Values Lead to your “Why”
Our previous blog discussed the importance of values and how they serve as compasses for your decisions in life. Beyond that, our values also serve as steppingstones to our “why.” While our values reveal to us what kind of person we are or aspire to be (kind, hardworking, courageous, honest, etc.), our “why” gives us direction towards our “how” and “what.”
In our previous blog, we delineated how our values inform our decisions, our decisions inform our actions, our actions inform our behaviors, our behaviors then inform our habits, and ultimately, our habits inform our lifestyle. Given that our purpose is a lifestyle, we can easily follow this cascading chain of events to see how values ultimately lead to our “why.”
Your purpose then becomes a culmination of your values and what is important to you. If your life is a book, your values are the chapters or main topics that guide the progression of the plot, and your “why” would be the conclusion.
Start with “Why”
For starters, this is not to be confused with “what.” When asked why you go to soccer practice each day and you respond with “because I am the goalie,” you are simply stating your role, not your purpose. Too often people define themselves based on their role (their “what”), but fail to really define their “why.” Knowing your position and role simply allows you to define your responsibilities and carry them out. Knowing your “why” is what allows you to truly care about what you do and pursue personal as well as performance excellence within your domain and your life.
Simon Sinek is the thought leader who has codified and revolutionized the way we inspire action by starting with “why,” who also coined the Golden Circle that delineates the three levels: why, how what.
Although his talk pertains mostly to business, his inside-out approach by starting with why, before defining your how and what can similarly be applied to the way we think about our purpose, role, and position in life so that we can live a life of fulfillment.
How To Find Your “Why”
Now that we’ve established that leading with your “why” is important, here are a few exercises that can help you find yours.
Activity 1: 5 What’s
This is a partner activity or personal activity that is meant to facilitate a deep dive into your internal purpose. Often times when we are asked why is it that we do what we do, we have a carefully crafted and rehearsed, superficial answer. With this activity, your superficial answer will soon fall to the wayside and you will begin to realize the true depths of your “why.”
Start by asking yourself or having your partner ask you this question: Why do you do what you do?
You may have found yourself digging for a profound answer to this question. And now that you’ve answered this question, you’ve barely scratched the tip of the iceberg.
Now have your partner ask you FIVE more consecutive “what” questions pertaining to your answers.
- Partner: Why did you become a nurse?
- You: Because I want to help people.
- Partner: What makes you want to help people? (What question #1)
- You: I love knowing that I am able to make an impact on someone’s life.
- Partner: What do you love about having an impact on someone’s life? (What question #2)
- You: I love knowing that I can help alleviate suffering in this world and provide care to those in need.
- Partner: What do you find important about providing care and alleviating suffering for others? (What question #3)
As you gradually peel away the layers with these “what” questions, you may find it becoming increasingly hard or even uncomfortable to verbalize your thoughts and feelings. This is completely normal. Our “why” is extremely elusive, intangible, and resides within the deepest corners of ourselves. At this depth, it’s extremely difficult to find words to describe the overwhelming emotions and meaning attached to your purpose. However, the more we take an internal deep dive towards our “why,” the more we can come to understand it and use it to lead us towards a life of fulfillment.
Activity 2: Write a Letter from Your Future Self to Your Sport
Writing this letter is intended to help you discover some of the deeper meaning and sense of purpose that you attach to what you do, whether that’s a sport, a job, or even a hobby.
Project yourself 10 or 20 years into the future. Try to really imagine where you will be in your life at that point. Ask yourself, who are you? What do you do? What does your life look like?
Now, through the lens of this future you, write a letter to soccer as if it were a person. In this letter, reflect back on everything that soccer has given you. Reminisce on all the challenges you’ve faced, all the defeats you’ve endured, and all the emotions you’ve experienced. Also reflect on all the joy you’ve felt, all the victories you’ve basked in, and all the life lessons you’ve learned along the way. How has your sport shaped you to be who you are 10 years down the road? What are some lessons that soccer has taught you that extend well beyond the pitch? What did or do you still love about soccer?
Now that you may have gained some insight and understanding about your “why,” lead with it! By leading with our purpose in mind, we are able to find greater enjoyment, satisfaction, and fulfillment in what we do, thereby improving our efficiency, effectiveness, focus, and productivity. Connect with your values and purpose frequently and allow them to drive your decisions and your life. In doing so, you will be able to truly live an authentic life. Live in alignment with your values and your “why,” and you will find yourself not only becoming a better performer, but a better person.