Why is such a tricky question.
Maybe even the trickiest.
There are times when it is so completely not useful to ask why. The resistance-filled why, which takes me into self-interrogation and blame.
But there is also the helpful why. The one that is loving, curious and receptive, which is perfect for destuckifying.
See also: The two kinds of asking why.
Ha. I knew I’d written about this before. Found it!
The practice of ten times why.
Anyway, a few years ago I went to this unbelievably straight business seminar in Vancouver (Hotel conference room! Suits! Outsider complex!).
And someone was talking about how at Toyota (see?), there’s this thing about asking why five times.
For example, when you’re investigating something that has gone horribly wrong, or you’re evaluating a system. You keep asking why until you get at the reasons behind the reason.
I loved that. And I started using it on everything. Not just business systems, but personal stuff too.
Except that sometimes I’d forget.
It’s not that I’d forget about the practice of asking why.
It’s just that I wouldn’t feel like it. Because I’d lost track of the part about the why being a gentle, inquisitive, caring why, instead of the mean what the hell is wrong with you why are you such an asshat kind of why.
But when I remember… then it works brilliantly.
Yesterday I used this for the Shiva Nata iPhone app. I was supposed to be reviewing it to make sure there weren’t any mistakes, but I was in mad avoidance mode.
No progress. I couldn’t even start. So I started doing the Ten Times Why thing, and around the sixth or seventh why, everything started to make sense.
Curious me: I can tell you really don’t feel like going through the app. Tell me more about why this is something you’re avoiding…
Answer: Because I can’t do it.
Curious me: Why is it that you think you can’t do it?
Answer: Because it’s too much responsibility. It’s not fair! I don’t want this much responsibility!
Curious me: So you’re feeling pressured. Tell me, why is it that you think that this is about responsibility?
Answer: Because I’m pretty much the only person who can accurately and quickly check this for mistakes and find them. And if I mess up, it’s all on me.
Curious me: Why do you think it is that this is so painful?
Answer: Because my marriage fell apart and everything I tried was useless.
Curious me: Oh. Sweetie, I’m so sorry. Do you know why it is that now is reminding you of then?
Answer: Because everyone is counting on me and I am afraid to let them down.
Curious me: And why do you think that this is what is happening?
Answer: Oh! It isn’t. I fell into an old pattern but that isn’t what this is about at all. I can go through the app now. Thank you!
I do this with everything.
Curious me: So you’re really not in the mood to go to the dentist. That makes sense. Why do you think this is bringing up so much pain for you?
Answer: Because I miss my dental hygenist in Israel.
Curious me: And why do you miss her?
Answer: She was just a regular person. There wasn’t anything official about her. And her hair was a different color each time and she kept secrets for me.
Curious me: And why do you think that this helped you feel comfortable?
Answer: Because I felt at home. It was a safe place.
Curious me: I’m wondering about why you think it might be that that safety is so important for you.
Answer: Everything comes from safety.
Curious me: Why is it, do you think, that everything comes from safety?
Answer: Safety allows you to receive.
Curious me: And why do you think that this is true?
Answer: That’s my experience. But maybe I can create safety for myself in different ways. Maybe it’s up to me to make this a safe experience. Okay! I can think about that.
And with blog posts.
Curious me: I know! Let’s ask WHY a bunch of times! Why is it good to write this post now?
Answer: Because it is in my head taking up space. And because I can’t write when more posts are building up in my head.
Curious me: Why is it good to move stuff from your head to the blog?
Answer: Because it helps people and it helps me, and it lets me download the new thing.
Curious me: Why is it good to download the new thing?
Answer: Because it will solve all the challenges I’m currently dealing with.
Curious me: Why is it good to solve all the challenges you’re currently dealing with?
Answer: Because that’s how I become the me who runs XXXXXXXXX [secret future project of hugeness that cannot be spoken of here yet]. Oh! Of course.
It’s not really about five whys or ten or a hundred.
It’s just about being the Interviewer, and asking out of love.
It’s about channeling that genuine curiosity which comes from kindness. Without an agenda and without attachment to an end result.
And then letting each why take you somewhere deeper, following intuition and letting the WHYs do the work.
Hard stuff, for sure. Definitely a fairly advanced practice, but one that can be super useful.
If you’d like to play with me here in the comments by asking why over and over again, that would be wonderful. I would love the company.
And comment zen for today…
As always, we all have our stuff. And we take responsibility for our stuff by not putting it on anyone else.
We let people have their own experience and we don’t give each other advice (unless someone specifically asks for it, of course). That’s part of making a safe space to play.
Love for all the hard!