Perhaps you’ve read something similar previously and have already worked through the process of identifying and understanding your why, or maybe, this is your first experience with the topic. Either way, I hope you will find value in this post and will walk away from it inspired and compelled to create a crystal clear vision of your why.
What am I referring to as your “why?” Your why is your purpose, your motivation, your reason for working your butt off to achieve your goals.
Why is My Why So Important?
Most of us have sayings we were frequently told during our childhood and youth which stick with us into adulthood. As time goes on, we may even find ourselves regularly reciting the very same sayings. In addition to the affectionate and endearing “If you’re going to act like a turd, go lay in the yard” or “If you live under my roof, you live under my rules” which I was frequently on the receiving end of, I most vividly remember my dad often advising me “Nothing worthwhile is easy.” Thankfully, he still reminds me of this today.
Nothing worthwhile is easy. Variations of this adage include, “Nothing worthwhile comes easy” and “Nothing worth having comes easy.” Regardless, the meaning remains constant and holds true.
Whether you are on a journey to pay off a mountain of debt, lose a bunch of weight, run a marathon, earn a degree, or pursuing some other noble cause, at some point, the going will get tough. You will run into speed bumps or all out road blocks. The proverbial poop will hit the fan. This is not a pessimistic notion, rather a realistic one.
As it relates to personal finance, endeavoring to get your financial house in order is certainly a noble and worthwhile cause, but not necessarily an easy one. Doing the right things, consistently, over time, takes hard work, dedication and perseverance.
When you’re feeling down and out, ready to throw in the towel, what will keep you going? What will keep you on track to make the next extra debt payment? What will fuel your fire when burning the midnight oil? Oh, but your why, of course.
Having a rock solid, crystal clear why can keep you going when you are exhausted, maxed out, ready to call it quits or have lost all hope. You can see now why knowing your purpose and reminding yourself of it often, especially when things get tough, is so important and is paramount to enduring and eventually reaching your end goal.
Understanding Where Your Why Can Come From
If we conducted Jimmy Kimmel style interviews, stopping passersby on the street and asking them what motivates them, I would bet the vast majority of respondents would reply with positive motivators. Puppy dogs and rainbows. This seems to be the case with most people. Are there other kinds of motivation? Just because positive motivation is the most common, does that also mean it is the most effective?
Of course not. I would argue negative motivation can be equally as effective as positive motivation, if not more so. Great, but what is negative motivation? I would simply define negative motivation as what you do not want, do not want to do, do not want to experience or do not want to have happen. Positive motivation is what you want, whereas negative motivation is what you don’t want.
Let’s look at a few brief examples to gain a better understanding:
- Goal: Getting out of debt
- Positive Motivation: Feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment; saving money on interest; ability to redirect debt dollars to saving and investing, etc.
- Negative Motivation: Opportunity cost of dollars committed to debt servicing; inability to retire or retire early while burdened by debt; can’t afford to travel, etc.
- Goal: Losing weight
- Positive Motivation: Look better; feel better; can wear old or favorite clothes again; get the doctor off your back, etc.
- Negative Motivation: Health problems associated with being overweight or obese; lack of mobility or stamina; studies that show, on average, overweight people earn less than their slimmer peers, etc.
- Goal: Saving for retirement
- Positive Motivation: Control over time; no more boss; no more commute; ability to travel more; ability to volunteer, etc.
- Negative Motivation: Working until you die; spending far too many of the best hours of the best days of your life trading time for money; not enough time to reach your true potential; not enough time to focus on health, family, passions, etc.
As you can see, some of the negative motivation in these examples is potentially even more potent and effective than the positive motivation. For example, in my case, the fear of working until traditional retirement age, or even worse, until I die (negative), scares the crap out of me and drives me to save for retirement much more so than say, the ability to travel more (positive), although that certainly motivates me as well.
In short, the motivation behind our why can originate from both the positive and the negative. As you craft your own why, for best results, be sure to consider both.
Identifying Your Why and Finding Your Purpose
In order to be able to draw strength from your why so you can press on when the going gets tough, you first need to identify just what that why is. We now know our why can stem from positive and negative motivation, so let’s look at a few ideas and tips for crafting your own, personalized, why.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Below are four important questions to ask yourself when identifying your why. Grab your favorite beverage, find a quiet spot and spend some time with these questions. Only you can answer them for you and your own life, so be honest with yourself.
- What matters most to me? These are the things that mean the most to you and are most important in your life. Common examples include family, friends, faith, freedom, health, travel, time, hobbies, etc.
- What scares me the most? Here’s that negative motivation again. What is it that scares you the most or that you really, really don’t want to happen? Remember my example of working until full retirement age? Once you’ve identified these types of things, you can then use them as motivation to do everything in your power to make sure they never materialize.
- What would I do if money were not an issue? This is the fun stuff to think about. If you didn’t have to worry about earning an income, what would you spend your time doing? Travel the world? Volunteer? Work on passion projects? Jam along to classic rock all day? Have fun with this question and try not to let your current situation constrain the creativity of your imagination.
- What does my perfect life look like? Another fun one. This is similar to the previous question but takes it a step further and ties everything together. Spend some time daydreaming about your perfect day, your perfect life, then incorporate it into your why.
After answering these questions, you should have a crystal clear vision of what is most important to you, what you definitely do not want to happen, what you truly want to spend your precious time on and ultimately, what you want your life to become. Collectively, these are your why.
Tips for Crafting Your Why and Building Your Dream Life
Below are a few helpful tips to incorporate when crafting your why and designing your dream life.
- Be as specific as possible. When answering the questions above, the more detailed, the better.
- Align your why with your values. Make sure your why is aligned with what is truly important to YOU and with what YOU value (not what other people value or what society or advertisers try to make you believe you should value).
- Create a vision board. If you are a visual person like I am, you may benefit from creating a vision board.
- Write it down. Put your why on a sticky note and put it in your car, wallet, on the bathroom mirror, or somewhere else you will see it daily. By keeping your why where you will regularly see it, it will serve as a constant reminder of why you do what you do.
- Create a plan. Create a plan centered around your why. Develop a roadmap and plan of action for creating your desired lifestyle. Take the end goal and reverse engineer what needs to be done to get there.
- Attach goals. Create daily, weekly, monthly and/or yearly goals toward building your ideal life. Write them down. Attach a date. Measure, track and improve your progress.
Congratulations, you now know your why. Keep it close to your heart and close to your mind. Refer to it often, especially during difficult and trying times because it is your why which will give you the strength to endure.
One of the most common regrets of the elderly is not living a life true to themselves. Don’t let that be you! Identify YOUR purpose and what is truly important to YOU, put those things front and center in your life, then do the hard things to achieve your goals. The world is your oyster.
What motivates you most? What fuels your fire to keep on keepin’ on? Do you have any other helpful tips to share?