Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ask "Why?" Every Chance You Get

As part of my coaching process, my clients are faced with questions everyday that they must answer:

- What worked for you today?
- What didn't work for you today?
- What can you do differently tomorrow that will make it a better day?

The questions sound simple enough, but finding the answers requires real analysis of your day, and thus generates real growth, incrementally.

There are two great days in a person's life --
the day we are born and the day we discover why?"
William Barclay

But there is more to growth than just asking what didn't work or looking at your daily goals and seeing that you reached them or not. There is the question that drives the human mind to grow - the first real question that we learn as children . . . WHY?

did we have the struggles we did today?

Why did we have more success today?

Why were we more (or less) motivated today to achieve our goals than the day or week before?

It is in asking "Why?", that we open ourselves up to finding the solution and accepting the solution when it comes to us. In asking, we open ourselves to really learning - changing who we are and how we look at our own circumstances and our own life.

As children we ask "Why?" to learn about our surroundings and ourselves, but somewhere along the way, the "Whys" stop. Why is that? Does our thirst for knowledge wane? Or are we institutionally trained to stop asking the question - subtly (or overtly) told that we will learn what we're told to learn and nothing more.

I know from my own experiences, I don't learn very well if I'm not first interested in understanding WHY the information will help me - in my life. It doesn't matter that people teach me something in a book - because they think it's something I should learn, it needs to be something I want to know. And thus I have to first be sold on the problem - inspired to inquire, rather than be fed the information before I'm ready to learn.

Unfortunately, our society doesn't invoke the "WHYs" in life enough. Our children don't get a chance to ask why - let alone encouraged? Their days are shaped by workbooks that are deemed to be the information they are to be taught - and rarely given an opportunity to ask "Why?" - and let the path lead them where it may. Our employees aren't encouraged to question, "Why?" inside their workspace - trying to understand the reason for "this" or "that", so they could possibly come up with a better solution.

In fact, WE don't ask "Why?" in our own lives because we simply have become institutionalized / domesticated to accepting authorities rules for what they are . . . rules.

I used to get in trouble in High School, College and in military schools, because I didn't just want to know what was taught, I wanted to know "why?" I can clearly remember a number of times that my questions were outside the scope of the curriculum and inappropriate for the class. How insane is that - coming from an instituion of higher learning? I was nearly broken of the spirit for the pursuit of knoweldge, because it was perceived as challenging the educational process - and rarely were the answers to my questions part of the "learning guide".

Luckily, I had enough encouragement along the way and fortitude to keep it moving forward - challenging what I know and what I was being taught to satiate my desire for knowledge.

So what is education? In Wikipedia, there are two simple definitions:

1. Any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character, or physical ability of an individual
2. The process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, values, and skills from one generation to another through institutions.

As long as we live solely for the later, definition, we fail to inspire people (both children and adults) to want to learn - to ask the questions that come to their mind. We must find a way to empart the knowledge of our society on our youth, but we must find a way to do so, that inspires them to ask "Why?" and encourage them to challenge the "truths" that we propose as fact.

Bottomline is, it's time to stop waiting for others to inspire our growth . . . our pursuit of knowledge. We need to take back the control of our motivation to learn. Stop waiting for someone else to inspire you or your children to teach you something new. Encourage yourself and your children to ask the question "Why?" and to not let anyone tell them different.

We must find ways to reward the "Why?" and encourage independent thinking.

So, here's a tip for you to help change the way you look at learning and growing.

At the end of your day today, try to reflect back and figure out how many times you asked the question, "Why?" and sought out and answer. You might be surprised to see how little it really is. Then at the end of your day, look back what what worked and didn't work for you, and ask the question at that moment, "WHY?" By ending the day, looking at your successes and your struggles and asking the question, you will begin to change how you live your life - and thus change the life you live.

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