Ask Why Before You Ask How

One simple way to make better decisions is to ask the correct questions at the correct time. Everything you do in life has at least two basic parts to it. One part is the reason why you should do it. The other part is how you can do it. First, you need to determine why the goal is a good one and worthy of your efforts. After you are satisfied that it is a worthy goal, then you determine the best way to achieve it. Simply put, ask why questions before you ask how questions.

Asking why questions first can save you a lot of time, energy, money, and grief. Perhaps the first rule about working smarter and not harder is that you should always determine that what you are about to do is worth doing. This is especially true of key decisions in your life such as marriage, housing, children, religion, politics, insurance, transportation, education, vocation friendships, entertainment, and wealth.

Why questions can be asked in different forms in ways such as the following examples:

  • Why should I do that?
  • Should I continue on this line of action?
  • What is my best alternative?
  • What is most important?
  • What is my rationale for doing this?
  • How do I justify doing this?
  • Do I need this or do I just want this?
  • Is this worth the effort I will need to exert?
  • Will I feel comfortable with myself if I do this?
  • Will anyone be hurt if I do this?

The why questions are so important because they are the first questions you ask and they help you form the goals which are the focus of all your subsequent actions. Carefully and deliberately answering “Why” first accomplishes several things such as:

  • Helping you to clarify your objectives. They force you into more detailed, specific thinking about the validity of what you want to do. You are going to expend energy, time and perhaps other resources to attain the goal and you want to be as sure as possible that the goal is rational and valid.
  • Forcing you to think of alternatives. When you are evaluating whether you should do something, your research will force you to think of alternatives with which to compare it. Sometimes an alternative will prove to be superior to your original goal.
  • Giving you a different perspective. We often decide to do something because we see other people doing it, buying it or dressing in a certain way. Asking why personalizes the decision to your perspective. Doing something because other people are doing it a terrible reason.
  • Increasing your productivity. If you question what you are doing and choose to do the most important things, you are more productive. You are eliminating the less important things and focusing your energies on deliberately chosen high priorities in your life.

  • Forcing you to think about consequences. Many times we do something without trying to predict the consequences to others as well as ourselves. We may only be making our decision thinking of the short term consequences but don’t try to predict the long term consequence. Would my decision lead to good or bad consequences to the environment or the society? There are few, if any, decisions that only have one consequence.
  • One decision that comes up in just about everyone’s life is one concerning the possible purchase of a new car. Imagine that this possibility just came into your mind after a friend showed you his new car and asks you why you don’t have one. Being a good decision maker, you ask yourself, “Why do I need a new car?” or “Do I really need a new car?” before you ask yourself, “How can I get a new car?” Instead of rushing to the new car agency, you think seriously about the alternatives to buying a new car. You could just keep your present car but you remember that your mechanic said it will need some expensive repairs in a year or so. You decide your present car will need to be replaced in the fairly near future but does it need to be replaced by a new car? After some serious soul searching, you admit that you want a new car because it will fit the ”image” you want to project. You decide that is not a good reason. The new car would cost a lot of money and you don’t want to go into debt for transportation. The stress of making a car payment is not worth it. Finally, you decide that you will keep your present car for another year during which time you will save as much money as possible and then trade in your present car for a newer used car. That way you will not have any monthly payments and won’t pay any interest. You will research used cars during that year so you can get a safe, reliable, efficient car……and maybe one that better fits your “image.” Your initial why question let you to a rational and comfortable decision and then you decided how you were going to achieve it.

    Examples of not using this strategy are the decisions many people make to buy designer clothes. They never question why they buy the more expensive clothes, they just do it. Usually it is because their friends, schoolmates, or fellow workers wear them. The clothes are not necessarily of superior quality or superior design but they always cost more than the clothes without the designer labels. The same can be true of “luxury cars,” education at a “prestigious” university, “designer” jewelry, “luxury” hotels, and other “high end” products or services that we don’t question.

    “How to do something” is equally important as “Why do something?” but the sequence in which they are asked is crucial. Millions of lives have been lost because nobody really justified why they should go to war. Too much of our time is wasted doing things that we would not do if we took the time to think about them.

    The habit of deliberately asking why first could save years, even total lives, from being spent in unfulfilling toil to achieve unquestioned and irrelevant goals.

    Ask “Why?” first, then ask “How?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *