In my last article “A Jedi Mind Trick for Improving Relationships” I focused on many of the difficulties that can arise when we ask others “why.” In this post I’ll explore how these principles play out when we ask “why” of ourselves.
I work as a personal change life coach, and I met with someone recently who said, “Why do I keep doing this?” It’s a common question I hear from clients, and one that we have all asked ourselves at times. The outcome is figuring out our problem so we can solve it—something along the lines of, “If only I understood why, then I’d know what to do to fix this.”
The outcome of “fixing this” is a good one, but the strategy of trying to understand why works just as poorly with ourselves as it does with others. Reviewing what we learned in the last post, this is because:
• “Why” is vague.
• It focuses us on the problem.
• It tends to elicit answers that hold the problem in place.
• It can be taken as blame or judgment.
I also have just as many clients who come to me even though they already know exactly why they have the problem they have: “It was because of a childhood trauma, and ever since then I’ve unconsciously tried to protect myself by putting a wall up between myself and the world, even though I know the wall does more harm than good now that I’m an adult.” These clients do understand exactly why they have the problem they have, and yet knowing why hasn’t shown them anything about how to fix it.
Instead of asking “why,” the personal change processes I use ask:
“How do I put this wall up?”
“Are there times when I don’t put this wall up?”
“If so, how do I do that?”
“How can I also do that in the areas I used to put the wall up?”
This gives us the specific information needed to be able to make the change we want. If a house is in an earthquake zone and it’s dangerous because it was built of brick and mortar, we can learn all about why it was originally built that way, but this will neither tell us how it was built, nor how we might build a new structure that can withstand the next earthquake.
There’s another way we ask ourselves “why.” I had another client recently who said, “Why don’t you just take it easy? Why don’t you just let it go?” She was referring to herself, but instead of saying “Why don’t I just take it easy,” she was saying “Why don’t you just take it easy.”
Take a moment and ask yourself the following questions, and notice what the difference is in your own experience:
1) “Why do I have this problem?” “Why don’t I just take it easy?”
2) “Why do you have this problem?” “Why don’t you just take it easy?”
They are both ways of asking a “why” question of ourselves, so what difference do you notice?
Here’s what I notice: Saying to myself, “Why do I have this problem?” is unhelpful due to the four bullets listed above, but the intention is to find out the necessary information to fix the problem. We can achieve this much better by asking “how.”
Saying to myself, “Why do you have this problem?” is also unhelpful due to the four bullets listed above, but the intention is different. Rather than trying to gather more information to fix my problem, I’m splitting myself into me (the speaker) and you (the one with the problem). The question isn’t meant to gather more information at all, but to tell a part of myself that I experience as separate and autonomous (“you”) something that’s important to me.
What I’m really trying to communicate is something like, “I don’t want you to have this problem.” “I want you to just drop this.”
So when we ask a “why” question of ourselves and refer to ourselves as “you” instead of “I,” it’s a sign that we really aren’t meaning to ask a question at all. We want to communicate something important to a part of us that we experience as separate and outside our control.
This is a great time to use a parts integration process such as Core Transformation to access the positive purpose of each part of ourselves and through this find resolution between, and integration of, these separate selves.
A final distinction I want to make is that often when we’re alone and we ask “why,” we might think we’re asking it of ourselves, but often we’re actually asking “why” of the universe or God—the classic “why me?”
If I lock my keys in the car, or burn another pan on the stove and say, “Why does this keep happening to me!” I could be attempting to get more information from myself (though in an unhelpful way), or I might be attempting to have a conversation with the universe or God—entities far beyond my control or comprehension (and usually unwilling to answer).
If I’m questioning the universe or God, it is usually a sign that I want the world to be different (an important need or desire that I’m not expressing), or I may have some judgment or blame about how things turned out (which distracts from solutions), or I might think I or someone else deserves better.
Rather than asking “why” of the universe or God, I can express my needs or desires, and focus on my experience and how I can make things better in the future. It helps to realize that I don’t have any contracts signed by either God or the universe (so neither of them owe me anything).
Asking “why” won’t give us a magic ticket to a new experience that we like better; it does just the opposite, distracting us from the answers right in front of us.
In summary, when asking “why” of ourselves (just as when asking “why” of others) it works much better to change “why” to “how,” and then shift from past causes to future solutions. If we realize we really want to communicate about our own needs or goals, we can do this with ourselves just as we do with others: “It’s important to me to find a solution for next time.”
If we experience an inner conflict or division (referring to ourselves as “you” rather than “I”), we can use personal change processes to get to what each part of us wants, and find resolution and integration (rather than trying to get rid of a part of us, or trying to force a part of us to act in a certain way). And if we notice we’re really addressing God or the universe, we can recognize that asking “why” of God or the universe is going to be even more fruitless than asking “why” of another individual.
Just as it improves our relationships with others, this simple Jedi mind trick can also improve our relationship with ourselves.
Author: Mark Andreas
Editor: Toby Israel