It's all about the Why's

In his popular TED talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek uses his "Golden Circle" diagram to explain human motivation. It basically looks like a target with three concentric circles: The outer layer is "What;" the middle layer is "How;" and the bullseye is "Why."

Most companies (and people), he says, can tell you the facts about what they do and how they do it, but if you want to inspire people to buy your product or support your idea, you have to work from the inside out: You have to start with the Why.

The same principle applies if you want to inspire yourself to do something, whether it's pursuing an important life change, or just tackling a persistent item on your "to do" list.

If you focus primarily on what you have to do, it is rarely appealing. Make a phone call. Update your resume. Fix the roof. Bo-ring! And sometimes anxiety-provoking, too.

No wonder it's so easy to get distracted by things like food and Facebook, where the payoff is obvious and immediate.

Sometimes when I notice that a task has been stuck on my "to do" list for weeks, I will literally write down why I want to do it, as well as why I haven't wanted to do it -- and then make a commitment that I am actually willing to follow through on. 

Just as a small example, something I've been wanting to do but haven't yet done is come up with a new approach to morning and afterschool routines with my 7-year-old, which are currently haphazard and involve a lot of nagging and whining and both of us getting frustrated with each other. 

Some reasons why I haven't done it yet: Because I'm afraid whatever I come up with won't work. Because I'm embarrassed that I didn't attend to it a long time ago. Because part of me simply doesn't want to have to. Up until now, those have been the kinds of Why's running the show.

Some reasons why I do want to do it: Because I hate feeling frustrated and angry around my son. Because I know there are things I could do that would help. Because I want to feel proud of how I am as a parent. Because I want to practice what I preach. Because it would feel so good to look forward to my time with my son. Because it would make his life happier too. Because it will be a learning experience. Because I know I don't have to get it perfect. Because he and I could celebrate together. Because I know a lot of great parents who could help me think about what to do and give me ideas. Because it would help me experience more peace and gratitude....

My commitment: Spend at least 30 minutes this Sunday afternoon thinking specifically about what is and isn't working, how I want our mornings and afternoons to go, and what I want to try doing differently. I'll let you know if I come up with anything good.

The cool thing about Why's is that there is an infinite supply of them, and none of them are wrong. So you can just keep coming up with them until you find ones that really motivate you. (Or, you may discover that you don't actually want to do the thing after all, in which case your commitment can simply be to celebrate taking it off your "to do" list!)

What about you? Do you have an item that's been on your "to do" list for a while? What happens to your motivations when you attend to your Why's? What other techniques do you use to motivate yourself?