Sometimes, our expectations are not fulfilled and our immediate response is to find the reason. So we start asking “why” in an attempt to bring order back into our world, but this can get us in trouble if we do not keep our focus positive.
Let me give you an example of what I mean.
A week after getting her driver’s license, having driven with us for over a year, my daughter Eden crossed a busy road and was bumped by another car, smashing the back part of our fairly new car. The car that hit her missed Eden’s body by very little. This happened less than 200 meters from home, while Eden was going less than 10km per hour.
Here is the list of possible reasons for the accident:
- Eden was not experienced enough to calculate the speed of the other car coming from the side.
- The other car was going too fast.
- The other car had a tall, heavy body and could not stop on time.
- She did not see the car from the side.
- She was too tired.
- She was thinking about something else.
- She spoke on the phone while driving (she says she did not).
- She played with the music buttons while driving (she says she did not).
- She was influenced by a chat with our neighbor, who had told her she had had an accident 3 days after receiving her own license.
- She was close to home, so she felt too confident.
- The car she was driving was lighter and faster than the one she had usually driven and she might have thought she could make it across the road by overestimating the car’s ability.
- She hates our car.
- She wanted us to pay more for car insurance.
- She wanted to kill or hurt herself.
I could come up with a squillion reasons for the accident, when in fact it could be something else or a mixture of “all of the above”. I have intentionally written things that do not make sense, but I came up with them by imagining the things angry parents might scream – “Are you crazy? Were you trying to kill yourself? Do you have something against our car? Do you realize we now have to pay more for car insurance?”
The question “Why did it happen?” can lead us in all sorts of undesirable directions. What we should be asking instead is “What am I going to do about it?”
In some situations, reasons are just excuses to keep the situation the way it was. I say “some situations” because when you are happy, having reasons to be happy is a good thing. In fact, the more reasons, the better. However, when you are unhappy, finding reasons without taking action to eliminate them will only help you stay unhappy and this stinks!
The dangerous “why”
The question “why” can be very dangerous. There are times when “why” can help us learn a lot and clear some confusion, but it is dangerous when we presume there is one answer.
I remember falling into that trap long time ago, when I lost my first child (he was my second child, but the first one I lost of two). He died from a heart defect and the most damaging question I had was “Why me?”
Though in my head I knew this question was dragging me down, it was a real struggle keeping it out of my head. In circumstances like these, asking “Why me?” is debilitating and every time I asked it, I felt like I was handicapped.
The question “why” can take a lot of energy away, while the question “What am I going to do about it?” or “How can I do this better next time?” can give you more energy, because they focus only on what you can control and be responsible for.
Here is a list of “why” questions that illustrates how the direction of the question is backwards and limiting and how swapping it with a forward-looking question can improve your perception, attitude and outcome.
Which one is better
- Why didn’t they choose me for the job?
What can I learn from the person who did get the job for next time?
- Why are you shouting at me?
What can I do to help you calm down and talk to me peacefully?
- Why can’t you be good in Math like your brother?
What can we do to help you improve your math?
- Why did I get sick?
What can I do to get better and stay healthy?
- Why are we in debt?
What can we do to make more, save more and spend less?
Can you notice the difference?
Next time something unpleasant happens to you (or your kids, but that is just too scary to write), take note of asking “why” questions. Instead, look forward and ask “What can I do to prevent this/make things better next time?”
You just need to believe you can make it better next time.