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Why Discovering Your WHY is So Important

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

“Nothing gives a person inner wholeness and peace like a distinct understanding of where they are going.” Thomas Oppong

German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once said, ‘’He who has a WHY can endure any HOW.”

Think of a time of crisis in your life and you’ll likely find that having purpose enabled you find determination and courage to persevere despite the odds or obstacles.

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian Neurologist and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, was uniquely able to observe the way that both he and others in Auschwitz coped (or didn't) with the experience. He noticed that it was the men who comforted others and who gave away their last piece of bread who survived the longest. “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves…Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” The Japanese have the term “ikigai,” (pronounced ee-key-guy) which can be translated to mean “a reason for being.” This is anything that gives a deep sense of purpose to a person’s life and makes it worthwhile. It is what you get up for every morning.

Only when we know our ‘WHY’ will we find the courage to take risks, stay motivated when faced with adversity, and move our lives onto an entirely new, more challenging, and more rewarding trajectory.


The Golden Circle is a concept presented by Simon Sinek in his TED Talk "Start with Why". It challenges the notion of identifying your purpose for what you want to do in business, and in life.

There are three parts of The Golden Circle: Why, How, and What.

What we do, how we do it, and why we do it.

  • We all know what we do: the products we sell, the services we offer or the jobs we do.

  • Some of us know how we do it: the things that we think make us different or stand out from the crowd.

  • But very few of us can clearly articulate why we do what we do.

The WHY is the purpose, cause, or belief that drives us. Sinek describes how we are not entirely rational beings. We take risks despite evidence for failure because of emotions. "When we align emotionally with people, our connection is much stronger and more meaningful than any affiliation based on features and benefits." Ultimately we are all striving for deeper connections whether that be with those that we love or those that we are selling our products or services too.

The whole concept of WHY is grounded in the principles of the biology of human decision making. How the Golden Circle works maps perfectly with how our brain works.

The outer section of the Golden Circle—the WHAT—corresponds to the outer section of the brain—the neocortex. This is the part of the brain responsible for rational and analytical thought. It helps us understand facts and figures, features and benefits. The neocortex is also responsible for language.

The middle two sections of the Golden Circle—the WHY and HOW—correspond to the middle section of the brain, the limbic system. This is the part of the brain responsible for all our behaviour and decision making. It’s also responsible for all our feelings, like trust and loyalty. But unlike the neocortex, the limbic system has no capacity for language. This is where “gut feelings” come from. It’s not our stomach. It’s a feeling we get about a decision we have to make that we struggle to explain.

Once you understand your WHY, you’ll be able to clearly articulate it through the actions you take in your life. Live in accordance with your values and you’ll be able to make more intentional choices.


Discovering your values isn’t an easy process. It requires you to dig deeper, get explicitly honest and uncomfortable with yourself. If you are willing to delve below the surface and become more self-aware, this will only result in personal growth and development.

If you are feeling detached, disconnected and a little lost, this process could be the missing link for you.

Here are some suggestions of questions to ask yourself to help you start to discover your key values:

  • What do you love? What are you passionate about?

  • What does the world need? What is your mission?

  • What can you be paid for? What is your profession?

  • What are you good at? What is your vocation?

Think about a peak experience. A happy memory that really stands out for you.

What was happening to you?

How did you feel?

What values were being honoured or expressed?

Think about a negative experience.

What was happening to you?

How did you feel?

What values were being suppressed?

Why were you in conflict?

It's during the process of discovering our values, our WHY, that we are able to start unlocking more meaning and establishing what is truly important to us as individuals. An alignment between our actions and our core values produces satisfaction, a sense of happiness and fulfilment. A misalignment can cause can everything from minor problems to major disruptions.

Tim Cooper, High-Performance Coach and author of The Art of Unlearning, said “questions are the answer. The quality of our life is determined by the quality of the questions that we ask ourselves.”

It's time to start asking yourself WHY.


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