If you know ‘why’ then will you focus on ‘how’?

With any emotional problems whether it’s lack of confidence, anxiety, frustration or helplessness we humans love to know why we are like the way we are.

Why do we want to know why?

We want to know why it started. We want to know what caused our problems. I was the same with shyness when I was younger. I always wanted to know why I was ‘shy’. Maybe I was just always quiet. Perhaps it was because adults used to call me “shy”, or ignored me when I wanted to speak, and because of this I became shy.

Just have a think from your life for a moment, about a challenge you are facing now. How much are you interested in why it all started? Keep this challenge in mind. You will need it later on this post…

Going back to ‘why’ has the potential to bring back painful stories and theorising about events and situations.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe there is some merit in knowing ‘why’, as long as it is used to go back into the past and do some healing work. Time Line Therapy is an example of a set of techniques that can be used to do this.

However, it’s useful to keep in mind that if this doesn’t work, it might be worth looking into ‘how’.

And now it’s time for the how

What I’ve learnt over the years, and this probably has a lot of do with my NLP background, is that there is real opportunity to make improvements in your life, by making changes to how you are creating your experiences – change the experience and change how you feel!

Some ideas and questions to help you use the ‘how’ to make changes

Below are some tips to help you use the ‘how’ to get over your problems:

1. Using that challenge you thought about earlier, what exactly are you thinking about this problem? Get a picture of it in your mind. Is the picture about it in colour? If this is the case, then this is how you are representing the thought at the moment.

Now, change the thought. Play around with its features. If it’s in colour, change it to black and white and vice versa. If there is someone with a hurtful voice in the picture, turn his/her volume down.

Does that make difference? Perhaps pushing the thought way in the distance makes you feel better? If so, you have just changed how you think about this challenge!

2. In you are feeling inadequate in a particular situation; try on the opposite frame of mind for a moment. What would it be like if you felt totally adequate? What would you be doing differently in the situation? How would you be behaving?

What would you be seeing, hearing and feeling?

If doing this doesn’t feel quite right, just give yourself permission to change your attitude to this situation. You’re experimenting and trying something different.

3. If someone has been ‘making’ you frustrated or angry or hurt, then notice how this works. Someone says something and you respond the same way every time. Don’t you have a say in how you can respond? Or course you do. It’s your mind. It’s your body. You can choose to react in any way you like.

Let’s say a particular individual is always mouthing off and this gets on ‘your nerves’. Next time you speak to the person, make a conscious decision to react differently. The other person can say all they want. You can react by keeping a balanced state of mind. Hey, you can even respond by staying cool and telling yourself “how this poor person is having so many bad days lately”.

Remember, we humans love to know ‘why’. It’s interesting. It’s about content and stories. But if ‘why’ is getting you down and you find yourself staying down, don’t forget the ‘how’.

There is real opportunity for you to make changes with the ‘how’.

If you have liked this post, then please leave a comment in the box below and/or share it with your followers on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or your favourite social network.

  1. Interesting concept. Think about the how instead of trying to figure out the why. I think I get it!

    Your # 1 tip is like what tony robbins talks about when he tells you to take something that has been bothering you and twist it up in your mind. Make it cartoonish, unreal, funny, or stupid – as long as it’s different than the real event that took place. Soon you won’t be able to distinguish the event because the ‘how’ will be all twisted!

    1. Hi Bellaisa,

      Yes, I can imagine Tony Robbins saying this. It is a well known area from NLP called changing your “sub-modalities”, which are the features (pictures, sounds, feelings and words) that make up our thoughts.

      I loved what you said about making our experiences cartoonish and stupid. When I’ve done this with images and movies in my mind, it usually makes me laugh! And you are so right. By playing around with an event in our mind and twisting it all up, we can make some significant changes to how we feel about them. They are our thoughts. Let’s play with them and have some fun!

      Thanks for commenting and your contribution Bellaisa.

  2. Great article !! i’m a PWS and i know how hard is it to get past these feelings !

    1. Hi Rajesh,

      I’m really glad you could resonate with this post! And remember, feelings can be changed! Just notice how you are creating your current feelings, and change the structure of how you create them, to see if other feelings emerge instead!

      Thanks for your comment Rajesh.

  3. Knowing why we do things is as important if not more important than how we do them! I love #3….I have said many times that if someone else is making you angry…you have given them too much power over you. People can say things to you or do things to you in an attempt to cause a reaction, but it is you who decide how you will respond to that stimulus. We always have a choice in life. Sometimes those choices are bad vs. worse but we still have a choice. Great post! Keep up the awesome work!

    1. Hi Burl,

      I agree that knowing why can be very important, particularly in the contexts of family, work and the community. We do things in certain ways because we value these very highly. This is powerful and can have a strong impact on our identities.

      I just feel that when it comes to dealing with emotional problems, one is mindful not to dwell too much into why they are a certain way. Again sometimes people need to know why they are experiencing what they are before they can do something about.

      You are so right my friend. By reacting to people in ways where we end up feeling ‘bad’ is just giving away our personal power to others. The key word as you stated is ‘choice’. Let’s all increase our ability to choose how we can respond, when it comes to interacting with people!

      Thanks for your comment Burl and for your words of appreciation. I appreciate your contribution.

  4. Hi Hiten,
    ‘Stepping back’ and looking at our thoughts and subsequent actions is of great benefit. If your thoughts and actions aren’t bringing you the results that you want, then change them. Our conditioning causes many of our results, the good news is that you can break free of this ‘conditioning’ & re program yourself. Thankyou for this.
    be good to yourself

    1. Hi David,

      I love the point you made about ‘stepping back’ and looking at our thoughts and actions. This has an amazing effect on our ability to create some objectivity for ourselves, in order to make some changes to the way we are thinking and behaving. When we are ‘in’ a thought, we become it and re-experience unpleasant experiences as if they are happening all over again.

      Thanks for your contribution David! 🙂

  5. Great post Hiten. I think the more that we can take action…rather than just ruminating, the better off we will be in all of our pursuits!

    1. Hi Ruth,

      Yes, I agree action will lead us to achieving our goals! Going over the past again and again really can’t change what happened. If we going over something in the past to learn from it objectively, then fine. But so many times we can get seduced into re-living the experience again, which doesn’t help. We can change what we are going to do, and how we are going to do it in the future though, and make a conscious decision to do so now!

      Thanks for commenting and for dropping by Ruth. 🙂

  6. True! “How” is the hard part, isn’t it?

    I didn’t know you were a personal development coach! (Didn’t know you stuttered, either). This is great, though– I love what you’re doing. GO HITEN!

  7. Hi Therese,

    You are right, “How” is challenging! It is a shift in attitude to look at the stucture of experiences and use this a tool for making changes in our lives. We humans are so used to mulling over the past and what caused our problems. It can take some effort to treat what happened to us objectively, and look at how we can change the structure of representations of previous experiences, in terms of thoughts and emotions.

    Yes, I’m a person who stutters. I had to make so many changes in my life to get to where I am in terms of confidence and self-esteem. I now love coaching other people to overcome their problems and make changes in their lives. Sometimes I feel like I was born to coach!.

    Thanks for dropping by Therese and thanks for your comment! 🙂

  8. Great post, Hiten!

    This is SO very true! I agree with you that human nature is overly obsessed with the “why”. We just have to be in the know about the various areas in our lives. We often miss the fact that we weren’t meant to be in the know about every little matter we face. Some things were meant to be kept as mysteries, or at the very lease as experiences that we gather lessons from. So what I got from this post is that it’s better to know, “How is this going to cause me growth?”; instead of saying, “Why is this happening (or happened) to me?” Phenomenal points! Thanks for the awesome share, my friend. 🙂

    1. Hi Deeone,

      I really liked the point you made, that we weren’t meant to know about every little matter we face. I believe adopting such an attitude and then living it, has so much potential for freedom from emotional pain. We’ve accepted we don’t always need to know “why” we are experiencing a problem, because by doing so, there is potential for suffering. It’s not about ignoring or suppressing the “why” either. It’s just about living with the wisdom, that “why” usually involve living more in the past. And the past doesn’t really help us now or in the future, unless, as you quite rightly said, we learn lessons from it.

      Thank you for your contribution my friend and for dropping by. 🙂

  9. Empowering tips, Hiten. Understanding that our counterfeit self is ‘a thought generated entity’ gives us the ability to flip it on it’s head! An erroneous self-description gains power in the mind when we convert the description into an imaginary self-vision and imbue it with feelings of certainty. Visualizing an erroneous self-description is mental badness. Mental badness is madness!

  10. Hi Rob,

    You said: “An erroneous self-description gains power in the mind when we convert the description into an imaginary self-vision and imbue it with feelings of certainty.”

    What an amazing way of putting it. I love just love the way you say things! You are so right though. This is exactly what happens. A false self-image is created by unhelpful thoughts, which perpetuate. And we then accept this self-image by feeling and believing it to be true. We even look for further evidence outside, to support this false view of ourselves.

    As you say, if our thoughts so strongly impact the creation of this counterfeit self, then changing the way we think can help us create a new healthy and empowered self.

    Thanks for your brilliant comment Rob.

  11. Hi Hiten

    I enjoyed reading your very interesting post.

    I agree with you – knowing why we do or don’t do something as long as we don’t get stuck there can be useful.

    Some healing modalities do seem to encourage one to do this more than others. I experienced this on a personal level and when I studied conventional psychotherapy for instance.

    Knowing why we do something and analysing this in support of why we behave as we do does not necessarily move us to change it.

    In fact sometimes we like being able to justify our suffering as if knowing why legitimises it.

    I have always loved the analogy of when driving and you get lost, do you go back and analyse why you got lost or do you acknowledge that you took a wrong turn, correct the situation and move on?


  12. Hi Marcus,

    I’m really glad you liked the post. Yes, I’ve also heard about certain psychotherapies, where a person is required to go back into the past in order for healing. From an NLP perspective, I have experienced this personally through Time Line Therapy. I found it helpful to go back to gain an adult perspective on what happened when I was kid. This helped, as I was able to gain more resourceful views, which previously I wasn’t able to, and also allowed me to forgive certain individuals.

    I really appreciate your point about how knowing why we do something and analysing this to keep certain behaviours in place, doesn’t really encourage us to move on. It’s useful to be mindful of this, as one can stay stuck simply because they just keep going back into the past and basing their lives upon what happened to them, rather than focus on how they can change their thinking and behaving.

    I loved your analogy. We most certainly acknowledge we took the wrong turn, correct the situation and move on!

    Thanks for your contribution and for adding so much more to this post Marcus. 🙂

  13. Dear Hiten,

    It’s my first time on your blog. From the looks of your CommentLuv section, I’m in good company. – I see we have some mutual friends in common. 🙂

    I love this common sense approach to making calibrations to one’s own mindset. In my observation, this is the root of every little and large thing we experience or interact with in life.

    I’m not sure why this truism seems to be so esoteric to the masses.

    There seems to be a large number of people who live life in knee-jerk reactions to life’s stimulus. (e.g. “life happens to me” versus “I happen to life”)

    This is no way to thrive in life. I believe we must look within and take responsibility for how we allow ourselves to feel. No one can make us feel anything other than ourselves. At the point where we become aware and alert to what is coming up in our own psyches, we find peace and the substance to build even the most grandiose of dreams. It is our choice to do, be, and feel what we experience.

    I think that the steps you have outlined could cast an enlightening contrast for people who are not used to considering their level of self-responsibility.

    Feelings are never lasting in most cases anyway…train the mind to recognize them like clouds in a sky. They soon pass. Clarity comes. Now make purposeful decisions to act appropriately and OWN those decisions. – This has been my recipe to be in better flow with life and stimulus. Works wonders, especially for those who have been “diagnosed with ADHD,” like myself.

    Thanks for allowing me to participate in your comments. This post was very well done and I just had to drop my nickle!

    Cat Alexandra

    1. Hi Cat,

      I loved your thought provoking comment.

      You said: “life happens to me” versus “I happen to life”.

      Wow, what a quote!

      What you wrote reminded me of how meditation has really helped me personally, which is to objectively become aware and remain alert of feelings which arise in me. This is such a powerful tool, as it allows a person to see beyond their thoughts and feelings. A person ceases to be their thoughts and feelings, as identification with such things is what causes us to create so much pain for ourselves in the first place.

      Thanks for sharing with us what has helped you in your life, and for adding your contributions to this post.

      It’s really nice to connect with you Cat! 🙂

  14. thinking about the how can help us get things done
    thanks for the post Hiten 🙂

  15. Hi Farouk,

    I agree with you my friend! Whenever we do something new and it seems challenging at first, having a plan of how we are going to do it, both in our minds and on paper will give us great focus and motivation.

    Thanks for commenting. I’m loving your articles at your website by the way! 🙂

  16. I’ve always believed in asking the “right” questions. Questions like “why” are not resourceful. You’re only going to come up with answers that will VALIDATE your negative beliefs and fears. Instead, asking questions like “how I can get past this” or “what can I do to change my life” will more likely help you find the RIGHT answers to help get you headed in the RIGHT direction.

    Thanks for this post, Hiten. I’m so glad I found your blog, it’s so well aligned with my own message on the Path to Passion:)

    Much love and light,

    1. Hi Mika,

      Absolutely, you’re so right about about “why” questions inviting a person to just validate her/his negative beliefs. It’s as if such questions provide the storyline for the movie. In a movie the “why” is interesting, but in the real world, when it comes to dealing with emotional problems, can just keep the problem in place.

      Better to do something similar to Eckhart Tolle, when he says “access the power of Now”, and instead access the “power of How”. 🙂

      You’ve added so much to this post Mika. Thank you. 🙂 And you’re doing a great job with Path to Passion.

  17. I believe the topic of this post has been a big hit Hiten.

    I use to obsess with the why. Why this happened or that. Why was it happening to me. I will tell you though that’s been a very very long time ago I use to obsess about those things.

    I’m real big about taking responsibility for your own actions and if you feel something needs to be changed then just do it. I think we all obsess over the how or the why way too much and although I’m not disguarding their importance, the majority of the time that’s behind us now and there’s nothing you can do to change the circumstances.

    As you so eloquently stated, “life happens to me” versus “I happen to life”. Now that’s the way to live.

    1. Hi Adrienne,

      I was the same. Why I did I have to be shy? Why wasn’t I able to speak up and voice my opinion? You’re right. It can turn into an obsession.

      I loved what you said about if we feel something needs to be changed then just do it! Ultimately, it really is as simple as this. The past is called ‘the past’ for a reason – done and over with. Use it to learn from and if this can’t be done, forget about it.

      Thanks so much for your comment and for dropping by Adrienne! 🙂

  18. I used to be obsessed with the why, and I used to be quite unhappy, too. While considering the why may be helpful to learn from a situation, it’s no use if I get stuck there. Nor does it always matter why things happened so much as it matters what I’m going to do about it now.

    I love that you mentioned changing your perspective and you change your experience. This practice has been true in my life, and I’ve turned many situations around by choosing to see it differently. I can’t change bad things that happened, but I can make the best of what I have in life. I can choose to focus on experiences that are positive and productive. I can choose to let go of things that do not serve me any longer.

    Great post!


    1. Hi Chrysta,

      Yes, I agree with you what you say. What is more important is what we can do now, which will help ensure we remain mentally balanced, positive and relaxed. This could be by responding to the past differently, by changing our attitudes to what happened. For instance an attitude like “in the past, yesterday’s news”. Most of us don’t hold onto newspapers from years and years ago, unless it was a story that was a positive and happy memory. We can do the same with our previous experiences.

      I think perhaps they could teach kids in schools about learning from the past, and only using the past for this, rather than getting stuck there. Because as adults, we then find that dwelling on the past can too easily make us end up being stuck.

      Thank you very much for powerful comment Chrytsa. Your views are much appreciated.

  19. Hi Hiten,

    The why we can usually find pretty easy, but the how is the answer. How we react to the why can pretty much stop the why.

    I like the idea of turning down the volume. that sure works for me. It is always up to the person to change the why and when that happens life become much funnier.
    Thanks for a great post on why and fixing with the how.
    Blessing to you, (nice to meet you Hiten.)

    1. Hi Debbie,

      I loved the way you said:

      “How we react to the why can pretty much stop the why.”

      This is great way of looking it! 🙂

      I love the experience of turning down the volume too! It’s one of my favourite ways of changing the contents of my thoughts and sensations I’m feeling in my body.

      What makes me laugh is if I add a Donald Duck voice to a thought, which is troubling me!

      Blessings to you too Debbie.

      Thank you for commenting and take care.

  20. Wow! You’ve got a very lively conversation going on here, Hiten.

    I love an emotionally-charged topic. 😉

    Not sure I can lend much to all the fabulous commentary, except to say …

    My biggest takeaway is this …

    “You can choose to react in any way you like.”

    That statement is the epitome of “empowerment”, isn’t it?! Three cheers to everyone who adopts that mindset.

    About the “why” …

    Small children ask “why” ALL THE TIME.

    It’s part of their “discovery” and “learning” process. Let’s face it … as we grow up, we’re hardwired to ask “why”. That’s what we’re supposed to do to broaden our scope of life and our surroundings. When we’re young, knowing “why” lends to our staring point in life. It encourages us to think creatively and curiously. 🙂

    But as adults with lots of life experience under our belts …

    Setting out to figure out “why” something happened or something was said or something didn’t go just right, etc., can drive you nuts!

    Much better to focus on “how” to make changes and course correct for greater happiness, peace of mind, and healthy emotional well being.

    Lovely post — really enjoyed it!

    1. Hi Mel,

      I’m really glad you liked the post and thank you for your brilliant comment!

      Absolutely, I agree with you. The pinnacle of empowerment is the ability to choose how we want to respond to what happens to us!

      Indeed, children are the ultimate masters at asking “why?” 🙂 Hence, we take this need to question with us into adulthood.

      However, when we become adults we also develop the ability to re-present experiences we have all the screens of my minds, through our thoughts and feelings, and then we add all kinds (sometimes toxic!) meanings to these.

      And if we continue to think about experiences we found to be unpleasant, we can tend to move into “why?” mode.

      A great skill we can all develop is to just allow thoughts and feelings about previous experiences to arise in our minds. However, when they do, we can just cease giving any meaning to them!

      No meaning = No more pain 🙂

      Thank you so much for your great insights Mel.

  21. A great post. This is indeed insightful. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Giles,

      I’m really glad you found the post useful! 🙂

      It’s fantastic to meet you.

  22. its always a great idea to explore by asking questions
    why questions are great because they can help us understand important reasons
    thanks you Hiten

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