'Why' is not important to answer when it comes to what I'm doing at a given time. Instead, How and What are valuable questions to get into the habit of answering

Semi-abstract, close angled photography of dense, seemily chaotic writing on paper

Before I get into this, there are other places where I espouse the importance of 'Why'. Project planning is one such place, briefing a team on work to be done is another. So meet me part way in this communication if you want to get the most out of it. I'm putting forward an idea that has value to me (the source) and through effective reinterpretation it can have value to you too (the destination).

Okay, so here's a little more context: This line of thought follows on from catching myself in the act of deviating from a given plan. Or put another way, What do I do instead when I planned to do one thing but end up doing another?

I'm trying to catch myself in the act of doing this. I caught this one earlier: I plan to work on a personal project but instead I end up washing the dishes. Asking "Why" encourages very different results to asking "What" or "How".

A questions like, "Why didn't I work on the personal project?" – encourages an answer starting with "because", that talks about a single factor. In a system as complex as human behaviour, it is almost certainly a fools errand, to look for a simple, single factor to why we got the result that we got.

So which "What" and "How" questions are more useful?

What are you seeking?

How did these events come to pass?

What was missing from our thinking when we thought this would be how we would get what we were seeking?

There are a few examples. Compare any of those questions to, "Why are you doing this when you said you were going to do that?". The highlighted one cuts to the chase, reducing wasted time.

When it comes to well established habits in an adult human, asking why will generally lead down rabbit holes. Whereas asking what you did instead? How you got from intending to do one thing to doing another?... Those questions keep you more on track or and may reveal something else that needs addressing – the real cause for the change of direction.

I'm thinking this through as I write. I feel like these rabbit holes are examples of complexity that I don't need in the system, and if I can understand what the complexity is doing, and how, and replace it with something simple, or simply remove it, then there is far more to be gained.

Questions of How can be more useful, they tend to deal with specifics.

This all reminds me of the "blame free culture" concept. When you gather round with a team to understand how something went wrong, what happened that lead to the event and what will have to change to prevent a similar issue arrising in future. People experienced in a blame free culture will see time spent defending decisions as wasted time. Better to stick to the hows and whats.


This note started-off life very raw and very particular to me. I've drafted it once. It's still quite raw. I'll finish off with the remaining notes from the same page:

  • What are the habits?
  • Styles of avoidance
  • Styles of doing things
  • "I don't like this what should I do instead?"
  • Pay Off, desire, fear, habituation – these result in action


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