Is Knowing Your “Why” Enough? On Obsession, Drive, and Doing Deep Work.

10 Minute Writes — 0005 (…way over 10 on this one ha.)

I’m about to speak some blasphemy.

Knowing your “why” might not be enough to drive you to success.

Before torches, pitchforks, and a mob come for me, let me explain.

A “why” is a reason for doing. It doesn’t mean one will do the right things to succeed.

This might be why so many would-be entrepreneurs are confused and without direction. They have their “whys” but they don’t really know what to do.

“Ok Jared. I’m contemplating egging your house, why are you saying all this?”

I’m saying this because I believe “why” is just a part of the recipe; not the full picture.

It could be exclusive to me, but the biggest accomplishments in my life always seemed to proceed from something more than just my “why”.

Whether it was significant weight loss, gaining social media numbers, or increasing my income. I couldn’t quite place what — but there was something more to it.

As I searched, I came to an interesting conclusion:

I didn’t always do things because I felt a burning “why” with every breath I took.
I found I did things because I identified myself as the person that achieves them.

My dominant thoughts, day after day, were driven by the identity I developed. Yes my “why” creeped in sporadically for an extra boost of motivation, but it would be too easy to give it all the credit.

This constructed identity gave me obsessive focus on a singular purpose and drove most of my wins. I wanted to know more about how I could harness it.

As I searched for answers, I deconstructed my past, and discovered something interesting:

Obsession can be tapped into at will, for anything that authentically interests you.

As a behavioral psych nerd, the idea of tapping into the “super powers of obsession” pulled me in.

I broke things down, and found (for me at least) the three critical parts to “Obsession at will”:

Interest + Measurable and Achievable Goals + Identity Formation

Let’s say you were very interested in weight lifting — and you wanted a 315 lb benchpress.

Your next step would be to create a measurable, moderately difficult, but achievable goal around the benchpress.

This goal has to be big enough to inspire action, but not so large it intimidates you from attacking it.

Your goal might read as:

I am going to increase my bench by 25 lbs this month.

You then need to choose an “identity” around achieving this goal.

Try to keep away from the extremes. This identity can’t be too far off from where you already are.

As an example we might choose:

Because I AM a dedicated weightlifter.

Starting out, any new “identity” will just be an idea in your head.

And it‘s going to stay that way until you’ve collected enough “proof” that you are in fact IT. That proof comes from the goal you’ve attached the identity to.

The magic happens when you start pulling in small wins.

As you achieve your goal one small piece at a time — your self created “identity” will shift from an idea into a true belief.

And when you truly believe you’re a dedicated anything, you start doing things differently. An innate urgency will be created within you to fulfill that role.

Recapping the statement:

I am going to increase my bench by 25 lbs this month. (Measurable, Achievable, Goal)
Because I AM a dedicated weightlifter. (Identity)

As you put yours together, write the declaration down on a piece of paper.

Post it where you’ll see it, and read it out loud daily.

This statement turns into your sole mission and purpose. Even better it removes any confusion around what your focus should be.

Once you knock the first goal out, retool the process, and repeat it again.

Where people often have trouble is when they create goals that are difficult to measure, or too big to achieve in a reasonable amount of time.

To recap the three ingredients were:

Interest + Measurable and Achievable Goals + Identity Formation

Using the process above, you’ll essentially set the stage for “obsession on demand”.

Will this work for everyone? I wish I could say yes, but each person is different. I’d say you have nothing to lose by giving it a shot.

My obsession for the upcoming year:

“I am going to help 1000 people in 2017 find clarity, shift their mindset from a consumer to a producer, and get their first batch of customers without spending a dime. Because I am a professional digital marketer.”

Instead of thinking on “why” you want to succeed.

Think of how to build an identity designed to succeed.


You might have noticed that this article didn’t address “how to pick the right things” — this post got waaaay too long so I’ll write on that in the future.

This is the post #5 in “10 Minute Writes”; a weekly series where I try to engage with a point of discussion, or problem that I find interesting. New posts every Monday.

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