Our minds can be frustrating! We evolved beyond our monkey ancestors into walking, talking, water sacks of emotions. And at times, trying to sift through what your mind is telling you can be tiring. Then half of the time, we do the exact opposite of what it is saying. Frustrating, right?
When I started contemplating leaving my last job. The emotions were overwhelming. My head was telling me multiple conflicting things. I knew the time was right to move on, yet I felt I was letting my team down.
As the team lead and subject matter expert on many of our systems, they looked to me for guidance. Who would take over that responsibility once I was gone? These questions and doubts bounced through my head daily. After many months of soul searching, I finally put in my two weeks. It was one of the most challenging decisions I’ve ever made.
But what if there was an easier path? A way to better understand ourselves? To be able to connect with a part of you that remains hidden deep within your mind. These areas developed millions of years ago and are the basis for our emotional antics. I’m referring to the limbic system, and we will look at a way we can open that area up for exploration.
Emotions are the key
The limbic system of the brain regulates, among other things, emotions and feelings. It can’t speak directly to you. Instead, it communicates through moods and feelings, which in many of us can lead to more than a few “lost in translation” moments. Those times we end up misinterpreting the signals.
But what if there is a way to take a peek into that area. To translate a portion of what our brain is trying to tell us. Simon Sinek came across an idea that can shed some light on your mind’s inner workings. He does it through the use of stories, specifically by you telling your personal accounts. Let’s start our journey by discussing the basis on which Sinek’s concept is built.
Understanding what, how, and why
Sinek has spoken to countless audiences and written five best-selling books. He first came on the scene through the wildly popular 2009 Ted Talk, How great leaders inspire action. In his talk, he introduces us to his “Golden Circle” concept. The concept states organizations have a What, How, and Why. And many companies understand their What or How. But very few know Why they do what they do.
Sinek gives the example of Apple. Apple is one of the largest technology companies in the world, and they know their Why. This gives them a unique approach to marketing.
With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently. Our products are user-friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?
Now think if Apple didn’t understand their Why. Their marketing may sound differently.
We make great computers. They’re user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?
In the first example, by focusing on the Why, Apple brings emotion and feeling into its products. You can see it in the message. It resonates within you, and while you may not be able to articulate why you want to purchase an Apple product. You sense the emotional tie of owning one, that’s the power in knowing your Why.
The TED talk and subsequent speaking engagements led to the “Golden Circle” concept becoming the best selling book “Start with Why.” Where he lists case examples of businesses that know their Why and follow it to success.
How can this help you?
With the book’s success, it occurred to him individuals needed a way to discover their Why. The follow-up to his first book was obvious, and when “Find your Why” was published, it came with a process for anyone to undertake finding their Why.
In the book, he explains the personal Why is a message each of us follows every day, yet most of us don’t realize it. It’s all due to your brain’s emotional centers having trouble verbalizing feelings. Asking why you feel a certain way, or why you are in a bad mood are hard questions to answer.
Scientists have discovered there is a link between what your brain remembers and the emotions you feel. Sinek reasoned the stories most prevalent in our memories also have underlying emotional meaning to us. By telling these stories, you can then extract themes from them. Once teased out, these themes can give you a better understanding of why you do what you do.
It impressed me with the simplicity of the idea of exploring your past stories to find out “Why you are the way you are.” His concept, while not new, is a different way of looking at yourself.
Finding your why
You start by thinking of critical times in your life. These can be memories, good or bad, recent or long past. These are times when you have a strong emotional and visual connection to the memory. You will need to recall these stories in as much detail as you can.
It’s not enough to say you were visiting relatives one day. Get in the weeds of the story, recall how you got to the house, what car were you in, who was driving, do you remember the songs on the radio. Who was there when you arrived? What food did you have? What made this day special for you? Put your story together like you were writing a book on the day, letting everyone know the details. Come up with 6–8 of these detailed accounts.
Now comes the tricky part, you are going to need to share your stories with a partner. They don’t need to have any special training, just a willingness to listen and desire to help. This person needs to be someone you feel comfortable sharing personal information, thoughts, and feelings with. The person also needs to be objective — good friends, family, or a spouse typically can’t do that. They often try to interpret your stories for you because their opinions of you are already well established.
Having gone through this process many times as both a listener and a storyteller. The partner’s job is to actively listen to your stories, paying attention to details, expressions, body language, and tone. They should ask open-ended questions to expand on the stories. Dig deep and get to the emotion of the story.
After listening to a few of the stories, you can start to see recurring themes. You and your partner will discuss the themes and build upon them. The process will culminate in the creation of a Why statement. The statement is in the format:
To __________________ So that ____________________________.
Simon Sinek’s Why statement is: To inspire people to do the things that inspire them so that, together, we can change our world.
Mine is: To connect with amazing people so that, we can work together and build tomorrow.
One of the most asked questions Sinek gets is if you have a professional Why and a personal Why. The answer is No.
The Why statement is your value at work as much as it is the reason your friends love you. We are who we are wherever we are.
You will have one, and only one, Why statement.
The power within you
Having gone through the exercise over a year ago has helped me many times over. In two situations, I was offered positions with companies. Looking at my Why statement and comparing it to what I would be doing, I could see they weren’t compatible. I wasn’t going to be fulfilling my Why. I passed on both of them.
Later, I assisted a local business when they were opening a new office. Their team and I ended up hitting it off, and they offered me a job. While it was nothing I had ever done before, it fit perfectly with my Why. I accepted and can say it’s the happiest I’ve been in years.
Knowing your Why is like having an opening into your mind. It’s the ability to understand what the emotional centers are trying to tell you. A cheat sheet for you to weigh opportunities that come along in your life. You now have a statement that goes along with the nagging feeling you get in your stomach — a litmus test to see if the two are compatible.
Many of us know the What and How of the things we do, the Why is something that may escape us. Taking the time to dive in and find your Why is worth the effort and can give you a great insight into yourself.
Helping someone with the process has been an amazing part of the journey. Watching the reaction on a person’s face when we discuss the themes in their stories is inspiring. It’s very emotional helping someone put into words something they felt all their life.
If you are interested in learning more, you can visit Simon Sinek’s website for detailed instructions for building your stories and being a partner.