Is Your Reason Why Good Enough?


It’s interesting how our accomplishments often depend more on the reason why we do something, rather than the difficulty of the task at hand. We can be compelled to take on great challenges if our reason for doing so is strong enough.

On the other hand, even a simple task can seem insurmountable if we can’t come up with a good enough reason why we feel we should do it. How many times have you avoided doing something just because there was no impelling motive? The power behind action, or inaction, often hinges on that simple three letter word, “why.”

When it feels like “I have to”

Think of all the things people are able to get themselves to do because they feel like they have no other choice. Millions, or perhaps billions, of people faithfully go to work five days a week for this very reason. It’s not because they love their job and the people they work with. It’s because they have decided that they simply have no other choice.

They have concluded that the cost of not going to work is just too great. They don’t see any acceptable options, so they use the “I have to” reason to get themselves up and going. We’ve all used this same reason to get ourselves to do something that needed to be done, and we know from personal experience that it works.

When having a choice just confuses the issue

Even though we always have a choice, feeling that we don’t can really simplify things sometimes. There are situations where we can use this concept to create a stronger sense of commitment than would otherwise be possible.

When we want to see something through no matter what, removing all other choices will raise our determination dramatically. I am reminded of how most marriage vows include the terms “for as long as you both shall live.” Obviously, the intention here is to create a high level of emotional commitment by eliminating all other options.

The power of financial commitment

In our culture, there is a direct relationship between financial commitment and motivation. The more invested we are in something; the more likely we are to take action to protect our investment. If you have a $60,000 Lexus, chances are you will take better care of it than you would a $500 beater.

When we are willing to spend more money on something it is generally because we place a comparatively higher value on it. The higher we value something, the more compelled we are to do whatever it takes to avoid losing it.

Going way beyond the comfort zone

Last summer I was reminded just how far we can push ourselves when something threatens the things that we value most. Before I tell you what happened, let me set the scene by explaining a few things about my situation.

My wife and I live in a house that has been going through a complete remodel. We designed it and we are doing almost all of the work ourselves. This is a project from our hearts and it’s one of the many things we do well together. However, the drawback is that because we are both busy people, progress is rather slow.

Enter the big bad insurance company

At some point a man from our insurance company came by and took some pictures of the house. Those pictures found their way to the underwriters who had a problem with some unfinished aspects of the project, and sent us a cancellation notice. They included their specific reasons, and our agent assured us that if the work got completed prior to the cancellation date, we would be fine.

Now, I’m not a big fan of hot weather, and as it turned out we were having a very hot summer. Not only that, but the amount of work that needed to be done to satisfy the insurance company was huge. With a window of opportunity that was only a few weeks long, I convinced myself that I had no choice. We simply had to make it happen!

When the going gets tough

Long story short, we spent seven days working twelve hours a day in uncomfortably hot conditions. It was extremely challenging to say the least, but we did it together and we made our deadline.

There is something deeply rewarding about pouring yourself into a seemingly impossible task that takes you that far outside of your comfort zone. You discover that your capabilities can dramatically exceed your self-imposed limits, once you abandon all the excuses and eliminate all the other choices. For us, having done this as a team was a truly gratifying experience.

Start with a compelling why

Whenever you are faced with a challenging task, start by examining your motives. The truth is, if you have a compelling enough reason, you can do almost anything. When you know why you intend to do something, you can always find the how.

For us, being without insurance in the middle of fire season represented an unacceptable threat to everything we have created in our unique little corner of the world. Under normal circumstances, I couldn’t imagine working that hard in such harsh conditions. But these were not normal circumstances.

Life is full of unexpected challenges

When you need to push yourself way outside the comfort zone, make sure you know exactly why. Once you have a truly compelling reason, then prepare to be amazed by how much you can actually accomplish.

How do you feel about challenges?
What gets you motivated?
The lines are open!

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  1. Frank J July 30, 2009 Reply

    It’s so true that most things I accomplish are things I have to do. I still get other stuff done eventually, but it takes a little longer.

    • Jonathan July 31, 2009 Reply

      Hey Frank, the interesting thing about “have to” is that those are things we choose to put in that category. In other words, “have to” is just judgment call that represents our highest priorities.

  2. Dragos Roua July 30, 2009 Reply

    Congrats on that :-)

    I know how difficult things may seem when you’re facing deadlines, I did this with my business for more than 10 years. But the reward is fantastic.

    I love the way you translate your real life into personal development lessons. As always :-)

    • Jonathan July 31, 2009 Reply

      Hi Dragos, I think I have a greater appreciation for the power of deadlines than ever before. They don’t feel very zen like, but they sure get you motivated.

  3. Steven Aitchison July 30, 2009 Reply

    Wow Jonathan, I wondered where you had been for the last few days. Congraulations on such an amazing job. Another great life lesson from you.

    • Jonathan July 31, 2009 Reply

      Hi Steve, looking back it seems like a trip to the twilight zone.

  4. Stephen July 30, 2009 Reply

    Jonathan, I didn’t think it was possible to get that hot up there! Holy crap!

    Aside from that this was very informative. I’m amazed at how difficult it is for me to do things I don’t want to do. You are right, there seems to have to be a very compelling reason like money to eat with :-)

    Human motivation, along with all human behavior, is a fascinating topic. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Jonathan July 31, 2009 Reply

      Hey Stephen, we are complex critters that’s for sure. One of the things I love about human behavior is that small tweaks in the right areas can completely change our response patterns. I like it when simple steps alter complex systems.

  5. Zuzanna M July 30, 2009 Reply

    Hello, Jonathan

    Thank you for this valuable article. I have encountered many situations in life when people were asking “Why” for many unexplained reasons. To me, there was this answer…
    ” Do not ask why, just do it”- It worked.

    Thank you,

    • Jonathan July 31, 2009 Reply

      Hi Z, sometimes moving right past the analyzing phase into the action phase is the simplest way to make things happen.

  6. Mike King July 30, 2009 Reply

    Great story to show the motivation aspects we all experience. I am surprised though at how people reflect on this type of thing looking at the response of “having” to do something they don’t want to do. I don’t really believe that. It’s still a choice, as you don’t really HAVE to do anything. I mean, you can not get insurance, accept the risks, stop paying taxes, sell your car, quit your job, whatever. Of course there are consequences to accept for all those things so its quite conscious in deciding what option is best and then accepting the best answer for ourselves. Its not then having to do it one way or the other but choosing to because of avoiding even worse consequences, which is quite a positive thing. Everything can be a motivation from that angle as well if you choose to look at it differently. Anyway, just another perspective here I certainly like how you make people think and respond to your life experiences with this Jonathan…

    • Jonathan July 31, 2009 Reply

      Hi Mike, you are absolutely right about the idea of “having to.” In reality, we always have a choice. Putting something in the category of “have to” is a little game we play with our own psyche. It’s designed to convince our subconscious that no other choices exist. This brings the decision making process to an end and moves us to the action phase. The honest assessment is that no other options are acceptable to us personally.

  7. Lana July 30, 2009 Reply

    so true…once you have big enough reasons why you’ll find the way tio achieve your goal.. And you can find those “whys” for any goal, not only something you absolutely have to do. People spend long time trying to figure out their “what” and rarely spend time figuring out “why”. The last one could make a huge difference in whether the “what” is achieved or not.

    • Jonathan July 31, 2009 Reply

      Hi Lana, thanks for joining the conversation. I agree, with a good enough “why,” we can accomplish almost anything. Asking why we want to accomplish anything is the most important place to start. In my book, 7 Simple Steps, there is a whole chapter called “Always Ask Why.”

  8. Steve July 30, 2009 Reply

    It’s interesting that we often start off with a big goal we are excited about. Then, as you stated, we get busy, and the day to day activities can lull us into questioning our original goals and dreams. It’s then that we need to go deep, examine the WHY of the goals that we have set, and then consistently, one day at a time, take action toward those goals.

    • Jonathan July 31, 2009 Reply

      Hi Steve, I think if we start off knowing why we set the goal in the first place we are much more likely to avoid lull.

  9. Zeenat July 31, 2009 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,
    What a lovely piece of insight this post is. I agree with you completely on the fact of deadlines being the best motivators. Personal experience has shown me that setting deadlines has by far given me the most gratifying results. Cause as you said…all the time, focus and hard work that goes into that one project makes the result ‘truly gratifying’.
    Thanks for the reminder though…i think i need to set some deadlines for myself right now…..;)

    • Jonathan July 31, 2009 Reply

      Greetings Zeenat, I appreciate your personal observations about setting deadlines. I think I need to use this tactic more also.

  10. Vin July 31, 2009 Reply

    Hi Jonathan, good to hear you made your deadline! It’s a great example of the amazing things you can do when you have the motivation. I think this topic also applies very well to a person’s core values. The more in tune they are with them, the more motivation they will have to do what is necessary to support them.

    • Jonathan July 31, 2009 Reply

      Hi Vin, I totally agree. In my book, 7 Simple Steps, there are specific exercises designed to help the readers identify their core values and passions. This makes it possible for them to maintain internal harmony by staying true to those values and not violating their own ethics.

  11. Rocket Bunny July 31, 2009 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,
    It seems we all work better under pressure. More focused and we have such a great feeling after the task is complete.
    Great job and thanks for sharing your experience with us, it is truly motivating.

    • Jonathan July 31, 2009 Reply

      Hi Bunny, love the new avatar. Pressure can certainly be a very useful tool as long as it doesn’t get overbearing. Like you, I also get much more focused and motivated when there is a sense of pressure. This is an area where balance is needed to gain the benefits of working under pressure without crossing over into the stress zone.

  12. Celes August 2, 2009 Reply

    Hey Jon, fully agree about the need for a compelling reason to get started on doing things. For example, in the past I wanted to wake up early but was never able to really do so because I didn’t have a strong enough reason. These days I clearly spell out things which I want to get done in the morning, and it made it much easier to wake up (even though I may still feel groggy in the first few minutes if I didn’t sleep enough the day before!)

    • Jonathan August 4, 2009 Reply

      Hi Celes, thanks for sharing that example. Having a good reason makes all the difference.

  13. Kikolani August 4, 2009 Reply

    A good reason why is compelling enough to motivate you through the toughest of situations, because you know the reason you are doing something is so important that you simply must not give up on it, no matter what.

    ~ Kristi

    • Jonathan August 4, 2009 Reply

      Hi Kristi, you are so right. Sometimes, the reason is the only thing that keeps you going. That’s certainly what got us out there day after day in that 100 + degrees.

  14. Robin Easton August 4, 2009 Reply

    I found this fascinating and inspiring. I guess because I often function really well under a deadline. However, I am very self motivated, and yet a deadline just seems to really hone in the focus and priorities and get me going. LOL!! My friends tell me I’m the most focused person they know but still a deadline is an very interesting dynamic. My husband is the same in that he also functions well…almost best…with a deadline. So now we both will often set our own deadlines and tell the other about them.

    I am really pleased that you shared this with us. It makes you and your life more human and more real. So we all relate strongly to this very human experience because at some point we’ve been through the same thing. Powerful and vivid post!!

  15. Jonathan August 4, 2009 Reply

    Hi Robin, I totally relate. I am also very focused, and yet I still benefit from a deadline. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when we focus all our energy on a singular task.

  16. Ching Ya August 4, 2009 Reply

    I think it’s important to have a good ‘why’ to get ourselves motivated. A strong will could out beat whatever obstacles, just like you did with yours. Like I’ve been giving myself lots of excuses to procrastinate the WP migration, now I couldn’t be happier ever since I hardened my mind to actually get it done. To deal with challenges, mindset is the first to deal with, then a complete focus on the job till it’s done.

    • Jonathan April 7, 2014 Reply

      Hi Ching Ya, that is exactly right. Get your mind adjusted first so you can really focus, then take relentless action until you accomplish your task.

  17. Cyra Miles August 29, 2009 Reply

    Very interesting post. I realized that value of ‘why’ in my goals lately. I am glad I found my way to your blog as it fortifies my thought about the value of ‘why’.


    • Jonathan April 7, 2014 Reply

      Hi Cyra, there is a lot of power in your “why.” I am glad you are benefiting from that and I appreciate your participation here.

  18. marc June 13, 2011 Reply

    It is true. If you have a compelling reason to do something, you can achieve it, even when you don’t know how to achieve it in advance. Putting deadlines actually works.

  19. Jonathan April 7, 2014 Reply

    Hi Marc, I also appreciate the power of deadlines. Combine a compelling reason with a firm deadline and good things will happen.

  20. Jason May 18, 2014 Reply

    Another fantastic read. Choice is the only constant; everything else is just a consequence of choosing. Choosing not to choose is still a choice, and it’s one that many, many people default to in terms of career, relationships, and even health. Feeling like you have no other choice is also a choice – a choice of perspective.

    We always have the power within ourselves to begin making more self-empowering, self-fulfilling choices. The result of having the courage to live consciously and make choices which are in alignment with one’s true self are what eventually catalyze consequences which liberate instead of bind ; ).

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