08 Apr Why am I writing about this again!!
Tale of the day:
“Why” with ourselves, and responding to “Why?”
In my last blog post I focused on many of the difficulties that can arise when we ask others “why.” In this post I’ll explore how these principles play out when we ask “why” of ourselves. Then I’ll explore some useful ways we can respond when someone else asks us “why” in an unhelpful way.
I had a client recently who said, “Why do I keep doing this?” It’s a common question I hear from clients, and one that we have all asked ourselves at times. The outcome is to figure out our problem so we can solve it—something along the lines of, “If only I understood why, then I’d know what to do to fix this.” The outcome of “fixing this” is a good one, it’s just that the strategy of trying to understand why works just as poorly with ourselves as it does with others. Reviewing what we learned in the last post, this is because:
- “Why” is vague
- It focuses us on the problem
- It tends to elicit answers that hold the problem in place
- It can be taken as blame or judgment
I also have just as many clients who come to me even though they already know exactly why they have the problem they have: “It was because of a childhood trauma, and ever since then I’ve unconsciously tried to protect myself by putting a wall up between myself and the world, even though I know the wall does more harm than good now that I’m an adult.” These clients do understand exactly why they have the problem they have, and yet knowing why hasn’t shown them anything about how to fix it.
Instead of asking “why” the NLP processes ask, “How do I put this wall up?” “Are there times when I don’t put this wall up?” “If so, how do I do that?” “How can I also do that in the areas I used to put the wall up?” This gives us the specific information needed to be able to make the change we want. If a house is in an earthquake zone and it’s dangerous because it was built of brick and mortar, we can learn all about why it was originally built that way, but this will neither tell us how it was built, nor how we might build a new structure that can withstand the next earthquake.
There’s another way we ask ourselves “why.” I had another client recently who said, “Why don’t you just take it easy? Why don’t you just let it go?” She was referring to herself. Instead of saying “Why don’t I just take it easy,” she was saying “Why don’t you just take it easy.” Take a moment and ask yourself the following questions, and notice what the difference is in your own experience:
1) “Why do I have this problem?” “Why don’t I just take it easy?”
2) “Why do you have this problem?” “Why don’t you just take it easy?”
They are both ways of asking a “why” question of ourselves, so what difference do you notice?
Here’s what I notice. Saying to myself, “Why do I have this problem?” is unhelpful due to the four bullets listed above, but the intention is to find out the necessary information to fix the problem. We can achieve this much better by asking the question how.
Saying to myself, “Why do you have this problem?” is also unhelpful due to the four bullets listed above, but the intention is different. Rather than trying to gather more information to fix my problem, I’m splitting myself into me (the speaker) and you (the one with the problem. The question isn’t meant to gather more information at all, but to tell a part of myself that I experience as separate and autonomous (you) something that’s important to me. What I’m really trying to communicate is something like: “I don’t want you to have this problem.” “I want you to just drop this.” So when we ask a “why” question of ourselves and refer to ourselves as “you” instead of “I,” it’s a sign that we really aren’t meaning to ask a question at all. We want to communicate something important to a part of us that we experience as separate and outside our control. This is a great time to use parts integration, 6-step reframing, Core Transformation, etc., to bring resolution and cooperation between, or integration of, these separate selves.
A final distinction I want to make is that often when we’re alone and we ask “why,” we might think we’re asking it of ourselves, but often we’re actually asking “why” of the universe or God—the classic “why me?” If I lock my keys in the car, or burn another pan on the stove and say, “Why does this keep happening to me!” I could either be attempting to get more information from myself (though in an unhelpful way) or I might really be attempting to have a conversation with the universe or God—entities far beyond my control or comprehension (and usually unwilling to answer). If I’m questioning the universe or God, it is usually a sign that I want the world to be different (an important need or desire that I’m not expressing), and/or I may have some judgment or blame about how things turned out (which distracts from solutions), and/or I might think I or someone else deserves better (for more on deserving, see my recent post “You Don’t Deserve Love”).
Rather than asking “why,” of the universe or God, it still works much better for me to express my needs or desires, and focus on my experience and how I can make things better in the future. It can help to realize that I don’t have any contracts signed by either God or the Universe (so neither of them own me anything). Asking “why” won’t give us a magic ticket to a new experience that we like better; it does just the opposite, distracting us from the answers right in front of us.
In summary, whether asking “why” of others or ourselves, it works much better to change “why” to “how,” and then shift from past causes to future solutions. If we realize we really want to communicate about our own needs or goals, we can do this with ourselves just as we do with others: “It’s important to me to find a solution for next time.” If we experience an inner conflict or division (referring to ourselves as “you” rather than “I”), we can use various NLP processes to get to what each part of us wants, and find resolution and integration. And if we notice we’re really addressing God or the universe, we can recognize that asking “why” of God or the Universe is going to be even more fruitless than asking “why” of another individual.
Tool of the Day:
Responding to “Why?”
We can clearly improve our relationships both with ourselves and others by avoiding the question “why” in the context of a problem or difficulty, or when we really want to express a need or desire. But what if someone else asks us “why.” One of my readers recently asked me this great question:
“As you have rightly said when someone asks “why” they are not expecting an answer. So what can I do to turn it around rather than attempting to answer it?”
First, it’s possible they might actually just want to know the answer to the question. For example, if someone asks me, “Why did you park so far away from the curb?” and I don’t sense any judgment or frustration, I can just answer: “It’s a big curb, I wanted to make sure your door would open.” Or, “I guess it’s never been worth it to me to learn to park better than this.”
However my reader was referring to a situation where the person asking “why” really doesn’t want to know the answer to that question; they’re actually wanting to express some need or desire of their own. If someone says, “Mark, why did you park so far away from the curb again!” in a judgmental tone of voice, I can guess that there’s something important to them that isn’t being fully expressed. Maybe parking precisely is important to them aesthetically, or maybe they want to keep the street clear, or prevent me from getting a ticket. Whatever it is, there’s a statement hidden in the “why” question. Answering the question will do nobody any good, so here are some other possible responses for you to try out:
1) Exaggerate. If someone says to me, “Mark, why did you park so far away from the curb again!” in a judgmental tone of voice, I might drop my head melodramatically and have fun exaggerating the guilty “I’m the problem” role by saying, “Because I’m a no-good ass-backwards fool who can’t even step into the right pant-leg in the morning.” I might even stay in the submissive posture, with my head down, until I’m given “permission” to move again, such as laughter from the person asking “why.” This exaggeration of the guilty role frees us from it, and in a way that no one can argue with. For the person asking “why,” it gives them a direct experience of how that may not have been such a useful question to ask. It also offers this learning in a way that’s fun, and no one loses face or needs to get defensive. Trying to explain how “why” isn’t a useful question to ask is more likely to get into argument, or “go mental” where the learning is less likely to sink in and affect future behavior.
Because “why” has so many possible answers, I might also exaggerate my answer in a different direction, such as philosophizing and deleting myself from responsibility for my own actions. I might say, “It is certainly because I’m a Libra and I was born to have balance between being in the road and out of the road—the best of both worlds!” Or I might say, “In the beginning, when God created the world in seven days, he set the universe in motion in a long series of chain reactions leading precisely to this horrible parking job.”
2) Ask about the questioner’s needs/wants. If the humorous exaggeration isn’t your style yet, there is another very effective response. We can remember that when someone asks “why,” often they are really wanting to communicate something about their needs or wants. So we can simply avoid the question entirely and tune into what the person really wants to communicate. If someone asks me, “Mark, why did you park so far away from the curb again!” and I have a good guess what they’re wanting to communicate, I can say, “I appreciate you wanting to save me from a parking ticket, and I want to assure you that I won’t require you to pay a single cent of any ticket that I get.” (implying that I’m going to make my own parking choices). If I don’t know what they’re wanting to communicate, I can say something like, “It sounds like parking close to the curb is important to you. What’s important to you about being parked close to the curb?” Maybe there’s something about ticketing that I didn’t know about, and I’ll be very glad to get this information and take the time to park closer!
I welcome you to think of other responses and share what you find most useful!
Three upcoming opportunities in chronological order:
1. FREE: Come to Discover NLP, a free evening intro in Denver this Sunday, April 10.
2. Learn about the 2-day NLP Practitioner Starter Training with myself and Ricardo Ocampo in Denver CO, April 16-17. (You can credit 100% of your 2-day course tuition to the full 13-day Real World NLP Practitioner Training).
3. See me present on both Metaphors of Movement, and Creative Conflict Resolution, at the Hypno Expo Conference in Daytona Beach Florida, May 13-15.