Bringing "Why" Into "What"

Infusing Your "Why" Into "What"


Finding your “why” is all well and good, but it doesn’t mean diddly without making a difference in the things you do.


Any of these sound familiar?

  • When tapering for a race that is really important to you, you have been running a little less, feeling good, then you are approaching that segment you have wanted to improve on all year: and you run the FASTEST MILE OF YOUR LIFE! Congrats! Only...why are you limping after? Your hamstring feels a little funny? Bummer…

  • Before heading out on your run, you pick up your phone to check [addictive social media platform of choice] and 15 minutes later, you realize you now barely have enough time to squeeze in a short run before dinner, and now the rest of the day you feel rushed.

  • That pizza looks so delicious...surely a second slice won’t matter much…


In the above examples, some mysterious internal impulse takes the place of your main running desires and values.



Many other have written about that part of you that makes the decisions IT wants to make, but the other part of you (the more noble, people-loving, gratification-delaying-part-of-you) often really DOESN’T want to make. Some have called that impulsive instant-gratification part of you the “monkey brain,” “lizard brain,” “the resistance,” or “the elephant,” and doing what you really want to do involves getting that other part of you (the “professor brain” or the “rider” of the “elephant”) into control.

How do you do that? How do you keep our actions in accordance with your bigger, more noble, desires? What should you do to keep your impulsive-self from pulling you away from your meaning and purpose? Should you tape motivational quotes around your house? Probably not. Should you repeat mantras to yourself throughout the day? ...mmm...maybe….

Unfortunately, I don’t have any easy answer for you, since many of the "tips and tricks" will backfire if misapplied.



If you haven’t seen Benjamin Zander’s Ted Talk, “The Transformative Power of Classical Music,” give it a watch! It’s pretty fun, and might even inspire you a little. But I want to talk about another of Benjamin Zander's videos, about how he runs his music classes: “How to Give and A.” Though you might have issues with aspects of his teaching philosophy, I think he is right-on with his description of mistakes: (jump ahead to watch just this part of the video). Mistakes, he says, are an opportunity to learn something, and you can’t learn very well when the body is pulling down and wincing.


So a good first step that can hopefully start you on the road toward training with control, meaning, and purpose, is to start observing (without condemnation or any for of self-flagellation) the times when impulsive-you gets in control and makes less-than-wise decisions. Just notice. Observe. Try to refrain from judging good-or-bad at first, as if you were an outsider floating above the situation. If you instead beat yourself up, you will end up focusing on what a “bad person you are” (or making excuses for why you are not really so bad), instead of observing what is going on inside and outside of you before and during this experience.

We often tend to moralize choices that really don't deserve a GOOD/EVIL designation; many would be better defined as in-line our out-of-line with our goals, desires, and values. To one person, eating pizza is very in-line with their values, and to another, it is very out-of-line. It's a good idea to leave the bad/good categories to the biggies.

So next time your lizard brain gets the better of you and you stop acting in accordance with your “why,” see if you can interrupt the self-judgment and excuses by lifting your arms overhead and exclaiming: “HOW FASCINATING!”


So instead of:

“SO LAZY… snoozed my alarm again!”



"Ughh, I just binge-ate pie like the glutton I am! But it’s my birthday, and I’ll do better next time.”


“While on my easy run, I got into a race with the guy running behind me… I know it’s supposed to be an easy day, but it’s ok because I still feel fine.” Try to observe yourself from above:



“Interesting! She snoozed her alarm and didn’t go for a run. What do you think, does she need the extra rest? What feelings and thoughts went through her head as she hit snooze? What other thoughts or actions might help the situation?”

“Huh, he’s feeling pretty bad after eating half that pie...let’s follow how this played out: he gave himself permission to have one slice because it’s his birthday, then what happened in his mind before the second and the third slice? Would he have done the same if [insert name of romantic interest] came to the party? Do you think sadness/disappointment played a role? Or maybe the social/part environment? Was alcohol involved? How interesting….”

“How Fascinating! He’s getting competitive on an easy day...that guy was coming up behind him and he sped up to match the pace… what went on in that moment? What would he have felt if he kept running easy and let himself get passed? Would that be too damaging to his ego? Maybe we need to dig a little deeper on this?”

This is about learning. The process that follows is HOW your “rider” learns to keep control of your “elephant." Perhaps changing something about your environment will help, or changing the smaller decisions you make before the key decision, or maybe you have some internal demons that need wrestling with (everyone could use a good therapist, BTW).

Learn, try something, and if it works, great! If it doesn’t work, HOW FASCINATING! And keep learning.



The survey below is for you to start thinking about how these ideas apply in your own life. And if you need a little more guidance on the process, consider checking out these books:

The Willpower Instinct

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

The Brave Athlete