Sometimes it’s Not “Why?” but “What?”

Last week I went for a four-mile run and after the first mile I wondered why the run was so slow compare to previous runs that week. As I started to ponder that a thought hit me – if I look for reasons why I’m running slow I’ll find them and I’ll keep running slow. Or instead, I could choose to focus on what I needed to do so I could run faster.

Why was I running slow? Here are some reasons that came to mind after I finished my run:

  • It was 26 degrees and it’s hard to run in the cold.
  • I started at quarter to six in the morning and early runs are tough.
  • I’d run eight miles each of previous three days and my legs were tired.
  • I’m 53 years old so it’s inevitable that I’ll slow down with age.

If I had focused on those thoughts in the moment they would have been justification for running slow. I also believe they would have put my mind in a state where it would have been hard to try to run any faster.

Rather than allowing my mind to gravitate to why I was running slow I decided to focus on what I needed to do in order to run faster. Here are the thoughts I began to focus on:

  • Relax and lengthen my stride.
  • Focus more on my breathing.
  • Take advantage of the downhill portions of the run.
  • Think about how much I enjoy running on cold, dark mornings.

One mile later my pace was 40 seconds faster and I easily maintained that pace for the next three miles!

As I pondered this it occurred to me that quite often we get stuck on “why” to the detriment of “what.” Our brains are constantly trying to make sense of the world around us and they do so by creating narratives. Before we realize it, we’re creating stories to make sense of things going on around us. The stories may or may not be accurate but we feel better having tried to make sense of the situation.

Sometimes we need to understand why something occurred in order to make the proper correction. In doing so we might just avoid a bad situation again. However, there are other times when the why is not nearly as important as the what – what am I going to do about this situation?

For example, at work you may never really know why someone reacted the way they did to your proposal. You can spend a lot of time ruminating over that question or you can simply focus on what you need to do going forward.

Another example might have to do with time. If you have the luxury of time and can determine why the situation you’re in exists that’s great. But, in the hustle and bustle world we live in we often face time constraints. You may not have time to delve into why things are the way they are because time is pressing and you need to decide what you’re going to do next.

Here are a couple of things for you to consider this week:

  1. If you have to construct a why for the situation you’re in try to temper the negative thoughts. Think about my run as an example. If I’d have focused on why I was running slow it’s not likely anything would have changed for the positive.
  2. Practice setting aside your desire to understand why and give more thought to what you can do in order to accomplish your goal. Again, think of my run as an example. When I focused on what I needed to do to run faster I accomplished my goal.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 100,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to can ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

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Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer at influencePEOPLE
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is a sales trainer, coach and consultant whose specialty is applying persuasion and influence in sales and customer service situations. He is one of 20 individuals in the world who currently hold the CMCT designation. Brian’s blog, Influence PEOPLE, is followed by people in 200 countries and made the Online Psychology Degree Guide Top 30 Psychology Blogs in 2012.
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