“He who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
“Your ‘why’ has a huge influence on your will. The more compelling your ‘why,’ the more adversity you will weather for the cause.”
— Paul Stoltz & Erik Weihenmayer
You know what activities you do. You also know how you do those activities. But why do you pursue them in the first place? Previously, you identified several factors that motivate you to engage in your athletic pursuits. In this lesson, you will explore further to uncover your underlying purpose in life — your big “why.” Before going after big goals you need to discover and articulate your big “why.”
What’s the Point of it All?
What’s the point of running all those miles? What’s the point of getting up in the dark to get in those workouts? What’s the point of doing that 10K, marathon, ultramarathon, triathlon, Ironman, ski mountaineering objective, fastpacking adventure, or whatever you do? What’s the point of doing those athletic pursuits you’ve dedicated your life to doing day in and day out?
Not everyone is out there doing what you do. Many find it pointless. But you find it meaningful in some way. How so? Why do you do it? What’s your purpose?
Answering this question for yourself is foundational to achieving your most ambitious goals. You may be in the best physical shape of your life when you toe the starting line of that big race you’ve been targeting. But if you don’t know why you’re doing it, you may not get to the finish line. That’s because, as the quotes above recognize, without a strong grounding in your “why,” the easier it will be to surrender to the challenges and setbacks you encounter along the way. After all, if you don’t have a clear understanding of “why” it’s important to you, it’s importance will inevitably wane as the difficulty increases.
Athletes who know their big “why” are better equipped to make the sacrifices and work through the difficulties that lie between them and their goals. The good news is that we all have a purpose for doing what we do, even if it remains below our level of conscious awareness. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be out there at all. The challenge comes in putting that “why” into words and bringing it above the level of conscious awareness. But doing so is an invaluable foundational exercise in self-awareness that is key to achieving our goals.
Discovering Your Big Why
Your big “why” is unique to you. It’s not someone else’s purpose. It’s your own. It’s personal. It’s your need to do what you do. It’s your mission in life. Your big “why” fuels you with focus and energy. It powers your actions. It keeps you going when the going gets tough because you are driven to fulfill your mission. Your “why” instills your effort with meaning and purpose.
Your big “why” is your guiding purpose in life. Your goals may change each year, but your “why” remains as the force underlying those goals. It is central to who you are as a person and endures over time. You may refine your articulation of it, but your big “why” is you. If your “why” changes from year to year, then it’s probably not your “why.” Keep looking.
Finding your big “why” is a process of discovery. It requires self-reflection to uncover who you are and put that into words that rise above the level of conscious awareness.
In the video below, author Simon Sinek discusses how to find your “why.”
For more background on Sinek’s framework, watch his Ted Talk below that goes into more detail on the ideas in his book, Start with Why.
As Sinek describes, your what is usually given, but starting there or simply residing there lacks inspiration and motivation. Instead, start with your “why” and work from the inside out of what Sinek calls the golden circle (see image below). Once you know your “why,” then you can determine the “how.”
With these ideas in mind, it’s time to turn to a practical application to discover and articulate your “why.” Your “why” is bigger than your athletic goals, but knowing your “why” will help you shape and give meaning to those goals.