Five Whys

January 25, 2012


I don’t know where I learned this technique but I was reminded of it last week. The “Five Whys” is a super-annoying but ultimately effective process.

It started when I downloaded a free iPad app called Unstuck: a kinda fun, interactive tool that is designed to help you get “unstuck” in some area of your life, big or small.

For my first “Stuck Moment,” I chose this blog. I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like and I have heaps of excuses, all very poetic and totally rational.

The app takes you through several non-intimidating exercises with mostly multiple-choice questions about how you’re feeling, thinking and behaving around this stuck moment. In the end, I was labeled an Idle Achiever who needs to commit.

So that’s all fine. Maybe a little too soft and nice. Hey, at least I’m an achiever even if I’m not playing one at the moment!

On the results page, there was a button labeled Tell Me Why. I clicked it and found it was just the ol’ Five Whys exercise with a pretty front-end slapped on. Despite my disappointment at the lack of magical fairies waiting to solve my problem, I continued on.

(The Five Whys is deceptively simple. State your problem, then ask yourself “Why?” five times. In this app, the answers to each Why? are limited to 50 characters to stop you from getting too BS-y with yourself.)

I share with you my experience:

State the problem: I’m not writing enough.
Why? (#1)
The reality is not that exciting.
Why? (#2)
I’m not doing all the great things I thought.
Why? (#3)
I let time get away from me.
Why? (#4)
There is so much time, I can do it later.
Why? (#5)
Because I’m a procrastinator.

BAM. So there you go. See what I mean about annoying?? But we got to the heart of the matter.

Then, of course, I have to state what I’m going to do about it: Do more things, feel more excited and empowered, be able to write.

While the Unstuck app was pretty cool and I recommend it, the meat of the outcome was in my slogging through the Five Whys and getting real and giving myself a slap in the face.

Anyone can do this exercise at any time with any problem — no app required. If you’re doing it alone, make yourself write down your answers. Even better, find a brave partner to ask you Why? out loud.

I’m blogging better for a few reasons but this was one of them. Hope it helps you, too.

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2 Comments on “Five Whys”

  1. Nick Says:

    Thanks …. I needed that.


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