Finding your Why: Set Goals that Reflect your Life Purpose

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Finding your why is one of the most important parts of goal setting. While our goals can be relevant, important, and valid, it’s the why behind them that will make us want to get out bed every morning. It’s what life purpose is made out of and what gets us closer to living meaningful lives.

If we don’t have a why, we struggle to stay motivated. If we don’t have a why, we lose ourselves in society’s beliefs of the goals we believe we “should” or “need” to pursue. If we don’t have a why, we miss out on discovering life purpose that is driven by our own interests, desires, and needs.

Finding the why behind our goals isn’t easy. The reason we ask so many questions about life purpose and the meaning of our time on this planet is because our whys change over time and are not consistent from goal to goal or person to person. Let’s say that two men both have the same goal to save money to buy a car. One man may be pursuing this goal so that he can trade-in his two seater for a mini-van and prepare for a future family. The other man may be pursuing this goal because he just turned sixteen and wants to finally get out from under the thumb of his parents and travel independently. Same goal, very different whys.

If you read my post on finding the meaning behind your goals, you know that meaning can change as our lives and circumstances change. This is why we can’t read a book about life purpose and call it a day. Similarly, finding your why is an ongoing process that is subject to change. Someday, that sixteen-year-old may be in his thirties and finding himself yet again saving for a car. This time, his why may revolve around a family, a job commute, or more serious travel considerations. Same goal, very different whys.

As your why can change over time, it’s important to stay aware of how they change and if these changes impact your journey to your goals. Finding your why isn’t a one-time deal. It will lead you down a long path of soul-searching that may have many wrong turns and dead ends along the way.

To make it easier, I have broken down “why” into two categories: your logical why and your other why. As you are finding your why for each of your goals, you can reflect on how you would describe it in relation to each of these categories. This should help you simplify the process, while also helping you gain a clear understanding of your why at this point in time.

Finding Your Logistical Why

Goals need to make sense in the grand scheme of our lives. If you read my post on the motivation equation, you know that pursuing my goal to pet an elephant in Thailand made less sense than pursuing my goal to go to graduate school. Even though I would have loved to jump on the next plane to Thailand, graduate school was better for my career, future, and bank account.

When finding your why, the logical aspect of it won’t always be fun. This is when we crunch numbers, study spreadsheets, make timelines, consider the most economical options, and put our day dreams aside. Your logical why can be as small as signing up for a marathon because you have the summer free for training, or as big as buying a house because the market is good and you’re ready to take on a mortgage. Finding your logical why is all about common sense and putting puzzle pieces together. There are times when certain goals simply make the most sense given our circumstances and place in life.

Let’s be clear that having a strong logistical why doesn’t mean your goal is boring. Even the most exciting year-long trip around the world will require you to organize the other components of your life to accommodate such a big goal. Can you take time off of work? Are your finances in order? Are you leaving your family behind or are they coming with you? Do you need to say no to any other important commitments? In essence, does it make sense?

The most important question to ask yourself when considering your logistical why of a goal is: 


This is not an excuse to procrastinate and put off your goals until later. Instead, it is a way to tune into your circumstances and determine the best timing to pursue your goals. If you’ve been wanting to adopt a dog, but you currently rent an apartment and travel a lot for work, it may be better to wait until your living situation is more stable. On the other hand, if you can afford good dog care and are ready to invest in the responsibility, you may be able to find a strong logistical why this goal is worth pursuing.

Finding Your OTHER (EMOTIONAL) Why

While logistics are important, our goals also need to be emotionally engaging. If the only reason you’re buying a house is because it makes logistical sense, you won’t be motivated to paint the rooms, clean up the garden, or make the place feel like home. Your desire to be a homeowner needs to connect with you in some way beyond your spreadsheets, timing, and budget.

The reason I call this finding your “other” why is because this can stem from different places for different people. For example, one person may want to buy a house for the sentimental reasons of creating a place that future great grand kids can call home. Another person may want to buy a house for the excitement of taking it through a remodel and reselling it. Both of these reasons differ greatly, but are both great “other” whys to consider when pursuing the goal of buying a house.

The most important question to ask yourself when finding your other why of a goal is: 


When finding your why, it’s the “other” aspect of it that will get you up in the morning and motivate you to pursue your goal. When you ask people about their goals, this is often what they talk about. It is this component that taps into your dreams, your hopes, your joys, your setbacks, and your victories. It is this component that contributes to your confidence, your pride, your sense of accomplishment, and your happiness. It is this component that gives your goals life.

Let’s look at the “other why” in action. I have been running for a number of years now and have a strong other why associated with it as a result. Check out this post to read an excerpt from my book Better Running Goals about my other why for running.

putting them together

A goal can’t function if it’s missing either its logical why or its other why. While both whys don’t need to pull equal weight, a goal can’t be purely logical or purely emotional. A purely logical goal will come with motivational challenges, while a purely emotional goal may not fit into the context of your life. Even if they are imbalanced, be sure that each of your goals has both a logical and an other why. This will ensure that your goals are best suited to your needs. There are many goals that are worth pursuing that may not be the best choice for you given your interests and current circumstances. By staying in tune with both your logical why and your other why, you’ll put yourself in a good position to pursue goals that are best for you.

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