Ask “Why”: Understanding Limiting Beliefs



“There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.” -William Barclay

A question I haven’t asked myself enough in my life is “Why?”

Why is a short word, but a powerful one. The “Why” is why we do the things we do and the choices we make.

Identifying our Limiting Beliefs, our Passion and our Purpose are all popular topics right now. People who want to get more out of their lives are very interested in these topics.

I, too, am interested in these topics, because I want to know myself better, to grow as a person, to learn and to better be able to provide value to others.

I have done a lot of study on Passion and Purpose particularly, trying to discover what my “Passion” was or my “Purpose.” The results of that personal research and study were quite profound and remarkable. What I discovered can be summed up in three words. I. Don’t. Know. I had no idea what my passion was or what my purpose was and that can be a disconcerting space to be in.

The discussions out there on the internet, in blogs, book and articles, people advocate for or against both of these. Some will say you need to ‘live your passion’, then you will be happy. Or that you need to discover your true ‘purpose’, that ‘thing’ you are born to do that you need to provide to the world.

Bummer for me, it seems.

Then there are others that advocate for just the opposite, that not everybody can work and make a living at whatever they are passionate about. Purpose sounds too ‘new-agey.’ They may say that you should do whatever makes you money, and if you are successful, then you will be passionate about it.

I have worked some unpleasant jobs in my life, jobs that some of my colleagues were doing as a career. They may have been unpleasant for me, but not necessarily for them. For the most part they were great companies offering great products and services. There is no judgment here on the jobs themselves, they just weren’t for me.

Would I say regarding those jobs that people were or weren’t living their passion? Or their purpose? Even for me, I couldn’t answer that question at the time.


My belief now is that passion and purpose are useful terms, although overused and have become cliche, the core concepts are sound. Who wouldn’t want to be passionate or feel like they had a purpose? I do.

To approach life in terms of finding our passion or purpose can be frustrating. It was for me. It is the wrong way to go about things.

We come back to the question of “Why?” Why do we do the things we do. This is a powerful word that can help us live a more passionate life without focusing on our passion. It can help us be more purposeful, without even thinking of the word ‘purpose.’ Finally, it can help us identify what our core motivations are and sidestep our limiting beliefs.

By answering the question “Why?”, we begin to uncover our true values.


So, why is “Why” so important?

“Why” is how we learn. It is a word that represents an inquisitive thought process. If we didn’t ask why the sun rose in the east and set in the west, we may never have learned about the earths rotation. If we didn’t ask why we didn’t succeed at a task, we would have missed an opportunity to learn. Why is a powerful word.

When taking action, Tim Ferris, of the Four Hour Workweek says to ask ‘Why’ three times. It will get to your core reason why you are doing something.

I also belief in going through this process. I flailed for a long time, taking one action then another, never asking why.

If you don’t know why you are doing something, chances are you won’t get where you want (need) to be.

“Why” is also important in overcoming limiting beliefs.


Take for example any desire we have. Money is one that comes up often. I want more money and most people do. There are people that say money is not everything, or its the root of all evil. Money can be a divisive topic, but it is also a powerful motivator. The problem is, we may be driven, but to where? Why can help refine our goals so we can be more effective.

An example:

Premise: I want to be a millionaire

* Why? Because I want to have a big house and fancy car.

* Why? Because I am envious of people that do.

* Why? Because it represents not having to struggle to make ends meet.

* Why? Because growing up, we were poor, and we often didn’t have enough money to pay bills or put food on the table.

You could even ask why again:

* Because my parents were uneducated and couldn’t find good jobs.

This list is hypothetical, but you get the point. Asking why brings us from “I want a big house and fancy car”, to a deeper, more personal space. Deep down inside, it may be in this example, that because this person grew up poor, they don’t want that for their children. A fancy car is a symbol, where perhaps being able to put their children through college so they don’t have to suffer poverty is the real motivating drive.

Why doesn’t allow us to make excuses, it calls us out. Do you remember being a child being asked “why weren’t you home by 6:00pm for dinner?”. I do. You may not have that same example, but I’m sure you can relate to being “interrogated” by someone in authority. They were holding you accountable, and now that we are adults, we still need accountability.

My process looked something like this: I want to work for myself.

Why? Because I don’t like working for someone else.

Why? Because they ask me to do things I don’t want to do, or think I should do something else.

Why? Because they are trying to make their business work.

Why is this a problem? Because I don’t feel like I am in control of my life and others are making decisions for me.

Why is that an issue? Because I have other dreams and desires, and I can’t follow them.

Why is that a problem? Because I am a free spirit. I am stubborn and opinionated and like to do things my way. I feel better about myself when I can create and express my true desires. I have a need to prove it to myself that I can do it, that I can provide for myself and my family.


Through this process, I have learned a lot about myself, maybe not all good (stubborn and opinionated). I can find myself resentful and shut down when my personal needs (creativity, variety, self direction), are not being met. The upside is that I’ve learned something about myself, and I can use that to motivate me.

I have worked for others my entire life, and not until I asked myself “Why” did I find the courage to follow my own path. I may still work for others for a period of time, but I also have an outlet to express myself and pursue my own interests. Its a creative outlet. It also affords me more freedom to choose my own destiny. After all, if you don’t choose for yourself, someone else will choose for you.

“Why” helps us choose ourselves (I’m channeling James Altucher here). “Why” gets us to action. “Why” solidifies our authentic motivations.

I now know that I need to be in control of my own life and not drift on the tides. That gives me real power over my life and takes it away from others. By being aware and constantly reminding myself of why I am doing what I am doing, I can stake focused on that true motivation and keep me moving forward.

We need to take action if we want to achieve our dreams. Nothing happens if we stand still, or keep doing what we always have done. We need to change, we need to challenge ourselves, we need to stretch and try new things. If we don’t have clarity on what motivates us, its easy not to try and to focus on the wrong things.

“Why” allows us to do those things and keeps us accountable to ourselves.


Take a fear, limiting belief or a passion or purpose that you have and run it through the “Why” exercise. This, if exercised, has the potential of reaping massive rewards in your life.

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