Why Your “Why” is Critical to Setting Successful Goals

As we’ve discussed previously here on the blog, the ABC model is incredibly helpful in understanding how to change your behaviors. For a quick refresher, in the ABC model, your behavior (B) is a function of its antecedents (A) and consequences (C). As such, changing behavior largely comes down to modifying antecedents and consequences.  

Another equally important aspect of behavior change is knowing why you want to behave differently—trying to change a behavior without a strong Why is similar to rowing in the river with only one oar. 

So how do you discover your Why? Let’s take a look.

Why You Need to Identify Your Why To Change Behavior 

Your Why—a highly motivating reason for behaving differently, is critical in the goal setting process. It’s possible to position your Why in the form of specific goals (for example, because you want to lose 15 pounds), as well in the form of values (for example, because you value “being healthy”). 

We believe the latter is most impactful, but more to come here later. 

Regardless of how Why is represented, what it ultimately represents is what’s most reinforcing—what’s most important—to you. 

In other words, what would be the best possible outcome you could experience by changing your behavior?

If you’re trying to lose weight, maybe it’s because you want to live a long life and see your grandchildren grow up.

If you’re trying to write more, maybe it’s because you value creativity or because you eventually want to publish a novel.

If you’re trying to spend more time with your friends, maybe it’s because you value social connection.

These all articulate highly reinforcing reasons for why you want to change your behavior—reasons that dig to the deepest core of who you are, what you value, and how you want to live your life.

It’s important to identify your Why because there will inevitably be times on your behavior-change journey when things won’t always go your way or when short-term temptations try to lure you away from long-term ambitions.

When this happens, it’s important to come back to Why because it will remind you of what you care most about in your life, what you truly want to accomplish, who you want to be. And that will help guide your choices when life gets hard. 

That said, your Why needs to be your Why, not someone else’s. 

Only when your Why comes from your deepest core will it provide the motivation necessary to help you move forward in ways you desire. Take the time to dig deep and to truly identify what you want your Why to be.

The Difference Between a Value and a Goal 

In short, a value represents who you ultimately want to be or how you ultimately want to live your life.

Do you value health? Do you value contribution? Do you value knowledge? Status? Respect? Ultimately, only you can determine the values that drive you to succeed. 

Values vs goals.

There’s a difference between your values and your goals.

For example, “being healthy” is a value. So is “being creative.” Both represent general ways of being, general ways of living. Notice, also, that these values have no easily identifiable endpoints. A person can always become healthier or more creative.

In contrast, “losing 20 pounds” and “writing a novel” are goals. Although they are certainly tied to the values of “being healthy” and “being creative,” they have finite endpoints, unlike values.

Think of values as being on a very long journey to your ultimate destination—being the best version of yourself—and goals as signposts that let you know you’re getting a little closer to that destination.

The reason for expressing your Why as a deeply held value is that values provide you with continuous direction—direction that, in a sense, never ends. 

On the other hand, although losing 20 pounds or fitting into a particular pair of jeans might be very motivating to you at this point in time, what happens once you’ve achieved that goal? What will provide you with the motivation to keep moving forward once you’ve hit your target? 

If you first identify a value that gets to the very core of who you want to be and how you want to live your life, then you can always come up with new values-driven goals. 

Once you reach your goals, it’s important to have a foundation to keep your progress moving forward. Over the course of a year, you may have ten different goals you set out to achieve. Maybe you reach half.

Getting clear on your values allows you to continue to build on your momentum. It’s what keeps you going when times get tough. 

Although identifying your most important values can take time and effort, the payoff is that you’ll soon find yourself on a journey to a life filled with deep meaning.