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Rethinking: "Why Am I Doing This?"

by Christopher R. Edgar

I suspect we all have moments when we gripe to ourselves, or others, “why am I doing this?” Perhaps we’re thinking about our career, relationships, exercise routines, or something else. Usually, we aren’t really interested in the answer—it’s just something we say to ourselves when we hit a certain depth of frustration or despair.

Next time you find yourself complaining like this, I invite you to try an experiment. Try asking yourself this question again, but see if you can ask it from a place of genuine curiosity. What are your real reasons for doing what you’re doing right now? In other words, change your emphasis so the question sounds more like “why am I doing this?” than “why am I doing this?”

If you frame the question this way, it becomes a simple but powerful tool for reconnecting you to a deep-seated sense of mission, in your career and elsewhere.

A Real-Life Illustration

In the story that inspired this article, I was giving a talk to some college students, and one of them said he had trouble staying motivated when doing work for one of his classes. Each time he’d sit down to study, he’d start feeling irritated, and repeatedly wonder why he was doing this to himself.

So I asked him: “well, why are you taking the class?” As it turned out, when he took this question seriously, rather than treating it as a complaint, the answers came to his mind with ease. He was a pre-med student, and he had to take the class to get into medical school. On a broader level, he wanted to go to med school to be a pediatrician—to help children stay healthy and maybe even save their lives.

In short, if he wanted to fulfill his dream of helping children, he needed to study for his class. When he thought about it this way, suddenly the class didn’t look so pointless or frustrating anymore. By simply taking a peek at the “big picture,” he got back in touch with the compassion and purpose that set him on his present path in the first place.

A Warning Label

To be clear, asking this question won’t always leave you feeling inspired. Sometimes, if you sincerely look at the reasons you’re doing something, you’ll recognize they aren’t the right reasons for you. Maybe you’ll realize, for instance, that you’re doing your current job simply to impress your family or peers. Or, perhaps you’ll come to see that you’re only in your present relationship because you’re afraid of being alone.

Although we may not like the answer that comes up when we ask this question, I think it’s essential to ask it regularly if we really want the best for ourselves. If the career, relationship, living situation or whatever else we’re in isn’t serving us, ignoring that dissatisfaction won’t make it go away. Knowing what you want and where you’re headed, I believe, is key to finding productivity and enjoyment in what you do.

Chris Edgar is the author of Inner Productivity: A Mindful Path to Efficiency and Enjoyment in Your Work, which uses insights from mindfulness practice and psychology to help readers develop focus and motivation in what they do. You can find out more about the book and Chris’s work at www.InnerProductivity.com.

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