5 Whys: How To Discover The True Reason For Your Health & Fat Loss Goals
A female reader recently contacted me saying "I need to lose 10kgs".
I asked her why she needed to loose 10kgs. She said "So I can get rid of my excess body fat".
I asked why she needed to get rid of the body fat.
Her response - "So I can get into my bikini this summer".
I asked why she wanted to get into a bikini?
She stated "So I can go to the beach with my friends"
I asked why she couldn't go to the beach with her friends at her current weight.
Her answer - "I need to look good around my friends so I can find a boyfriend".
Ah-ha. This woman didn't come to me out of desperate necessity to lose 10kgs, she came to me out of necessity to find a partner.
The 10kgs on the scale are merely just numbers. If the main goal, and the only goal, was to lose 10kgs - no matter what - then a drastic starvation diet or severing of some limbs would easily accomplish this goal!
But this woman held the belief that losing 10kgs was needed to find her a boyfriend.
It's like the belief of the businessman who tells himself 'I only need a million dollars in the bank and I'll be happy'.
Of course when he reaches this financial goal, he realises that he's still not happy. He still has the same stressors, the same concerns, the same poor health, the same lack of time, the same family who resent his weekends spent at the office....
In fact, having simple quantifiable goals (such as losing 10 pounds, or earning a million dollars) often sets the individual up for a depressing outcome.
What happens when the businessmen works hard for ten years in the belief that a million dollars is needed to be happy - only to find when he reaches this goal, he's still miserable?
What goes through his mind? The sudden realisation that the top of the mountain he had been working so hard to reach, didn't in fact provide the outcome he had desired.
Of course this can lead to a bout of depression - all that time away from the family, all those late nights in the office, all those spreadsheets tracking every dollar - all of this in the hope that as soon as he hit that magic number, his life would be complete.
But it didn't happen. He is no happier now than he was all those years ago. He is probably further from his goal.
The same could eventuate with the single woman who contacted me.
If we didn't dig deeper to find out why she wanted to lose weight, what would have happened?
We would have worked towards reaching her goal - her goal of losing 10kgs.
After 3 months of hard training, caloric restriction, avoiding all life's simple pleasures in tasty food she would have woken up one day, jumped on the scales and saw the number she was looking for.
Sure she would have been happy in that moment - all that hard work and sacrifices were worth it. Right?
But what would happen when the weekend rolled around. A weekend where her friends were busy with their husbands and she had a sniffle from her weakened immune system (as a result of the stressful training and lack of nourishment her body had gone through in recent months)... She decides to stay in on a Saturday night, home alone, watching a silly romance movie.
Guess what happens next? She realises she hasn't in fact reached her true goal, that all the hard work dieting and exercising hasn't made her any happier. Sure she's 10kgs lighter, but she's still alone, still single, still in need of a partner.
And worst she has spent the last 3 months isolating herself in the quest to reach - what she thought - was the goal that would resolve her misery. That was 12 weekends were she could have been attending social gatherings meeting potential partners, taking up new hobbies, or simply enjoying life in the moment.
Anyone who set's themselves a goal - health related or not - should explore the deeper reasons behind why they want to reach this goal.
Coaches talk about asking the '5 whys'. When a client shares their top level goal, the coach will then ask why they want to achieve that goal, and continue doing this 5 times (as I did in the opening scenario of this article) until they find the root goal - the core purpose behind why they thought up the first goal to begin with.
Once you have this root goal, this core purpose, then everything is clear. The coach - and the client - can work together to refine the goals and create an effective strategy.
For instance, the woman who came to me seeking to lose 10kgs, we now know her core purpose. From here we can work backwards and create sub goals that will help her find her dream partner.
Maybe she has an attractive body already, but she hangs around people who constantly bad mouth their physical appearance and this rubs off on the woman. In which case lose 10kgs isn't going to do any good.
Maybe her issue not finding a partner is due to a lack of self-confidence, maybe we need to help her address this issue instead of slaving away on a treadmill 12x a week.
Maybe she has plenty of guys in her life that have dropped numerous hints about going on a date, but the woman hasn't picked up on these hints. Maybe a session with a dating or relationship coach is more valuable than an hour session with a personal trainer.
Of course if body image is an issue, then a health coach or trainer can help with this - but looking beyond the scale can really make a profound difference. Maybe the woman dislikes her legs, in which case losing 10kgs off the body is pointless if her legs don't change.
Having this knowledge can help the coach and the client find the best path to reach the end goal.
Surprisingly, this '5 why' process has often uncovered motivations that people did not know existed.
For example, let's say our businessman used the 5 whys approach to his million dollar goal.
After digging deeper (note - you don't need a coach to do this, anyone can stop and ask themselves why they want to achieve a certain goal), the man may discover that it's not money that truely drives him, it's fitting in.
He just wants enough money in the bank so he can keep up with his peers. But of course his peers are successful businessmen as well, so their wealth will continue to grow - meaning our imaginary businessmen will never have enough.
The businessmen may find he simply craves inclusion and acceptance. Rather than further increase his workload in the search for happiness, he may want to join some clubs. A sports team perhaps, he might join the volunteer firefighting squad. He may even decide to walk away from his business life (and his peers in that world) to remove those unreachable goals of his completely.
Hopefully these scenarios showcase the importance of finding your true goal, the reason why you are doing what you are doing.
If you have set yourself a goal such as 'losing 5kgs' or 'getting down to 12% body fat' and you're feeling lost and unmotivated then ask use the 5 whys process on yourself. You don't need to hire a coach to run this exercise.
Write your answer's down on paper.
The answers may surprise you, you may find that the superficial goals you have set, are really a distraction from the root issue.
And if you don't currently have a quantifiable goal such as losing weight, or saving a certain amount of money, but you still feel directionless and uninspired, you can use the 5 why process in reverse.
For instance, if you know that your children are your greatest motivator, that you would do anything for them, then turn the 5 whys into '5 whats' (or 5 hows also work).
I'll use myself to provide an example here.
I want a family, many years ago something changed. I knew my high level sporting years were over. The fire inside me had burnt out, I still valued my health and performance, and also competing, but something shifted...
I started thinking to the future, and started thinking about a family. I decided that I wanted the best for my children, even though I didn't plan on having children for a few years at least, I knew that creating the best life for them was my new motivator.
Using this as my 'root goal', I could now create sub goals using the 5 whats approach.
So I asked myself, what can I do to create the best life for my future children?
My answer - Firstly I need to create a healthy child. So getting my health into tip top shape for baby making time was step one (and I don't mean from an appearance point of view, but instead I wanted my body to be in optimal health to create a healthy seed).
Then I asked myself what can I do to get my body into tip-top health condition?
My answer - sleeping more, eating healthy and continuing to learn about health.
You probably get the idea now. But I kept going through this process to create mini goals that allowed me to have a purpose not only in my life, but on a smaller level - on a day to day level.
I wanted to continue to learn about health, learn about food, learn about healthy environments, learn about optimising hormonal imbalances, learn about fertility, learn about sourcing healthy food...
These were all my mini goals. And if you have been following my work for a few years now, you will see the connection between my life choices and also everything I have written about in this blog.
This is the power of having clear meaningful goals.
This is the power of understanding your purpose.
And purpose is where I am going to wrap up this article. As next week, in part two, I'm going to explore the importance of purpose for achieving your health goals. So be sure to sign up to my newsletter to be the first to hear about that.
In the mean time, please share your thoughts and feedback on this article.
If the '5 whys' approach has helped you to rethink why you set out the goals you set out, please let me know.
And if the reversed '5 whats' helps you create mini sub goals to follow on a day to day basis, then also let me know. I'd love to hear your stories!
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This blog post was written by Alex Fergus. Alex is a ISSN Sports Nutrition Specialist, Fitness Professional and certified Superhuman Coach who continues to expand his knowledge base and help people across the world with their health and wellness. Alex is recognized as the National Record Holder in Powerlifting and Indoor Rowing and has earned the title of the Australian National Natural Bodybuilding Champion. Having worked as a health coach and personal trainer for over a decade, Alex now researches all things health and wellness and shares his findings on this blog. Learn more about Alex's Credentials HERE.
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