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How You Can Learn More about Yourself by Asking the 5 Whys

No one knows you better than you, but do you really know yourself as well as you could know you?

Sean Anderson
Sean Anderson

No one knows you better than you, but do you really know yourself as well as you could know you?

Weirdest sentence of the day: achieved!

I think it’s a fair question, though. We all live inside our own heads... [crunching the numbers] pretty much 24/7. I suppose we could get out of there every once in a while, but I would imagine that would take some pretty strong psychedelics. No judgment here, but that’s not the sort of activity I’m proposing in this post.

I want everyone to know themselves as well as a person can know oneself. Let me ask you, in your business life, do you find yourself wondering if the steps you’re taking to achieve or advance the success you want are truly the right ones for you? Do you find yourself waffling over many decisions you need to make as much as you might when trying to choose which flavor waffle you want to have for breakfast?

There are just so many options—blueberry, chocolate chip, whole grain, buttermilk... It’s enough to leave you frozen on the spot in your market’s waffle section.

That sort of indecision is common, so don’t feel bad about it, friend. You feel it, your friends feel it, I feel it. Instead of banging our heads against a metaphorical wall, let’s instead learn about a tool that can help bring some clarity to our indecisions.

What are the 5 Whys?

“The 5 Whys” is an iterative question and answer exercise that you can do to help you better understand the root cause to a problem or desire. What we’re trying to get at with this exercise is identifying an issue by asking “why” five times.

We’re asking why five times because, well, that’s more of an anecdotal thing. Most people who practice this exercise believe you can get to the root cause of an issue by asking that why question five times.

That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll get to a satisfactory answer within five questions every time, or even that there will be a single answer by the end of it. The point is that we’re asking these questions to help us peel away the outer layers of a problem until we get to the true center of our issue.

I love examples, so give one to me, please

To start this exercise, we’re going to need to form a problem statement. What’s a problem statement, you might be wondering? That’s the inciting statement that’s going to kick off this whole thing.

A problem statement might be something like, “I want to get on a better sleep schedule” or “This spaghetti I cooked doesn’t taste that great” or “I need to earn more money at work.”

Figure out a goal you want to achieve or a tough question you want to answer. Let’s take my first example statement as our starting point. We’re going to put it out there and then follow it up with a question formatted like “Why is/are/does ‘your problem statement.’”

I want to get on a better sleep schedule.

Why do you want to get on a better sleep schedule?

Well, I want to feel better when I wake up in the morning. I usually feel so groggy.

Why do you want to feel better when you wake up?

I want to be able to jump into my work earlier than I have been. It takes me so long to get started.

Why do you want to start your work earlier?

I feel that I’ll be able to be more productive if I can start earlier.

Why do you want to be more productive with your work?

If I can be more productive, then I’ll be able to make more money.

Why do you want to make more money?

I want to make more money because it’ll help me and my partner buy that house we’ve been wanting to get. It’s this gorgeous house and we’re dying to live there.

And now, through asking a series of “why” questions, we’re at the underlying issue. We want to get that house that we’ve had our eye on, but it’s really tough to do that if we’re too sleepy and muddled to be as productive as possible with our work.

How can this exercise help you?

The 5 Whys is a great tool that you can whip out of your tool arsenal whenever you’re feeling stuck on a problem. It can come in handy when you just can’t seem to figure out what’s keeping you from the real solution to a stubborn issue. That’s a terribly nagging feeling to have. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.

Heck, it’s not even saying that you have to have a solution to the underlying issue. I would encourage you to use your answer to the last why question as a kicking off point for you to develop a real solution to what’s been ailing you.

But sometimes just having that final answer is helpful enough.

Let’s try another example to help drive the point home:

My last blog post wasn’t read by many people. I’m starting to feel a little discouraged about my work.

Why wasn’t that post read by many people?

Well, I didn’t really do much to promote it on my social media accounts.

Why didn’t you promote it more on social media?

I ran out of time to plug it as well as I usually do. The day was pretty dang hectic.

Why did you run out of time?
I got distracted by other things when I should have been focused on my work.

What was distracting you?

I had to go pick my kids up from school. By the time I was able to get back to work, they were finished with their homework and started playing in my office. It’s hard to focus when they’re so loud.

Why were they playing around in your work area?

I haven’t done enough to make sure they understand that my office is off-limits when I’m in there. They still feel the whole house is open to them.

And now we know that setting better and firmer boundaries around your work area may help give you the time and focus you need to ensure that your blog posts perform better. You’ve given yourself a road map, one that starts at your issue and ends up at your real underlying problem. With that understanding, you’re free to develop a workable solution.

With a real solution, you can decrease that stress and anxiety you might be feeling. You know yourself and your issue much better than you did before asking yourself those five whys.

Isn’t it so much nicer to know yourself better than you did before?

When you drill down to the root causes of an issue, in the most objective and honest way possible, you give yourself what you need to get closer to achieving or advancing your goals.


As with all problem solving techniques, the 5 Whys isn’t a one-size-fits-all practice. It’s not going to solve your problems for you; that’s still all on your shoulders, ultimately.

However, it can be a good tool to help you understand more about yourself and the issues you might be having in your life. Ignorance and confusion are blindfolds that we place over our own eyes. If we don’t need to be frustrated with our problems, then why let it happen?

Use these whys to give yourself the clarity you and I both know you deserve to have. Pull those blindfolds off your face and build your best life.

Ask yourself the hard questions, cats.

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Sean Anderson

Lover of productivity tips, Apple devices, and vegan ice cream. Mostly, I'm busy petting cats 🐱 and dogs 🐶


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