5 Whys Activity

discover-your-inner-strength-coverBelow is an excerpt from ‘Discover Your Inner Strength‘, which I wrote with Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard and Brian Tracy.

This is an example of how you can use the 5 Whys to discover your core purpose, but you could use the the same tool to discover just about anything:


The activity is designed to help you discover your core motivation in life as well as examine your behavior.

The 5 Whys was created by Sakichi Toyoda and made popular by Toyota as a way to determine root causes in the manufacturing methodologies.  The 5 Whys are now used in many quality situations, especially when human interaction is a factor.

You are going to use the 5 Whys differently than Toyota.  You will use the same process to help you examine your motivation.  Once you understand your motivation, your behavior will make more sense.  Keep in mind, the 5 Whys is a discovery tool and not necessarily a coping tool.

For our purpose in using the 5 Whys process, there is a premise everyone should know, understand and believe:

Knowing purpose is a source of emotional strength.

Let me explain what I mean by that and why I feel it is so important to understand motivation using an example we can all relate to.

Imagine you are in a vehicle and someone, driving too fast, is weaving in and out of traffic and cuts right in front of you.  What is your reaction?  ‘That guy is going to KILL someone!’  ‘What is he thinking?’  Or perhaps something more colorful.

Now, imagine you see another vehicle coming up behind you, driving exactly the same way.  But as the car speeds past, you see this vehicle has ‘Ambulance’ written on the side and flashing lights on top.  What is your reaction?  VERY different, right?  You are concerned, hoping no one is hurt.  You want to get out of the way.

Why the difference?  The behavior is identical.  The difference is because you understand the answer to a simple question, Why?  You understand the motivation.

Answering the question ‘why’ about yourself could be the most important question you ever ask yourself.  When we understand WHY, we are empowered with choices.  The answer helps us understand our own motivation and purpose for our own behavior.  Motivation drives behavior.

Remember, you maximum input equals maximum output.  If you take this seriously and spend time in your head and heart answering these questions, the correct answers will come.  If you look at the last answer and it is not right (you will know if it is not), keep asking.

On a blank sheet of paper, answer these 5 questions.  Not in your head, on paper.  Because you need to be able to go back and examine the answers, sometimes again and again.

You are reading this book.

Why?   Or, perhaps, why is that important?

This can be a frustrating task and some of the initial answers you give may not be right.  However, the answer to question #5 should be very close to a piece of your inner strength and possibly a core motivation in your life.

Once you have the answer to question #5, you can begin to navigate your mind and think back to events in your life that have shaped you and begin to understand WHY you acted the way you did.  We all have deep motivations that drive the external behavior everyone else sees.

Below is how I would respond.

I am reading this book.

Why?  I want to learn more about my own inner strength.
Why?  I need greater inner strength.
Why?  I want to be a good role model for my child.
Why?  I want my child to grow up confident and strong.
Why?  I feel raising my child is the greatest contribution I can make in life.

I honestly feel this has helped me identify one of my core reasons for being; one piece of my ‘purpose’.  And knowing my purpose is a source of strength.

This tool can also be used to examine our behavior, especially behavior that is sapping our emotional strength and stamina.

Let’s go back to the vehicle example.  I used to be one of those ‘road rage’ people.  I would get so angry at people and their driving behavior.

I realized how detrimental this was when a driver passed me, weaving in and out of traffic and I began to scream at him.  I forgot my one year old daughter was in the back and she began crying.  This is in direct opposition to my answer to #3 above.  I was certainly not being a good role model for my child.  I knew I could not continue what I was doing.

What can I do?  How can I look at my reaction differently?  Use the 5 Whys!  Below is an example of how I could use the 5 Whys to help me understand my behavior.

I get angry with bad drivers on the freeway. (Problem)

Why?  I feel I am a good driver.
Why?  I don’t want to hurt anyone while driving.
Why?  I am very sensitive to how I impact those around me.
Why?  I feel I can have a positive impact if I choose.
Why?  I have a unique contribution I can make in the world.

However, be careful with the 5 Whys.  This process is highly subjective.  You must be completely honest with yourself or the tool will not help you.  Below is a completely different way to answer the same situation.  You can see the results are different.

I react with a great deal of anger toward people who drive irresponsibly. (Problem)

Why?  I think they are going to hurt someone on the road, possibly me.
Why?  I believe they don’t care.
Why?  I feel most people are self-centered.
Why?  I see it every day in the news.
Why?  I watch too much television.

You can see from above that the statements are very close to each other, but elicit different responses.  I would suggest the first set of statements is more accurate and gets to the heart of my core motivations while the second does not come remotely close to something meaningful.

You may need to revise the statement, as I have done above, and look closely at the answers to your 5 Whys.  You must be clear, honest and questioning of your own answers.

And remember, only answer “Why?” to the immediate statement above it, NOT the original statement.  Or you will end up with only a list of responses to the first statement and not delve any deeper than surface responses.  If you need to, cover up everything but the statement you are answering.  I find it makes it much easier.

After really thinking about my answers to the 5 Whys and the ambulance story, I now simply assume that everyone driving like mad is rushing to the hospital and I am much happier.  Seriously!  I know that is not the case, but understanding my behavior and what drives my behavior has helped create a choice for me to react differently.

Knowing my purpose is a source of emotional strength.

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