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Start With Why

One thing my dad keeps telling me is to put a question mark. Many times when he does something a certain way or has something set up, he’ll ask me why I think he did it that way. His goal is to get me to exercise my brain more since there is always a logical answer. One question he asked me was if you look underneath any bathroom or kitchen sink, you will notice the shape of the pipes are curved like this:

Intuitively it makes more sense if the pipe just went vertically through (simpler pipe design and minimizes the amount of material required) so why are these pipes curved? Even though knowing the answer to the plumbing question may have little significance, I’ve found the habit of asking why has helped a lot with my everyday life.


The primary reason I ask why is to better understand how people think. Many times I am much more interested in why people behave the way they do than what they do. For example if I told you I was going into the office to get some work done on a Saturday morning, that doesn’t say much about myself as a person unless you know the reason. The reason could be I want to boast about finishing my project before my coworker who I dislike or I didn’t manage my time well the previous week or my boss asked me a favour and I want to improve the company’s welfare. Depending on the reason, you would have a different, but more accurate impression of me. When you take the time to understand the people around you, you will be able to practice compassion and make their lives better, which in turn increases your sense of well-being.

Solving Problems

Asking why helps you solve problems because you get to the root cause of them. My friend recently lamented chewing gum while cutting onions didn’t prevent tears. In short, when you cut an onion, you damage its cells causing chemicals that were initially separate from one another to react and produce propanethiol S-oxide, a gaseous compound. The gas diffuses in the air and irritates your eyes, causing you to tear up in the body’s attempt to remove the compound. Once you understand why cutting onions causes one to tear up, you will see it is ridiculous to think chewing gum will solve that problem. Therefore possible solutions include freezing the onion (slows down the reaction rate) or cutting it underwater since both minimizes the amount of gas released or wearing goggles (not contacts) to prevent the gas from reaching your eyes.

*Btw cutting onions underwater solves the problem for the same reason why bathroom and kitchen pipes are curved in the earlier plumbing question.

Giving Meaning

I believe one should always be aware of the reason why he or she pursues a certain behaviour or goal. It gives your life meaning, a purpose. One of my goals in a personal development workshop I am participating in is to improve my public speaking skills because I value effective communication. Knowing the reason behind the goal motivates me to work towards it because it provides the destination I can envision. It keeps me on the right path so I don’t lose focus or direction. Otherwise my attitude towards the goal would be what’s the point? This applies to more important things such as career choice and relationships too. Life is long and you are going to have to endure through countless things. As a popular Internet saying goes, when you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long.

Here is Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk he gave several years ago (where the title of this blog entry comes from):


He explains why some companies are unsuccessful even when they had all the resources one assume would lead to success and how leaders inspire other people to follow their cause. To summarize his talk in one sentence, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Categories: Life, Personal
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