On the shelf in the shower in my apartment sits three half-used bar soaps that belong to myself and my two roommates. One of us started using bar soap first, and then slowly the others were influenced to buy bars instead of body wash. Before my roommate Beth made the switch, she commented that she “wanted to be the kind of person who uses bar soap.” She had a vision for who that person was and aimed to change, not just her actions, but something more fundamental about the kind of person she was.
We made fun of the saying in the moment, but what Beth recognized is that what you do informs who you become. We make decisions based on convenience or comfort, yes, but also on how they get us closer or further from the good life, or our idea of happiness and human flourishing.
You can work on this from the big picture down to the details, like we did in the last article discussing goals you can make in each pillar of Referent Power in order to become a more trustworthy person. But sometimes you don’t have a vision of where you want to go; you only have an action that you want to change. In that case, it is helpful to go through the Five Whys.
The Five Whys
The Five Whys is a tool to help us figure out the motivations or intentions behind our actions. Now, I did not ask Beth the Five Whys for why she switched to using bar soap in the shower, but let’s pretend I did. It might look something like this:
1. Why do you want to use bar soap?
- Because I want to be less wasteful.
2. Why do you want to be less wasteful?
- Because I care about protecting the environment.
3. Why do you care about protecting the environment?
- Because I want to leave a good place for future generations to live.
4. Why do you want to leave a good place for future generations to live?
- Because I am conscientious about the legacy I leave behind.
5. Why are you conscientious about the legacy you leave behind?
- Because I want to be kind to others, even those that have not been born yet.
So Beth’s decision about switching from using body wash to bar soap was not really about her shower experience, but about a desire to be kind.
This exercise is not meant to convince you to live sustainably or to make you stress about the impact of each of your daily decisions. Rather, it is a reminder that your actions don’t exist in a vacuum but stem from a deeper vision or way of seeing the world.
And this works both ways. If you have an action you want to change–whether it be something simple like bar soap or maybe a healthy habit you want to develop–going through the Five Whys to discover your deeper intention behind this change can help you stay motivated. Suddenly, wanting to work out is not just about working out but about being able to run around and play with your kids. Similarly, if you have a vision of who you want to become, you can build out the tangible steps you need to take to get there.
We are always aimed at something, so let’s make sure we’re growing in the direction we want to be.
Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.