How often do you ask yourself why?

"Why" covers a lot of territory in the English language, but in Russian there are two words for why.

There's почему ("pachiMOO"), which means why in the sense of "why is the sky blue?"

And then there's зачем ("zaCHYEM"), which means what for, or for what reason, like asking "why did you unfollow me?"

Typically when you think about why you're doing something, you're using the second form. You're looking for a purpose, a rational explanation for your actions.

But if you start to examine that purpose closely, you will find that there are several levels to it.

Level 1: The Intellectual Experience

At this level you are talking about the superficial reasons for doing what you're doing. You describe the intellectual experience of what you're trying to achieve, focusing more on the general rules and the language you use to talk about it.

Examples of this are statements like:

  • "'I'll start taking my health and fitness seriously by joining a gym."
  • "I'll lose weight by cutting out carbs."
  • "I'm going to build muscle by getting stronger at compound lifts."

Here you're describing implementation, rather than understanding your own motivation.

It may be useful to know that you're bench pressing and squatting because you want to get stronger at those movements, but what does getting stronger mean to you?

If you're doing it to build muscle, why do you want to build that muscle in the first place?

You need to peel back a layer.

Level 2: Your Individual, Practical Experience

Now you're describing what you want to achieve in relation to something else, pointing to cause and effect. This is your individual, practical experience of what's happening at Level 1.

Examples of this are statements like:

  • "I felt so much better before I gained weight during lockdown, so I want to lose weight and get back to feeling like that again."
  • "I'm not happy with how I've stopped prioritising my health and fitness, I want to spend more time looking after my own needs."
  • "I don't feel confident in my clothes, I really need to change how I look to get that confidence back."

Here you're getting closer to your deepest motivation and starting to understand what it is you really want to change.

If you put on weight during lockdown, would losing the weight make you feel better?

Or does it represent something else to you, like gaining back control in a situation where you felt helpless?

Now peel back another layer.

Level 3: The Abstract, Emotional Concept

Finally you strip away the cause and effect, you look at the concept of what you're trying to achieve, independent of the implementation.

This could be completely abstract of emotional, for example:

  • "I want other people to find me attractive."
  • "I don't want to feel like I've lost control of my life."
  • "I'm worried about the future and I need to do something about my health now."

When you get down to this level, it probably won't feel comfortable.

It's much easier to cover up your deep reasons for change and try to intellectualise the process.

Often it takes a crisis to force you to confront them, which is why this year has been a catalyst for so many people.

But once you do that, you'll find everything else falls into place.