- Why did I do that?
- Why did I forget to pay that bill?
- Why did I leave that there, in such a ridiculous place that I forgot it?
- Why can't I keep on top of my email?
- Why is it so hard to start my taxes?
- Why can't I ever catch up?
Have you ever asked yourself a Why question?
When it comes to organizing, being inquisitive and curious is a really important strategy. But why is the wrong question to ask. Here's why:
Why makes us defensive
Say, for example, your significant other enters the room, sees something you're working on and asks, "Why did you do it like that?"
You respond, "Like what?" Your back is up and your dander is about to fluff. "What do you mean?"
Why sounds like judgment. Why insinuates that you had a million good options to choose from and you opted for the illogical and short-sighted one. No surprise -- this makes people defensive.
When you say why in your own mind, the result is the same. Defensiveness goes up, creativity goes down (along with self-esteem). Instead of solving your organizing dilemma, now you just feel stuck.
Why encourages mental machinations
Here's the other problem with why: we can't really know why we do anything! Our behaviors are so ingrained that they defy logic. So when you're asking yourself why, you end up attempting to justifying random choices that are hard to pin down.
"Why did you do that?"
"Well, beeeecaaaause... I'm kind of hungry and not thinking straight and... um... I don't really like dealing with my tax stuff? And... um... yeah."
Why sends you into mental spirals of justifying -- when there's really nothing to justify. You're okay! You're doing the best you can! All that energy you spend making up reasons for your behaviors is precious energy wasted.
The reason I get so concerned about the use of why in organizing is this: when you're dealing with chronic disorganization, defensiveness and self-justification make you more isolated and stuck, not less.
And that just breaks my heart. Disorganized people are already in so much pain and feel so isolated, I just hate to see it compounded in any way.
What to ask instead
The moment we ask why is actually a sacred moment in time. We ask it because we suddenly woke up and noticed something wasn't working. That is pretty awesome. You woke up! Yay!
So, instead of letting why shut you down, ask this:
What do I need here?
Since you're already in a moment of noticing something's out of whack, ask yourself about what your needs are. What's missing for you?
And then really listen for what comes up inside of you.
What do I need here?
I'm constantly astonished at the relief that comes up for people when they're asked this question. Sometimes there's a deep intake of breath, a pregnant pause, the sounds of thinking and deep feeling.
After sitting with the question a moment, people tell me things they didn't realize they'd been holding back -- like they really need a some time out of the office, a nap, someone to help with the struggle. Sometimes there are tears.
It's a miracle moment because they break through and realize, "I have needs!" Sometimes there are huge insights that involve poster boards and vision collages and painting parties. Other insights are quieter like, "I can't keep producing like this. I need to find time for my art." or "I really need a better planner book for my ideas."
Whatever your responses are, answering What do you need here? will always give you better results than why.
Try it out
Think about an organizing problem you've been struggling with lately. What's happening?
What do you need here?
Notice what comes up for you when you ask.
Trust it. Follow it. Your organizing, your work, and even your life will be better for it.