Discover the How to Your Why

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post on discovering your personal success pattern by Janine de Nysschen.  Janine has more than 25 years of experience in strategy and change, and has trained as a change agent and intelligence professional.  Before starting Whytelligence, she worked at Microsoft as a strategist in audience intelligence and globalization.

This is a follow up post to Janine’s previous guest post, Discover Your Why.  In this post, Janine shares an approach to help you find your how that supports your why.  When you lead with your why and your how, you can bring your best game wherever you go.  What you do is simply a channel for unleashing your best why and how.  You’ve probably noticed this in the movies you see, or the stories you read.  The context for the story might change, but you connect with the underlying themes.  It’s the journey and the destination.  This post is about leading your journey with your why and how for living your best life.

Getting Inside Your Head

There’s a good reason why big planes are safer modes of transport than cars. It comes down to this: every plane is equipped with two forms of decision-making – the pilot and the autopilot. The airline industry has spent many years and millions of dollars perfecting the equilibrium between these two critical elements, each one focusing on the area in which it has the comparative advantage when it comes to rational and emotional decision-making.

Interestingly, when you look inside the black box of the human brain, you’ll discover the same decision-making tools. As Jonah Lehrer, author of “How We Decide” says:  “Even though we are defined by our decisions, we are often completely unaware of what’s happening inside our head during the decision-making process.”  We’d like to believe that we’re logical, rational beings, but the truth that today’s neuroscience reveals is there’s a strong connection between our emotions and our ability to reason.

Hard Wired for a Purpose

In my previous guest blog, I pointed out that everyone is driven by a cause, a sense of purpose.  Your purpose is riveted deeply in the emotional center of your brain – the limbic system. That’s why when you tell people what your purpose is, you get emotional; you have a visceral response.  But we also have a rational response, where the brain’s cortex bits kick in. It’s how we make our purpose real. In effect, we’re hard-wired to make rational decisions that are based on our emotional drivers.

Bottom line is that everybody has a decision pattern they repeat – it’s forged in childhood and reinforced as they grow older. And if we understand how our brains are wired for decision-making, we can change how we think, act and communicate so we’re more successful in life.

Neuroscientists know a lot more these days about how our brains work. We’re shaped by our early years and we learn to repeat certain behaviors over time. It’s interesting how fixed these patterns are. I’ve seen clients use their decision pattern for making a crucial business decision worth millions and that exact same pattern for deciding where to dine. But I’m always surprised how few people even know what their pattern is, and love the “aha” moments I get when I reveal them.

So how can you tap into your emotional thinking and reveal your decision-making patterns?

Understanding How Patterns Work

Your starting point is always being clear about your purpose. We do our best when we do the things that give us a greater sense of purpose. When you understand your purpose, you can unravel your decision-making pattern more easily.

I’ll use myself as an example. Change is important to me. I believe that if you’re not adapting, you’re not growing. I’m especially drawn to change that seems impossible because my purpose is to help people see what they need to do to make progress happen. Growing up, I witnessed a lot of people who had huge odds against them, who were stuck or frustrated, or who would give up. I was also placed in various situations that required me to adapt, dealing with prejudice, disadvantage, even environmental limitations.

How I would feel prompted what I would do, and soon I was doing things that made me feel better and helped me thrive. My emotional driver was that something had to change in order for things to be better. Over time, I learned logically that there were five behaviors that helped me drive the kind of change that made me feel better, and which also had a positive impact on those around me:

  1. First, I’d explore all possible options. I would look at what I could do instead of what I couldn’t.
  2. Then I’d look for the right people. I found out there was always someone who would know more or who could help me do things better. I learned to spot them.
  3. Next, I’d take stock of things I’d have to compensate for. I’d find weaknesses and flaws, and devise workarounds. Then I’d overcompensate, giving generously.
  4. After that, I’d jump in and try things out, looking for opportunities to experiment, going after incremental improvements.
  5. Finally, I’d stop to measure if progress was happening. I discovered that if things weren’t moving forward, it was time to look for new options.

My purpose and pattern are perfectly blended to help me thrive. And I connect and work well with people who are wired the same way.

Comparing Patterns

Take JD, whose purpose is to show anyone that they can do anything – better.  To achieve that, JD starts by getting a different perspective on how an expert has learned to excel at something. He then creates a new framework that would allow anyone to apply that expert’s skills to their situation. But because JD is driven to find ways that anyone can do things better, he will add something unique or special to make that expertise easier to apply.  And for JD, the only way if you know that something is working, is if you measure it. So he focuses on tracking and showing results.

It’s easy to see why JD and I get along, because we have similar goals, and patterns for achieving them.  Other people do things differently. Take Jeff, who wants others to grow from what their hearts know. He approaches life by looking at what’s obvious first, seeing all he can see that exists for him now (he looks at what he has, while I tend to look at what could be). Then Jeff gets introspective (where I look out to others, he looks inward). Jeff identifies the internal gaps and then builds bridges through relationships, skills and processes.  For him, growth comes through deep experiences and staying with things until changes happen over time.

If Jeff and I worked on the same team, we’d drive each other nuts, because I’d want to try something out, and change and move on if it didn’t work. He’d want us to stay and learn and grow in the experience. None of us is better than the other; we’re simply wired to succeed in different ways.

Finding Your Pattern

Again, remember that your pattern will always be anchored in your purpose. For me it is change, for JD it’s getting results, and for Jeff it’s about meaningful growth.

The best way to find your pattern is to look at your repeat behaviors. Think about what you have to do to feel good before you can move on to the next part of a decision-making process. These questions are about figuring out how you make decisions and get things done, and what works well for you:

  1. What’s your decision process for buying a car? (write down the 4-5 major steps you take)
  2. What are the 5 best traits of all the people you know?  What are the 5 worst traits of all the people you know? (Consider friends, co-workers, bullies, bosses, lovers, foes, heroes, … etc.)
  3. You have to throw a last minute charity event for 500 people in two days, how do you do it?  (What’s the first thing you do? How do you prioritize? Who do you turn to for help? Write the 4-5 major steps)
  4. What are the 5 things you really enjoyed the most on your happiest, most successful jobs?  What are 5 things that frustrated you the most that made jobs bad?  (Consider the environment, the actual tasks, the type of recognition … etc.)
  5. What are the 5 key steps you take to master a new skill or to learn something new?

How you achieve results is your process.  In this step, turn your answers to the 5 questions into a pattern.  To do so:

  1. Identify the 4 most common steps you take to achieve results.
  2. Compare your steps with your best and worst lists.
  3. Identify what works best for you.  Look for similarities or trends.
  4. Write down one word or phrase that summarizes each of your 4 steps in your pattern.
  5. Describe each step in more detail.

It’s all right if you’re not totally clear on your process. It’s a work in progress.  Be more aware of how you make decisions, and see if you can confirm your pattern. Ask others who know you well for their insights as well. Your guideline is to ask yourself if your answers feel right, and how they help you achieve the things you believe in.

Know why. Change Happens.

Too often we’re not conscious of what goes on inside our head. As Jonah Lehrer says, the first step to making better decisions is to look inside the black box of the human brain. Recognize that while you may think you’re the pilot in control, your purpose serves as the powerful autopilot that influences the link between feeling and logic, reason and reaction. Find your purpose. Discover your pattern. Because when you know why you do things, you can make better things happen.

12 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been working on dealing with that inner voice that likes to drag me down. And keeps me second guessing myself. This is a pattern that I know doesn’t help me stay happy and healthy. By becoming more aware of this pattern I’ve been able to break it down and take action to improve it. I do get frustrated, but the more I work on this the more powerful that confident/happier inner voice becomes.

  2. Excellent guest post! I really enjoyed thinking about decisions, the how of my why, and patterns. Thanks for sharing these great thoughts here. I’ve got a lot of work to do on my own patterns now! 🙂

  3. Hi Janine,

    I loved your post and I think it is vital to know our patterns. As you have shown, when we know why we do what we do, we are then better equip to be in the world and make the best out of life.

    Thanks JD for having Janine guest post!

  4. I love change that brings about results in a meaningful, positive way.
    Janine, thank you for your followup guest post, and thank you JD for sharing Janine’s ideas today – this was very powerful for me.

    I have copied off your list and will write my thinking about it on my long plane ride ahead today.

    Oh and I think I could pull off a 500 person fundraiser this afternoon if you like…and could you be our inspirational speaker?

    I do see one of my problem areas too – I just lose patience so fast with people who will not brainstorm or think forward -they are very toxic for me….people who are stuck in old thinking modes just exhaust me.

    This also clarifies why I left working in the church – meaningful I like, but taking 7 years to make tiny changes – I am asleep or angry in the meetings. Your Jeff example would be a good church worker..

    another fine post – I always know where to stop by – thank you both

  5. This is a great post. I love the information, very true and well explained.
    Thank you so much for sharing and I really enjoyed it.
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  6. Hi-
    Is this what you mean?
    idea
    goals
    commit
    Do

    These are my best 🙂
    – my worst are; over think, unrealistic time frame, stubborn
    my one word would be “focused”

    Idea – can be anything from a trip to a business project.
    Goal – realistic goals that can be made in a specific time frame .
    Commit – book the flight and hotel room or make a rough draft. Usually takes about an hour from getting the Idea.
    Do- go for it. Make it happen.I do take the necessary measures of making sure other business is taken care as well.
    I cant help it if there are only 24 hours in the day and a two day weekend 😉
    Interesting article.

  7. Janine,
    I liked how you exemplified the comparing your, JD, and Jeff. In fact I was on teams with brilliant people who drove each other nuts… so the story resonated with me.
    I liked also how Adizes define human types, may I say their WHY. He defines 4 types – Entrepreneur, Producer, Administrator, and Integrator. I am Integrator [with a little twist from Producer] – that is my WHY. Entrepreneur generates new ideas, runs like ahead like crazy. Producer all he cares is results, Administrator does everything by the book, and Integrator like harmony trying to orchestrate.
    So… going quickly over your HOW of identifying my WHY it only proved me I am Integrator.
    Thank you for re-assuring me again 😉

  8. Thanks for all the great comments and insights. Brain science is really fascinating, and once you know how your own head is hard-wired, you learn to trust your gut more and simply make better decisions.

    I’ve just met Dr. Andre Golard and love that his company, http://www.thinkingerr0rs.com, is helping businesses and individuals understand the neuroscience that affects how we behave in business.If you’re interested in finding out more about how your brain works, I’d recommend Jonah Lehrer’s book, “How we decide” as well as “Sway” by Ori and Rom Brofman.

  9. Excellent points, although I’d like to add one piece I think would help people make progress.

    One of the benefits of my “mindfulness” meditation practice has been cultivating and strengthening the mental observer: the portion of my mind that witnesses what I’m doing in the moment that I’m acting or reacting.

    The reason that’s important is because all the self-knowledge in the world won’t be effective in the decisive moment unless we have the presence of mind to (a) realize we’re making a decision, and (b) that there are choices open to us beyond those dictated by our learned historical patterns.

    Our biggest problem (and the only reason why habits have any power over us) is that this presence of mind is often absent, especially in important, emotionally-charged situations.

    But the good news is that mindfulness is a skill which can be easily cultivated by actively practicing it. YMMV, but I find meditation provides the most skillful means of ensuring that I’m aware of what I’m doing in each moment.

    That allows me to insert a wedge of awareness into my otherwise automatic habits and ingrained patterns of behavior, so that I can make more conscious choices that lead to better outcomes.

    I hope that’s helpful.

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