Contemplating the “Why”

Man with paint roller painting the word "Why" in the sky
Why do you want to develop a new habit?

I have made a regular practice of setting goals and planning my time very deliberately. As a result, I usually feel more mindful, productive and calm. Seeing my goals scheduled gives me peace of mind that I won’t forget about something I was scheduled or intended to do. Having a “To Do” list every day can be helpful in avoiding distractions and focusing on what needs to be done.

The Negative Space

With a strategic planning mentality, I can also be very critical of myself for becoming distracted, not meeting goals, losing focus, and working too much.

For example, I continually set a goal for myself to take breaks during the work day. Studies show that taking breaks improves productivity. There are numerous apps and alarms to help enforce these breaks.

And yet.

I have never met this goal for even one full day. And I beat myself up about it all the time.


I recently saw this Ted Talk called “What Is Your Why?” When I thought about its message, I applied it to my “break” goal. While my take away is different than the message of the Ted Talk, I asked myself, WHY do I set this goal every week? And, WHY don’t I prioritize it and make it part of my process?


I set a goal to take breaks because research shows that it is effective and good for you. I have an understanding that it is something I “should” do. Similarly, when I gain a few pounds and want to lose the weight, I know what I “should” do to get back on track. That does not mean I follow through and improve my eating habits to get back to my goal weight. Until I make it a priority for myself for my own reasons, I will not change my behavior.

The “why” and cannot be based purely on “should.” People can tell us, research can indicate something, but until we develop our own reasons why we want to develop a new habit, we won’t be motivated to make a change. The goal has to be important and meaningful.

Motivation vs. Clarity

The book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear is a game changer when it comes to thinking about taking small steps to create bigger changes in your behavior and habits. In this video, he talks about strategies for developing habits and he says, “Many people think that they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity.”

Atomic Habits is based on 4 Stages of Habit Formation:

Noticing (Obvious)

Clear’s “Failure Premortem” is an exercise to help identify what is holding you back from successfully implementing a new habit. This exercise has you imagine it is six months from now and that you have failed to achieve your goal. You analyze (hypothetically) what caused the failure.

In my case, this is not a “pre” mortem since I have failed for a long time to take the breaks I plan for myself. I can still do the analysis and try to understand why I continually fail to meet this goal, and determine if this goal is important enough to me, and if it is, to develop a plan to help ensure I will succeed.

Wanting (Easy)

Create an environment that will shape your habits and make it easier to follow through on habits.

Doing (Attractive)

Make goals realistic and “optimize for the starting line, not the finish line.” Small steps are better than no steps!

Liking (Satisfying)

Make habits enjoyable by creating a reward for behavior to help you stick to habits. Find a way to enjoy your habit in the moment. Long term behavior change is more successful with short term feedback. Measuring progress – even small steps – can be satisfying and rewarding.

Why (Reprise)

A goal for this week (Week 2) of my 12 Week Year includes taking breaks. However, for this week, I am going to set the goal to use the Pomodoro technique ONCE per day, every day this week. I am curious to know if this has an impact on my productivity and focus, and if I can do it, to then add a second daily break in Week 3 or 4.

I will report back with my progress. Wish me clarity!

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