The Motivating Power of Why

Former US Navy SEAL, Commander Mark Divine, runs a series of ‘boot camps’ that are designed to give civilians a taste of the selection regimen that the SEAL recruits have to endure. The bootcamps represent a very significant challenge and can serve as a vehicle for personal development. The shortest course that participants can sign up to is 24 hours: that is 24 hours of non-stop hard and demanding physical grind. Divine asks his clients to complete a questionnaire before accepting them on the course. He says that the single biggest determining factor as to whether a participant will be able to endure and complete the course is how powerful their why is. Whether they have a strong reason for doing the boot camp course has a strong correlation with success. If they have a weak ‘why’ – or motivation – then failure becomes a very likely outcome.

Once in a while it may be a good idea for us to remind ourselves of why we strive for success in our careers. Developing a strong sense of purpose - something that captures our imagination and inspires us - provides the emotional ‘rocket fuel’ that will drive us forward.

Some questions to ask oneself to identify a powerful why might be:

  • What will I gain by achieving this?
  • How will it help me grow?
  • In what way will it benefit the ones I love?
  • How will I feel?
  • How would I feel about myself if I didn't achieve this?
  • What will success mean for me?

You can see that see that these questions are framed by the motivation of success and the fear of failure. This uses the principle of moving towards pleasure and away from pain for both the individual and those around us in life. For some people, being successful is an integral part of their identity – “it’s who I am”. Others are motivated by a strong sense of injustice and a deep burning desire to prove themselves worthy to those who, in the past, may have judged them wrongly – “I’ll show them!”.

The more heartfelt, emotional and deeper these feeling are, the stronger the why becomes.  

The power of this why can dissipate over time. One can get caught up in life and forget the why, or perhaps the closer one gets to victory, the weaker the motivating pain becomes. It is a great idea to regularly remind yourself of your answers to the above questions. An additional technique is to visualise what achieving that target looks like, to make it so real that you can feel a genuine sense of elation – almost as if you had actually achieved it! The feelings engendered are genuinely ‘happening’ and serve to re-associate you to the power of your why.