The “Five Whys” Exercise: How to Recalibrate Yourself During Periods of Turbulence

five whys

Life is more chaotic than we’d like to believe. It’s comforting to think we are in control of everything, especially the course of our own life, but we often can’t predict the “ups” and “downs” that will inevitably come in our future.

Preparing for the randomness of life can be important. It teaches you not to concern yourself too much with planning everything to a tee and always leaving yourself some room for the unpredictable.

The book Disrupt Yourself shows you how you can use this randomness to your advantage. When our life is disrupted in a major way – losing a job or going through a divorce – we are given a chance to embrace new avenues of life, and we don’t necessarily know where those new avenues are going to take us. That can be exciting, but also frightening.

When life disrupts our current course, it can very frustrating and depressing. But it also gives an opportunity to reflect on our lives and make a clearer decision going into the future. We get to choose a new course, and there can be a great power to that.

The winds of life will always change speed, direction, and intensity, but we can better fly through this turbulence when we take a moment to step back and reconfigure our settings.

One bit of advice shared in the book is an exercise called the “Five Whys” technique, which is a great method of reevaluating your current position in life and what’s most important to you moving forward.

The “five whys” exercise

When life throws us off of our current path and we find ourselves on new terrain, we are given a unique opportunity to reflect on ourselves and our values before making a decision on where we want to go next.

To help us discover what our next course in life should be, it’s important to ask ourselves the right questions to uncover what values we want to drive us moving forward.

The “Five Whys” technique is a simple exercise that is designed to help us get at the “core motivations” behind any change we want to make.

This thinking tool was originally created by the Japanese inventor and industrialist Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota Industries, who is often considered the “father of the Japanese industrial revolution.”

The basic idea behind the “Five Whys” is that it often takes multiple iterations of a problem or question before we can discover the proper perspective to look at it. According to Toyoda, five is often a sufficient number of iterations.

For example, let’s pretend you’re looking to leave your job for something new, but you’re not quite sure what you really want in your next career move.

A “Five Whys” exercise might look like this:

  • “I want to change my job.” (Why?)
  • “I could get paid more somewhere else.” (Why?)
  • “Other companies value my skills more.” (Why?)
  • “They know that my skills are important in their industry.” (Why?)
  • “Because they are willing to change with the times.” (Why?)
  • “They have a more growth-oriented perspective.”

By going through these “Five Whys,” you can often get a clearer and deeper picture of what it is you are looking for moving forward. You can apply this technique to virtually any major life decision, whether it’s a change in course you’ve planned for or not.

The best part about this exercise is that it forces you to think deeper and more thoroughly about what your true motivations are. Maybe you’re satisfied with your first answer or second answer, but by holding yourself to “Five Whys” you have to keep searching and keep thinking.

On the surface, you may think you are only motivated to change a job because you want to make more money, but by applying the “Five Whys” technique you may later discover that you’re also looking for a job with a company that is more growth-oriented and appreciates your skills more.

Discovering the right questions can often be just as important as finding the right answers. The “Five Whys” technique makes it a bit easier to find those “right questions.”

Any disruption in life – whether in work or relationships – will slow you down a little bit or possibly bring your life to a complete halt. Of course, it sucks to not feel like you’re making progress, but we can also use that “step back” as an opportunity for meaningful reflection.

disrupt yourself

Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work is a powerful and insightful book by top business and management thinker Whitney Johnson. The book explores how many forms of “disruption” in our life and career, both planned and unplanned, can fuel us to find new directions in life that accelerate our growth and leave us better off than we were before. Learn how to better prepare for the inevitable chaos and turbulence of life, and even embrace it when necessary.

Discovering new metrics of “success”

When there’s a significant change in the course of our lives, it can often follow with a change in our definition of “success” or “happiness.”

In work, popular metrics like “money” or “status” may not be as important to you in your next career move, which might focus more on more meaningful work within society, or more freedom because you want to spend more time with your family.

In relationships, popular metrics like “attraction” or “spontaneity” may not be as important to you in your next relationship, which might focus more on loyalty, stability, and mutual respect for one another.

Our values change as we grow older. Thankfully, disruptions in our lives can give us a chance to recalibrate our values toward things we want to focus more on in the future.

Getting fired from that job you had for 20-30 years can be devastating. But maybe it can give you an opportunity to finally pursue a career in something that you have more of an interest and passion for? The disruption could become a hidden blessing.

Here the book describes why we eventually want to play by our own metrics:

    “To get you thinking about how you might more intelligently measure your performance on a personal level, ask yourself: How am I defining success? When you were young, success metrics were handed to you by parents and teachers. They likely included what grades you got, which college you got into, what job you got, or how little trouble you got into. Once you’ve hit these marks, and you accelerate into a sweet spot of competence and contribution, you begin to play by your own metrics.”

At the end of the day, only you can define your own metrics for success in your work and relationships. Maybe you really do only value money or sex or status? Well, good for you, as long as you have done the proper reflection and realize that’s what you truly want.

However, if upon deeper reflection you discover that you’re looking for more out of a career or relationship. Your best choice may be to change toward a new course that satisfies those deeper needs.

The dangers of the status quo

We don’t often think to welcome disruptions or turbulence in our lives, but sometimes that’s exactly what we need to shake things up and make a change we desperately need.

When things are just “normal” or going “fine,” we may not think to try to change our lives. It’s not broken, so why try to fix it? Just stay on the current course – at least it’s familiar and comfortable to us.

Often this is the same logic we use to justify a tedious job we hate to go to, or even an unhealthy relationship that we feel is “good enough,” but far less than what we actually deserve.

According to Disrupt Yourself, following the status quo isn’t always as safe as we think it is. It creates unhealthy complacency. Sometimes following the status quo is actually the biggest risk we can take.

By avoiding to take a risk or make a change – remaining steadfast on following our current path no matter what – you inadvertently take the biggest risk of all: missing out on a future path that is far more fulfilling and rewarding.

Of course, moving away from the “status quo” is not an easy risk to take:

    “There are instances where we abandon ship, whether in a business or a relationship, out of fear. The going gets tough, and we get gone. In my experience, the far more common challenge is mustering the courage to jump when you are comfortable. When the status quo doesn’t seem all that bad, jumping often seems needlessly risky.”

Why jump when you feel perfectly safe where you are? Maybe because not jumping means missing out on a world of opportunity that’s available to you.

Often the “status quo” is something that we fall into without making a choice. It’s a product of yesteryear’s chaos. By deliberately creating new chaos, we break free from the chains of the status quo and open ourselves up to new opportunities that weren’t previously in our grasp.

We may need to create our own “chaos” multiple times before we can find a path that works for us. This is especially true for young adults who may be experimenting with new classes, job opportunities, and internships before they can find something that clicks with them.

Taking advantage of the randomness in our lives sometimes means just throwing a bunch of things at the wall and seeing what sticks. We can’t plan everything ahead of time, we must be willing to adapt on the fly and try new things. This requires not becoming too comfortable with the status quo.

You never know where you’ll end up exactly

Life is inherently chaotic and random, so even the smartest and most determined person won’t be able to have 100% control over their fate.

If you asked anyone on their deathbed if life worked out the way they thought it would, they would likely tell you it didn’t. Life throws twists and turns no matter what, and we all end up somewhere a bit different than where we expected.

Even an attempt to maintain the status quo is futile, because the status quo will change whether you like it or not. Change is the only constant. All the more reason you need to be comfortable embracing a healthy dose of randomness and uncertainty.

Does your life need a disruption? Has your life thrown you into turbulence against your will? Either way, this can be a unique opportunity for growth and self improvement.

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