In the pursuit of self-development and personal growth, there is one word that is probably more important than any other. Can you guess what it is?

That word is “why”!

I’ve been using the word since I went to university in the 70s. I remember one of the first times I used it, while studying chemistry.

We were learning about the Schrödinger Wave Equation, which is fundamental to much of quantum physics. Basically, an electron is considered to be similar to a vibrating string stretched around the nucleus of the atom. It must make a whole number of vibrations before the “ends” are connected. It “vibrates” like a guitar string without moving anywhere. At one point, the professor extracted out mass * velocity, which is a measure of linear momentum, and replaced it with another variable.

I asked him “why”, meaning why were we using linear momentum on something that was not only not moving, but any motion would have to be in a circle, not a straight line. He stood there for several seconds, looking blankly at me, then said, “Because that’s what Schrödinger did.”

I learned two things from this:

  1. The word “why” is a very powerful tool for getting to the truth.
  2. The truth was that the professor himself didn’t know the reason for Schrödinger’s insight at that point in the derivation of the equation. Either that, or he was not capable of explaining the insight to us.

Using the word “why” again and again can lead us to find the hidden assumptions and beliefs that are causing us so much grief. The word itself need not be used explicitly; it can be implied.

For example, a friend states that he finds he cannot ask a female friend out to dinner. The conversation might go as follows:

“I can’t ask her out.”

“Why can’t you ask her out?”

“Because she might say ‘No’.”

“Why would it be bad if she said ‘No’?”

“Because it means she rejects me.”

“Why does it mean that she rejects you?”

“Because otherwise she would say ‘Yes’.”

“Why aren’t there any other reasons that she might say ‘No’?”

“Um …”

At this point he realises that he’s working from false assumptions:

  • “Yes” and “No” are not the only options; she might very well suggest another day if she says “No” for the day in question.
  • If she says “No”, it doesn’t mean that she rejects him; it just means that she doesn’t want to go out with him at that time.

Lying behind the problems in life are often assumptions about the way the universe should be, and behind them there are often limiting beliefs. Once you find those hidden assumptions and beliefs you can do something about them. Get into practice questioning little things in your life, and go on to bigger ones as you become comfortable with the idea.

Oddly enough, I’ve found that many people are too scared to use the word “why”, because they might find out something they don’t want to know. I think this is because, once you know what the source of a problem really is, you have a responsibility to do something about it. You can’t play Poor Me or the Blame Game and make others responsible for all your woes.

“Why” can be the most liberating word you ever use!

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