Why asking yourself why is the key


Recently I’ve been helping a lot of students with their personal statements for university applications. It’s been quite an insightful experience, and I really love speaking with students about what they want to achieve, however, many of the documents given to me start with:

Ever since I was a child, I have had a keen interest in ___, which only grew stronger as I grew older.

YAWN. In fact, it’s the number one opener, according to UCAS.

It can be really hard to break free from this, especially when many students pick one course out of the air because they feel that they should do something to continue on with education.

I’ve been using a trick to help the students get to the bottom of their motivation to study whatever they will be studying, and I think that it’s a good trick for adults to use as well.

So many times, we pick things because we think that it’s expected of us rather than because that’s what we really want to do. And while my job is to encourage students to consider university, it’s in no one’s best interests for them to go because they feel pressured, rather than because they want to learn more.

So, what’s the trick?

Ask yourself why.

“So, you want to study psychology. Why?”

“Uhm…because I find it interesting”

“Cool. Why?”

“Because I want to understand how criminals’ minds work”

“Ok! Why? Don’t tell me you’ve watched a TV show and decided…”

“NO! It’s because I want to help prevent crimes and see if there’s a different way we can treat criminals to make people safer”

“Nice! Why?”

Ideally, you’d ask 4-5 times, or until you come down to a personal connection. The UCAS personal statement isn’t needing a massively personal story – but in order to keep going when things get tough (as they invariably do) you need that personal reason to keep you going.

For the students writing their personal statements, I then tell them that all the reasons why (that I had been writing down) need to be in their submission. They’re not wanting to study psychology because they find it interesting, they’re doing it because they’re interested in preventing crimes through working with people at risk and helping them channel their challenges through ways other than crime.

For adults, we can use this technique to help us find where we want to be going, and increase our work satisfaction. If you feel that you’re in a work funk, ask yourself “why” you do what you do – you might be able to remind yourself of your passion.

Sometimes, work is just work, and it’s the things we do in our free time that matter to us. Whether you’re spending your energy on a hobby, a goal (like weight loss – I am spending a lot of energy on Slimming World right now!), or learning a new skill, finding your passion through asking why can help you stick at it longer and achieve more.

Things get easier when we know our passion, and it helps us deal with the tough stuff that help us towards our goals.

If you try the “why” trick and find it useful, please let me know!

Personal Statement UCAS

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