What’s Your Why?

Gina Holmes
5 min readFeb 1, 2022

You’ve set a goal to get your doctorate done and you want to make sure you’re set up to succeed. Stick with me — you’re in the right place!

You’ve written your proposal and made action steps and checklists. You’ve thought about and planned for all the challenges and obstacles that might get in your way. You’re pretty much set up for inevitable success, right? Well . . . not quite. There’s just one more thing.

You might want to think about one other angle before you’re able to slide into that centre of the bull’s eye that you’ve defined as the land of progress and success.

Ask yourself these questions.

  • What’s my why — my reason for wanting this degree?
  • What will it mean for me when I achieve it?
  • Exactly why am I going for a doctorate — is it because I want to do this or I think I should do it?
  • Why is it this study and not some other topic?


Often, you’ll really need to dig down deep to discover your why. Sometimes, when you answer the question, “Why do I want to do this?” your answer may likely come from a superficial answer until you keep drilling down to find the deepest emotional reason — the real ‘why’.

Digging Deep into Why

The Toyota automotive company has developed a philosophy for understanding the nature of a problem and getting to the root cause of it. It’s called the 5 Whys method. These 5 Whys questions can also be applied to understanding the root cause or reason for why you desire to do something. It helps you attain a goal when you understand the deep-rooted reason why you’re actually setting that goal.

The 5 Whys method is quite simple in explanation, however it takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it. You answer the initial question, ‘Why do you want to achieve [your goal]?’ Whatever is your first answer is the basis for the second question that asks why you want [whatever was your first answer]. This process is continued with 5 whys until you ultimately come up with the real reason you want to achieve the set goal.

Let’s look at an unrelated example of how this process works. We’ll use the example of someone who wants to lose weight. When you’re asking the 5 Whys, never assume you know the answer to a Why question. Always ask the 5 whys to get to the underlying reason even if you think you know the answer.

  • Goal: I want to lose 25 pounds.
  • First why: Why do you want to lose 25 pounds?
  • Answer: I want to lose 25 pounds so I can have more energy again.
  • Second why: Why do you want to have more energy?
  • Answer: I want to have more energy because I’m having trouble walking around the block and climbing stairs. I can’t keep up with my kids.
  • Third why: Why is it important to have energy and keep up with your kids?
  • Answer: I want to be able to do things with them, be a part of their lives and be active with them — not just a sideline parent.
  • Fourth why: Why is it important for you to be a part of their lives and not a sideline parent?
  • Answer: I love my kids and I want them to know I will be there for them.
  • Fifth why: Why do you want them to know you’ll be there for them?
  • Answer: My father was not around for me. I vowed that when I grew up and became a parent, I would be involved with my kids and do things with them. I’m afraid I might die young from a heart attack or something and then I wouldn’t be around for them. I want to do whatever it takes to be there for my kids.

So the underlying reason for wanting to lose weight in this example is that you want to be present for your children. You want to create a life for them that is other than how you grew up. You want to do whatever it takes to lose weight and be healthy and present for as long as possible in your childrens’ lives.

Visit my website for resources to help you do this kind of exploration.

Your Why Helps With Commitment and Motivation

Knowing deep down what is driving your desire to attain your goal will help you gain emotional commitment and attachment to your desired end result. It also helps to know your reason, your why, to provide motivation from inside yourself — not from external forces that are pushing you to achieve something. A goal that you set from an emotional desire deep within yourself is highly motivating and helps prod you along when the going gets rough. And with any big goal, there are bound to be roadblocks and setbacks along the way. This is especially true of a doctoral study!

Knowing your deepest reason, your why, for wanting that goal becomes your touchstone to keep coming back to in order to keep moving forward. If there is not an emotional commitment from within that keeps you focused and moving, you’re likely to give up on your goal and stop taking action towards reaching it.

Don’t skip this step to uncover your deep down reason, your why, for setting any goal for yourself. Setting yourself up for inevitable success should begin with a clear understanding of the deepest reason why you want to be successful with a goal. When the going gets tough later on, ground yourself with your why and you’ll find the strength and motivation to keep moving forward.

If you feel that you need support or mentoring to really move your thesis forward, contact me to discuss how I can help. Together, we can Get It Done!



Gina Holmes

I support doctoral candidates to get their thesis written. No technical jargon, just lots of good techniques and ass-kicking with love. Let’s Get It Done!