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The 5 Whys to Self Understanding

Practice digging a bit deeper.

The 5 Whys is a well-known problem-solving tool. Initially developed in 1970’s by Sakichi Toyoda to help improve the Toyota production, it is now taught in business schools across the country – and well documented on YouTube, etc. By asking 5 Whys to a problem, you can quickly get from problem to possible cause.

You can also apply this to your psychology to help you see the problem under the problem. This is what some therapists do – drill down through layers to come to a deeper point. But you can learn to do this yourself. What is different about your mind, as opposed to car engines, is that connection between whys isn’t so logical and automatic (engine can’t start to battery to alternator to worn belt to fail to defective belts). You’ll find you need to push harder to get to deeper level, to uncover other emotions and motivations that gets you a deeper awareness.

Here are a couple of examples:

I haven’t called my mother in a few weeks: Why?

1. I was busy.

2. Because when I talk to her she just complains a lot.

3. Because I wind up feeling annoyed when I hang up.

4. Because I feel sad for her everyday life.

5. Because I feel guilty that I should do more to help her.


I lied to my husband: Why?

1. Because I was afraid he would get angry.

2. Because I was afraid that he would see me as undependable.

3. Because he might be right.

4. Because he might be getting fed up with me.

5. Because he might get so fed up that he could leave.


I’m angry because my partner is late: Why?

1. Because she is always late.

2. Because she doesn’t call and isn’t being simply courteous.

3. Because she does this a lot.

4. Because I feel discounted and not important.

5. Because I’m worried that she doesn’t really care about me.


You get the idea. Keep digging down and you don’t need to stop at 5. Stop when you feel something solid, something gives you that “Aha” feeling. Often the problems revolve around issues of not being important or appreciated, feeling left and abandoned, feeling like a failure or not being good enough.

Try it out. See how low you can go.

Then talk about that in your relationship. Or take decisive action to fix the problem under the problem.

Use what you discover.

More from Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W.
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