Stop Looking for Why


David Brooks' "Is Self-Awareness a Mirage?," should be read by every person urging every other person to Find Their Why. And by every advisor who believes that Why is at the heart of their work.


It just so happens that my book Mindfulness for Financial Advisors: Practicing a New Way of Being is about to become available wherever books are sold, and I spend a reasonable amount of time discussing this very matter.


Looking For Why In All The Wrong Places

I find the preoccupation with the question why perplexing. It might be an entry point to a conversation, but it’s not necessary, and it delays getting to the real question. What is it you’re feeling right now, and what is it you want to feel? That’s the gap you’re closing. Forget the why head trip. Those are just thoughts swirling around in your head. Instead of focusing on the why, focus on the what. What do you feel like in your body now?


Money stories are common in financial services and other industries. Like change and uncertainty, however, we don’t all have the same relationship to the autobiographical narrative; we don’t all view our lives as narratives or think that’s necessary. Furthermore, we human beings differ profoundly in the way we experience and handle memory. We differ in the amount of time we spend remembering things, in what kinds of things we remember, in how much of our lives we remember. We differ astonishingly in the accuracy of our memories. Taken as a whole, these are among the largest and deepest differences between us.


Memories Might Not Be What You Think They Are

The human memory appears to be so subpar that it can be said that all we really have are stories—as in fictions—about our lives anyway. It’s possible, if not probable, that the people present for many of our “memories” have their own stories that don’t map onto ours. At the very least, our personal narrative is a selective achievement of memory recall. We don’t observe the world; we interpret it.


Furthermore, memories can change over time, depending on how, when, and why we access them. Remembering is an act of storytelling, and our memories are only ever as reliable as the most recent story we told ourselves. Meanwhile, we act like this narrative is real and contains the underlying reasons for our behavior. We’re just telling some stories and leaving out other possible stories. We also have an illusion of continuity—that we are the same person over time, but upon closer inspection we find that our sense of self varies across situations.


The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I wonder about the wisdom of working with money stories. They’re fictions. Mindsets. They’re beliefs people have, and their content is the past. Meanwhile, just because they have them today, doesn’t mean they have to have them tomorrow. Who is keeping them alive? As the protagonist, Nick Bannister, played by Hugh Jackman says in the film Reminiscence, “The truth is, nothing is more addictive than the past.”


Through mindfulness practice, you might one day be struck by the notion that the stories you tell yourself and that you believe are just thoughts. And you can decide not to believe them or engage with them. This usually doesn’t happen immediately nor is it like a light switch for some beliefs, particularly those relating to trauma. But if your life is a narrative and you have a story about money and your relationship to it, and even if you have a story about your unchanging identity, you can choose to opt out of any of that. You can even choose to change it—to edit the story.


Story editing can address a wide array of personal problems, through either writing about them or talking about them, reframing the behavior and the story. Story editing helps people see themselves differently. They change their I’m-the-kind-of-person-who narrative to one aligned with the identity they prefer.


What story from the past do you keep alive today? It could be about anything: money, family, your success, why something happened or didn’t happen, how you got to be who and how you are . . . Do you currently have a story that says “I’m the kind of person who . . . “? When you tell that story, what sensations accompany it? Does your story create suffering? Does your story amplify something good? Is it limiting in any way?


Do you need your story in order to move forward in your life?


For an alternative to clinging to stories, join me for a mindfulness class.



May ease find you . . .

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