The Daily Commute — Part 1: The Importance of Why

“Life is beautiful not because of the things we see or do. Life is beautiful because of the people we meet.” — Simon Sinek

I’ve been told by a number of people over the years that I should start a blog. Apparently my babbling can be interesting at times. So here goes nothing. I’m going full JFDI and kicking it off.

I’ve decided to kick it all off with a mini series I’m calling “The Daily Commute”. Not sure how many parts it will have but we’ll see how we go.

Why The Daily Commute? The inspiration comes from the fact that I will be spending most of my time writing my blog commuting to and from work each day. Sometimes on my commute I’ll take the time out to just appreciate the world around me, it’s a beautiful, often chaotic world but it is full of stories and lessons. I believe there is a lot to learn from our surroundings if we only took the time to stop and “smell the roses” every now and then. So my goal here is to take everyday events from my daily commute and turn them into mini-lessons.

Lesson 1: The importance of why

Today’s story revolves around the forever question “why?”. After a days work I was taking the train home like I usually do. The train was packed. Your typical Sydney post-work congestion. Like usual I was standing up along with many others on the overcrowded city train. We were in the doorway part of the carriage, packed shoulder-to-shoulder, not a lot of room to move or breath.

There was a mother and her son in the carriage taking on the peak hour commute. The mother like many of us was stuck standing in the doorway. Her son however had a brilliant idea and took a seat on the stairs — on a side note I do love how kids don’t have the ‘socially acceptable’ filter, their minds haven’t been contaminated by so called “social norms” yet — I see it everyday in my own son how he just does what he wants, not a care in the world for those around him. There is no burden of society and what’s considered acceptable or not.

As the train pulled up to the next station the mother asked her son to leave the stairs and come over to her. It was obvious to me that she was asking him to do that so he could make way for those trying to depart the train.

However he did what any child would who had found themselves being asked to give up their improvised seat. He refused.

Confused by the ask he looked at his mother and simply replied “but why?”.

Why leave the comfort of this magnificent chair that all the silly adults hadn’t even thought about? — Honestly if I was him I’d probably be feeling like the smartest person on the train in that moment — look at those silly adults standing up!

The mother insisted, “just come over here please!”.

As the train finished pulling into the station and the doors started to beep open, the mother in the end resorted to reaching over and pull him off the stairs and over next to her.

It’s a simple question “why?” but a powerful one. Simon Sinek talks more about this with his famous Golden Circle from The New York Times best seller “Start with Why”.

Credit: Start With Why

If you want to learn about how the Golden Circle works I recommend either reading the book or watching the 18 minute version here.

What I found the most profound with the mother and son was the son’s need to ask the question in the first place. There was no blind loyalty, no unquestionable obedience and nor should there be. Rather we seek to understand. Our need to know why is intrinsically ingrained into our DNA, it’s human nature — even a 4 year old’s default reaction to a simple instruction is to ask “why”.

“The power of WHY is not opinion. It’s biology.” — Simon Sinek

I will never know this for certain but I like to believe that he wasn’t being malicious or devious when he asked that question. Rather he was simply curious and would have complied with no problems if he understood the rationale behind why he was being asked to move. This need to rationalise and understand why we do things is a basic human need.

Sinek explains this by overlaying the Golden Circle with how the human brain works.

Credit: Start With Why

He looks at two parts of the brain the neocortex and the limbic system.

The neocortex is the largest part of the cerebral cortex. It is known to be responsible for sensory perception, generation of motor commands, spatial reasoning, conscious thought, and language. This means it is the rational and analytical part of our brain.

The limbic system on the other hand is primarily responsibility for emotions, behaviour and memory. It is the centre of our emotional life which means it regulates things such as trust, motivation, buy-in, loyalty and our decision making.

Since the limbic system is responsible for behaviour and decision making Sinek argues we ought to start there. This is the power of why. It leverages the limbic system, our motivation and emotion when explaining something or asking someone to do something — It’s science.

So the next time you go to ask something from someone no matter how trivial it may seem, pause for a moment and consider including “why” — after all I could almost bet that they’re going to ask you why anyways so better save yourself the effort!

The Daily Commute is a mini series of every day lessons I encounter on my commute to and from work each day.

Thanks for reading :)

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