Asking Why Simplifies Everything

I like to describe myself as a compulsive dabbler. I actively seek new knowledge and experience. At any given time, I will have a handful of primary interests and more half-hobbies than I can count. And whenever I try to quantify my recreations, I always hear The Joker in my head. “You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! I just do things.”

The big downside is that I tend to do too many things. Now don’t get me wrong, a deep pool of interests has a lot of upsides too. The whole “I can do that” attitude has pushed me into some wild experiences and rewarding endeavors. However, it can get bit taxing on the gray matter and I sometimes need a hard-reset just to gather my wits. After a brief period of introspection, I keep whatever tickles my fancy and purge everything else. I do this by employing a simple yet effective metric: the why test.

I can best illustrate “the why test” with a brief story. When I moved to New Mexico, I dove headfirst into an outdoorsy persona. I started hiking, rock climbing, cycling, you name it. I even befriended a group that competed in centuries (100 mile bike races). Me being me, my brain blurted “I can do that” and I was off to the races … literally. I set a new fitness goal, trained my ass off, and signed up for the Santa Fe Century. Six months later, I did it. The race was physically and mentally exhausting, but I did it, and it felt great. I loved the rush of accomplishment. Soon thereafter, I signed up for my next century, and the next, and the next. A year later, I had completed several races and was back at the starting line of the Santa Fe Century. But, I wasn’t excited. I was barely focused. I thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing? I don’t even want to be here.” The interest had faded and the need to prove myself was gone. Nevertheless, I completed the race, never once thinking that it was a good idea.

I was forced to answer a simple question … why? Why was I competing in century races? I couldn’t come up with a compelling reason, so I stopped. Granted, there were plenty of canned answers, like continued challenge and cycling camaraderie, but I didn’t care about those things. The driving element was gone, and unless I can cite a compulsory reason for doing something, I stop doing it. The same reasoning applies across the board, from general interests to relationships. It’s a useful filter to apply, and it makes life a LOT less cluttered.

And don’t worry, this isn’t going to devolve into a life-coaching session. I don’t particularly care what you do with your life. To each their own. This is nothing more than an insight into how I manage my own life. Take it, leave it, ignore it, make fun of it, knock yourself out. Disclaimer complete.

If you’re still reading, great. You’re life is about to change forever! (Kidding.) But, if you’ll indulge me, let’s go through a simple exercise.

Think of something you really like. Now ask yourself why you like it. Think hard about it and resist the urge to rattle off canned remarks. If you cannot give a clear and concise answer, then I suggest getting rid of it. Most people never take the time to dissect their interests in analytical ways. You may watch a particular show because your friends do, not because you actually like it. You may use a particular brand because the commercials compel you, not because you actually trust it. You may believe something because your parents raised you to, not because you actually drew your own conclusions. Our lives are assaulted by a constant barrage of influence and advertising. Companies spend billions of dollars every year trying to convince you that their product/service is the greatest thing ever. They also know a secret … if your family or friends buy into it, then you will to.

This is why I constantly re-evaluate my interests, leaving a trail of deprecated hobbies in my wake. When all is said and done, I am usually left with a handful of mainstays. Here’s a sampling of what I like and why I like it.

I love craft beer and quality coffee. This particular interest has been with me for a very long time and I don’t see it abating anytime soon (the coffee part is newer, but it adheres to the same principle). Hell, I even created an online persona dedicated to the wonderful world of brews. This is due to the simple fact that I enjoy analyzing things. Blandness is boring. I am happiest when my brain wheels are turning. I like to study nuance in everything. I love strong and complex flavors, which is why I also love Indian cuisine and New Mexican food. As a simple assessment, I asked myself if I would still drink craft beer and quality coffee if there was no alcohol or caffeine involved. The answer was a definite “yes.” In fact, I would probably drink much more if that were the case.

I love the English Premier League. In a previous post, I talked about the current pains of being a Manchester United supporter. Interestingly enough, I have learned that most sports fans cannot articulate why they like the sports/teams they do. More often times than not, it stems from group think, local pride, or a simple need to socialize. All of these are fine, but I’m not a group thinker, regional supporter, or a social butterfly. Ergo, I shouldn’t be a sports fan. But as I mentioned before, I like to analyze things. I enjoy scrutinizing stats, refs, transfers, even the managerial merry-go-round. I also appreciate exceptional skill in all mediums. And when it comes to athleticism, few compare to the upper tiers of international football. I will put Lionel Messi’s overall skill base to the Pepsi challenge against any athlete in any sport. They guy is a magician and a joy to watch, the sports equivalent of Yo-Yo Ma playing the cello. However, I prefer the EPL over other leagues for numerous reasons. I enjoy the cutthroat action, the history, the drama, and the English culture in general. Even the most hardened of American sports fans cannot hold a candle to the generational devotion of English supporters in every tier. It is a fascinating theater that never gets old.

I love to write. Shocking, I know. My life is governed by a constant stream of creative outlets. At one point, my primary focus was music and I devoted every ounce of creative energy to it. Over the course of a decade, I wrote and released four albums. I even got spotlighted on MTV. However, being in a rock band is a young man’s game and once I reached my thirties, the cost-benefit ratio tilted in an unfavorable direction. Thus, I hung up the guitar and refocused onto an emerging interest in writing. What I soon discovered is that writing is an ageless skill that you never truly master. It always challenges your brain to do better, which makes me a very happy camper. I love learning new things, and there is always something new to learn with writing. Once I internalized this realization, I was hooked beyond words. I have been on a tear ever since and I can think of no reason to stop.

And so, that’s a good taste of what makes me tick. Sometimes I get lost in my own crazy world and I need to ask why to re-emerge. It’s a helpful trick and I offer it to you as an effective decluttering tool. Use it freely and use it often, like a big fuzzy brain towel.