What's Your Why?

goals Jun 07, 2022
What's Your Why?  Goal setting for physicians and doctors.



“Working hard for something we do not care about is called stress, working hard for something we love is called passion.”

Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action

Have you ever set out to accomplish a new goal?  Maybe you wanted to lose weight, save for early retirement, renovate part of your home, or learn how to golf.  When you first set out on your goal, you were highly motivated.  All of your intentions were pure, and nothing would stop you.  Then, one day, you lose motivation.  You didn’t feel like going to the gym or decided to splurge on a nice vacation or a new car.  All of a sudden, your goal began to slip out of reach.  Why?

As physicians, we know how to do hard things.  Many of us knew we wanted to be a doctor before stepping onto a college campus.  We set a goal and brought that goal to fruition.  We certainly know what it takes to conquer complex tasks, and these other goals seem much easier to attain.  So what happens?  Why?

The answer is in the question: Why?  Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action, describes a “why statement” as “The compelling higher purpose that inspires us and acts as the source of all we do.” When we fail to achieve our goals, it is likely because we have forgotten our “why.”  

Let’s use a specific example of how knowing your “why” can make a difference in the outcomes. 



Doctors are required to counsel patients on their weight.  It is well-documented that a healthy weight has numerous health benefits.  It is also well-documented that sustained weight loss is quite tricky.  According to Hall et al.1,

“Substantial weight loss is possible across a range of treatment modalities, but long-term sustenance of lost weight is much more challenging, and weight regain is typical.  In a meta-analysis of 29 long-term weight loss studies, more than half of the lost weight was regained within two years, and by five years more than 80% of lost weight was regained.”


Hall et al. goes on to say: 


“External, superficial rewards are unlikely to support the long term endurance needed for weight maintenance.  For example, studies of financial rewards to incentivize behavioral changes, such as weight loss or tobacco cessation, yield initial benefits that invariably wane precipitously over time.  Whereas “white knuckling” and external, controlled motivations, such as directives from a spouse or healthcare provider, may lead to short-term weight loss, longer term sustained motivation is more likely when patients take ownership of their behavioral changes and goals, and engage in them because they are deeply meaningful or enjoyable.”

In other words, when patients have a greater understanding of their “why,” they are more likely to remain motivated long after the initial weight has been lost.  Short-term satisfaction, be it the number on a scale or reported health benefits, may promote initial weight loss but does not support long-term maintenance of weight loss if there is not greater buy-in from the individuals themselves.

The same is true for all of us and whatever goals we set.  Many physicians are used to “white-knuckling” their dreams.  If I can suffer through this in the short term, I will reap the long-term rewards.  Unfortunately, willpower is a limited resource.  At the beginning of any journey, willpower seems like it will help us remain steadfast in our pursuit.  But as we put our heads down and forge on, we encounter speed bumps and curves that slow down our progress and make our goal seem further and further away.  The once plentiful willpower begins to run out.  Of all things, our brains start to resist the sought-after goal using our sense of reason and rationality.

  • Why are you doing this?
  • Wouldn’t it be more fun to go on that expensive vacation?
  • Haven’t you sacrificed enough?
  • You deserve this!


And, before you even realize it has happened, your goal has been left wounded or fallen by the wayside.



How do you stay on the path?  How do you achieve your goals?  Why?

The answer is simple: Remember your “why.” Your “why” must be ironclad and unbreakable.  Using the weight loss example above, if your “why” is: “I want to look good in a bathing suit,” you might initially achieve your goal, but your weight loss maintenance is unlikely to survive.  Alternatively, you might think, “I want to be healthy.” That might help maintain weight loss for some, but it might not be enough for most.  The thought, “I want to be fit enough to run around with my grandchildren in 30 years,” gives a compelling “why” with a long-term goal.  It appeals to being healthy now and staying healthy for the long term.

I get it.  Not everyone has a weight loss goal, but you can apply these principles to any goal.  Do you want to retire from medicine at 45?  Do you want a lake house?  Do you want to start a new business?  Do you want to create a new product?  Every goal will require a strong “why” that will keep you going when the going gets tough.  And don’t kid yourself; the going will get tough.  But you are a physician and know how to do hard things.  Now, you just need your “why.” Once you have that locked in, your goal is as good as done.


When was the last time you stopped to think about what you want in your life?  Do you have goals?  Is there something you have always wanted but are unsure where to start?  Most of us live our lives without specific goals, but would you get on an airplane if the pilot didn’t know where they were going?  Isn’t it time to figure out where you want to go?



Are you interested in a FREE WORKSHEET to help navigate goal-setting while creating the life you've always wanted?  I invite you to check out Design Your Life: A Goal-Setting Guide For Physicians.  This worksheet will help you design the step-by-step path to your ultimate physician life.  Get started today!



PS.  I get a lot of inspiration from music lyrics.  Many people use inspiring quotes (and I do too), but music really speaks to me.  I hope you find inspiration in the songs too.


Miley Cyrus - The Climb





1.  Hall KD, Kahan S. Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity.  Med Clin North Am.  2018;102(1):183-197. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012



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