How to Do the 5-Why Test to Set Goals You’ll Actually Achieve

Previously, I’ve written about finding purpose and the 3-question framework I use and revisit constantly. 

I also believe there’s no one right way to find purpose, or that it’s something we can put a timeline or number on. (So don’t beat yourself up so much if you feel stuck in some kinda life crisis, junebug.)

What I do believe, however, is we can keep trying different things to find more purpose in what we do and to be okay with that purpose changing from time to time.

I’ve recently come across the 5-why test, and while it’s not really a tool or framework you might find on personal development (more on that in a bit), there’s something we can learn from doing this test when it comes to personal goals.

In this post, I’ll tell you a little bit about the 5-why test and where it comes from, and how I believe we can use it in our personal lives to set – and stick to – better goals for ourselves.

The 5-why test can help you set goals you'll actually achieve, because you align your goals to your Root Why or purpose. Try this framework for yourself to see how you can find your purpose, set goals and actually achieve them.

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What is the 5-Why Test

The 5-Why Test (other names: 5 Whys, Root Cause Analysis) is originally a problem-solving technique developed by Japanese inventor and industrialist, Sakichi Toyoda. You might not find the name familiar, but I’m sure his company and brand is: Toyota.

According to Toyoda, whenever his company ran into a problem, they’d ask “why” 5 times in order to get to the root reason.

The repetition was more effective and efficient – instead of being satisfied with the first answer you find, you instead do a deeper dive to see what really went wrong.

Here’s a nice quick example of the 5-Why Test in action:

(Source)

Today, the 5-Why Test is used in project management, manufacturing, engineering, and just about any industry or company that aims to solve problems in a more efficient and effective way.

Knowing what we know about the 5-Why Test then and how it’s used in big team settings, can we really use it in our own lives? Can we really use it to be more productive because we understand our goals?

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Can you use the 5-why test in your personal life?

My short answer: absolutely.

My long answer: we can learn just about anything from everything. Sure, this technique is primarily used as a problem-solving tool, but I believe there’s something profound that we can learn from it too.

Just as the 5-why test in the context of problem solving helps you find the Root Why of a problem, I believe it can help us find our Root Why for a goal.

I’ll demonstrate it with an example in a bit, but I want you to think about it: knowing the Root Why for a problem helps you solve a problem faster – because you don’t need to wait for the problem to repeat itself before nipping it in the bud.

So is it so far-fetched to think that knowing our Root Why for a goal helps us stick to the goal better? Or maybe even, I don’t know, help us set better, more meaningful goals?

The best way of showing this might be through an example, so here’s a step-by-step guide to do your own personal 5-why test to find your Root Why, and what you can do after finding it.

knowing our Root Why for a goal helps us stick to that goal better.

Step-by-step guide for using the 5-why test in goal-setting (with examples)

The problem-solving technique of the 5-why test starts with a problem, so if we want to use it in the context of goal-setting, we can then start with a goal statement.

Start with a goal statement

I want to start a side hustle.

Pretty easy so far, right?

And as the name of the technique suggests, go ahead and ask your first why.

Ask “Why” 3-5 times

For one person, using the 5-why test for that goal statement might look like this:

Goal Statement: I want to start a side hustle.

Why (#1): Because I want to earn extra income each month.

Why (#2): Because I want to save money for a masters degree abroad.

Why (#3): Because I want to invest in more learning opportunities to deepen my expertise and skills in my current industry.

Why (#4): Because I want to become a more valuable expert in my chosen industry.

Why (#5): Because I want to get promotions and do more challenging work that gives me more growth opportunities than if I didn’t have the necessary skills and chances.

As you can see, the Root Why is pretty compelling – more compelling than simply stopping at “because I want to earn more money,” at least.

And here’s an important note: different people will have different Root Whys.

Just like different problems don’t always have the same Root Why, your Root Why for wanting a particular goal might be different from someone else who, on the onset, might have the exact same goal.

Let’s take a look at the same goal statement but assume that the person doing the 5-why test is different:

Goal Statement: I want to start a side hustle.

Why (#1): Because I want to earn extra income each month.

Why (#2): Because I want to give my family better things, like a nice house, car, and vacations.

Why (#3): Because I want to show my family that they’re important to me, and being able to provide better things for them is one way of showing it.

Why (#4): Because I want to be the best parent I can be.

Why (#5): Because I want to pay forward what I got from my parents, and I want my kids to know the value of working hard and providing for your family.

See? Same goal, different whys.

Another important note: there’s no such thing as a why that’s “better” than another.

In the same way that I could like the color pink and my friend could like the color blue, we could have the same goals but different whys, and that’s not a bad thing. 

If you keep comparing yourself to other people – especially as far as life goals and Root Whys are concerned – I sincerely doubt you’ll have any confidence left in your own path.

there’s no such thing as a why that’s “better” than another.

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What to do when you’ve found your root Why

So what happens now? After you’ve found your Root Why, what do you do next? 

I’ve come up with 3 things you can do once you’ve found your Root Why, and I’ve tried to make them as actionable as possible.

Use it as your daily inspiration

I don’t know about you, but I always get bouts of self-doubt and fear on the road to achieving my goals. 

It’s funny because, yes, most days I love the thought of my goals and plans, but some days, I could be hit with a huge confidence shaker that’s got me questioning everything I thought I wanted. (And even put me in a huge quarter-life crisis.)

And that sh*t happens.

We get knocked down, and sometimes we stop pursuing our goals. 

So this is where your Root Why comes in. 

Whenever you feel stuck, unmotivated, and ready to throw in the towel on your goal, use your Root Why to remind yourself...well, why it’s important to keep going.

Tell yourself that quitting now won’t get you to fulfill your Why. 

ACTION STEP

Try writing down your Why somewhere easy to look back to. Maybe even turn into a phone wallpaper or cute little mantra that pops up as a daily reminder or email.

Refer to it when setting new big goals

Your Root Why can also help you in the pursuit of new goals. 

It’s easy to get caught up in shiny object syndrome and chase goals we think are cool. You know, like goals maybe our successful friend has, or goals that our parents might have suggested were worth our time.

But it’s important to look back at your Root Why for your other goals – over time, you might find some pattern or repeating Whys…

This is a good thing because I think it means your goals are pretty much pointing you in the same direction instead of a hundred different ones at the same time.

So stay in tune to each Root Why of your goals and be sensitive when making new goals. 

In the first 5-why test example earlier, knowing that their Root Why is to be able to do more challenging work might be able to tell that person whether or not the same job at a new company might be worth it.

Or in the second example, knowing their Root Why can help them evaluate whether or not starting a business might be the best next goal moving forward.

And I can’t emphasize enough: these are deeply personal things. No one can tell you if certain goals are right for you except you, so just trust your gut and do what you believe makes you happiest.

ACTION STEP

Whenever you set a new goal, do the 5-Why Test again and see if the Root Why intersects with your other Root Whys. If they contradict each other, you might need to do more evaluating and introspection to see which Why is most important to you.

See how you can align it to a bigger purpose

I hinted at this in the last section, but sometimes the Root Why for a goal is pointing you to an even bigger Why.

I like to be sensitive to that because I think we’d be much happier if we tried to actively live out what we believe is our life purpose. 

And I don’t mean this in the “woo woo” way (it’s really hard to talk about purpose and whys and stuff without sounding a little funny to some people!).

It ties in to our human nature: we’re always seeking. We always want something...else.

And if we know our Root Whys, if we take actual steps to find and live out our purpose as best as we can, then...I’m pretty sure we’d all be happier.

ACTION STEP

Do some introspection to find any patterns or new ideas you have about your goals and Root Whys. This really helps on days you feel particularly...soul-less or lost or unmotivated. (And take it from the kid who had a quarter-life crisis so early in her 20s… Self-knowledge works.) 

How will you use the 5-why test to be happier and healthier?

That sums up this blog post! Tell me: do you intend to use the 5-why test? Have you realized what your Root Whys are for certain big goals in your life? Feel free to share them with me in the comments section below or send me a message on Instagram!

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