Back Up and Ask Whether, Not Why

Fol­lowup to: The Bot­tom Line

A re­cent con­ver­sa­tion re­minded me of this sim­ple, im­por­tant, and difficult method:

When some­one asks you “Why are you do­ing X?”,
And you don’t re­mem­ber an an­swer pre­vi­ously in mind,
Do not ask your­self “Why am I do­ing X?”.

For ex­am­ple, if some­one asks you
”Why are you us­ing a QWERTY key­board?” or “Why haven’t you in­vested in stocks?”
and you don’t re­mem­ber already con­sid­er­ing this ex­act ques­tion and de­cid­ing it,
do not ask your­self “Why am I us­ing a QWERTY key­board?” or “Why aren’t I in­vested in stocks?”

In­stead, try to blank your mind—maybe not a full-fledged crisis of faith, but at least try to pre­vent your mind from know­ing the an­swer im­me­di­ately—and ask your­self:

“Should I do X, or not?”

Should I use a QWERTY key­board, or not? Should I in­vest in stocks, or not?

When you finish con­sid­er­ing this ques­tion, print out a trace­back of the ar­gu­ments that you your­self con­sid­ered in or­der to ar­rive at your de­ci­sion, whether that de­ci­sion is to X, or not X. Those are your only real rea­sons, nor is it pos­si­ble to ar­rive at a real rea­son in any other way.

And this is also writ­ing ad­vice: be­cause I have some­times been ap­proached by peo­ple who say “How do I con­vince peo­ple to wear green shoes? I don’t know how to ar­gue it,” and I re­ply, “Ask your­self hon­estly whether you should wear green shoes; then make a list of which thoughts ac­tu­ally move you to de­cide one way or an­other; then figure out how to ex­plain or ar­gue them, re­curs­ing as nec­es­sary.”