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Being around a three year old teaches us—as adults—the power of questions.   Ever spent time with a child asking an unending barrage of “why” questions? How many times do adults in frustration say “because I said so—that’s why”? Yet out of the mouths of babes comes a technique that when implemented by an adult as a problem solving tool is a powerful exercise for understanding. In many situations the real problem and its solution are obscured by the apparent problem because we don’t go far enough to identify the actual problem.

The 5 Whys technique was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and later used by Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of their manufacturing methodologies. Essentially by repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clearer. This process gets people involved using their brains and challenging the status quo.

The power of asking why five times can be implemented in our personal lives very usefully and is often used by life coaches with their clients. How would this work? First, state the problem as you understand it today: “I am feeling very tired and anxious today.”

  • Why are you tired and anxious?  I didn’t sleep well last night. I stayed up too late working on a project that had to be completed by this morning even though I knew that I needed to be rested and at work early today for an important meeting.
  • Why did you wait until the last night to work on the project?  I had intended to do it on Saturday but decided to go shopping and out to dinner instead so I had to finish it last night.
  • Why did you choose to go shopping and out to dinner rather than take care of the project as you planned?  I didn’t want to do the project at all really. I reluctantly offered to help a friend with it when she asked and I instantly regretted it.
  • Why did you offer to do it when you really didn’t want to?  I have a difficult time saying “no” even when I don’t want to do something. When I know how to do something that someone else needs, I feel guilty when I say “no”.
  • Why do you have difficulty saying “no” and meaning it? Everyone counts on me. I want them to like and admire me. I enjoy being viewed as a very capable person. I feel bad about myself when I don’t help out.


Can you see that the actual problem isn’t really the late night causing the lack of energy to meet her responsibilities which results in anxiety about the important meeting? The late night and project deadline are the apparent problems. The apparent solution would be not to wait until the last minute to work on a project. Although procrastination and time management are elements of this situation and may need further exploration, focusing on those issues would be working on the symptoms–not the actual problem. The actual problem here is client’s lack of boundaries (#3/4) and issues with codependency (#4/5).

A boundary is always about you. You are not demanding what anyone else must do. You are only setting your own limits on what you are willing to do or not do. Do you have trouble saying no and meaning it? Boundaries help you take control of your life. But many people don’t know where to start.


Codependency can cripple and sabotage your life. It involves manipulation, decision making and confrontation avoidance, over controlling, lack of trust, and perfectionism. Most codependents don’t recognize the dysfunction it brings to their lives.

Therapists work with patients to identify and understand the roots of these unhealthy behaviors, the consequences in their lives today from those behaviors, and teach them how to overcome them for healthier future relationships. In life coaching the focus is on the future goal(s) as determined by the client using tools of action plans and accountability. The 5 Why Questions help clarify the real challenges and enhance development of effective solutions to the real problem—not the symptoms.



Bonnie Harken, NCLC, Founder and CEO of Crossroads Programs for Women has spent the last 30 years assisting individuals begin their journey of healing. Look for upcoming programs at Crossroads Programs for Women. Begin your journey of finding renewal, hope, joy, direction and passion. Each program is a blend of lectures, group discussion, and therapeutic exercises offering a healing curriculum. We explore the spiritual components of healing from a non-denominational Christian perspective. Why continue to struggle? Tomorrow does not have to be like today. We can help you. Visit www.crossroadsprogramsforwomen.com or call 1-800-348-0937.