One of the key differences between my philosophy of personal development and many self-help coaches/bloggers/speakers is my emphasis on finding and resolving the root cause, vs. just dealing with effects. Many self-help materials and teachings out there today only address effects. However, I believe very strongly in addressing root causes to bring about the largest and most sustainable change in the long run. Similarly, this philosophy underlines the materials I write, my coaching, and my training materials.
Why Address Root Cause?
Say you have a lot of weed growing in your lawn. If you remove the weed using a mower, does that solve the problem? Temporarily. Visually, the garden looks good. However, you probably already know that this is only at the surface level. After a short period of time, the weed will grow back.
So how do you fix this long-term? If you replied “By removing the weed from its root“, you’re totally right!
The same principle applies to our life. For everything we face today, there is a root cause behind it. Understanding the root cause is central toward resolving our issues. Once the root has been removed, the effects will be addressed accordingly.
Some examples of effects : cause are:
- Low self-confidence today (Effect) : Faced a series of setbacks in the past (Cause)
- Having low income today (Effect) : A mindset that repels money (Cause)
- Emotional eating (Effect) : Seeing food as a comfort outlet (Cause)
- Procrastination toward a certain task (Effect) : Lack of desire toward the task (Cause)
- Feeling of emptiness (Effect) : Lack of love from family since young (Cause)
- Always late for appointments (Effect) : Overly idealistic in planning (Cause)
However, many people try to work on their problems by addressing the effects. For example, people who try to increase self-confidence by enforcing confidence through forced behaviors and self-talk, without first understanding why they lack confidence. People who try to increase their wealth through get-rich-quick schemes and ideas, rather than understand why they’re at that level of wealth. People who tackle procrastination through discipline, when their procrastination is due to something else.
Many self-help materials are centered on fixing effects too. Want to be confident? Look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you are the best in the world! Want to be motivated about a task? Tell yourself you love doing it and it’s good for you! Want to overcome procrastination? Just do it!
It’s understandable why people are inclined to deal with effects. Effects are the most immediately observable, so it’s easy to act on them. Upon doing so, you get an instantaneous change – an impression that you have progressed in your goals. On the other hand, trying to uncover root causes can be tedious, complicating and at times, scary – to the extent where people run away when they realize the problems underneath. Some people might not even know how to go about uncovering it.
When you keep working on your problems via the effects, you might get some results, but they will be limited. Just like clearing weed using a mower, more weed will continue to grow since the roots are still there.
Meaning, if you’re someone with low self-confidence, you can make yourself feel good for a period of time using NLP-based methods such as positive self-talk. However, these are just external actions that sustain a temporary state of confidence, as I’ve shared in How To Increase Your Self-Confidence. Efficacious as they give an instant boost, but not sustainable. Once you stop imposing the external acts to your internal state, your low confidence will start seeping through again.
If you are a poor person who strikes lottery for $1 million dollars, you may be rich for a period of time. However, if you don’t have the consciousness of a millionaire, you won’t be able to maintain that level of wealth for long. Once you finish spending the money, you’ll be back to your previous state of worth.
If you are a chronic procrastinator, you’ve probably learned for yourself that discipline helps curb the procrastination – only for that moment. No sooner do you stop enforcing your discipline does the procrastination bug start taking over you. The feeling of inertia is like a plague that just keeps coming. (I’ve talked about procrastination, its root causes and how to address them at length which you can check out in Overcoming Procrastination (6-part series).)
There is always a reason why things happen – more so than you may realize. It can be the bigger contexts like why you seem to keep attracting the wrong relationship partners, why you always seem to have irresponsible and incompetent people as colleagues or why you’re low in self-confidence, to the subtler things like why you’re always late, why you emotionally eat, why you lack motivation or why you possess certain character traits. Part of the journey of personal growth and increasing one’s consciousness is to come to the awareness of the interconnectedness of everything in your life, from your past, what’s around you to yourself.
Example: Low Self-Confidence
Building self-confidence is one of the more frequent goals I work with my coaching clients. One of my past clients had an issue of low self-confidence, which affected her in her every day life and her work. Because of her low confidence, she was afraid to branch out to pursue her own dreams too.
When we first started off, she had the impression that her low confidence was just something in her. However, as mentioned earlier in the article, everything in life is an effect of something else. There is a reason behind everything. If you understand what’s the root cause, you can address the effect.
So we started drilling down to the cause. We looked at why she felt low in confidence, when she started feeling this way, and what happened that led to that. We found out her low confidence could be traced back to an incident that happened when she was a kid – Basically, she didn’t perform well in her exams, resulting in discrimination from her teacher. She was subsequently also downgraded to another class as her results didn’t meet expectations. This one incident dealt a huge blow to her self worth – it led her to conclude that she was not good enough because she did not perform. From this one conclusion, it went on to create even more incidences that made her feel she was indeed not good enough, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
With this realization, we then analyzed what happened in the situation to result in that conclusion. No sooner did we do that did it become clear that her conclusion was flawed. Firstly, the exam is just an assessment of her capacity to answer a set number of questions at that moment in time. It does not at all represent her full capabilities and abilities and should not be used as a gauge of her real worth. Secondly and most importantly, one’s self-worth is just what one defines is to me. There should rightfully be no prerequisite – such as attaining a certain grade, wealth, property or possessions – to be of a level of worth. The only reason why majority think this way is because society has attached one’s worth with these things. I’ve talked about this at length in How To Increase Your Self-Confidence.
With the flawed belief rectified, we were then able to start working on other aspects of increasing her self-confidence. Right now I’m enabling her to pursue her passion and her ideal career of her design, which I personally feel is very ingenious. I’m totally looking forward to seeing her progress and the exciting results she’s going to create!
How To Identify The Root Cause
So, finding the root cause is important. How exactly do you uncover it then?
Before you try to do this, realize that it’s not just 1 effect and 1 cause. It’s many effects, many causes, and a root cause (or a few, depending on the situation).
Meaning, it’s not: Effect -> Cause.
It’s: Effect -> Cause # 6 -> Cause # 5 -> Cause # 4 -> Cause # 3 -> Cause # 2 -> Root Cause.
Whether something is a cause or effect is relative. For example, a cause of an effect is a cause, but this very cause is the effect of a preceding cause. Using the flowchart above, Cause # 4 is the cause of Cause # 5. However, Cause # 4 is the effect of Cause # 3.
Obviously, the best case scenario is to dig out the root cause of every effect to lead to the maximum change. However, it can be difficult especially since it involves drilling really deep into the problem, being aware of all possible effects and causes extending between reality and our minds and (often times) digging into the subconsciousness. These are dependent on your level of consciousness. The higher your consciousness, the more you can trace back to the origins.
It’s very common to conclude a particular cause as the root cause, especially if you’re not clear on what makes up the entire spectrum of effects and causes. Sometimes you may simply run into a dead-end because you can’t think of any preceding cause. The best you should do is just try to dig as much as you can and identify the most fundamental cause, which will probably be sufficient to effect sizable change in your situation. Over time, as you increase your consciousness, the other causes will become more privy to you.
Here are some helpful ways to find causes / root causes:
- Recognize the root cause is internal. The root cause isn’t external. It’s always something about us – whether it’s our outlook, beliefs, personality, choices, behaviors, or even our past. The answer doesn’t lie outside. The answer lies within you. The deeper inside you go, the closer you get to the root cause.
- Identify the common denominator of the problems you face. For the situations where the problem arose, put them together and analyze them. Look for the common denominator in these situations. While this may not be the root cause, it’s a potential link to the root cause.
- Compare your situation with others. Having a library of experiences to compare against makes it easier to comprehend. Often what we think is the norm in our situation immediately becomes debunked when we spot a totally different trend in others’ experiences.
- Go with your gut feeling. Our subconsciousness is much more intelligent than many realie. Many times our initial gut feeling about something proves to be the right one. The more conscious you are, the higher your level of intuition. If your intuition hasn’t been the most reliable source, it only means your connection with it is weak. Start off in first steps by first listening in for it, then tune up from there.
- Increase your consciousness. Just simply growing and increasing your self-awareness will automatically make you more privy to things you were previously not aware of. The higher your consciousness, the more you can tell the interconnectedness between everything and the cause -> effect equation.
Of course, it may get a little mentally boggling to try to understand the reasons behind everything all at one go, so the best way to start off is to try it out on problems or blocks you’re facing. What are some obstacles you’re facing in your goals? What are certain negative patterns / bad habits / problems you want to address? Find out the root cause in those. Once you do so, you can change the effect. Else, you’ll just keep facing the same problem again and again. There is no running away from it until the root cause is addressed.
This whole process of finding the root cause will undoubtedly help you achieve a higher level of self-awareness and self-mastery. I always arrive at a series of revelations and epiphanies when I do this exercise and these subsequently enables me to move to a new state of growth. I’m sure these will be the same for you too.
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