sixtyandme logo
We are community supported and may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Separating the ‘What’ from the ‘Why’ of Life Experiences

By Joanie Marx December 28, 2022 Mindset

How often do you take note of different themes that encapsulate each stage of your life?

If you look closely at major turning points you have experienced, you will see consistent patterns and themes that serve as guideposts for your life’s choices.

A deeper awareness of patterns and themes that have influenced you, opens you up to your life’s throughline. This makes it easier to change the narrative of your life.

Why is this important for those of us over 60?

When you change your narrative, you improve the quality of your life in whatever area you choose.

In this second of a four-part series, we are going to separate the ‘why’ from the ‘what’ of emotionally jarring experiences that serve as transitions in your life.

The Distraction of ‘Why’

When an uncomfortable experience occurs, it’s normal to ask, “Why?” For those major, life altering transitions sometimes it is necessary and cathartic to understand why something occurred.

Unfortunately, far too often we unconsciously spend more time going down the rabbit’s hole of ‘why’ at the exclusion of healing emotional wounds from unwanted experiences.

Without that healing, it becomes difficult to learn and grow from transitional moments.

When you fixate on ‘why’ something happened, it opens you up to shame and blame. This distracts you from being able to fully understand the situation and how the lessons or gifts of it can be applied to improving your life now.

Benefits of Focusing on the ‘What’

It is easy to feel like a victim when you process difficult, transitional moments that changed you. This can breed internal contempt and foster criticism of yourself and those involved.

Therefore, when you don’t spend time focusing on the ‘why’ it’s easier to recognize important themes and patterns in your life.

Here are three immediate benefits of focusing on the ‘what’ of an experience:

  1. Examining the ‘what’ of an experience is more objective.
  2. When you focus on the ‘what’ it isn’t as emotionally charged as ‘why’.
  3. The ‘what’ of an event is emotionally neutral, whereas focusing on the ‘why’ calls your judgment into question, prompting criticism and shame.

To better understand the value of focusing on the ‘what’ of a situation, let’s look at an example of a romantic breakup.

Going from the Accuser to Observer

In emotionally jarring transitions, like a romantic breakup, it is common to find yourself on the slippery slope of a “he said, she said” scenario.

This usually involves a series of accusatory questions that all begin with ‘why’.

  • “Why did you do this?”
  • “Why can’t you be more _______?”
  • “Why don’t you do more of _______?”
  • “Why is this happening to (us) or (me)?”

After the smoke clears from the transition, many people face a dark abyss of trying to make sense of more ‘why’ based questions.

These questions include but are not limited to:

  1. ‘Why’ did the relationship not work?
  2. ‘Why’ did I choose this person as a partner?
  3. ‘Why’ am I not good enough to keep the relationship thriving?
  4. ‘Why’ did my partner not live up to expectations?

Now that you know how things turned out, rather than focusing on the ‘why’ shift your attention to examining the ‘what’ of the experience. This allows you to observe the journey of the relationship instead of judging it.

When you go from the accuser or victim to the observer you bring yourself closer to discovering patterns and themes in your choices. This uncovers the throughline of not only your life but also reveals the theme of any stage of life.

Being clear on your throughline is essential to changing the narrative of your life in 2023 and beyond. This new narrative opens you up to a new and healthier relationship with yourself and even another romantic partner.

How It All Fits Together

Observing the ‘what’ of a transitional experience offers a unique vantage point to spot overlooked details that are often difficult to focus on when you are emotionally triggered.

The benefits of focusing on the ‘what’ and not the ‘why’ go beyond romantic relationships. They apply to every area of your life and can heal lingering emotional wounds from your childhood to any point after 60.

As you approach this new year, there has never been a timelier moment to begin applying this process to an area of your life in need of a new narrative in 2023.

To help integrate what you are learning, I invite you join me in the companion video for this article. I will share additional insights and guide you through three journal prompts.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What life turn has had you asking yourself ‘Why?’ Do you think the why questions have helped you figure out what is happening in your life and how to move on?

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Even if we could truly figure out the Why, often it does not change anything. Several big events happened this passing year and if I ask “What?” I can definitely see patterns: Taking on way way too much, neglecting basic health care issues until critical, powering through when I should power off, being hard on myself and a bit too easy on others and believing I can’t even begin to be happy until everyone I love is happy first!

Excellent article!



The Author

Joanie Marx is a three-time bestselling author and the creator of the new, groundbreaking Refocus & Renew Your Life® online course series on Udemy. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in Psychology, and a leading authority on refocusing and renewing your life.

You Might Also Like