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Getting to the Root of the Problem

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

Hello beautiful humans!

Are you sure you are working on the root cause of the problem or just the side effects? What is a "root cause" anyway? How can we find the root cause so we can move forward?

What is a root cause?

Have you ever had a flat tire on your car or bike? You fill it back up with air and a day later (sometimes less) it goes flat again? It's because you were attempting to fix the side effect and not the root cause of the problem. After closer inspection you discover a nail or a hole in the tire that needs to be repaired. The nail/hole is the root cause of the problem. Once you remove the nail and repair the hole, you are able to address the side effect by putting air back in the tire.

No matter how many times we attempt to fill the tire with air, it will continue to go flat until we fix that nail/hole. The lack of air is only a side effect of the real problem. Addressing only the side effects doesn't really 'fix' anything. It puts us in a vicious circle of unfulfillment, dissatisfaction, stress and disappointment. Yet, we do it time and time and time again and wonder why we fail at making lasting changes.

So many times in our lives we make attempts to 'fix' the problems that inhibit us from leading our best life. Maybe we want to be healthier, have better relationships, advance in our careers, etc. But we spend so much time, energy and effort working on the side effects (aka symptoms if you're in the business world) of our problem that we forget to look for the 'nail/hole' that is at the core, the heart, the root of the problem.

Why is it important to understand the root cause?

Years and years.... and years ago, I worked for a nonprofit agency in Northeastern Arizona where we provided social services, such as; food boxes, emergency housing, addiction education, etc. to low income families. A family came in one day for a food box. They had been there several times before and I felt that there must be something more that we can do to help them. So I gave them a food box and I asked them, "Will you need another one next week?" They said yes and I asked them why. Their reply was that they had no money. So asked them why again. They replied with "we don't have jobs". Again, I asked why. They said that they did not have a car to get back and forth to work. Once more, I asked why. They finally said it was because their car had broken down and they did not have the money to fix it. Alas, the root cause of the problem!

Not having food, money, jobs or a way to work were merely side effects of the problem. Situations that were caused because of the underlying issue. Because they were focused on fixing the side effects, like having food to eat instead of finding a way to fix their vehicle, they were in an endless loop that would only continue and more than likely intensify.

Knowing the root cause of the problem, were were able to address their immediate needs for food, but we were also able to find someone to help them fix their vehicle so they could get jobs, get money and get food on their own.

We have a habit of staying focused on the immediate needs, which are normally only side effects of the actual problem. We have to learn to dig down deep and be honest with ourselves about what the real issues are or we will just be repeating and endless cycle with little benefit or progress towards our goals.

How can we find the root cause?

Sometimes the root cause is going to be the big white elephant in the room. It's going to be blatantly obvious and hard to miss. Other times, it might be a little more complicated and might require some serious reflection and honesty with yourself especially if the problems that you want to address involve self awareness and growth. If you are willing to stand aside, get out of your own way and really be true to yourself it might be easier to discover and fix the problem than you might expect.

So how do you find the root cause? If you have worked on problem solving in the business world, you may already know the answer, but what you may not know is that this same method can be used in any, and I do mean ALL, areas of your life.

  1. Ask yourself "Why" 5 times.

That's it! Easy right? Ok, in all fairness, you may need to ask why six times, or maybe you only need to ask it twice, but the point is, ask yourself 'Why'. Why is this happening? Why isn't this working? Why? Why? Why? Making a 'Why' Chart can help you really discover what is at the heart of it all.

*Tip: Don't use "AND". Words like 'and' mean you have more than one 'why' in a statement. Like I was l was late to work 'and' didn't have time for breakfast'. Break it all the way down.

Example 1:

Side Effect: I'm hungry

Why: I didn't have time to eat breakfast

Why: I was late for work

Why: I got up late

Root Cause: I forgot to set my alarm clock

Solution: Reset my alarm when I get up in the morning

Example 2:

Side Effect: I'm overweight

Why: I don't exercise enough

Why: I don't like it

Why: It's boring

Why: I don't feel like I'm accomplishing anything

Why: I don't see results right away

Root Cause: I'm impatient

Solution: Talk to my coach about ways I can learn to be more patient

*Side Note: I did not cite where I learned about the 5 Whys because to be honest, I learned about them so long ago that I truly don't remember. I do know you can find out more information about this process in many, many places online.

Yes, there will be times when you still need to address the side effects while working on the root cause. Like in the case of the family needing a food box. They still needed food to eat while their car was being worked on, until they had jobs and could get the money to buy food. Their side effect was a need that had to be filled until their problem was solved.

There will also be times when the side effects are solved simply by correcting the root cause, such as Example 1 above. By making a routine of resetting the alarm clock when they get up in the morning, they will have time to eat breakfast and won't be hungry.

We have to take the time to reflect on what the root cause of a problem truly is before we can begin to make an impact on the changes we desire to make. It's not just important, it's sometimes crucial to avoid that repetitive cycle of never ending side effects that bring us down into the realm of negativity and even depression.


I challenge you to find 1 problem that you are dealing with (it can be anything at all) and create a 'Why' chart like the examples above. Ask yourself 'Why' as many time as necessary to get to the root cause of the problem. Once you've identified the Root Cause, then see if you can come up with a Solution.

This is new to my Blog, but I really think that making these challenges will help you identify the practical applications of our time together. I would love to hear your results as well, so be sure to comment on the Blog or drop me a note on the contact page and let me know what you think, how you met the challenge and/or applied it to your life and how it went. I look forward to hearing from you.

Morals of the Story:

  1. There is a distinct difference between a side effect and a root cause and it is important to understand which is which.

  2. Addressing side effects give temporary fixes but will not solve the root cause of the problem. They only create a repeating cycle for the problem to persist.

  3. Once you identify what you believe the problem is, begin asking yourself 'Why' until you reach the root cause of the problem.

  4. Once you find the root cause then you can work on a solution.

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