The Stoic Handbook by Jon Brooks

Use 'Why, What, How' Technique to Unlock The True Meaning of Discipline

June 29, 2023
The Stoic Handbook by Jon Brooks
Use 'Why, What, How' Technique to Unlock The True Meaning of Discipline
Show Notes Transcript

"The 'Why, What, How' technique encourages us to understand why someone is behaving a certain way, determine what we want to teach them, and find the best way to deliver the lesson."


In today's episode, we delve into the concept of discipline and teaching. Drawing inspiration from Stoic philosophy and insights from parenting, we discover the power of the "Why, What, How" technique in building constructive relationships and fostering personal growth.  This episode aims to teach you how to navigate and resolve disagreeable situations from a place of calm, curiosity and centeredness. 

What's included in this episode:

  1. The True Meaning of Discipline: Exploring its origins and debunking misconceptions.
  2. Discipline as Teaching: Recognizing the profound connection between the two.
  3. Optimal vs. Suboptimal Self-Teaching: Wanting to do something vs forcing yourself to do it.
  4. Introducing The "Why, What, How" Technique: A practical framework for understanding behaviour and delivering lessons.
  5. Parenting as a Framework For Conflict Resolution: Learning to respond to the world in the same way you do to your child.

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In a recent episode of the Stoic Scroll newsletter, if you're not subscribed to that you can do so at It's essentially my compilation of my favorite ideas of the week, sometimes relating to Stoicism and ancient wisdom, but sometimes I mix in some Easter eggs and hidden gems that I found online too. And in that section I wrote, Many people equate self-discipline with punishment or harsh treatment. However, the word discipline has a much deeper and positive origin. It stems from the Latin disciplina, which means instruction or knowledge. Furthermore, it is linked to the verb discer, implying the act of learning. It's also connected to the Latin disciplus, denoting a pupil or student, further emphasising the concept of gaining knowledge. When we try to discipline others, we often mistakenly believe it involves causing discomfort or punishment. I'm going to discipline him. I'm going to get them on the straight and narrow, show them who's boss. It's time to get disciplined. Now, this may be a very basic form of Pavlovian conditioning, a type of learning, but surely harsh treatment, punishment, being bossy or dominating, is not the best teaching method. Think back to your favourite teacher in school. They probably resonated with you because they were interactive and compassionate. seemed to understand you or the subject and presented ideas in a way that spoke to your heart and all of this passion and compassion transferred over to you. Whatever we feel, they feel. Whatever they feel, we feel. Emotions are contagious. And so discipline is teaching. They're the same thing. And there are good ways to discipline, and there are good ways to teach, and there are bad ways to discipline and bad ways to teach. And now let's use this when it comes to our self-discipline. There are optimal ways to self-teach ourselves, there are suboptimal ways to self-teach. The Stoics are a fan of voluntary hardship, but this is not, I'm going to cause myself pain and beat myself up for the sake of it because I get some kind of high from doing that. Almost like a productive form of self-harm. That's not what we're aiming at. We're trying to teach ourselves certain things. Educate ourselves. When it came to ancient Stoicism, one of the ideas is that if we can learn to manage our desires, educate ourselves in such a way to be disciplined, educate ourselves appropriately to not fall into needless temptation, we will then be able to manage pain and suffering. They're just two sides of the same coin, aversion and desire. There's a book that I'm currently reading called No Drama Discipline, written by Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson. The book is primarily a parenting guide, but I think a lot of parenting guides are just relationship books. I think a lot of parenting books are very useful to read even if we don't have children, because they teach us about ourselves, about our childhoods, and we all had one, and about how to interact with others in a calm, compassionate way. And one of the techniques that is expressed by the authors of No Drama Discipline is something that I've been practicing with all of my relationships, especially my tense relationships. And the technique is the Why, What, How technique. And here's how it works. When your child is acting out or misbehaving, in your opinion, the temptation is just to fall into our knee-jerk reactions, to fall into the ways we've been doing things without thinking about them, habits of mind, or to go back to the way that we were parented and mimic our own parents when they were stressed. That's the pattern that we've internalized. And so you may snap at your child or tell them off or express anger. Deep down you're trying to teach them, you're trying to discipline them, but it's not helpful. It may be slightly traumatizing to them, it doesn't increase your connection, it doesn't make them want to behave and it doesn't increase your understanding and mastery of your emotions. So the why, what, how technique has you stop stop and ask why are they acting this way? Play detective, just for a few seconds, why are they acting this way? Are they tired, hungry, thirsty, upset? From their perspective, with empathy, we can investigate why are they feeling this way? Do they want our attention or love? What is the reason that they are acting or misbehaving in this way. Now the next question is what would I like to teach them? Playing the role of the mentor, the educator, I can see that they're acting up. My guess is it's because of this reason. What would I like to teach them? It could be simple, could be complex, it doesn't matter, but what would I like to teach them? And then the how part is how can I teach them? What is the best way to teach them this lesson? So the why, what, how technique is, why are they feeling this way? What lesson would I like to teach them? And how can I teach them that lesson in the most constructive way possible? Now it doesn't take a genius to realize that this technique can be used in all walks of life, in our adult relationships too. Let's say you have a parent who is quick to judge you. Maybe they are mean to you, mocking. Maybe you talk about something that you're interested in and they just dismiss it. Oh, that's silly. So we stop and we ask, why are they acting that way? Could it be because nobody showed interest in their passions and hobbies and they've just internalized this pattern that their parents had with them. Could it be because they feel a little bit jealous and resentful about you living your life the way that you are? Could it be because they just don't know any other way to express themselves? They were never taught. This is the only way they know how to deal with this kind of situation. They're stuck in a rigid response. And then the question is, what would I like to teach them? Well I'd like to teach them that when they act that way, I feel upset and I feel like they don't care. And I know that deep down they do care and they do love me. And it's disappointing because the way that they're acting and the way that they really feel are at odds with each other. So it's a simple case of that's what I would like to teach them. I'd like to teach them how it makes me feel and I'd like to teach them that there's another way. So then the question is how do I teach them? Well there's lots of different ways you could teach them. You could teach them in the moment or you could wait because in parenting there's this term called teachable moments. When a child is having a full blown meltdown, you don't want to teach them something then, they're not ready, they're not receptive to the lesson. So if an adult you're talking to is angry or agitated, maybe they're not receptive, maybe that's not a teachable moment, so maybe you just wait till tomorrow or later on or next week. But you make a note of it. I want to teach them something. How am I going to teach them this? Maybe a week later, something really cool happens in your life and you want to share it with your parent. But before you share it, maybe you can say something like, hey, I've noticed in the past that when I share certain really interesting things that are going on in my life with you, you've seemed at least to me to be slightly dismissive or not that interested in it. So before I tell you about this thing that's happening to me, do you think that you would actually be interested in this? Would you be willing to give me your full attention? That's one example. And maybe a nice conversation could come from that. Sometimes when it comes to teaching, we ourselves have rigid responses to. Maybe we just withdraw and say to ourselves, we're never going to talk about cool things again with our parents or maybe we react and cause a fight. So always come back to that question what do I want to teach them and how would I like to best teach them. So I'll let you play around with this idea, this technique, this framework and whenever you're experiencing a difficult or triggering social situation just come back to that why are they feeling this way, what lesson would I like to teach them and how would I like to teach them in the best possible way.