Answer by Nicolas Cole, Writer, on Quora.

Let’s start by breaking down what they do and how they do it. For the sake of making this easy to understand, we’ll use Michael Jordan as an example.

WHAT does Michael Jordan do?

Michael Jordan plays basketball.

HOW does Michael Jordan do it?

By showing up to practice early, by not leaving practice until he’s made 100 shots in a row, by lifting weights, by running, by seeking out the best players and training with and against them, by focusing on his weak points, by studying those that came before him, by studying his opponents, and by training his mind to not focus on the problem but rather the solution.

WHY does Michael Jordan do it?

Now as you can see we’ve already acknowledged the hard work, the persistence, and the discipline, so then how can those things be his WHY? They can’t. They are his HOW. The WHY goes much deeper.

WHY people do what they do is based on one thing and one thing only: emotion. It is beyond logic. It is beyond thinking or wanting or seeking or finding. The WHY is about DOING, it’s about being in the flow of that thing, that craft, that action, and it is the repetition of that love that ultimately creates a “legend.”

Greatness is nothing more than the long-term investment of time. The more you do something, the better you become at it. But what separates a master from a cubicle worker (both of whom perform actions over long periods of time) is that the cubicle worker does the action and seeks completion while the master does the action with the intention of discovery. They want to know what else they can do. What more is possible. How much deeper does the rabbit hole go?

If Michael Jordan hadn’t played basketball, he would have found another craft. But his WHY would have remained the same. Same for Steve Jobs, Bobby Fischer, President George Washington, and all the greats in their respective fields. The WHY is not dependent upon a specific action. In fact, WHAT you do is insignificant. WHAT you do is merely the thing itself: I play basketball, I make computers, I ride bicycles, I knit sweaters, I cook pizzas, etc. HOW you do it is the level of discipline you are able to cultivate, the routines, the process--an art in itself, because some processes and habits are better suited for certain people. But the WHY is beyond both the WHAT and the HOW. The WHY is emotional. It is the part of you that wakes up in the morning feeling pulled by curiosity. It is the cycle of thoughts that wonders, wonders, wonders, wonders. It is the need to create something of your own to leave behind your mark here on earth.

Your WHY is the love you have for being in the flow and the feeling of being beyond your “self.”

Like it or not, every great inventor, athlete, intellectual, linguist, and artist has, in some sense, found enlightenment. Because enlightenment is the letting go of the self--a feat only accomplished in the moment. And if you think Michael Jordan hit the game winning 3-point shot in the NBA finals by telling himself over and over again that he “better make it,” then you are severely mistaken.

He hit the 3 point shot because he let go, he fell into flow, and in those final seconds of the game he existed purely in an emotional state of trust.

He lived in his WHY.

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Published on: Sep 22, 2015