Asking the Right Questions

February 23rd, 2006 by Steve Pavlina

Tony Robbins says that thinking is a process of asking and answering questions.  He stresses the importance of asking the right questions to get the right answers and therefore the right results.  I agree with him.  Most people ask lousy questions that cripple their results.  Lousy questions turn your focus away from what you want and towards more of what you don’t want.  And since we ask and answer mental questions every day, our questions wield great power over our results.

Here are some examples of weak questions vs. strong questions:

Upon waking up early

Weak:  Can I fall back asleep again?  Should I go back to bed?

Strong:  What would be the best way to start my day?  How can I energize myself?  Where can I find something inspirational or motivational to read right now?

When contemplating exercise (and feeling unmotivated)

Weak:  Is it too hot/cold to exercise?  Can I skip it for today?  What difference will it make if I just skip a day?  Don’t I deserve a day off?

Strong:  Won’t it feel great hitting the showers afterwards?  What should I listen to while I workout?  Won’t it be wonderful to achieve my fitness goals?  How can I make this session more fun?

When considering a dietary improvement

Weak:  What foods am I going to have to give up?  How am I going to deal with the deprivation?  Am I going to have to eat like this forever?

Strong:  What foods that I like will I get to eat more of?  What new foods can I experiment with?  Won’t it be great when I reach my goal weight?  Won’t it be wonderful to finally master this area of my life once and for all?  Once I succeed at this, who else can I help?

Nearing the end of the workday

Weak:  Have I done enough that I can justify quitting for the day?  Is this a good time to stop?  Can I finish this tomorrow?

Strong:  What’s next?  How can I complete one more task?  How much more can I get done today?

When spending time with the kids

Weak:  Why do I have to do so much childcare?  How can I keep the kids from draining my energy this evening?  What’s the bare minimum I can do to keep them out of my hair?  How early can I put them to bed?

Strong:  What can I do with the kids that will leave me feeling energized?  What do I appreciate most about my kids?  What would I enjoy doing with them this evening?  What would happen if I let my kids direct how we spend our time together?

When facing an unfamiliar social situation

Weak:  How can I avoid looking like an idiot?  What should I talk about?  How can I keep from being too nervous or shy?  How did I get myself into this situation?  Can I get out of going?

Strong:  Won’t it be fun to meet some interesting new people?  If I see someone there who’s a bit shy, what can I do to make him/her feel more comfortable?  What can I expect others at this event to have in common with me?

When feeling depressed, anxious, or otherwise negative

Weak:  Why do I feel so down?  Why can’t I be happy?  How come I never get any time to myself?

Strong:  What can I do to energize myself?  Who can I talk to that would help cheer me up?  What can I read or listen to that would inspire me?  Are these feelings trying to tell me something — should I go journal about them?  How long can I hold a fake smile before it forces me to start feeling good again?

What’s the difference?

Weak questions are disempowering.  They keep your focused on your own ego, your problems, and your shortcomings.  Weak questions keep you focused on what’s wrong… on what isn’t working.  That might seem like a good idea, but all it does is further reinforce the situation you’d like to change.  Weak questions will lead your brain to come up with answers that are useless, circular, or even destructive.

Yet weak questions are addictive.  At first glance they may even seem helpful, and that’s why they’re so insidious.  You might think that if you’re depressed, the best thing you can do is to ask, “Why am I so depressed?”  Perhaps if you could diagnose the problem, you could cure it.  But it doesn’t work that way.  When you’re in a negative state or situation, you aren’t thinking clearly to begin with.  You’re in no position to accurately diagnose yourself.  Effectively you’re blind.  So the answers you get back will be worthless.  At best you’ll merely come up with a temporary solution, but the underlying condition will remain, and the problem will simply submerge and crop up again later, sometimes in a different form.  Asking why you’re depressed merely feeds your depression.  In answering the why question, now you’ve added a story on top of your depression.  That goes way beyond acknowledging your depression and trying to do something about it.

Strong questions are empowering.  They keep you focused on solutions, on what you can control.  When you focus on what you can do, you avoid falling into analysis paralysis.  Ultimately the way out of any negative situation is right thinking.  Wrong thinking leads you in circles.  Right thinking leads to action.

Going back to the depression example, the first thing you need to do is to get yourself to a more positive emotional state.  And with practice that can be done in a matter of minutes — even seconds if you’ve studied NLP.  Strong questions will help you shift your focus away from depression and the thoughts that reinforce it and towards action.  When you focus too much thought on what you can’t control and don’t like, depression is a natural consequence.  When you ask different questions to focus on what you can control and what you like, depression will lift.

Mediocre results largely come about from asking mediocre questions.  Great results come from asking great questions.  If you don’t like the results you’re getting, try asking completely different questions from the ones you’re used to asking.  Ask questions that turn your focus towards your goals instead of away from them.  Ask questions that allow you to enhance the pleasure in your life instead of creating greater pain.



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