What do I desire?
What is the meaning of this?
Should I have the red or the white?
The sea bass or the steak?
Questions. We answer probably a hundred a day (triple that if you live with a five-year-old) and ask dozens more. This kind of inquiry is part of our lives. But usually, we’re focused on finding the answers. We seldom stop to think about the impact the questions themselves have on our experience.
The questions we ask — and those we don’t ask — matter much more than the answers we seek and they shape our lives in a big way.
Here’s why: when you ask a question, your brain fires off a bunch of neurons to find answers. It is wired to seek and find solutions, answers to the questions you ask. So, the second a question is posed, the brain starts sorting through a Rolodex of relevant information in search of the answers. It flips through memories and emotions, visual cues and explicit memory, the information we learn and store so that can be recalled later.
If it doesn’t find what it is looking for, it often comes up with something anyhow – “I’m pretty sure I ordered the steak,” or “I guess I didn’t get the job because I’m not very good.” Whether the answer is actually true, doesn’t always matter.
If it can’t come up with a good response, the brain sets out on a new course, prompted by curiosity, to discover the answer.
Why it’s important to ask powerful questions
Notice then, what happens if you ask the wrong questions: Why am I so stupid? How could have I gotten myself into this mess? Why am I so fat? Why am I failure? Why doesn’t he love me?
Try it. Use one of the questions above or pick your own and ask yourself aloud or internally. Then, pay attention to what comes.
Your brain, as it is wired to do, sets off on a journey of discovery. It’s thrashing about trying to find the right answers. So, if you ask “Why am I so stupid?” Your brain is going to find the answers to that question by pulling up a long list of all the stupid things you’ve ever done, as well as a litany of moments that others belittled you and left you feeling stupid. This is what the brain does, seeks answers to your questions. If you question your stupidity, you’ll get lots of evidence. This is so not helpful, nor is it productive.
If you ask: Why am I not successful? You will get plenty of evidence to explain your failures, but you’ll get little information about how to actually become successful, which is probably what you really want to know.
Notice then what happens if you reframe the question. If you become clear about what you really want to know, and shape a specific question designed to cull that information – you’ll get helpful answers and the data you need to grow.
For example, instead of saying: “Why am I not successful?” “You may ask, what can I do today to become more successful?” Now, feel your brain and behavior moving to the launch pad?
Instead of asking why am I so fat? Which will only get you an onslaught of negative and irrelevant explanations to what you already know like “you ate the whole pizza, dummy.” Ask: “What can I do to create optimal health?” Then, pay attention to the answers that show up.
Feel how much more productive and useful and active this line of questioning is?
Instead of asking “Why does he not love me?” Ask “How can I become a more loving person?”
When we send our brains off in search of answers it’s bound to come back with something. Make sure it’s information you can use by pausing long enough to contemplate what you truly want to know, posing the right questions and then paying attention to the insights you get.
Wednesday’s post will include some of the Biggie Questions that I (and other experts) think are worth asking.
Photo by: Stock.xchng