The following is adapted from Chasing Cupcakes
You’re stuck on a problem you can’t seem to solve. You bang your head against the wall, coming up with solution after solution and trying desperately to figure out what’s holding you back.
But what’s keeping you stuck almost certainly isn’t the problem itself—it’s your approach to solving it. Instead of focusing on the solution, you’re defending your behavior or making a case for the validity of your problem. Your top priority is being right, not getting it right.
No judgment here. I’ve done this. In fact, we all have.
The right questions can set you free from this trap, by making clear the steps between you and your solution, clearing out any emotional filters at play, and illuminating incorrect assumptions holding you back.
If your questions don’t lead you to improved action, you aren’t asking the right questions.
To help you with this, I’ll share a story from my life that demonstrates the power of better questions, then offer a couple powerful strategies for finding the right answers.
How the Right Questions Helped My Sister
A couple years ago, while I was preparing for ASCEND, a Primal Potential weekend workshop, I invited my mom and sister out to dinner. I wanted to try out an activity in advance of the event and they were about to be my guinea pigs.
I explained that I wanted to do a workshop at ASCEND where participants could only communicate via questions. No statements or explanations, just questions.
At dinner, I asked my mom and sister if one of them would be willing to share a problem, in the form of a question, to kick off our little dinnertime experiment.
Debi, my sister, asked, “How do I balance getting out of debt and enjoying my life?”
To be honest, her question floored me. Years earlier, we’d agreed to stop talking to each other about money. Given our different approaches to finances (I’m a saver, she’s a spender), those conversations never ended well, so we’d cut them off.
After a few initial questions, we cut right to the heart it: her spending habits.
“Can you spend less money?” I asked.
Debi paused for a moment, then replied, “What if I don’t want to spend less money?”
I admired her honesty and used my next round of questions to further explore that.
“Are you really enjoying your life with the financial stress you have right now? Is this the way you want things to be? It seems like you don’t want to spend less because you associate spending more with enjoying your life more? But are you enjoying life right now? Is it possible that spending less would actually allow you to enjoy life more?”
She sat quietly. She was considering, open-mindedly this time, that maybe spending less would allow her to actually enjoy life more, not the other way around. There was something more true than the story she had been clinging to about her spending.
Since that conversation, Debi’s finances have transformed. The discipline she now brings to her financial choices has allowed her to enjoy life more, not less, because she’s gradually eliminating one of her biggest stressors: money problems.
Pause Often to Ask Yourself Questions
That short exercise with Debi was a starting point—it represented a shift in the way she was willing to think about money and her ability to create change.
The questions themselves didn’t create results for Debi and they won’t for you, either. But they did open a door that Debi then had the discipline to walk through.
To fully unlock the power of great questions, you need to get into the habit of asking them regularly. You can probably think of moments from this past week when you would have benefitted from slowing down and asking yourself the right questions.
Maybe you got worked up after a tense staff meeting, or said some things you regret after a breakup. Perhaps you gave into temptation and splurged on junk food.
Next time you confront these moments, what if you took three minutes to ask yourself questions, or called someone who was willing to ask questions of you?
You might be saying: “What should I ask myself, or have someone else ask me?”
That’s a good question! Here are a few thought-provoking ones to start with:
What’s a choice I can make right now that would leave me feeling great tomorrow?
Have I already made up my mind on this issue? If so, what led me to that point?
What actually happened? How do I feel about what happened? What’s the difference?
What to Do When You Don’t Know the Answer
You’ll get better at coming up with the right questions the more you practice asking them, but what do you do when you don’t know the answer to your question?
In my experience, we often dismiss questions by saying “I don’t know” or “I’m confused” to avoid taking ownership of our role in a solution and delay doing work.
To be honest, those responses are cop-outs.
You don’t have to know the answer, but you are capable of finding it.
“I don’t know” might mean “I need to take some action or do some work to get clearer on an answer or solution.” If that’s the case, ask yourself, “How can I find the answer?” or “What might be the answer? What are some options?”
Knowledge is not a prerequisite for action. Knowledge is an end result of action.
If you aren’t sure of an answer, take action. Do something. You’ll learn from what you try. Stop holding yourself back from action because you’re waiting for answers. Create the answers. They are waiting for you on the other side of intelligent action.
Don’t wait to think up a solution. Create it. Travel to it. Your solutions are in your progress and attention. You’ll always learn more from action than from thought.
For more advice on asking better questions, you can find Chasing Cupcakes on Amazon.