Ask a stupid question, get a wrong answer
I know, I know. “There are no stupid questions”. And yet, it turns out you and I are probably asking questions every day that are getting us into trouble.
I’d hate to write one of those boring articles about the the “value of asking the right questions”, so instead, here’s a short bit on how powerful (and surprising) it can be to rephrase the wrong ones.
Especially since we probably ask the wrong ones every single day.
A wrong question (Oh, the wrongest!) and five right ones
Here is an example (courtesy of one of my wonderful clients, whom I am going to refer to as Judith) of what can happen when you ask the wrong question.
One of the habits that Judith has been working on building is that of a regular morning yoga practice. The idea was to carve out half an hour at home before breakfast. Which was yielding amazing results — until it got really, really cold, and all of a sudden it just wasn’t happening.
We talked it over and it turned out there was a wrong question being asked. It turns out Judith was asking herself: “Do I really want to crawl out of my toasty-warm, snuggly comforter and pad across the cold, cold floor just to have the satisfaction of knowing that I did yoga today?”
Wow, I don’t know about you but as far as I’m concerned there are only two possible answers to that question. It’s either a long, drawn-out “Mmmphphugrle?” followed by snoring, or a resounding “No! Leave me alone!”, followed by snoring.
This is exactly why it’s so important to be aware of your internal questions and carefully rephrase them. To save you the brainstorming process, here are five ways you can take that “wrong” question and turn it around to make it a right one.
Right question #1: relate to the benefit
Judith knows from experience that when she does yoga in the morning, everything else in her day is more in flow. She’s more likely to be in the zone at work, she’s less likely to fly off the handle at her Ã¼ber-sarcastic co-workers, and she only needs one cup of coffee instead of two.
“Do I want things to go smoothly today and to be completely in the zone so I can work effectively? How great would that be?”
Right question #2: change the scenario
Maybe Judith really can’t do her usual practice in the cold. That still doesn’t have to mean no practice at all. Changing the scenario is always a possibility, and asking a “right question” can help you change it.
“What if I brought all my blankets with me onto the floor this morning and did fifteen minutes of stretching and breathing? And then how about warming up for the day while dancing around to 80s music while I think about other solutions to the weather situation?”
Right question #3: offer options
Not every right question has to result in the answer “Yes, I’m doing it!”. Good questions offer options and open up possibilities.
“Would I rather push my off practice until the evening, or do I know it just won’t happen? Do I want to institute an evening practice just for the winter months, and if so, what are three things I can do to make sure it works?”
Right question #4: fix it
Some questions can actually help you figure out what action to take so that the problem you’re dealing with is no longer a problem.
“Okay, I’m giving myself the conscious, guilt-free gift of sleeping in today and I’m taking a moment to ask myself what specific actions I can take this evening to make it more comfortable for me tomorrow morning. For example, what if I set the thermostat so that it’s not so cold tomorrow morning?”
Right question #5: find out what you need
The body and mind know exactly what we need and tell us often. Usually, though, we’re either not listening or actively trying to drown it out (“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”). Ask the right question and you’ll learn all sorts of things about what you really want and how you can get it.
“What am I needing right now? How does my need for stability and routine and clarity (all of which I get when I actually remember to get out of bed and do yoga) interact with my need to be comfortable and warm? Is there a way I can alter my practice so that it works with those needs too?”
Bonus right question (always good)
If you can’t think of a useful suggestion, try to think of ways to treat yourself with kindness. If you don’t know how, just ask yourself. It’s pretty amazing what the subconscious will come up with when you throw a question into the mix.
“What can I say to myself in this moment that would be helpful and compassionate? What is the kindest thing I can bear to hear? What can I do to work on appreciating myself despite the fact that I’m not perfect and not always in the mood for yoga and haven’t fixed everything in my life and maybe never will?”
The cost of asking the wrong question
When you ask the wrong questions, you slide back into your unconscious patterns and do things the same old way, even though you know what the results will be. When you ask the right questions, you frame your habits and patterns in a positive light. You discover that you’ve been dreading things that make you happy, avoiding things that make you successful, and fighting things that hold the key to getting what you want.
Good questions move you away from blame (“I’m such a lazy dope”) and into solution mode (“Okay, here are three things I could try”).
Of course, sometimes it’s hard to remember to ask the right question — especially when you’re sleepy and curled up in pillow land. So a useful thing to do is to ask the good questions ahead of time and then put them on a sticky note that goes on the alarm clock.
My absolute favorite question: If every moment is one of learning, what can I learn in this moment by bringing my attention to it?
And my challenge question to you: Is there one “wrong” question you’re thinking of that you suspect you ask yourself — and could it be rephrased to be a smart, compassionate, useful one?