Are your questions pretending to be helpful while actually undermining you, as in: What if I succeed and that changes everything? or Why aren't I doing more? or Why do I waste so much time?
These types of questions limit our imagination, causing us to settle for less than we really want without our knowing that more is possible. They reinforce our negativity bias by focusing on what's wrong or could go wrong. They undermine our sense of creative agency, the truth that we always get to choose how we respond to life.
Most tragically, they isolate us through shame, convincing us we need to hide who we are from everyone, especially the people closest to us. We all ask unhelpful questions of ourselves. With a little bit of brain training, we can swap out our draining questions for more generative ones. Think a combo of Buddha and Picasso: mindful and creative, compassionate and disruptive.
1. Start by noticing your current questions and make a list of your greatest hits.
You'll find them easy to discern if you notice when your energy drops, your motivation drains away, and your mood goes south. Almost assuredly, there is a not-so-helpful question lurking behind your mood change. Capture it.
My favorites: Why is this taking so long? and Why is this so hard? Just becoming aware of your current questions will give you so much more choice and freedom.
2. Read over the questions you've gathered.
Ask yourself, What choices are these questions steering me toward? Skip the self-judgment, and instead, be curious. For example, when I ask myself, What choices does the question 'Why is this so hard?' steer me toward? I see the choice to sometimes give up a dream because I'm frustrated that I can't make it happen sooner or with more ease. By seeing where your questions are steering you, you'll know whether you want to keep asking them.
3. To change your questions, try dropping "why" questions.
They tend to lead you into the past, into an endless loop of trying to "figure it out." This also focuses your mind on what's wrong versus what's possible. (Exceptions: "Why did the furnace break down?" or other practical matters.) Instead ask, What can I... or How might I...?
What can I do to prepare for this interview? versus Why do I always get nervous and put off preparing?
How might I eat more veggies? versus Why is it so hard to eat right?
4. Relish the power of asking instead of the drive to find "the" answer.
Wanting "the" answer comes from your reptile brain’s desire to be safe. You have to mindfully cultivate uncertainty by telling yourself, It's good to not know. Something richer and deeper will come as I stay open and curious. Stop confusing deciding with wisdom.
5. Dive deeper and ask from every angle.
Here are questions from a conversation with a couple wanting to retire but not having enough savings: