In today’s article we are going to discuss why upgrading the quality of your questions can be so useful in your relationships and your life.
Statements are good. They tell you where you are. In your thinking, in your mood, or your actual physical location.
I am happy, I am frustrated, I don’t like this. This doesn’t feel good. This is awesome. This is how I am feeling right now. All of these statements give us valuable information.
Good to know.
Questions, however can tell us where we are going if we let them. Questions can move us forward or hold us back.
Whenever you find something in your life or your relationships that isn’t working, it’s time to look at the questions you are asking and start upgrading the quality of your questions.
Why is life so hard?
Why does this keep happening to me?
These are NOT USEFUL QUESTIONS.
Although Why? Can be a super powerful question when used at the right time and can help us gain clarity and understanding, it can also hold us back, if we never take a moment to step back and think about what we want moving forward.
Usually moving forward requires a why?
Why does this excite me?
Why am I in this <relationship, job, situation, etc.>?
However, once we have our WHY, the very best thing we can do is move on to HOW?
How can I make this better? (for myself, for my partner, for my team, for my family)
How can I make this easier?
How can get I get from where I am right now to what I have been dreaming of?
All of these HOW questions are like power rocket boosters, propelling us forward instead of holding us in the place we currently are.
Which is why I love the power of a great question.
I would like to share some of my favorite questions with you today. These are like keys that unlock the doors to whatever is missing in your life, to whatever you want to improve or want more (or less of).
The way to use a question is a lot like the way to choose a dress.
Try it on, see how it feels, keep trying different ones until you find one that fits and then wear it whenever you need to feel fabulous.
Here we go….
- What would <the energy I want> do now? This is a fill in the blank-er. So it could be:
What would courage do now?
What would confidence do now?
What would compassion do now?
What would love do now?
Whatever energy you want to bring in to the situation, pause for a moment and ask yourself, what would it do right now? Then listen for the answer. And decide your next move accordingly.
2. What would my highest and best self do in this situation?
Sometimes we have those moments when we really don’t want to be the bigger person. We want to wallow and judge and have a pity party. That’s okay. There is a place for that.
But once you have wallowed enough, there will come a time when it’s time to take action and at that moment, you are going to want to take the highest and best action possible.
That is the moment when you pull this puppy out and walk it. All over the situation at hand. Then look at the smooshy-eyed wisdom of your inner self and do what that dog says to do.
3. How? We covered my deep love for “how?” above, but seriously, if you are every stuck in the “why?” zone…make a U-turn, turn left and start asking how instead.
I was once upset because someone in a different department got promoted. Not that they didn’t deserve it but I knew that I could go very south very fast asking Why? Why her and not me? Why hasn’t this happened for me yet? Etc.
After my little pity party, (see #2), I decided to ask myself, “how?” “How could this happen for me?”
I made an appointment with my boss and asked, “What milestones do I need to reach to make a promotion possible?”
In other words, instead of Why?, which would have lead me nowhere, I asked about what I could do, what actions I could take, or projects I could work on, that could lead to a promotion.
And it felt so good, because, I took positive action on my own behalf.
Next is a classic that I learned in my life coaching training and has been so useful for so many situations.
It was literally worth the whole training for me, just to gain a deep understanding of the following question. Ready?
4. What am I making this mean?
The way this works is something happens. I experience it. I attach a meaning to it. I react not to what just happened, no, that would be too easy. I react to the meaning I attached to it instead. But that meaning came from my head. Not necessarily from actual reality. So my reaction, not always the most wise and best (again, see #2).
Let me give you a real life example:
When I got engaged, I gave my hubby an engagement ring. Yes we are rebels and we like to dance to the beat of our own conga line. So I gave him a ring. It’s a really nice silver ring. I love that ring. It means so much to me.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks before the wedding. My lovely fiancé informs me that he is going to
— prepare to Gasp! —
Throw away the ring.
In the garbage.
(Or maybe Goodwill. We didn’t get too far in the conversation before I started making all kinds of meanings so I will never know what he had planned.)
What happened – fiancé informed me of an action he was going to take.
Meaning I attached to it – He doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter to him. It was meaningless to him. Does that mean our love is meaningless? Does he really care? OH MY GOD. Queue ugly cry.
We had a two hour conversation about this issue. True story. If you ever meet the hubster, he will confirm this.
Because I didn’t understand and could not process any other meaning other than the one I was making.
Are you following me?
What am I making this mean?
This question can seriously improve every relationship you have right now. Including the one with yourself.
So, back to my story.
There we are talking. Well mostly it was something like “ugly cry, sob, future-hubby looking at me with puppy dog eyes trying to understand what was going through my mind and trying to get a word in edge-wise to explain, then more ugly cry, sob, and some very melodramatic version of “buuuutt you areeee throwing the ring aaaaaawaaaaayyyyyy….”
The hubster-to-be however, is persistent. He doesn’t leave the room, or the conversation. He keeps going. Until there is a crack in the “ugly-cry-wall” and then he says something to the effect of, “when we get married, my wedding ring will be the most important thing I wear. I will wear it every day. I won’t need this ring anymore.”
That was literally all it meant. He was getting a different ring. He didn’t need the other ring anymore. His wedding ring was much more important to him. (Side note- he wears it every day, never takes it off. I make that mean all kinds of awesome. But I digress.)
So to recap, my future-hubby was and is an Engineer. He is Mr. Practical. If something is useful, he uses it. If something has ended its life cycle, he recycles it or gets rid of it. There is no deep, dark, emotional reason for this, it’s how he does just about everything.
So what I was making his decision to get rid of his engagement ring mean had nothing to do with actual reality.
And the story in my head was really not helpful, inspiring, useful or good.
The story I was making up was messing with my brain and causing me a lot of pain.
The next time you are in any kind of emotional pain, I challenge you to pause and ask yourself, “What am I making this mean?” and really listen to your answer. And really give the situation and the person involved an opportunity to show you if what you are thinking and what is happening actually match.
Sometimes the meaning you are making is correct. Sometimes it’s completely colored by your previous experiences and judgments and influenced by those experiences in a way that isn’t useful.
Regardless, having clarity about what you are making something mean will help you decide where to go from here, which brings me to the last power question for today…
5. What do I want instead?
So many of us don’t like what we have, and complain about it, waffle on and on about it and wallow as if wallowing was an Olympic sport. I have been there. I have done that. I still go there occasionally. But it’s not fun and so I don’t stay there long.
It is important to know where we are, absolutely. In fact, according to my compass-loving hubby, we need that “point of origin” so we can plot the course for where we are going.
We literally cannot determine a direction to travel in until we pinpoint where we are – in our relationship, our career, our life, or our road trips.
However, the only way to get to our final destination is to pick one.
What do I want instead?
The more precisely we can answer that question the faster we can get there.
It’s the difference between saying ack! It’s too cold right now, I want to go west. West where? California. Okay good. Now we have a general direction. Where in California? San Jose. Until we decide on San Jose, we are just going to be going in circles every which way.
It works the same way in business, relationships, everything.
Let’s take a relationship example –
We don’t spend enough time together. <- where we are
Oh, I want to connect more. <- What does that even mean?
We should go on dates. <- more precise, better but vague, when? Where?
Honey, I got a sitter, and I bought us tickets to the movies on Saturday night. ß Boom!
What I want instead is more connection. How I get it is by being precise in the type of connection I want – fun time together, to laugh and share a new experience.
Just to recap, since this post seemed to have started back in 1994, here are the 5 power questions you can use whenever you need a perspective shift:
- What would <the energy I want> do now?
- What would my highest and best self do in this situation?
- How? (and every variation of How, especially instead of Why)
- What am I making this mean?
- What do I want instead?
There you have it, some of my super-not-so-secret-coaching-power-tools that I turn to over and over again whenever I need a little power boost.
Do you have a power question you love? Please share it in the comments or tweet it to me at @modernmarried.
Interested in going deeper? Moving forward in your life faster? If the ideas in this post resonated deeply for you, and there is an area in your life where you feel stuck right now, one of my coaching programs might be a good fit. Please visit my Coaching page to learn more about how we can work together to achieve your goals.