Originally posted on Silver Linings:
“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” – Naguib Mahfouz (Nobel Prize Winner)
My parents used to call me their “question box.” I would drive them crazy, asking questions about everything. If they said the sky was blue, I’d ask “Why?” If they said Grandpa was sick, I’d ask “How come?” If they said I couldn’t do something, I’d ask, “Why not?”
Children are naturally curious. They don’t take anything for granted. They want to know why things are the way they are, and challenge the adults around them to wonder why, too. And because of their curiosity and critical thinking, they come up with creative ideas most adults wouldn’t even consider.
But somewhere along the way, we are told not to ask so many questions. To “mind our own business,” “not be so nosey” and “accept things the way they are.” And yet, asking questions is one of the best ways to learn about the world and ourselves, and to avoid becoming closed off to new ideas.
So if you’ve been stuck in a rut or are having a challenging time, now is a great time to start asking questions again…new and better questions that challenge your previous assumptions and beliefs, and open doors to new perspectives and possibilities.
What questions are you currently asking?
It is important to become aware of the questions you are silently asking yourself. After all, your focus is determined by the questions you ask. Questions like “Why me?” and “Why now?” are disempowering and cast you in the role of victim. They keep you feeling like change is outside of your control, and prevent you from seeing what you can do to improve your situation.
The “magic” in asking empowering questions is that your mind immediately starts looking for solutions, and keeps doing so in the background even when you’re not aware of it. Then suddenly, you get an insight when you’re out jogging. Or you notice a story on Facebook. Or you have a dream that gives you a creative solution.
The five magic questions
Here are five empowering questions to help you change your perspective and take control of your life:
What is the gift in this challenge?
Even the most difficult circumstances have a positive side. For example, when my first husband died from liver cancer, I was devastated. But through his passing, I developed some wonderful, deep friendships, and improved my relationship with my mother.
No matter what you’re going through, the first step to feeling better is to see what you can learn, how you can I grow, or what new people/things/benefits have entered your life as a result.
A slightly different version of this question is: “How can I turn this situation into something that benefits me and/or others?”
For example, I decided to use the lessons I learned from my first husband’s passing (and my separation from my second husband) to uplift other single women. How can you turn this situation into a blessing or learning opportunity?
2. What do I want instead?
It is easy to get stuck focusing on what we don’t want. But that just brings more of what we don’t want. So instead, try shifting your perspective to what you want instead. What has this situation taught you about what you really want for yourself? It can help to journal about what you really want, in as much detail as possible.
3. Who can I ask for help?
Now that you’ve identified what you want instead, think about who could possibly help you turn things around. It may be a friend, family member, or paid advisor. It could even be the person with whom you’re having the problem…you may need to talk to them about how you feel, once you are calm. (See 3 steps to express yourself without conflict for tips on this.)
4. What action can I take today to make things better?
Next, ask yourself what you can do, right now, to help yourself feel better. No matter what is happening and who is involved, your feelings belong to you. You alone control your actions/reactions. And you are in the best position to know what will make you feel better. Be assertive and do something for yourself…either an act of self-nurturing, or a step towards the goal you identified in question #2.
5. What is great about my life already?
This is a very powerful question, because it stops you from catastrophizing and gets you to focus on what is already working well in your life. And since like attracts like, the more you focus on what’s working, the better things will go for you. Plus feeling gratitude is a powerful antidote to feeling upset!
Waiting for solutions to appear
After asking one or more of these magic questions, it’s important to relax and trust solutions will appear. The more you chase after an answer, the more it will elude you. Instead, let the question go, ask the Universe to help you, and trust that it will.
In the coming days and weeks, keep a spirit of open awareness. Make space in your life to be quiet/still, meditate, or go for a walk in nature. Notice your recurring thoughts and dreams. Pay attention to what seem like repeat “messages” related to your question. Notice when you get an idea that makes you smile or feel more peaceful. Then take action as soon as you feel inspired.
I believe the quality of our life truly is determined by the quality of our questions, and what we focus on as a result. So if you want to improve your life dramatically, change the questions you ask…and let the magic begin!