Change Your Questions – Change Your Life

A few years ago I read a little book called Change Your Questions Change your Life by Wendy Watson Nelson – and it literally changed my life. In fact much of this article I will be taking either from her book or articles she has written about questions.

12 Reasons to Ask Questions

We ask questions for many reasons such as to:

  • Gather information
  • Build and maintain relationships
  • Learn, teach, and reflect
  • Think clearly, critically, and strategically
  • Challenge assumptions
  • Listen to understand, verify, and clarify
  • Solve problems and make decisions
  • Negotiate and resolve conflicts
  • Set and accomplish goals
  • Take charge and focus attention
  • Create and innovate – open new possibilities
  • Catalyze productive and accountable conversation and action

I have come to learn to love questions! Well actually, I’ve always loved questions – asked to others but what I have come to learn to love is the power of a good questions to myself. I love their ability to help me focus, to see things I’ve never seen before. They have helped me think things I’ve never considered and to have the courage to do things I didn’t believe I could do. Questions have changed my life for the better.

Questions are powerful tools and like all tools can be used to create or destroy.  Consider for example the questions “Why am I so….?” How do we normally answer that question? Does good typically come from that question or is the only thing that makes that question feel good is a a little help from Doctors Ben & Jerry?

This question is one I will refer to as a troublemaking question. Can you see how it can destroy your self esteem? And what a waste of an amazing life — all because of one question. Can you think of any other troublemaking questions that you may ask yourself?  How about “Who do you think you’re kidding? That one pops up when I think bigger than I have before.

Well it’s time to consider some alternative questions that can actually free your mind and heart and get you moving forward with your life. Focus on that same situation that you would and instead of asking the troublemaking question ask yourself instead, How is this situation a problem for me? Answers to these questions help uncover the real problem. Go ahead – apply them to your situation. Can you feel some of your irritation, sadness, and frustration falling away? Same situation. Different questions. Different results.

The question above is a perfect example of a action creating question. A question, where without tying our own self worth to the answer,  can be used to analyze and figure out the situation and create actionable results.

It’s interesting – have you ever seemed to be stuck in Groundhogs Day – I’m referring to the movie with Bill Murray? I’ve had it happen to me several times in my life where the situation has changed as well as the characters. In fact most times I’m the only original recurring cast member in this live drama.

After years of having to go through very similar scenarios over and over again I learned a new question – “What can I do to learn from this difficult experience?” It was amazing – the minute I started to ask that question instead of taking on the victim roll – AGAIN – everything changed for me. I learned what I needed to learn (much like Bill Murray) and the drama ended.

Three Kinds of Questions

Wendy Watson Nelson taught that “Now and then, we realize we’ve become disconnected from life – from the people and activities that are important to us – and we may not know why. Questions can be a great way to reconnect and move forward with these relationships. Specifically, there are three kinds of questions that can increase our ability to see things previously unseen. These kinds of questions can change our conversations with others, dramatically change our understanding of others, and even change their understanding of themselves. These questions can gather information and introduce information simultaneously. That’s what makes them so effective.” So let’s talk a little about what these questions are and how they can change your life.

1. Difference Questions

Difference questions are based upon the idea that difference is information. For example, we know that something is cold because something else is hot. These kinds of questions explore differences between people, relationships, and situations. They use words such as “most,” “least,” “best,” or “worst.” Let’s consider an example.

Recently my father was hospitalized in fairly critical condition for a week. We thought he was going to die. While I was spending my days and some nights in the hospital I had a friend ask me a great question “Wendy, are you more concerned about your mom or for your dad?” It actually caused me to pull back and think of the situation from a completely different light – it helped me become more compassionate to both my parents at a very critical time and to consider what the anxiety I was having actually meant.

2. Behavioral Effect Questions

Just as the name suggests, behavioral effect questions explore the effect of one’s behavior on thoughts and feelings and other behaviors. For example when I was a teenager I practically never arrived home before curfew. There was no such thing as cell phones and typically we were nowhere near a phone.

I remember one morning when my dad woke me early, which was very typical. We always met as a family before school. So I shuffled upstairs and laid on the couch not realizing that no one else was there. My dad came in and sat on the side of the couch. Becoming emotional he asked me, “How do you think I feel when you don’t arrive home at night on time?” He then went on to explain his worry and concern and love for me. It literally changed my entire view of my father and curfew.

A behavioral effect question can also be posed to explore the effect of someone’s behavior on his or her own thoughts, feelings, and actions. For example, here are some behavioral effect questions that might be asked of a person who is stuck in a vicious cycle of irresponsible eating and weight gain: “When you find yourself eating in a manner that guarantees you will gain weight, just after you have a made a pledge to eat healthily, what do you tell yourself? How do you feel? What do you do then?”

3. What If Questions

The “what if” question invites exploration of possibilities, alternative actions, or meanings. It invites us to think of things that haven’t happened yet, but could.

For example. My husband retired from school teaching 3 years ago a great what if question for someone like me could be: “If your husband were to find a job tomorrow, is there anything about the situation that would concern you?” I’ve actually had this very situation happen to me and because I’ve become used to asking myself questions – and at that time this actual question – when a friend offered him a job I already knew what I wanted.

“What if “questions are so helpful in allowing you to see another side of the same situation. To consider an alternative to what you think you want. Don’t let the what ifs inspire fear – let them enlighten you so that you know how to deal with a potential situation.

Meaningful questions are powerful and life changing. More than anything asking the right questions and taking the time to consider the answers changes things —– changes you.