The Most Important Thing to Know About Questions: ‘Why’ You’re Digging a Hole

struggling to the topWhen you’re in a hole, stop digging!

Questions, questions, questions. There isn’t a day that goes by that someone, somewhere, isn’t asking the question, “Why?” It seems we have a persistent and insatiable desire to understand the cause of things.

And it’s led me to believe there must have been a genetic advantage for our ancestors to ask that question. Why else would we have developed such a fondness for asking it?

An inquiry into why we saw an effect in the world helped us understand its yet unknown mysteries and led to an increased chance for survival. For instance, looking for the cause of dewdrops led to our ability to create water from condensation.

Asking why was the right question, in the right context, yielding the right result. It allowed us to create more of the effect we wanted to see—water.

But, there’s one thing you need to know about questions. They’re going to take you in different directions, depending on the context.

As it turns out, being genetically predisposed to ask why might not always be good for you. It’s a question that can get you into trouble when used in the context of personal improvement—because asking why leads you backwards towards cause, never forward toward change.

Asking why you’re having a problem (the effect or result) is looking for cause. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a shovel question. You’re looking for reasons and causes.

Why does this always happen to me?

Why do I feel this way?

Why s/he like that?

Why am I so (fill in the blank)?

Why can’t it be (fill in the blank)?

You’re digging into the problem, trying to understand and unlock it’s mysteries. The more you ask why, the more information you’ll gather up. And it’s a seductive question, because it feels fruitful. You’re producing a result. But is it the result you’re looking for?

At the end of all your whys, you may find the cause—but more often than not, you’ll only end up with a hole you can’t fill in. What’s your priority, to understand the problem … or solve the problem? Unless you’re looking to recreate the result (more problem), put down the shovel and stop asking why.

Because the result you’re really looking for is to create or develop something other than the problem.  And for that, you need more useful questions. Remember—right questions, right context, right result.

What’s missing (what belief about myself or the world, what perspective, attitude, capability, talent or skill) that if I had it—right now—this couldn’t possibly be a problem for me?

What do I want to have happen, and what steps do I need to take toward it?

Who do I know (either living or dead) who can act as a model for me—someone that has already solved this in their own life? How did they solve it?

Taking the information you gather from these powerful questions will find you well on your way toward creating something other than the problem.

And if you, like so many others, have been digging a hole? That hole you’ve been digging will soon be filled in with enough solution to pour the foundation for a whole new something else.




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