How to Think Better: questions

Our brains are wired to answer questions.

  • Where do you need to give yourself permission?
  • What will increase your chance of success?
  • If you knew you could not fail, what would do?
  • What strengths can you leverage?

See what I mean? You couldn’t help but start to formulate answers.

Our brains just go to work when a question is posed. It’s automatic. And this tendency can be one of your superpowers—if you use it right.

But here’s the thing: It matters what type of question you ask.

It’s kind of like that saying, Garbage in, Garbage out. If you ask a disempowering, defeatist question, you’re going to get a disempowered, defeatist answer.

So if you ask, Why can’t I ever do anything right? your brain is going to scan for all kinds of evidence to prove true the underlying premise of your question. In short order, you’ll have a laundry list of “proof” that you can’t, indeed, do anything right.

But what if you ask a different question? What if instead of that gloomy, pessimistic question you asked this optimistic, expansive one: What are all the things I can build on?

Again, your brain is going to go to work and come up with all kinds of ideas to answer the question.

For instance, let’s say you experience a major setback on a project at work. Disappointed—but knowing an empowered mindset makes a difference—you ask, What are all the things I can build on?

Your brain comes up with:

  • I learn quickly from my mistakes.
  • This setback is temporary, not permanent.
  • It wasn’t all a failure. The foundation of the project is strong.
  • I’m persistent, so this is a setback, not a full stop.
  • I still fully believe in this project and am 100% committed.

Feel the forward movement of those questions. Because that’s one of the big differences between an empowered versus disempowered question.

  • What are all the things I can build on? is about the future, momentum, and optimism.
  • Why can’t I ever do anything right? is about the past, stuckness, and pessimism.

Let’s try another scenario. One of my entrepreneur friends recently asked, Why is it so hard for me to get clients?

After a gentle reminder about the payoff of an empowering question, she quickly rephrased her query: How can I make it easy to get clients?

While the first question was certain to keep her stuck in a backward-focused pity party of hopelessness, the rephrased question immediately had her mental wheels turning—and coming up with a robust list of ideas for getting new clients.

Asking good questions matters —a lot. In fact, the very results you get in your life depend on asking quality questions.

Let’s start practicing today. Think about a situation in your life where you feel stumped, stalled, or stuck. What empowering, optimistic question can you ask so your brain can start working on your behalf?