We have all those moments when our thoughts spiral into negativity. Something bad happens to us, and our minds start raging with questions such as:
- “Why won’t they just listen to me?”
- “What’s wrong with me?”
- “Who does he think he is?”
But just as the wrong questions can lead us down into a dark hole, the right questions can also lift us out and up towards brighter skies. Change your questions, and your mood and the possibilities you see will change with them.
But how do we ask better questions? I have found three techniques that have helped me switch from a judger to an optimist mindset, which I will share with you here:
1. Replace Why? with What/How?
We often start our questions with “Why…?”. But I believe we should be very careful with this word, because leading a question with “Why?” will often get you to:
- Look back to the past instead of looking forward to the future
- Focus on what’s wrong instead of what you can do about it
In fact, if you start listing negative questions you will find that most of them start with this seemingly innocent word “Why?”:
- Why does my son/wife/friend have to be so difficult?
- Why do these things always happen to me?
- Why can’t I do anything right?
- Why bother?
In contrast, questions that start with “What?” or “How?” will often lead you to look forward to the future and to focus on solutions:
- What does my mother/husband/friend need from me?
- How can I turn this situation around?
- What’s possible?
- How is this setback actually positive?
Of course, there are many positive questions that start with “Why?”. The key is to be aware that Why-questions have a strong tendency to lead you to the past and to problems. By being aware of this fact, you can easier catch yourself when you slip into judger mode, and instead, switch to more positive questions by leading with “What?” and “How?”.
2. Ask questions that use the words: Can, Right, Need
If your question includes any of the words: “can”, “right”, or “need”, you are almost guaranteed to arrive at productive answers. Let’s look at a few examples:
- What can I do about it?
- How else can I think about this?
- Why am I the right person for this job?
- What must be true for this decision to turn out right?
- What do I need?
- What does the other person need from me?
“Can” makes you focus on what is in your power to change.
“Right” nudges you into a positive frame of mind.
“Need” helps you be more empathic and pinpoint any missing elements.
Notice that one of these questions – “Why am I the right person for this job?” – started with “Why?”. That is the power of these three words. Including “can”, “right”, or “need” can transform your question from a negative anchor into a productive springboard.
3. Ask “Who…?” and follow with “help”
Our network of friends, family, and acquaintances is the most valuable resource we have. And giving and receiving help is what makes this network stronger. That is why I believe we should ask more questions that start with “Who?”, and that follow with the word: “help”. For example:
- Who can help me with this?
- Who needs my help?
- Whom can I help today?
The next time you catch yourself spiraling into the negativity loop, you can use these three techniques as tools to switch your mood. These three practices have helped me ask more helpful questions in my own life, and I hope they can do the same for you!