Health

Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: Part 1 How to ask more helpful questions and get more helpful answers

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!

Sensible Indulgence How to experience more pleasure by indulging with a rational mind instead of guilty emotions

My favourite discovery this month is the concept sensible indulgence. The idea basically consists of these three pillars: 

  1. We should allow ourselves to indulge from time to time and not feel the slightest guilt about it
  2. When we indulge, it’s better to experience pleasure by truly savouring the activity rather than doing more of it
  3. Always keep things at an emotional arm’s length and let your rational mind decide how much is enough

I love the concept of sensible indulgence so much because these three pillars have helped me deal with many areas in my life that used to cause me unnecessary pain. Either because I was a strict disciplinarian, or because I let my emotions steer me. 

For example, I am an avid walker and I strive to walk at least 10,000 steps every day. I decided on this daily goal because 10,000 steps is not super-hard to achieve, it’s a great way to stay healthy, and I need breaks during my work day anyway so I might as well do walking breaks. 

However, one evening at 21:00 I was “only” up at 7,000 steps. But even though I was tired and didn’t want to go out, I forced myself outside just to get these last 3,000 steps. 

It’s good to be disciplined. But is one day with 3,000 steps below my goal really going to cause my health to deteriorate? Is the world going end because I broke my streak? I was being to emotional about sticking to my regiment that it just made me feel worse. Those 3,000 steps at 21:00 were not worth it!

As another health example, I try to keep as healthy a diet as possible. This, of course, means that I should avoid sugary treats as much as possible, right? Well, keeping sugar down is definitely a good thing, but I was overdoing it. I would never buy ice cream, biscuits, and anything like it at all. And whenever someone offered me something sugary, I would reluctantly go for the smallest piece and feel guilty about how I was ruining my body by eating it.

Again, it’s good to be disciplined. But was one sugary treat a week really going to cause my blood glucose to go bonkers? Considering how little sugar I was eating I could easily consume more and still have a perfectly healthy diet. 

 

I now happily accept sugary treats with no guilt. Instead of being an emotional disciplinarian, I let my rational mind judge what is proper. For instance, because there is so much hidden sugar in our modern food items, I do read the nutrition labels to make sure I don’t accidentally eat unhealthy amounts of sugar without being aware of it. That, to me, is just being sensible about it. 

Also when I eat something sugary, I always start with what most people would consider only a half-portion. This goes back to the second pillar of sensible indulgence – that it’s better to experience pleasure by truly savouring the activity rather than doing more of it. I know that I’m going to finish the full portion just as quickly as the half portion, so I will just be consuming extra sugar without getting any pleasure from it. By starting out with a half-portion, I might either discover that 1) I am happy with just that piece and the full portion would have been too much, or 2) that I do want a second piece, and now I get to savour the treat for twice as long as if I had started with a full portion! 

As a third example, I used to push myself so hard when I exercised that I would dread every gym session. But if you are not doing something that brings you pleasure or meaning to your life, then what’s the point?

Sensible indulgence helped me realize that it’s ok to take it easier when I exercise. Any gym rat PT that proudly bellows: “It’s not a proper workout unless you end up flailing on the floor!” is frankly the biggest moron in fitness history. I am not “wimpy” because I prefer lighter workouts that leave me feeling great afterward. I am embracing what exercise is supposed to be – pleasurable. 

I hope these personal stories might help you bring more pleasure to your own life. Let’s indulge without making such a big fuss about it. Let’s really savour the small things instead of expanding our appetites. And let’s keep things at an emotional arm’s length and let our rational minds decide what is enough. 

In short, let’s bring some more sensible indulgence into our lives!