I’ve been working hard lately at observing my thoughts and choosing to change the stories that I tell myself about my life and the things that happen to me. It’s making my entire experience of life radically different as I begin to see myself and the world around me with new—and much more positive—eyes.
As I’ve continued to observe my thoughts, however, I’ve begun to notice that I tend to default to asking “Why?” about the things that happen to me in life. I can spend many hours careful analyzing (and over-analyzing) why a situation turns out the way it did, why someone responded to me the way that they did, why I feel the way I do about something, why did what I did or said what I said in some situation. I do this about events, situations, feelings, or responses I don’t like—and about those that I do.
I think I need a new default question.
While I admit that understanding why something happened the way it did can sometimes help make better choices in the future to either avoid a negative outcome or increase the chances of getting a desired outcome, as soon as I ask the “why” question, I’m focusing on the past. It keeps my facing backwards for far too much of my time.
The focus on “why?” also leads quickly down the pathway to blame. Whether I’m blaming myself (my favorite target), someone else, culture at large or in a specific organization, government, religion, or even God, asking “why?” is a temptation to focus on finding someone or something to blame. And blame doesn’t leave much room for forward motion.
So I’m choosing a new default question.
I’m choosing to make my new default to look forward with a “What if?” question. What if I chose to respond differently the next time this happens? What if I chose to stop participating in that dynamic? What if I created a new pattern for the way that I respond to certain situations or certain people? What if the other person’s response to me doesn’t mean what I think it means? What if I told a different story about this? What if I repeated this action that brought this desirable response more often?
Not only do these kind of questions proactively look toward the future, they take responsibility for choosing to change the things that I have the power to change. Taking responsibility for myself, for my responses, for my actions is so much more powerful than getting stuck in the blame game. I am the only person that I have any control over, so optimizing my choices about what I do (and don’t do) matters.
Both questions ultimately look at cause and effect. Both consider at how choices affect outcomes. Both have the possibility of improving future choices. But asking “What if?” questions, with their future focus and their emphasis on personal responsibility, is already generating more positive benefits for me. It empowers me to focus on creating a better future through the choices I make today.
What if I did this all the time? Can you imagine how it could transform the way I live my life? I can’t wait to find out!
What are your default questions? Are they serving you?
A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.