Asking a new question

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.

9 thoughts on “Asking a new question

    • I’m intrigued. Can you say more?

      I tend to think of HOW as a process question that I use after I’ve chosen an option to pursue to figure out the best way to get there. I think of WHY and WHAT IF as cause and effect type questions that help me choose which option to pursue. So I tend to ask WHAT IF first to pick an option, then I ask HOW to figure out how to make that option happen. It sounds like you understand this differently. Can you say more about using HOW in place of WHY? And what you prefer about that to WHAT IF? I’m curious!

  1. I think this is a wonderful thing to do for yourself! I totally agree that focusing on making the future better is so much healthier than wondering why the past wasn’t so great. I am a firm believer in the power of changing self! You absolutely can change the way you think about other people, the way you view and respond to their words and actions! In my opinion, if you work really hard to consider them with understanding and compassion, you will be able to change the dynamic between you and that other person. Maybe the hurtful things that come from them won’t hurt so much, because you will see those hurtful things as a symptom of who that person is, and not as any kind of real reflection on you. Or maybe they won’t bother you any more because you grow into a stronger person.

    It really worked for me, when I practiced not taking someone’s actions and words personally (it was really, really hard to do, though), and re-focused on why I thought she was acting that way (her own insecurities and fears). After a while, the things she did didn’t bother me anymore, and instead of getting angry or defensive, I automatically started looking for ways to help her through her anxiety, etc.. Once I started doing that, she calmed down and stopped taking her emotions out on me. And if she does, and I do not respond (with more negative energy to feed her negative), then she calms down and apologizes. Now she even asks me for help, “Can you come over before everyone else gets here? It will help me be more calm.” I never talked to her about this, but our relationship dramatically improved when I stopped focusing on my hurt feelings and started focusing on compassion for her. It’s all really interesting, I think.

    • Oh wow! That’s a wonderful story, and I’m so delighted to hear that your change in perspective and focus in the relationship made such a powerful difference. I appreciate you sharing your story; its such an encouragement to me that I’m heading in the right direction with this. Thanks so much!

  2. Pingback: the Infinite Monkey speaks: the stories I tell myself | steadily skipping stones

    • Thanks, Vicki, for the comment and the reblog! I’m finding this approach of asking new questions to be very powerful … when I remember to do it. Old patterns die hard. I’m glad you are finding benefit in this approach too. Blessings to you!

  3. Reblogged this on Vicki Manuel and commented:
    Hi everyone,
    I stumbled across this blog today. It is perfect! This is exactly what I have been going through and would like others to do! I just did a presentation using the stages of a caterpillar. The caterpillar is an amazing creature but it still has the ability to really shine grow wings and fly!
    I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.
    Thank you for reading,

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