Try Asking “What?” Not “Why?”

When you’re feeling boxed-in or stuck, it is often a good idea to start looking at things a bit differently and with more objectivity. A simple but often powerful way to make a positive change in your perspective is to start asking different questions. You may currently be asking questions like:

“Why is this happening to me?”
“Why is this happening now?”
“Why isn’t my plan working?”
“Why can’t I reach my goal?”
“Why am I feeling this way?”

“Why?” is one of the first questions we learn to ask as children. As a child I can remember watching movies with my family, who would inevitably become quite irritated with my barrage of “why” questions. Even today friends and family will frown at me for asking too many questions! We ask “Why” questions because we want to understand or reconcile a situation. But is the question being driven by a need to learn and grow or is it an emotional response? I sometimes refer to a “Why” question as the “Victim’s” question…“Why me?” This type of question may be good for reflection, but its focus is on the past or present. And we no longer have an opportunity to change the past or present.

Consider asking “What” rather than “Why.” In the coaching world, we refer to “What” questions as WAQs on the side of the head or Wisdom Access Questions. WAQs take you beyond information gathering, to concentrate on outcomes and solutions. With a goal in mind, you can then do the research necessary to make informed decisions that can propel you forward. And the future is where positive change and goals reside. Here are some examples of essential, compelling “What” questions:

“What needs to change?”
“What’s blocking my path?”
“What negative patterns am I repeating?” ex. Job Hopping, Toxic Relationships, Allowing Your Voice to be Stolen
“What do I need to embrace or demonstrate to prove to myself that I am ready for change?”
“What do I need to learn / accomplish?”

Think of a common scenario, for example a conflict with your boss. You might ask questions such as “Why doesn’t my boss like me,” “Why does my boss treat me this way” or even “Why is my boss such a jerk?” I’ll admit that these questions are good for venting. But the fundamental problem with these questions is that they have much more to do with the other person and their behavior than they have to do with you. You can’t spin your wheels trying to figure out the other person’s thoughts and motives. So try asking something like, “What can I do this week to improve my relationship with my boss?” A “What” question allows you to be proactive and to seek out a solution.

Next time you’re feeling stuck or need to view life a bit differently, try asking “What?” rather than “Why?” I also highly recommend “Now What?” and more great resources from life coach Laura Berman Fortgang.

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