“It’s not that they can’t see the solution. They can’t see the problem.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

I’m constantly astonished about the kind of breakthrough in thinking that asking the right questions can have. The process of thinking is often the process of asking and answering questions in your head. Especially when you do self-reflection, asking questions is the method to get clarity and to make personal progress.

What Are the Right Questions?

So the right questions are questions that help you to identify problems and create awareness that those problems exist in the first place. If you are unhappy with something you can ask two different kind of questions. The first is a lousy question like …

“Why does this always happen to me?”

… which will give you the answer why you are that kind of loser who will always get those problems. That’s not what you are really looking for. This kind of question will also be a drain to your emotions and give you the exact reason why it is in fact as bad as it is.

But you can ask more intelligent how questions that would help you to improve your situation, such as…

“How can I learn from this situation and use this new knowledge in my next try right away?”

Why and How Questions

“Why” questions tend to give you reasons and therefore help you to understand something better. As shown in the example above, it is important to ask good “Why” questions. For instance a better one than the one above would have been:

“Why didn’t it go as I wanted it to be? …”, followed up by a How question: “… And how can I do it right with my next try?”

I usually like the “How” questions because they directly lead you to an action- and solution-oriented thinking. They involve the idea of changing or doing something better. Many great questions start with “How can I…” which is the essence of an action-oriented question.

So the sequence for a perfect self-reflection is usually an intelligent “Why?” question followed by good “How?” questions. If you do this, it’s important to feel how you actually come to new insights. This whole process in itself is uplifting and emotional rewarding.

How to Ask the Right Question?
Finding The Critical Question

“What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.” ~ Jonas Salk

The process involves to narrow down the questions until you’ve found the most critical question. A critical question is the right question that exactly describes your problem and points your thinking into a solution-oriented direction.

Also, and this is where personal growth comes in, a critical question can take you right to the border of your comfort zone. Or in other words a critical question should stretch your thinking and your imagination in a way where you almost feel the answer is out of reach for you, almost. This is the guarantee that by finding the right answer to that question you will get new insights and a big push towards personal growth.

Sometimes it’s really hard to find that critical question, exactly because this question is so at the edge of your usual thinking. You can use this process to define new stretch goals that take you to completely new ideas and real breakthroughs. I had countless times when I was doing my self-reflection process, where I found real breakthroughs in my own personal development.

For instance, if I would struggle with my income, it may be helpful just to shift my limited thinking with the question “How can I earn a million dollars in the next 12 month?” It may not happen, but just by the mere act of allowing your brain to think about that and try to find answers, you may move into a completely new direction in your life.

Here is a little exercise to do:

Think about something that you are unhappy about right now!

Now try to find a “Why” question that would help you find the reasons for the situation.

Then the most important part: find a “How” question that helps you to improve the situation to where you ideally want it to be.

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  1. Comment by Samantha Odegbaro

    Samantha Odegbaro Reply September 26, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Thank you for taking the time & making the effort to write & publish this. The simplicity makes it useful.

  2. Comment by Myrko

    Myrko Reply September 26, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Thanks Samantha! That’s right, I always to to keep things as simple as possible. I believe this makes it more actionable and also more elegant in a way…

  3. Comment by Ianina

    Ianina Reply September 27, 2012 at 7:11 am

    How questions…it seems so simple and yet it is so difficult to answer them. Thanks for the post and as Samantha said, for taking the time to write it and share it.

  4. Comment by Myrko

    Myrko Reply September 27, 2012 at 7:40 am

    Ianina, is it that difficult to answer How questions? Hm, maybe especially at first. Maybe we need to give our brain some time so come up with good answers? Maybe it’s a more gradual process.

  5. Comment by Craig

    Craig Reply June 8, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    This is a topic that I have come across in the last year or so, from Noah St John’s Afformations system, to a series of posts on the advanced life skills blog.

    The idea of changing your perspective just by changing the questions you are asking is amazing. I’ve tried a couple of experiments where I have asked why? And the change in thinking, mood and results makes me want to do it even more.

    I think it’s not only what and how that works. Who, what and where can also focus your mind to look for answers to any situation or problem that might be bothering you.

  6. Comment by Myrko Thum

    Myrko Thum Reply June 8, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Good addition with the other 3 types of questions @Craig, thank you.

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