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A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called May I Ask a Question?, which summarized my thoughts on what makes a great question, the benefits of such questions, and the types that can achieve each benefit. Here’s a quick re-cap:
|The most important qualities of a great question:
Some specific questions to get to know someone better:
I’ve added a few questions to the list above based on Life Changing Questions, a ‘game’ I had the chance to play recently.
Reviewing the previous post, I got thinking about the kinds of questions we ask ourselves, and the questions we often don’t ask ourselves when perhaps it might be helpful to do so.
Asking yourself a question is a quite different process from asking one of others. There is no onus or pressure to answer the question, so we might easily get distracted. We might not be motivated to put the effort into really thinking about it. It’s harder to be objective when there’s no critical ‘audience’ for our responses.
We can of course ask ourselves the questions in the ‘getting to know someone better’ list above. But what if we made a regular practice of asking ourselves questions every time we had the chance? What questions might help us know ourselves better, or help us become more self-aware? What questions might help us surface our blind spots, or help us bring more focus to things that are important to us, and not just urgent, or help us decide how to spend our spare time, our vacation time, or our disposable income?
Thinking about this can quickly get us into the murky area of free will (ie whether we have any). But let’s suppose we do, or believe we do. What questions might be most useful to ask ourselves as a regular practice?
My sense is that it depends on what you value, your worldview, what motivates you, how well you know yourself and a host of other issues that are different for each of us*. So I wouldn’t presume to produce such a list for others. But in my own case, limiting myself to five questions to contemplate, say, at the start or end of each day, or even more often than that, I might ask myself the following:
- How am I feeling right now? And what simple thing might make me feel better? This is about self-awareness, not self-judgement. And the ‘simple thing’ might be a special tea, a bath, making a list, a stretching exercise, or some nagging task that I could just get out of the way right now.
- If I had the last 24 hours to re-live, what might I choose to do differently? This is not about self-recrimination or blame, but about learning from experiences and mistakes.
- What do I really want? This is Denmark’s Katja Hunter’s “one question”, and I love its spaciousness.
- What if I really didn’t want [the answer to #3]? “Who would I be if that thing I’ve always desired was not desired any more?” Contrarian self-help author Mark Manson describes it as shifting your values or identity by ‘trying on’ a new one, and, if it ‘fits’, letting that value- or identity-shift drive changes in what you believe and do. This ties back to the classical self-examination question What does it mean to live a good life?
- Who am I, really? Yeah, I know. Don’t get me started.
To do any practice consistently, I have to give myself a prompt so I don’t forget it and can’t avoid it. Maybe I’ll put these questions on my bathroom mirror.
* Ironically, when I googled the title of this post, I was taken to the page for a book with this same title, whose first suggested question to ask oneself is “What do I know for sure?” The author, a minister, responded to her own question, saying essentially that there is a higher power and that everything happens for a reason, two things I don’t believe at all. Joseph Deitch in Fast Company last month suggested a good question to ask whenever you encounter someone who says something you don’t agree with, or believe, or think is correct or fair: “Why don’t I understand why they believe that?” Another recent article suggests, when feeling an overwhelming emotion, asking “Is this feeling useful?” Another suggests the more generic “Is this the best use of my time?” And of course there is the compassionate question that David Foster Wallace recommends in his This is Water speech, which is (as Carl Richards paraphrased it in a NYT column a couple of years ago) “What is the burden each of these people around me is carrying?”