“If you do not ask the right questions, you do not get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer.” -Edward Hodnett
In life, we’re guaranteed questions, but not guaranteed answers. No problem, though. What if I told you that the answers to many of life’s questions can be found within the questions themselves? Asking powerful questions can help us understand the subconscious patterns of the mind that created the question, shedding light on the assumptions, stories and beliefs we hold. Enough insight can be found through analyzing these things that in so doing, the question can often be answered in a deep, personal and satisfying way.
This process, although simple, isn’t necessarily easy. The tricky part is to make sure you’re asking the right questions. According to Ursula LeGuin,
“There are no right answers to wrong questions.”
How do you know if you’re asking the right questions? The assumptions within the question have to ring true for you. I’ll show you how to break a question down into its assumptions in a minute. If you find yourself asking “wrong” questions, these can actually be insightful as well, if you really think about how and why you’ve asked them.
A “wrong” question I sometimes ask is, “Why are my kids being so annoying today?” Analyzing this reveals far more about myself than it does about my children. If I direct the question away from them and toward myself, it morphs into, “Why am I so annoyed with my kids today?” That’s a little better, but still not a strong question. When I try to focus my attention on the positive rather than the negative, the question becomes, “What is keeping me from treating my family with patience and love today?” And to make it really self-empowering, “How can I take the lead in creating an atmosphere of patience and love in my home?” That question is so much more powerful than the first one in creating change because I’m taking responsibility for my own role in the environment of the home, rather than passively focusing on the negative behavior of others.
Once you have asked a powerful, “right” question, you’re very close to arriving at the answer. Art critic John Ruskin said,
“To be able to ask a question clearly is two-thirds of the way to getting it answered.”
Are you ready for the tool? Get a paper and pencil and try this exercise. (Or if you’re like me, start typing on your computer.) No really, take action and do this right now. It’s powerful.
Start by asking yourself, What is the greatest source of dissatisfaction in your life right now? Write down the answer. Don’t just think about it!
Now consider this: If you could ask God just ONE question about this problem — and you were guaranteed to get an answer — what would that question be? Write the question down.
After you’ve done that, use these steps: (Credit for this tool goes to Stephen Palmer.)
- Identify the assumptions embedded within the question.
- Then, analyze the assumptions and ask of each of them, “Is this true?” Then, “If not, what is true? What am I missing?”
If you’ve analyzed your question rigorously enough, you should have been able to find several answers that you can use to create the necessary changes toward living a more satisfying life!
If you’re not quite sure what I mean by analyzing your assumptions, see the following example:
Greatest source of dissatisfaction: My marriage. Question: Why is my marriage such a struggle, and what can I do to make it better?
These are some assumptions embedded within this question, and an analysis of each:
- My marriage is a struggle. (True, from my perspective)
- There is a reason that it is a struggle. (True)
- It should not be such a struggle/struggling is bad. (False—struggle is necessary for my growth. But there are more and less effective ways to struggle.)
- It can get better. (True—hold on to faith and hope. There’s also a lot more that’s already going well that I’ve failed to notice or appreciate.)
- I can do something or several things to improve my marriage. (True—There’s more I could be doing that I’m avoiding or putting off.)
- It is up to me, not my spouse, to make it better. (Mostly true. I can always improve, but my spouse plays a role too and can make his own choices. I need to be patient and supportive while he works some issues out for himself. Something I can always do is to pray for him.)
Solution: Be patient, supportive, open and hopeful. Find peace in the knowledge that this experience will help me grow. Learn about and experiment with some new strategies and skills. Pray for my spouse’s hurts to be healed and for our trust in each other to be mended. Be grateful for the good things about our relationship.
See how that worked? These answers were actually embedded within the assumptions of the question itself. This 5-minute exercise ended up providing some valuable and helpful insights and have led to further soul-searching questions filled with more enlightening truths!
I hope that this tool can assist you in creating breakthroughs of your own!