Power of asking questions

 “An empowered life begins with serious personal questions about oneself. Those answers bare the seeds of success.” –Steve Maraboli,

We all are born with innate curiosity and a natural ability to question. As young children, we constantly evaluate as to what things mean, to understand everything intuitively and explore by asking questions. We learn to think and grow by seeking answers to make sense of everything. However, by the time we are adults, we stop asking questions. This is mainly because as grown-ups we tend to put more value on answers than asking questions. In reality, the questions we ask ourselves or others could very well be a powerful motivating force and equally demotivating that can not only influence our decisions and actions positively, but also negatively if they are not framed in the right manner.

Questions determine everything you do in life, from your abilities to your relationships to your personal or professional goals. Because of their very nature, questions naturally focus your mind on thinking strategies that help expand the possibilities and find solutions to the challenges that confront you. They set off a processional effect that can impact your thoughts in new perspectives. Either consciously or unconsciously we spend most of our time questioning ourselves regarding our decisions, ideas or actions when it comes to our daily goals or activities. Questioning our limitations to probe the validity of an assumption, analyse the logic of an argument or to explore the unknown keeps you unstuck in your personal or professional endeavours.

As the wise saying says, “Only the inquiring mind solves problems,” unless we ask the right questions, we will not get the right answers. And if asked or framed in the right way, they empower in overcoming the limitations that stand between you and your objectives and point you to right answers. So, if you want to change the quality of your life, you should ask quality questions to direct your focus, thoughts and emotions in positive ways .

Quality questions create quality life.

It is not the events that shape your life, but the way you interpret and evaluate your life experiences and this plays a vital part in who you become or who you are as a person. In other words, the way you evaluate, interpret and create meaning out of your life events determines the type of decisions you make and the actions you take. The evaluations we make are nothing but questions and in a way, these questions determine our thoughts. Studies have revealed that people are more likely to do a task if they pose it to themselves as a question rather than a command. When you word a task into a question, it turns into a challenge where your brain works on coming up with ideas that you are more likely to act upon. Just like how we access files in a computer with the proper commands, we also can access information from our brain through power of asking questions.

But quite often, we get habitual in subjecting ourselves to disempowering questions like in the form of accusations that emphasise our past failures or our insecurities about future. Questions like ‘What’s the use?’ ‘Why can’t I succeed?’ or ‘Why even try, since things never seem to work our way?’ or ‘Why me?’ can self-sabotage your efforts in accomplishing what you want to. In any given situation, you can either focus on what is empowering or disempowering and the answers you seek mostly depend on the type of questions you are subjecting yourself to.

You can only unleash your inner power by asking simple but yet empowering questions. Asking empowering questions brings you closer to answers or solutions and can change your beliefs about what’s possible. Empowering questions can help you find more positive meaning in any given situation. On the other hand, disempowering questions make you sink into the habit of blaming others, events, or circumstances and make you unproductive and un-resourceful.

The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.” Claude Levi-Strauss

Power of asking quality questions

Quality or self-empowering questions have a deep meaningful purpose that enable you to take benefit of the opportunities that are in front of you. They stretch you out of your limitations be it in your personal or professional life. Learning to ask empowering questions can pull you through tough times, conflicts, obstacles and can help you find your purpose and passion. When you are faced with any kind of problem, framing it into a question lets you organise your thoughts around the problem and come up with possible solutions or helps you to explore new opportunities. Also, when you ask quality questions to others, you are more likely to get responses that have valuable information which help you grow personally or professionally.

How empowering questions work?

⁃ Phrasing questions constructively can help shift perspective and influence how you view yourself, others, events and circumstances. A resourceful, optimistic and solution-focused question will expand your perspective on how to present yourself with alternatives or opportunities which you would have otherwise not considered.

⁃ Most of us have an unconscious habit of asking habitual questions that focus on unwanted objects, people, circumstances or events which make our minds dwell on the things they ask about. Such questions intrinsically influence our emotions negatively and put you in negative frame of mind leading us to stress, anxiety, worry, fear and anger. Whereas quality questions allow you to expand on the possibilities of positive state of mind that create curiosity, intrigue, enthusiasm, passion and on solutions.

⁃ By dwelling on certain questions, you tend to delete anything within the external environment that is not consistent with the answers you seek. When you focus on aggravating a problem, it is very much likely that you will be completely blinded to the solutions that are seemingly within your reach. You tend to delete everything that does not correspond to your habitual unhelpful questions. Insightful questions help you shift your focus from expanding the problem to finding its possible solution. Often asking as to why is this a problem? or using ‘What if’ or ‘how might’ changes what we consciously delete and enables to explore the solutions in new perspectives.

⁃ Unhelpful questions like ‘Why it is always me?’’Why can’t I make this work?’ ‘Why am I not seeing the results yet?’’Why does this always happen?’ deplete your emotional strength you need to move through obstacles and challenges. Instead, asking empowering questions like ‘How can I get better at what I do?’’What else can I be doing to improve myself?’ ‘How do I increase my opportunities?’ can help you in overcoming the obstacles and you no longer tend to focus on things that make you feel overwhelmed and overloaded.

⁃ Quality questions help you to find your passion and purpose. Self-questioning makes sure you are pursuing the opportunities that are best for you. In your goal-seeking, it is important to ask helpful questions to adopt to changing things around you. They encourage and direct you to acquire new skills and fresh approaches. Self-questioning helps in adopting to change and opens up opportunities or possibilities to inquire, learn and improve yourself.

Power questions you can ask yourself ?

Where you are in your life at this very moment is very much a direct reflection of the questions you habitually or unconsciously asked yourself over time. If you are not happy or contented with one or more areas of life, it is time to identify your habitual unconscious or unhelpful questions and ask different set of questions that not only empower you in your personal life but also improve your ability and potential to achieve your goals professionally. Here are some power questions you can ask yourself to improve your personal productivity.

Am I focusing on my passions?

If you are not passionate enough in what you do, you won’t be motivated to overcome the obstacles that puts you in the way of success. Even if you had started on something passionate, your passion can fade over time. So, it is important to check on your motivation. If you feel like your passion is waning, you need to change to sustain yourself emotionally to clear your mind.

Asking ‘What inspires me the most?’ ‘What am I best at?’ ‘What do I love and desire?’ ‘What activities allow me to be creative?’ ‘What is my definition of success?’ ‘What are my true passions?’ ‘What accomplishments am I proud of?’ ‘What drives me to be my best self?’ can help you in pursuing your passions for long-term.

Am I learning from my mistakes?

The answers we receive depend upon the questions we are willing to ask. We all come across some failures and make mistakes on our journey of self-growth and goal-striving as no body is perfect. However, it is important to learn from them so that you don’t repeat. When you face a setback or an obstacle, and if you value learning, you might be willing to answer your own questions of, ‘what can I learn from this situation?’ ‘How can I learn from this problem so that this never happens again?’’How can we improve this?’ ‘How can I use this situation constructively?’ In doing so, you will change your focus, your state and the results you’re getting.

Am I overcoming my limitations?

Our core beliefs have the affect in what we consider possible or impossible and also thus affect the questions we will even consider asking ourselves. Many of us would never have asked the question. ‘How can I turn this around?’ simply because of our limiting beliefs. Be careful not to ask limited questions, or you will receive limited answers. The only thing that limits your question is your belief about what’s possible. Our beliefs affect the questions we will even consider to ask ourselves. Ask questions that ‘What are my limiting patterns? Where will my limiting patterns lead me in long run? How will this change my life if I don’t come out of my comfort zone? Such questions can give you leverage to push yourself beyond your limitations, help you set new goals and aid in coming out of your comfort zone.

How can I use this situation ?

Remember that it’s not only the questions you ask. but the questions you fail to ask, that shape your life. Sometimes, when you face difficult circumstances or when you have to take a critical decision, you have to ask yourself ‘what’s great about this’ and ‘How can I use this?’ This not only opens up new perspectives but also gives you access to resources and strategies you might not otherwise realise you have available. Practice asking some downside questions to make you better prepared to handle worst-case scenarios like ‘what if it doesn’t work?’ or what must I do to handle the negative outcome? Develop new routines and processes that allow you to handle such difficult scenarios.

Am I focusing on my priorities?

As human beings, consciously, we are limited in the number of things we can focus on simultaneously. Whereas unconsciously our mind is used to do all sort of things. Prioritising on what to pay attention to and what not to pay attention helps in focusing on important things that you have committed yourself to in your personal and professional life. Ask yourself self-empowering questions like, ‘What are my priorities?’ ‘How do I go about prioritising?’ ‘What are the important areas that i need to focus on right now?’ ‘What am I really committed to?’

Am I self-sabotaging?

The specific words we select and the very order of the words we use in our questions (presuppositions)can cause us to suppose or assume beforehand or take for granted in advance and not even consider certain things. Presuppositions makes you accept things that may or may not be true. For instance, if you ask yourself “why do I always sabotage myself?” after something ends disappointingly – you set yourself up for more of the same in future. Disempowering questions tend to wrap you in cycle of excuses, blame and problems. Questions like ‘How can I stop self-sabotaging?’ ‘How can I make or do this better?’ ‘What can I do in order not to self-sabotaging myself?’ can help you overcoming some of your self-fulfilling or disempowering presuppositions. Do not accept others’ or your own disempowering presuppositions.

Am I communicating authentically with others?

Curiosity is the innate desire to learn more about yourself and to understand others. Striving to know why something is done or the way it is and how helps you challenge ideas and explore the unknown. Asking others questions about them through authentic conversations leads to gaining a correct understanding of them. When you demonstrate authentic intent about them, they open up about the experiences that helped shaping them. Asking them what they care about the most or what their passions and interests can improve the interpersonal communication and results in better relations.

Am I focused on solution-seeking?

When you come up against problems, asking problem-solving questions gives you access to solutions. ‘What is great about this problem?’ ‘What is not perfect yet?’ ‘What can I do to seek a solution?’ ‘What am I willing to do in order to solve the problem?’ ‘What values guide my decision?’ ‘What is the best solution I haven’t considered yet?’ ‘What is the opportunity in this situation which I am missing?’ ‘How can I successfully overcome this problem?’ By asking yourself solution-seeking questions, you can deal with problems that will constantly change your focus from exacerbating the problem to seeking its solution.

To conclude:

The patterns of questions you constantly ask will create either depression or enjoyment, indignation or inspiration, misery or happiness. Ask the questions that will uplift you to your full potential.

So, are you asking the right questions to yourself? Think of the questions you habitually ask yourself in the area of your work, finances, relationships, your abilities, or passions. Are they self-empowering? Are your questions focused on your priorities and passions? Are they solution-seeking? Are your questions limited in anyway?

Q) What useful questions, about yourself (and life in general) could you start asking today?

Q)What problem have you solved recently due to asking good questions of yourself or others?

Q)Which empowering questions you can build that will help you in the process of achieving your cherished goals?

Q)What are the most useful questions you can ask that can create more opportunities or unlock new insights, ideas and solutions

Q)What questions you must ask yourself to reach your highest potential or to overcome your self-defeating habits?

To change your life for the better, you must change your habitual questions and to do so requires practice. Harness the power of asking questions by practicing the above mentioned strategies to empower yourself and to make things work or better in your endeavours. With conscious effort you can begin to identify your habitual unhelpful questions and can develop a habit of asking quality questions that challenge your assumptions or status-quo thinking. Decide what’s most important to you and use power of questions to begin to take action to change the quality of life.

How to challenge assumptions

We make assumptions, and believe we are right about the assumptions; then we defend our assumptions and try to make someone else wrong.”- Don Miguel Ruiz

In today’s world, we are always under pressure to act now, rather than spend time reasoning things through and thinking about the true facts. We are often influenced and impacted by our friends family, our goals and aspirations. Our desire to lead a successful and healthy life can affect our habits, behaviour and how we live. But most of the times, we are also influenced by our expectations and assumptions as they too tend to influence our actions, behaviours and lives. We all have a tendency to make assumptions about everything, people and situations all the time and draw conclusions from them. We make assumptions about people’s feelings, needs, thoughts, motives and behaviours. Sometimes we guess about morality or credibility or goodness or badness in others. Despite facts and information, we bring our selective focus, our assumptions and our beliefs to what we think we observed. This not only derails us from our goals and stops progress in tracks but also creates self-imposed limitations, self-fulfilling prophecies, distorts motives and damages relationships. Also leads to wrong conclusions, results in conflicts, and impedes your creativity.

What are Assumptions?

An assumption is “something that you accept as true without question or proof.” They are often preconceived misconceptions about a situation, person, group or a task mostly based upon prior experiences with others or such situations. Assumptions are assuming the best or worst in people and believe them to be as absolute truths or swear they are real. Some examples are assuming that you are not good enough if you don’t get into a job you want or because you failed to get a promotion. Or you assume that most people are bad so don’t trust anyone you meet. Your parents never understood your choices, so you assume they don’t love you. At workplaces, assumptions lead to miscommunications, conflicts and affect your trust and productivity. For instance, assuming that a coworker has a full understanding of a project when they don’t Or assuming that people know why you came to a particular conclusion. Here is how certain assumptions lead to wrong actions.

• We make assumptions based on selective facts , beliefs and prior experiences.

• We then apply our existing assumptions and interpreted reality without considering facts and draw conclusions.

• We allow them to get embedded in our belief system and allow them take over based on these conclusions.

• We then take actions that seem ‘right’ because they are based on what we believe.

• This creates a vicious circle and can lead us to ignore true facts altogether thereby narrowing your field of judgment.

Why do we make assumptions?

When we are overwhelmed by fear of unknown or being unable to understand and prepare for certain events, we tend to make assumptions as they provide hope and direction in confusing times. But most often they are based on our emotions, superstitions, or misinformation and breed anxiety, hurt, anger and despair. They often lead to conflicts because of lack of shared understanding and agreements of the facts. According to cognitive science, in some ways, our brain is designed to make pattern or mental models to make it a more efficient machine. But most of our assumptions are actually learned behaviour. We tend to take on our parents’ or others’ assumptions such as assuming that we ‘do’ or ‘don’t’ deserve certain things or we ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ do certain things. As a result, we end up approaching our goals, objectives or relationships using patterning we learn from others.

We assume negative story lines when we feel left out or unacknowledged or when information we receive is incomplete. Our mind does best to make it a complete story or comes up with an answer to satisfy our questioning mind to return to a place of emotional safety. Sometimes, we are afraid to ask for clarification, so we make an assumption about what others are doing or thinking. We believe we are right about the assumption, we misunderstand, we take it personally and we end up either reacting or defending and blaming others. Our need to justify everything, to explain and understand everything in order to feel safe is the reason why we make assumptions in the first place. In the absence of complete information, instead of asking questions, we tend to fill in the blanks with our interpretation of what we see and hear from past experiences, that seem similar. In trying to make sense of situation, we make assumptions.

How assumptions make you unproductive

Most of us like to think that when we assume, that we are right about our assumptions and that we have complete understanding of the situation. We think we know others’ skills, motives, abilities or competence. Because of this, we stop communicating and listening. Negative assumptions make us self-limiting and drive our behaviour in a negative way by creating spirals of self-doubt and black and white thinking. If we buy in to our assumptions – our mind is closed to various possibilities thereby disengaging us with others or opportunities. Instead of weighing up the information or evaluate the evidence, we draw unfounded conclusions in support of our assumptions or expectations both in personal or professional relationships. Especially in workplaces, we jump to conclusions without proper understanding of what Information is given or how that is understood or whether our goals are aligned with others.

In a work environment or in your personal life, when you make assumptions about others’ words, actions and motivations, you run a risk of being wrong and this can lead to unproductive habits, miscommunication and wrong decisions. We imagine that we understand why a person has taken a particular course of action and make a guess based on our past experiences, imagination or wishful thinking. Often we make the assumption that our partners in a business or personal relationship know what we think and that we don’t have to say what we want. If they don’t do what we assume they should do, we feel hurt, react or blame them damaging our professional or personal relationships. Assumptions change our attitude and outlook towards change or achieving any challenging goal. You can have vast knowledge and experience in the world, yet if you harbour the wrong assumptions, you become unproductive, stifle progress and are doomed to failure as they create lot of inner and outer conflict.

Many times we give into our assumptions like ‘we can’t do it’ or ‘it is too difficult’ and allow ourselves led by our limits, fears and give up on our goals. The problem with assumptions is that we make them as absolute truths and turn them into our beliefs. Here is why you should avoid making assumptions.

• Assumptions are an easy way out and are the major hindrance to your personal growth.

• Stifling negative assumptions show up as resistance to change and create no movement, no action therefore no results.

• They allow you to hide behind your version of the story and stop you from taking responsibility for your life.

• They keep you stuck in the past.

• Instead of asking questions to get to the facts, they make you jump to wrong conclusions.

• They lower your effectiveness in decision-making.

• They foster a negative and biased mindset and make you think that the others are there to get you.

• When making assumptions becomes a habit, we are less grounded in reality and more prone to creating problems for ourselves and others.

How to challenge your assumptions?

“The hardest assumption to challenge is the one you don’t even know you are making.”- Douglas Adams

Challenging and letting go of assumptions begins with willingness to let go of your rightness and revisit the thoughts you are holding onto. It is important to recognise how much your assumptions distorts things for you. Achieving workable and productive outcomes requires challenging such assumptions. The more you know what you are assuming, the more you can learn to get back to the facts and use your beliefs and experiences to a positive effect rather than allowing them to narrow your field of judgment. Here are some strategies to challenge yours and others assumptions.

Question your assumptions

A lot of times, we have trouble admitting that we assumed certain things. We tend to stick to our interpretation as an objective truth. Questioning gives space for other possibilities and gives you power to challenge your assumptions. A step by step reasoning process helps you remain objective when working or challenging your assumptions. Instead of drawing conclusions and making your decisions based on what you think you know, ask questions to challenge your thinking to get more clarity. Better questions include:

How do I know this? Is this the right conclusion? Why did I draw this conclusion? Why am I making these assumptions? Why do I think this is the right thing to do? Is my conclusion based on all the factsWhy do I believe this? Test your assumptions and conclusions. Analyse your reasoning by asking yourself WHAT you are thinking and WHY. Why have i chosen this course of action?What belief lead to this action? Are there other actions I should have considered?What am I assuming, and why? Are my assumptions valid? What are the facts that I should be using? Are there other facts I should consider?

Shift from expectations to ‘shared understanding’

If you are challenging someone else’s assumptions, it is especially important to be able to explain it to that person in a way that helps you reach a shared conclusion and avoid conflict. Expectations are just assumptions about the future. Many conflicts occur when your expectations differ from those of you work with. Do not assume that others know what is on your mind, know your tendencies or understand what your goals and expectations are. Take time to uncover the assumptions and expectations that are the root cause of conflict and convert them into shared understanding of facts. Trust others and be sure to encourage teamwork by clarifying your goals, expectations and their roles in achieving a task. Appreciate others’ contributions and communicate to avoid negativity. If you aren’t sure what someone’s intentions are, ask them. Develop a mindset of seeing people’s good intentions instead of always thinking that they are out to get you. Most of them may have different goals but they usually come from good intentions.

Be ‘mindful of your assumptions

Most of our assumptions are our thoughts we are so used to thinking and they can go by without us even noticing. If you aren’t sure where you are making assumptions, then look at places where you are stuck. Inevitably there will be an assumption you are holding on to or hiding out. Pay attention to when you are making assumptions and start to recognise that they are assumptions. Be mindful of moments where you feel yourself getting angry or feeling hurt by comment that someone makes towards you. Become self-aware of how many assumptions you make everyday by asking yourself as to whether your thinking is based on facts or are you filling in the blanks?

Being mindful and drawing your attention to the present to your thoughts can train you to catch more of your assumptions. Being mindful opens other possibilities and makes you unstuck from assumptions. Reflect on the following questions to challenge your assumptions. What facts do I have to prove this thought is true or isn’t true? What is a more realistic way of seeing this?Is this really my own opinion or did someone else teach it to me? Is this even really what I think or want to think in the future? What would it be like if the opposite of this assumption were true? What if I don’t need to know the answer about the person or situation?

‘Respond’ to others’ assumptions

Very often we find ourselves on the receiving end of other people’s opinions, perceptions and assumptions. When this happens, it can be tempting to react impulsively and become defensive. Or perhaps, if someone assumes the worst of us, we simply walk away from that person or situation, choosing to disconnect from them all together. When someone assumes wrongly about you, instead of reacting or arguing, use awareness to respond to them. Sometimes conflict can bring up tough emotions like anger. If you react in anger you can easily lose control of yourselves. Instead strive to understand why they are saying things they are.

When you feel hurt or angry about a comment that another person said to you, you should ask for clarification. It is better to clear your doubt to prevent misunderstandings. Give effective feedback to other person by listening effectively and being assertive in your response. Identify what you feel around the over-assuming person and focus on your emotions as they point what you need like to vent, learn, discuss, confront, or to set a limit to correct the other person’s assumption. Be modest, composed, and curious in your conversations and be willing to forgive for being imperfect. Communicate to the person and make your choices about how to respond. Base your response on true self in charge with clarity on your feelings and needs while maintaining mutual respect and attitude.

Communicate’ to challenge others’ assumptions

When someone reveals a negative assumption about you, communicate with the person with open-ended questions to question their assumptions:

I notice you are assuming that…

What led you to that conclusion?

Why do you think it will happen that way?

Where might that assumption come from?

How did you arrive at that assumption? What if that assumption is untrue?

What might happen if you choose a different action?

How can you verify or disprove that these assumptions are true?

Follow a non-judgmental approach to work with their negative assumptions about you to shift their perspective to build new insights.

Conclusion

Do you tend to make assumptions about your abilities or about others? Are your conclusions based on facts or assumptions? Does your opinions about a person or situation influence your conclusions? Have you ever had the experience of being in communication with someone who assumed you wrongly? Do you become defensive or respond to such conversations ? Note your tendencies so that you can learn to test your assumptions. Identify one or two assumptions you hold or heard and spend time challenging them. Ask yourself: what if it was untrue? What would happen if you let go of it? Are your insecurities colouring what you are thinking or feeling?

What you think more about, you create more of it. So if you dwell on your assumptions, your outer action will reflect them. In the beginning, it can feel uncomfortable to challenge that goes inside of your mind. Apply and practice the above strategies to successfully challenge your assumptions and to create awareness of how they are holding you back. Have open and honest communication in your conversations to develop trusting relationships in order to achieve your goals. When you change your assumptions from negative to positive, you unleash a stuck, blocked energy and can take action steps towards the results you seek.

Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.” Alan Alda