Your subconscious mind is a resourceful and powerful learning machine. If used in the right way it can be your best friend along the way to where you want to go. Alternatively, it can be that one who tagged along and is annoying the hell out of you. You wish they’d just shut up or bugger off and leave you to enjoy some peace and quiet. Your subconscious also loves questions and adores challenges, as they keep it busy thinking – which is exactly what it’s there for. It really just wants to be your ‘useful’ servant and it’s waiting for your instructions. It’s like a game your mind will do everything to win – ask it a question and it will go off searching for an answer. It’s kind of like throwing a stick for your loyal dog – it won’t doubt what’s going on. It won’t pause and begin to wonder whether this is the best option of a stick it can find. It will just go after it, and bring it back; pleased, proud and ready for more. If you’re living in a state of stress, anxiety, frustration, having limiting beliefs or endless negative self-talk, you’re probably simply asking yourself the wrong questions. If you’ve been neglecting your goals and dreams out of fear, you’ve been throwing your mind the wrong sticks. So the trick is to ask the right questions. By paying more attention to what you’re asking, you can turn around your experience, regardless of whether you have the answers or not.
The power of questions
Questions obviously call for answers. They stimulate and set the mind on a search for any information and further evidence in and around you to support your expectations. When you ask – you’re expecting an answer to fit. Questions initiate going into stored past subjective memories and references. Your mind does this in order to find anything that will correspond with or reinforce the expected answers. It will also filter any information around you so that things match the answer you’ve asked for. Your mind loves being right; it likes to correctly make predictions in order to avoid the threatening unknown. It also likes to get even better at automatic responses. Operating on ‘automatic’ saves it time and effort – which is great, ‘cuz then it can get busy thinking about other stuff. This means your mind can be a smart ass sometimes, proud to get credit for its amazing foresight, taking any opportunity to deliver and provide you with the experiences you anticipated (“See, I told you I couldn’t do it – ha!”). This way it reinforces habitual thinking patterns which are a lot easier and faster to use than creating new ones. This, is your mind trying to be efficiently ‘at your service’…
So asking negative questions means expecting negative answers or outcomes and you’re likely to find those negative answers all around you. Imagine searching for something using binoculars with dirty lenses – everything you see will be tainted. As you didn’t notice the dirt you might make the mistake of thinking that whatever you’re looking at is covered in this stuff. Or imagine searching online, Googling something like ‘the risks of…’ – and search results suggestions will of course come up with a list of potential problems rather than more resourceful content. Going back to that loyal dog of yours, imagine it running around the woods surrounded by sticks everywhere. It could just as easily pick up any of the other sticks to play with, but it won’t even give them a second thought. It’s got a clear focus and none other than the one stick you’ve thrown will do.
“What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” ~ Werner Heisenberg
So what are the wrong questions?
You’re likely not to have noticed those wrong or negative questions going on in your head but if you pay closer attention you might find ones such as:
‘What if this fails or doesn’t work out?’
‘How could this go wrong?’
‘How is this (going to be) a problem/difficult/a disaster?’
‘How does this relate to past difficulties/negative experiences?’
‘What other negative examples can I think of?’
‘Why does this always happen?’
‘What am I risking?’
etc…you get the idea.
“There are no right answers to wrong questions.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin
As a child, you were great at asking questions. You were curious, innocent and open to all possibilities. You consciously and constantly asked questions as you wanted to learn. You valued questions just as much as you valued answers. You kept asking and asking – you just couldn’t get enough, whether you got clear answers or not… Subconsciously, you were asking the right questions about your own experience. You were great at expecting great results or outcomes. But then, life threw at you some times when things worked out differently to what you wanted. So you mistakenly and subconsciously thought you had to change what you asked for in order to be better ‘prepared’. The right questions began changing into wrong ones. You began forgetting that every single day and experience is a different story. You began to accumulate subconscious fears and tensions and felt that ‘knowing what to expect’ will help you feel safer, even if that means expecting the worst. Consciously you began asking fewer and fewer questions as you grew older. You feel more secure thinking you already ‘know’.
“In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question.” ~ Richard Saul Wurman
The right questions
Fortunately, you can train yourself to go back to that fresh innocence of a child. You can make a habit out of asking the right questions again. It might take some courage and confidence to do this as you’ll be willing to ask what might seem like naive questions. ‘Right’ questions are ones that can create a shift in your perception and lead to meaningful exploration and change; they’re ambitious. So if you only ask questions you’ve always been asking, or you already know the answers to them, you’re not exploring. This way you don’t give yourself the opportunity to develop or learn anything new. Good questions will challenge your assumptions, and help you to cultivate and grow your imagination and creativity. The right questions are those that send the mind off on a search for more positive answers or outcomes. They will discover, reveal or uncover more resourceful, innovative or productive ideas and feelings.These could include:
‘What if I succeed?’
‘What if this goes well?
‘What would be the best scenario?’
‘What if I could find evidence to support a positive scenario?’ / What evidence can I find…?’ / ‘How might I find evidence to support it?’
‘How does this relate to any positive stories I’ve experienced or heard of?’
‘What if I didn’t have this fear? What might happen and what would it feel like?’
‘What if I could learn/gain from this?’ / ‘What am I gaining from this?’ / ‘How can I learn more from this/give more to this?’
‘What if I could use / How can I use this situation in order to move forward?’
‘What if I could / How might I actually do this?’
‘How can I begin to give form to this idea?’
‘What if my life could / How would my life be different if I created more success in…?’
You might’ve learned before that it’s best to avoid ‘Why’ type questions. This is because they’re often not directed forward but look back for reasons, source or causes, focusing on negatives. These questions can definitely be useful in that you can get more understanding around what needs to be done so that a different outcome is possible. More accurately – it can let you know what wasn’t working and shouldn’t be done or repeated. But ‘Why’ is most often not essential for moving forward. ‘What’ or ‘How’ positive questions are the ones you’ll need for getting more insight or moving onto action. So even if you did ask a ‘Why’ and get some useful insight, it’s still a good idea to then move on to some of these right questions. So instead of focusing on the negative ‘Why didn’t this work?’ or even the positive ‘Why do I want to make this happen?’, try moving onto ‘What does this situation need in order to work?’ or ‘How can I make it work?’.
My favourite question though is the big ‘What if’. While ‘What’ and ‘How’ give insight or direction for action, they’re even more powerful in creating real changes if you bring up the ‘What if’ first. This is the one that challenges your assumptions, breaks through limiting beliefs, and is the base for getting more insight around any of the other questions. It brings more intuitive wisdom and more vision. Being open to this question creates and opens up the space for everything else to happen. In fact, sometimes this question is the only one you’ll need to ask, as answers to the ‘What’ or ‘How’ will follow naturally without even focusing on them directly. What’s more, sometimes when you’re too focused on ‘What’ or ‘How’ on their own, you actually put pressure on yourself forming resistance towards receiving information, particularly if you’ve got any contradicting subconscious beliefs around it. So by simply asking and focusing on the ‘What if’, you become open to the option that answers will come, or that the desired outcome is possible, no matter how unlikely it might seem in this moment. If you do feel your questions are way too big or ambitious for you at the moment, you could add ‘I wonder…?’ to your questions, which sounds gentler and more permissive and can be easier for your mind to take on.
Another advantage of asking the right questions, is that regardless of what answers you come up or don’t come up with, you’re already bringing up positive resources opening the door to ideas and change. This is because your mind can’t possibly bring up a positive question without bringing up the desired result in your creative imagination. In the same way you can’t ask yourself to not think of that pink elephant without thinking about it, you can’t imagine an ideal ‘What if’ scenario without actually thinking about the best that could happen. When your mind brings up this ideal story line, it must access or create the different positive feelings, means or outlook associated with it which are necessary for it to happen. You discover in yourself a wealth of all the resources you’ve been looking for elsewhere. So you’re already on your way, kicking off the process of creating real shifts!
In my hypnotherapy practice for example, I tend to use many questions rather than direct instructions or suggestions. This is because it sets you off on your own creative search and you come up much more easily with your own valuable answers, power and potentials. Because these resources are ‘your own’ and you’ve come up with them independently, they will ‘stick’ and stay with you more effectively. After all, they were always there, they’re ‘yours’ to begin with. The Sedona Method™ as well as many other self-development tools also use a process of questioning in order to quickly release subconscious blocks and limitations. This works, because the mind actually has to access the information as part of asking the questions.
“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
But I want answers now!
You might think that since you haven’t yet got clear answers to some of these questions, you shouldn’t ask them or that they might be pointless. But isn’t this the point of asking…? And isn’t this equally true for asking those self-defeating questions? Uncertainty will be there either way; we’re not really fortune tellers. So why choose to assume the worst? Both the right questions and the wrong ones come from the exact same starting point. Yet the negatives will bring you down, hold you back, stress you or burn you out. On the other hand, the positive right questions will inspire, install or activate motivation and explore possibilities and problem solving. Your mind will go into searching mode, compile and collect all the relevant information for success. What questions really do is simply focus your and your mind’s attention onto a certain direction, and your focus will determine your experience.
“An approximate answer to the right question is worth a great deal more than a precise answer to the wrong question.” ~ John Tukey
So there’s no need then to know the answers. There’s also no need to know how or when you will get the answers. You might not have any idea how to resolve a challenge, but just being open to the possibility, makes all the difference. All that’s needed is remembering the value of positive questions and simply asking. This is a growth and learning mind-set. Then, being open to receiving the information – in your own way and time. It’s a good idea to be patient while taking notice of any information appearing in your conscious mind. This is also a skill that can be learned and developed. In the same way you’d want to be a good listener to someone you might want to be working with, it’s important to pay attention to what they’ve got to say. Once you become more aware of this whole process and you do it persistently; consistently and repetitively, it will become a habit – soon enough becoming automatic.
I know you might be reading this; understanding, resonating and even agreeing with it. But do yourself a favour and actually try it out, right now! Ask yourself those positive questions. Don’t just briefly go through them. Bring them up, focus on them for a few moments. Give yourself some time to truly wonder about them, allowing any positive emotions or perspectives to come up, allowing your imagination to go free, even if you’re feeling totally unsure about things… and you’ll already begin to feel a shift, big or small to begin with, in your perception and confidence around the topic.
So just imagine, WHAT IF it’s possible?
“If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.” ~ W. Edwards Deming