Asking “What?” Instead of “Why?”

“The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.” ― John Kenneth Galbraith

Sometimes we can get stuck in a very frustrating loop, trying to understand our situation. Usually because our life isn’t going the way we had hoped. What can make these experiences so much more frustrating is not knowing WHY everything has gone wrong. Our search for the answers to these kinds of questions can’t be found and in our frustration, anger and sorrow, we just keeping asking – like a broken record.

I’ve been asking a lot of why questions over the past five years…I sound like a broken record

I assigned one of my classes a TED Talk to watch this week. I wanted students to learn about their level of self-awareness. The psychologist giving the talk has done research on self-awareness and published a best selling book on the subject. She offered a remarkable strategy to raise self-awareness and success at solving many of own difficulties.

Her advice, based on careful research, is to stop asking WHY when we are faced with obstacles and set-backs. Instead, rephrase our frustrations and ask instead, WHAT questions.

  • Why did my career end like this…becomes
    What are the next steps I need to take to start over?
  • Why was my spouse unfaithful to me…becomes
    What can I do to rebuild my marriage, step by step?
  • Why do I feel so alone in the world…becomes
    What should I do each day to be a better friend to others?

Asking these kinds of WHAT questions starts us on a more constructive path. We stop blaming everyone and everything else for our particular situations and instead find ways to take responsibility (when we can) for our own life. I think it’s a very healthy strategy for changing direction and getting out of the rut that we sometimes get stuck in. I’m going to try it. In so doing, I stand a better chance of expanding my own self-awareness.

“A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.”  ― Meister Eckhart

The reason I have my class working on this assignment is because I want them to think about their own spiritual selves. This can be tough for young people who are just now starting to try their wings as adults. Many are not very self-aware, yet. I think that’s a crucial first step to spiritual awakening.

As seasoned adults, we may not be that different from first year college students when it comes to being self-aware and ready to be spiritually awake. I make many of the same kinds of mistakes. I’m not always as wise and mature as I thought I’d be at this point in my journey.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.  – James 3:17

When I spend more time and effort reflecting, I’m certain that this is NOT the consistent kind of wisdom that rules my life.  The first step to making a change is to start thinking about the way I’m thinking.

What sets us apart (older adults) is our experience – trips around the block. Once we learn our lesson, it’s typically easier to figure our way out because we have more resources (both people and wisdom) to work with. Despite these resources, even older adults (like me) need some prodding when it comes to self-awareness.

That’s why I offer this bit of wisdom to you today – something I’m trying to learn myself. Start thinking more clearly about the kinds of questions you are asking yourself when you find yourself stuck in a bad situation. It really is possible to ask your way out of misery.

“Life is an experimental journey undertaken involuntarily. It is a journey of the spirit through the material world and, since it is the spirit that travels, it is the spirit that is experienced. That is why there exist contemplative souls who have lived more intensely, more widely, more tumultuously than others who have lived their lives purely externally.” ― Fernando Pessoa

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Asking “What?” Instead of “Why?”

  1. Randy, it is so good to hear you are asking good questions. I think I have been asking “what” instead of “why” for a while now. I feel affirmed, which is a good thing, I think. It is also a game changer when it comes to the temptation to be depressed about things I cannot control or change. Even if that means someone else’s depression.

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    1. I don’t know how good my questions are but the WHY questions keep leading me around and around and around – no going anywhere fast. Let’s try this and see where I end up?? Thanks for the feedback!

      Like

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