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Contrary to the opinion of all the teachers you've ever had, there are bad questions. Lots of them. Here are a few. Why won't he leave me alone? Why won't she stop talking? Why is my boss such a jerk? Why am I'm so screwed up? When am I ever going to get a break? Whose fault was it really? I think you get the idea. What do all these tend to have in common? They don't have good answers or at least ones too many people would agree on. They tend to stay focused on other people, circumstances, fault and blame. They tend to be angry or anxious and are almost always judgmental. They leave you pessimistic and stuck.

What do better questions look like. Rather than ask who and why they tend to ask how and what. What do I want? How do I think they feel? What do I think they really want? What really happened? What are my choices? What do I have to work with? What am I missing? How can I make this work for both of us? How can I get started? How does this really work? How can I think about this better? They tend to look for real understanding. They are optimistic and look for ways to think about working with the situation and moving forward.

Many good questions don't have quick easy answers. Some of them take a long time, even years sometimes, to be more or less done with. Some will keep yielding fruit as long as you live or as many times as you ask them. How do I want to be in this situation? What can I do to make things a little bit better today? Am I really OK with that? Who am I becoming? I think about these long term questions as strategic questions and the others, the ones for dealing with the day or the moment, as tactical questions. Both are important and both will contribute to your having a positive, hopeful outlook.

You're going to have to ask and answer a lot of questions if you truly want to be happy. You will need to move from the plateau of the familiar, get a little further off of life's beaten path and out of your comfort zone. Depending on your personality, that can be quite uncomfortable, but I think it can quickly grow on you. Along with positivity and hope, there's also a bit of mystery and intrigue in it, so your life will seldom be boring. There's also the satisfaction of surprising answers and new vistas on life and what's possible.

Your happiness is waiting.

Some of the Most Useful Everyday Questions

  • What do I want?
  • What are my choices?
  • What assumptions am I making?
  • What am I responsible for?
  • How else can I think about this?
  • What are they thinking, feeling, needing or wanting?
  • What am I missing or avoiding?
  • What can I learn?
    …from this person/situation?
    …from this mistake/failure?
    …from this success?
  • What actions make the most sense?
  • What questions should I ask myself/others?
  • How can I turn this into a win for all/both of us?
  • What's possible?
  • Is this what I want to be feeling?
  • Is this what I want to be doing?
  • Where would I rather be and how can I get there?
  • Is this working?
  • What are the facts?
  • How else can I think about this?
  • What assumptions am I making?
  • What humor can I find in this?
  • What’s my starting choice/point right now?
  • How/Where can I get started?
  • What can I try? What might work?

(List adapted from: Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 12 Powerful Tools for Leadership, Coaching, and Life, 3rd ed.)



Marilee G. Adams, Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 12 Powerful Tools for Leadership, Coaching, and Life, 3rd ed. (2016)