(Originally published 9th May, 2007)
How do people come up with certain ideas? What makes them think about things in a way that lets them come up with the answers? How do people learn new things in general, whether they be a small child or someone in the twilight of their lives?
The answer is actually quite simple: they ask questions.
Questions are perhaps one of the most fundamental building blocks of human communication. I don’t know if you’ve ever sat in a group of people and just observed the interplay between the people involved, but you can pretty much guarantee that what’s going to be happening most of the time is everyone who’s actively involved will be asking questions, listening to the answers and then coming up with related thoughts. Others will then ask questions and from there, the conversation naturally flows.
But, oddly enough, questions are incredibly powerful things. You see, by simply asking a question, it focuses your mind on the topic at hand and immediately reduces your mental focus on anything else around. By asking the right questions, it helps your mind focus on creative solutions to the problems at hand.
A classic example is during the Apollo 13 moonshot. After an explosion in the capsule’s service module left the crew with dwindling oxygen supplies, the engineers back on Earth were presented with every piece of equipment that the astronauts had at their disposal and were asked how the astronauts could rig something that would make it possible for them to get back home again. Through the combined genius of the people involved, they were able to come up with a solution and the three men made it home safely.
What would have happened if they the people on the ground hadn’t asked what could be done? What if they had instantly gone into a blame-hunting mode and asking who was responsible for the problem? Would the three astronauts have perished in space?
Questions focus our thoughts. It’s as simple as that. The sorts of questions that you ask yourself constantly can have a dramatic effect on your thinking. If you’re stuck in an emotional rut and you’re constantly asking yourself why this sort of thing keeps happening to you all the time, you’re keeping your mind focused on the problem and how big it seems. All you’re really going to do is make it seem all that much bigger.
But as soon as you start asking how you can get out of the situation that you’re in, you’ll find that things can start to change. Answers to the new questions will start to appear, often extremely quickly and if you take action and follow through on those answers, you can turn things around and make a new life for yourself.
Strangely enough, even the tone of question can have a major impact on the answers you’re going to get. A question asked with a stern, angry tone of voice is going to get a very different response that if it was asked with a happy, carefree tone, even though the words might end up being the same. The intent of the question itself is as much a part of the question as the words themselves, because it helps focus people’s minds in a particular way.
So, if you’re not getting the answers you need in any area of your life, perhaps it’s time for you to start asking the questions differently, or perhaps, it’s time to start asking a completely different set of questions altogether. If you’re having a rough trot, start asking how you can make things better. If you’re actually in a good spot, ask how you can sustain the position that you’re in for as long as possible.
It’s like the old saying goes, “Ask, and ye shall receive.”