I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of questions lately. Last year, I wrote a post about how much our brain likes questions and how they can help us get into more creative, higher level thinking if we let them. In fact, a question we ask ourselves need not even have an answer for it to work its magic on our cerebral cortex.
But, lest we believe that all questions are created equal, they are not. I’d like to introduce you to the “Rhetorical-Why-Loop questions.” We are all familiar with RWL questions because they creep up on us when we are feeling low, helpless, angry, frustrated and jealous–which might give you a clue as to why these questions aren’t so great as they prey upon some of our most unpleasant, uninspiring and undesirable emotions. Here are some examples of RWL questions:
- Why me?
- Why did this happen to me?
- Why did you/they do this to me?
- Why do you/they always ignore me?
- Why does this only ever happen to me?
- Why can’t I ever….?
- Why, God?
Just trying these questions out for a moment, you can probably begin to see how they can hold your mind and your imagination prisoner. And, because we tend to ask them when we are feeling bad, the “answers,” if you can even call them answers, generally render us either a loser or a victim (for example, this happens to me because I am lazy or this happens to me because people don’t like me). Often accompanied by absolute adverbs like always, only and never, RWL questions also make sweeping generalizations and can keep us in a negative thinking vortex.
So, what are we to do about it? Well, I say run your Whys through the What If Machine. I think of the What If Machine as one of those crazy cartoon contraptions, like the ones that Mrs. Jetson always had to make her domestic life easier or the one that put the stars on the bellies of the Sneetches. I’ll show you what I mean by using a real example I encountered just recently. I was talking with a friend about her creative life and the things that are blocking her from living this part of her life fully. She suddenly began focusing on her daughter who, in her mind–at least for this moment– was more laid back about being creative and less hung up on stress and anxiety. “I look at my daughter,” said my friend,”…she has such an easier time than I do with everything…and I think, why can’t I just be more like her?”
Putting this Why through the What If Machine might look something like this:
- What if I could be more gentle with myself?
- What if I could learn what makes my daughter so laid back?
- What if I could be more laid back?
- What if my creativity looked different than hers?
Immediately, you can really feel the opportunity that these question provide for more expansive thought and less negativity. What Ifs also open the door for communication between people in a way that the Whys do not. They get us out of the loop and into the flow of possibilities.
To read more about RWL questions, check out the three-part series of articles by Dr. Athena Staik at PsychCentral.
TRY THIS WEEK: Ask… What If?