“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
Jump online and there’s literally thousands of articles on what the “right” questions are for leveling up in our self-improvement. Most of us have some idea as to what questions we believe are going to point us in the right direction in our personal growth. The thing is, unless we know what the right questions are, we’re probably going to be pointing and clicking on a lot of the wrong ones at first.
Look, I get it. We all want to feel happier, or valued, or to feel like we have some worth outside of dead-end jobs or fairytale endings that don’t exist. With so many options at our fingertips promising to change our lives for the better, it can get confusing or even downright frustrating trying to figure things out.
“Curiosity starts by asking “What.”
Awareness begins with asking “Why.”
And, change results by asking “How.”
The 3 Levels of Self-Awareness Questions
There’s three common types of questions that are geared towards oiling our mental gears and getting our wheels moving in the right direction. And, each of them has their place in self-improvement. Quality questions should hint at things that get our juices flowing, and should encourage us to start digging deeper as the questions become more profound, and more abstract. The deeper the question, the more it may “trigger” emotional reactions from us, or get us drawing a blank until we take the time to figure out what it all means and what the question is really asking. Since personal growth isn’t linear, the questions we’re asking ourselves shouldn’t be linear either.
What I love about “what” questions is their simplicity and straightforwardness because they’re asking open-ended questions that target things like our values, or our relationships we identify with (or the ones we wish we could delete from our memory bank). What questions are poised to identify bad habits, such as asking, “What are some of our habits you want to change?” More specifically, “what” questions are supposed to spark our curiosity about things like habits we keep, patterns in our relationship history, or quite literally, what we want out of life.
Some common “what” questions can include:
· “What values are important to you?”
· “What are your goals?”
· “What areas do you want to improve in your life?”
The Problem with “What” Questions
“What” questions tend to keep it in the simplest of forms. They consider their job well-done if they get us curious in wanting to know more about what makes us tick. While “what” questions definitely have their place in self-improvement, they tend to limit how much insight or growth we’ll receive and place our answers neatly into labeled boxes with not much else to gain from it.
Because humans are more complex than yes/no and “what” questions, our self-improvement challenge is to continue finding out what drives us, what motivates us, what keeps us stuck repeating habits or relationship patterns that always end the same, and why these patterns and habits are there in the first place.
“Self-knowledge is the beginning of self-improvement.” ~Baltasar Gracian
Since “what” questions should spark our curiosity about ourselves, the next logical step should be, “Why?” which should start sparking a little awareness within ourselves. Here’s where “why” questions can come into play. I’m the first to admit that the more in-depth the questions start becoming, the harder it is to give an answer. The reason is because we may start second-guessing our initial response, or even questioning if we really know ourselves all that well.
For example, ask yourself “Why are you stuck repeating certain habits that sabotage your happiness?” This is a loaded question. Most of us will probably rebuttal that we don’t repeat bad habits, or are working on them, or that we aren’t sabotaging our happiness. Yet, if you’ve ever been involved in a one-sided friendship or a two-faced relationship you can probably answer this question on a deeper level because “why” questions encourage us to seek reasons and rationales behind our motives, and our habits we do on autopilot.
So, “why” is it that we can answer tougher questions on a deeper level based on adverse life experiences?
Simply put, because we now have the experience to support our answer.
“Why” questions are supposed to do their job in getting us to contemplate bigger, more abstract thinking in our lives, in our choices and in our daily habits. Their goal is to push us to start asking ourselves “why” we got involved with a toxic relationship in the first place, or “why” we didn’t want to see the red flags or warnings signs about poor choices or misguided habits. More often than not, we’ll start seeing patterns in our behavior emerge when “why” questions start getting answered.
The Problem with “Why” Questions
Building awareness is a crap-shoot. It’s about looking within and digging deeper. Why do we want to dig deeper? Why do we keep doing what causes us pain? Why are we stuck on repeat with our habits? Why aren’t we finding joy or happiness in life?
What makes awareness like a crap-shoot is that we don’t always come out ahead. Awareness isn’t a Band-Aid we can slap on and forget about. With awareness comes things like responsibility and the reality that if we’re asking “why” questions to gain insight about ourselves, we can’t keep living in denial or repeating what doesn’t serve us after we’ve gotten our answers.
The biggest shortcoming with asking “why” questions, is that having awareness is just that — we’re aware, but it doesn’t guarantee change.
To get to a place of growth, it starts with asking “how” — how to change. Asking how invites us to critically think about where we are in life, versus where we want to be, and most importantly, how we plan on getting there.
How questions are the catalyst for empowerment and provide the blueprint for getting there.
Here’s 5 Life-Changing “How” Questions:
1. How is my life working for me?
The thing is, we can go through the motions in life repeating what was learned for survival in childhood, or to get through college or to land our first job without actually evolving past it. Some may stay happily stuck in a rut at this point and never look back. In this situation, we could wind up staying stuck in a loop of always chasing the next feel-good moment without evolving to the next level in our lives. Or, worse yet, we do evolve past old habits, but then run back to what feels comfortable even when it’s toxic to us, simply because it’s out of habit.
And the result? Yup. We’re stuck on repeat.
By honestly evaluating how our lives are stacking up to what we hoped, or expected, or wanted, we can start assessing things more objectively and making changes based on it. If we realize that we are feeling unsatisfied, now comes the time to ask, “OK. How can I change it?”
2. How do I evolve to the next level in my life?
This is probably one of the most influential questions on how we can level up in our lives. This question is about analyzing where we are, about accepting our limitations and about creating goals that are in line with where we want to be. Before we can get to this point, we need to have leveled up from the What and the Why questions. Once we’ve done that, this question becomes a life-changer.
3. Now that I am aware of my habits, how can I change them?
Easy-peasy. OK, maybe not so much. This question is a reality check for many and gets us looking at our habits head-on, so we need to be ready to face where we are in our lives, and to have a definitive game plan in place for changing what isn’t positively supporting our goals. For most this isn’t easy and for some, it can be downright tough. No one wants to be bothered with things that can trigger shame or vulnerability or remind us of past pain or regrets. But, by taking an objective look at our situation we are able to see the bigger picture in how to start making healthy changes, one at a time.
4. How can I find inner peace?
Part of personal growth is through the empowerment we gain in recognizing and accepting both our strengths and our limitations. No one is perfect and we need to be comfortable forgiving ourselves for swiping right on what turned out to be another nightmare relationship because we didn’t want to be alone, or for acting impulsively with our friend when we had a rough day at work. We’re human. And the beauty in being human is that we are all perfectly imperfect. By shedding expectations on ourselves and others we’re wiping the slate clean and allowing ourselves to grow in our own time and at our own pace. No one is going to draw you a map, or hand you the key to inner peace except you.
5. How does my life promote emotional and mental well-being?
To get to this step we have to have mastered the others. And a lot more that aren’t on this list. If we want a life that promotes emotional and mental well-being, we have to purge everyone and everything in our lives that keep us from feeling emotionally and mentally fulfilled, which includes ditching bad habits, dismissing toxic people, and doing the groundwork necessary for building a solid and positive life for ourselves.
Previously published on “Change Becomes You”, a Medium publication.
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