Let me ask you a question – when you reflect on your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors (because you’re doing this daily, right?) Do you find yourself asking why? Why did I think that? Why do I feel this way? Why did I do that? Guess what – you need to stop asking yourself why right now!
Check out Dr. Tasha Eurich’s TED talk in which she talks about how we are reflecting on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all wrong. Instead of asking ourselves a “why” question, we should be asking ourselves a “what” question. Let’s try this out as an example – first, ask yourself, “Why am I the kind of person that I am?” What did your mind immediately focus on? Most likely your past – and potentially victim-type behavior. For example, “I’m critical of others because my father or my mother was critical of me.” Now, ask yourself, “What kind of person am I?” Doesn’t that just feel completely different? Asking a what question opens you up to the possibilities – it keeps you more open to discovering new information about yourself (even if that information is negative or contrary to a current belief you have about yourself.)
To summarize, according to Dr. Tasha Eurich, asking why questions leads us to examine our limitations, stirs up those negative emotions, and traps us in our past. Whereas asking what questions allows us to see our potential, get curious about ourselves, and even creates a better future for ourselves. In the simple way we ask ourselves a question, we find a difference between having a victim mentality to having a mindset of growth.
So how do we do this effectively? I love the exercise introduced by one of my business partnerships with OMT Global, a leadership development company based out of Limerick, Ireland. This reflective exercise requires you to ask yourself What? three times: What? So What? and Now What? Pretty simple! You first ask yourself What? as in what happened? Let’s use a recent example I heard from a participant in one of my workshops: he had a scheduled meeting with a colleague and found himself waiting in the conference room for 20 minutes with no appearance made by his fellow manager. He found himself getting very angry that his colleague would so nonchalantly blow him off, disrespecting him and his position at the company. Now on to the So What? – what did he learn from the experience? He learned that he very quickly made some assumptions that triggered strong emotions. Because he was kept waiting, he created an entire story about how his colleague disrespects him and his position within the company. What he later found out was that a family member of the fellow manager found themselves in the emergency room and she was too focused on that situation to check in at work and let her assistant know that she would be out due to an emergency. Then he asked himself Now What? which means now that the hero of our story reflected on what happened and what he learned, what will he do differently? He decided that he will work on checking his assumptions before allowing himself to have a full-blown emotional reaction to similar situations.
Don’t ask yourself why? Instead, find ways to craft the questions you ask yourself using what instead. Specifically, as yourself: What? So What? Now What?