We Get the Right Answers only when We Ask the Right Questions
A middle-aged reader has occasional bouts of depression. The good news is she is still functional, able to work and live independently. The bad news is her depression casts a dark shadow over her life, preventing her from seeing how beautiful life is.
The negativity caused by depression is worse than physical blindness because the physically blind know they are blind and learn to cope. But sufferers of depression don’t know they are blind. They think the world really is a horrible place.
They don’t understand that the misery they are going through is not reality, but their own distorted thoughts and beliefs. How do you explain to a blind man that grapes and bananas are different colors? How do you explain to a depressed person that life is exciting, wondrous, and joyful? If there were no solution to this problem, we all would have cause to be depressed.
Thankfully, however, depressed patients are being helped every day by being trained how to change their thoughts. So, there is hope for our reader who finds herself stuck in a swamp of negativity. Since none of us are 100% positive all the time, the material I will cover should help everyone.
We approach our problems differently. Some who are in the same position as our reader have a simple plea, “Help! I’m stuck. What do I do?” However our reader, who I will call Monica, asks not one but many questions. Because of this, I will focus on the art of asking questions, for we can only get the right answers when we ask the right questions. Before I start let’s look at the questions Monica asks:
“Why don’t our lives make a difference or really matter? Why is it that what self-help authors and philosophers say and what we do are two separate things? Why do we allow the homeless to live and die on the streets? Why do most people support capital punishment? A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine died from a heart attack; why is it that I didn’t hear about until three years later?
“How do you develop a positive outlook when you are drowning in defeatism? No amount of positive thinking will change that. If such thinking could erase every negative emotion when called upon, we could cure every addiction, fix homelessness, and cure every mental illness.
“To succeed in life we need the help of others. What if the help just isn’t there? We, as a people, are not accountable to each others’ welfare. The values of the Golden Rule seem to be dying out.
“There are many factors determining success – many beyond the individual’s control. Call it free will. Call it luck. Many people simply can not find their calling, their mission, or their life purpose.
“How can we succeed when all we experience are endless setbacks and failures? Are there some laws of nature, physics, whatever, hidden away at work?”
As you can see, Monica’s questions come from a very dark place. Although I will answer them, it is far more important for her to learn how to ask the correct questions. And I am warning Monica upfront that she will disagree with my answers because of her temporary blindness. So, to try and open her eyes a little, I have this question for her:
Do you believe everything I write or everything your, boss, friend, neighbor, or teacher says? Of course not. That’s the way it should be. You need to question what you read and hear. But, tell me, Monica, WHY DO YOU BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK? You question everyone else, but why don’t you question your own thoughts and conclusions? Until you start questioning and challenging them, you will remain stuck.
What got you here won’t get you where you want to go. You have to do something different. And you need to understand that change always starts with a change in thinking. Think about your own thinking. Also think about these wise words of Leo Stein (1872~1947), “The wise man questions the wisdom of others because he questions his own, the foolish man, because it is different from his own.”
Now I will quickly answer Monica’s questions, but the real solutions to her problem will follow the answers.
Q: Why don’t our lives make a difference or really matter?
A: A good question is empowering. It leads us toward a solution. A poor question leads to a dead-end. Monica’s question is a poor one. The implication is that our lives don’t matter. Her question is also a false one. That is, it is based on a false premise. Merely saying something is so, doesn’t make it so. Her question is not based on reality but on her depression.
If her question is a poor one, what is the right question to ask? It is, “How can I make a difference in the world?” The world put us here because we can make a difference, but whether we do is up to us. Knowingly or not, we make a difference to others, at times a positive difference, at other times a negative difference.
Q: Why is it that what self help authors and philosophers say and what we do are two separate things?
A: Another false question. It is not about what WE do but about what MONICA does.
Q: Why do we allow the homeless to live and die on the streets?
A: Such a question does a disservice to all those hardworking volunteers that sacrifice their own time and effort to help street people.
Q: Why do most people support capital punishment?
A: A strange question coming from someone who lives in a country that doesn’t have capital punishment!
Q: A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine died from a heart attack; why is it that I didn’t hear about it until three years later?
A: Why is the world responsible when it is you that failed to keep in contact?
Q: How do you develop a positive outlook when you are drowning in defeatism? No amount of positive thinking will change that. If such thinking could erase every negative emotion when called upon, we could cure every addiction, fix homelessness, and cure every mental illness.
A: More false premises and non-recognition of all the hard working men and women helping others.
Q: To succeed in life we need the help of others. What if the help just isn’t there? We, as a people, are not accountable to each others’ welfare. The value of the Golden Rule seems to be dying out.
A: In his latest book, “Excuses Begone! How to Change Lifelong, Self-Defeating Thinking Habits,” Dr. Wayne W. Dyer discusses the 18 major excuses people use to explain their failures. Number eight on the list, and very common, is “No one will help me.” This is also one of Monica’s favorites. Such a belief is hardly helpful. An empowering belief is “God helps those who help themselves.”
Q: There are many factors determining success – many beyond the individual’s control. Call it free will. Call it luck.
A: Successful people have found that the harder they work, the luckier they become. That’s because it’s not ‘luck’ but hard work that makes them successful.
Q: Many people simply can not find their calling, their mission, or their life purpose.
A: We don’t ‘find’ our life purpose, we create it. It may be as simple as “I will do my best in everything I do” or “I will try to leave the world a better place.” Such simple statements can fill one’s life with meaning.
Q: How can we succeed when all we experience are endless setbacks and failures?
A: The wrong question. The right question is “How can we fail if we refuse to give up?” ‘Failure’ is a myth. It doesn’t exist in the real world. It’s only a word used to describe the moment someone decides to give up.
Q: Are there some laws of nature, physics, whatever, hidden away at work?
A: Yes, there are laws of life, but I wouldn’t call them hidden.
The curious mind will quickly find them with a little bit of study. One law is “We find what we look for.” Look for something to complain about and you will surely find it. Enlightened people look for the good, look for something to be thankful for, look for something to be enthusiastic about. And as a result, they lead fulfilling lives.
Another law is “We reap what we sow.” (See: http://www.personal-development.com/chuck/sow.htm)
A third example is “The law of Compensation. (See: http://www.personal-development.com/chuck/lawofcompensation.htm)
Now we are ready to reveal the steps Monica has to take to free her from the negativity that is holding her back.
1. The key to it all is to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. Monica needs to realize that she is responsible for her own happiness, not God, not the state, not her neighbor, therapist, society, or self-help guru. Until she can say, “I am responsible for my own failures” she will be unable to ask the right questions. Accepting responsibility isn’t about accepting blame. Rather, it is simply an acknowledgment that I am the only one who can help me. Monica needs to rely on her own inner power. Since she hasn’t used it for a long time, it has grown weak, and she has forgotten about it. But with practice, she can take charge of her life again.
2. Monica needs to shift her thinking from “I want to BE CHANGED” to “I want to change.” At the moment, she wants to be changed. She is hoping some wonder worker will wave a wand and transform her into a happy princess. In other words, she wants the benefits of change without doing the work. This is not because she is lazy, but because a common result of depression is a feeling of helplessness. She has the false belief that she cannot do it alone.
Monica needs to learn more about helplessness and what to do about it. She can begin her studies by visiting these web sites:
3. Monica has a natural gift of asking questions. But this gift works against her because she’s asking the wrong questions. Once she learns how to do it properly, she will excel in life. How can she learn the art of questioning?
She needs to study this book, “Change Your Questions, Change Your
Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work” by Marilee G Adams, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009.
For curious readers, you can download a free 10-page synopsis of the book at:
But the synopsis is for our other readers, not Monica. She needs to get the book and study it. That is, if she is sincere when she says she wants to change. The book is written in a clear easy-to- follow manner and is pragmatic. It is not useless theory, but workable steps to take. Just in case Monica is tempted to say, “Self-help books don’t work”, I need to say that it is true self- help books don’t work, people do! Books can’t work; they can only point the way. But if Monica chooses to work (apply what she learns), the sky is the limit.
4. Monica also needs to get a clearer understanding of the power of the words we use. I suggest she read “In the Beginning Was the Word.”
5. Every now and then, despite having lots to do, we just don’t feel like working on what we should. To break out of the cycle of inertia, I developed the following technique, which uses the power of questions.
a) Start by asking “What SHOULD I be doing now?”
Example answers are: I should be calling clients, answering Aunt Betty’s letter, studying, or exercising.
b) If you don’t feel like doing what needs to be done, ask “What else CAN I do now?”
Then make a list of other helpful things you can do. Example answers are: practice typing, practice tai chi, work on my schedule for the week.
c) Next ask, “What do I WANT to do now?”
Example answers are: play computer games, watch TV, go to sleep.
d) Next ask, “What WILL I do next?”
Now choose one of the helpful things you could be doing. It may not be the best thing to do (what you should be doing), but at least it will be better than wasting time. Also, this small success will help generate the energy to get started on what you should be doing.
Monica now has enough tools at her disposal to break from the past and launch a new, exciting life. No one can do it for her.
The choice is hers: to become a victor or continue acting as a victim. Admittedly, the road to victory is paved with hard work, but the needed effort pales into insignificance when compared to the rewards.
Judging from our communication, I can tell Monica is a strong woman. I’m sure she can regain control and lead a fulfilling life. I’m also sure all our readers are rooting for her. Good luck Monica!