Asking Empowering Questions – A Penny for Your Thoughts

You probably heard the expression, “A penny for your thoughts…” Isn’t that an offer that is far too little to hear the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of our friends? For if we were to listen carefully to what they have to say, I’m sure there is a great deal we can learn.

How about YOUR thoughts? How much are they worth? Their value and importance are incalculable. Why? Because your success and happiness depend on them. Do you know that each day winners, champions, and achievers have half the thoughts of ordinary folk? That’s because they spend twice the time mulling over them.

A critical part of the mindset of champions is curiosity. Because they are curious, they ask questions. That’s why they spend twice as much time considering their thoughts, for they pose questions to themselves and then seek to answer them. No wonder they are successful. After all, questions are keys that unlock answers. They also help to focus the mind on one’s goals.

Also, as Francis Bacon (1561 ~ 1626) wrote, “Who questions much, shall learn much, and retain much.”

Questions are empowering as their answers help us to solve problems and to advance. Since questioners are on a quest, they find life exciting. And when they find the answers they are looking for, they find life all the more enjoyable. There are no foolish questions. But there are fools. They are the ones who never ask questions.

Well, then, what sort of questions should we be asking ourselves? For starters, here are three important questions: What do I want? What is preventing me from getting what I want? What will I do to remove or overcome the obstacle or obstacles blocking my way? The answers to these questions are no less than the keys to our success.

The renowned author of ”As a Man Thinketh,” James Allen (1864 ~ 1912), adds “For true success ask yourself these four questions: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now?”

A Jewish sage poses three powerful questions: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

(Pirke Avot 1:14)

Scholar Joseph Campbell (1904 ~ 1987) posed one question: “The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure (life).”

Now that you have the idea, here are some more helpful questions to ask

ourselves: What do I know today, that I did not know yesterday? Will what I am doing now bring me closer to my dreams? What can I do now? What SHOULD I do now?

What can I dedicate my life to? How can I infuse my life with meaning? What cause can I live for? How do I spend my time? Am I contributing to life?

What am I doing wrong? What can I learn from my mistakes? What should I avoid doing? What do I need to do more often? Am I going to make the most of this opportunity (life)?

If we want to think like champions, we have to keep asking ourselves questions and then act upon the answers. Here are still more questions that are helpful to ask: What would I do if I knew I wouldn’t fail? (Once you know, do it.) What new, positive habit am I starting today? What am I doing better today than I did yesterday?

Now, the nature of our questions determine the nature of our answers. For example, trivial questions produce trivial answers while important questions generate momentous answers. For similar reasons, if you are interested in results, avoid theoretical questions and stick with practical questions.

There are also right and wrong questions. “Do I have what it takes to be successful?” is an example of the wrong question. It is wrong because EVERYONE has what it takes to be successful. The correct question is “Am I willing to pay the price for success?” Everyone wants to be successful, but few are willing to pay the price. So, few succeed.

Also, avoid useless questions and adopt empowering ones. If you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the way to an important meeting, asking yourself why this happened to you is useless. Instead, you should be asking yourself questions such as “How can I cope? What are my options? How will I handle the situation once I am finally out of the traffic jam? Is there anything useful I can do while I am stuck here? What can I do to lessen the likelihood of something similar occurring in the future?”

We can also have high or low standards for our questions, which determine whether we lead rewarding or disappointing lives. Perhaps you are familiar with some of these low standard questions: “How can I leave work early today? How can I use sick days to take time off? How can I avoid the company picnic? What is the least I can do and still get paid?”

Examples of high standard questions are: “How can I help my company to reach its goals? What can I do to fully cooperate with my teammates? Who can I encourage today? What is the most efficient use of my time? How can I increase my value to the company? What other responsibilities can I take on?” Can you see how by asking different questions, we get different answers, which lead to different results? Yes, our successes and failures are the results of our questions!

Of course, the purpose of asking questions is not merely to arrive at answers, but to act on them, for questions derive their power from the actions they inspire.

Science cannot answer all our questions. It can teach us our capabilities, but it cannot reveal whether we OUGHT TO do everything we can do. Some questions fall under the purview of philosophy or metaphysics. The answers to such questions often come from deep within. Hermann Hesse (1877 ~ 1962) explains, “I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me.”

Our questions also create our life view. A good example is given by Bobby Matherne, “The way the Buddhist asks the question creates a different view of nature than the way the physicist does. The Buddhist asks wave questions and the physicist asks particle questions. One sees an unbroken whole and the other sees scattered parts.”

As we grow in consciousness, we come to realize there are times to refrain from asking questions. Such a time is described by South African author Sir Laurens Jan van der Post (1906 ~ 1996), “I think the most wonderful things in life are beyond reason, that is why I think ‘why’ is often such an irrelevant question; it is very limited. The real things in life have nothing to do with ‘why.’ They are just ‘so;’ they are just ‘thus.’ Life is a ‘thus,’ and until you realize this ‘thusness’ of life, you are stuck.”

Egyptian writer and Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz (1911 ~ 2006) wrote “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” What are YOUR questions going to be today?