Be Careful What You Ask For (or at least how you ask it)!

Over the last few days two very good friends of mine–on two separate occasions–made the following statement: Sometimes I just look at myself and ask, ‘How did I get here?’

For the first friend, her focus was on weight. She had previously identified herself as a jock and an athlete; however, as she’s developed her professional identity, which is for the most part sedentary, she has put on a few pounds. She’s been struggling with this for at least five years.

For the second friend, her focus was more on life in general; though, she too, also struggles with her weight.

One of the things that I have learned through my studies as a social psychologist, as well as listening to coaching programs, is that when you ask yourself a question, your brain will provide you with an answer, even if it’s only subconscious. Try it. What day is it? You automatically know: it’s Friday. What color is the sky? Without looking, the brain supplies the answer: it’s blue. However, the brain is like a computer, or a really basic search engine: the quality of the answers it supplies are dependent upon the quality of the questions you ask!

And why is this important? When you’re unhappy about the state of the world (or your body) and you ask, “How did I get here? Or what happened to me?” your brain will provide you with the answer. And if you’re disgruntled about where you are, inevitably the brain will start cataloging all of the setbacks, all of the mistakes, all of the bad decisions, it may even provide you with a couple of new labels, which is the last thing you need.

So instead of asking, “How did I get here?” I would challenge my friends, and whoever else might be in the habit of asking themselves bad questions to try the following: Instead of asking “How did I get here?” ask “How do I change this?” Instead of asking “What did I do wrong” ask “How do I make this situation better?” Instead of “How could I have done this to myself?” try “How can I reach and maintain my goals?” or better yet, “How can I get the body or the life that I really want?” Because just as your brain searches for the answers about what you did wrong, it also has (or will find) the answers on what you can do right.

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1 comment so far

  1. Charles on

    This is a particularly powerful bit of wisdom.

    It is similar to the “sunk cost” concept. If you are driving a 1992 Corolla with 185,000 miles on it and your mechanic has just informed you that $1500 worth of transmission work is needed, you will probably think twice about whether to pay up or start looking for a trade-up. You could tally up all the money you have spent during the years you have owned the car, decide that it was really stupid to spend that much on a car that is now worth $1800, and it would be even more stupid to spend another $1500. The truth is that getting rid of the car now will not cause any of the $25,000 you have spent in the past to be refunded. Your actions and decisions can only affect the future; everything you have spend (and done) in the past is sunk cost.

    Instead estimate how large the down payment and monthly payments would be on your replacement vehicle, ahow much repair coswt might be on it, and how much you would enjoy having a sleek new Forester. $1500 to drive the Corolla a few more months, or $??,??? to trade up?

    Don’t even consider sunk cost, it won’t help.


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