As Einstein is often quoted as saying, ‘we cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.’ But how can we access new depths of insight, greater breadth of perspective and new heights of creativity?

The lightning path to actualizing our potential is asking good questions. Questions literally have the capacity to transform the way our minds work and the possibilities we see for our lives, relationships, and projects.

It is no overstatement to say, the quality of our lives will largely be determined by the quality of the questions we ask.

"Questions literally have the capacity to transform the way our minds work and the possibilities we see for our lives, relationships, and projects."

THE IMPORTANCE OF ASKING QUESTIONS

Extensive research has explored the phenomenon of asking questions. The first thing that researchers found is that merely by asking questions (in Psychology this is actually termed “the mere measurement effect”), we are impacting a person’s behaviour. In fact, just being asked a question about a particular behavior increases the probability that the person will perform that behaviour (1, 2, 3).

When they started digging deeper, researchers found that different questions determine different outcomes. While behavioural intention questions (a person’s conscious or deliberate intention to engage in a behaviour) positively affect a person’s ultimate actions, implementation intention questions were actually more efficient (4).

Implementation intention inquiry is a fancy way of describing action oriented questioning. Essentially implementation intention inquiry is a self-regulatory strategy that can lead to better goal attainment by focusing on the when, where and how of the behavior which correlates exactly with core elements of coaching.

Thus, with a specific action orientation to the questions we ask, we are able to link desired behaviors to our larger goals. When we repeatedly focus on using inquiry to shift or consolidate our behavior these behaviors tend to become integrated and are thereafter triggered automatically (5).

Interestingly, these principles apply not only to the questions we ask others, but also the questions we ask ourselves. Everyday habits of self-inquiry determine the quality of our thoughts and behaviours.

The basic structure of an implementation intention is:

IF {situation} THEN I will {behaviour}. For example, “IF someone is speaking and I have lost focus THEN I will let them know I missed what they were saying.”

We can take this one step further by identifying our old behavior as well as the alternative behavior. The basic structure of this becomes:

IF {situation} INSTEAD OF {Old behavior} I WILL {new behavior}. For example, ‘IF someone is speaking and I have lost focus INSTEAD OF pretending I heard what they said and nodding my head I WILL let them know I missed what they were saying and ask them if they would like to repeat what they said.

"Everyday habits of self-inquiry determine the quality of our thoughts and behaviours."

WHAT HAPPENS TO OUR BRAIN WHEN WE ASK QUESTIONS

So how do questions influence our behaviours? First of all, questions prompt our brain to contemplate a behavior, which increases our awareness and focuses our attention on it.

The more the brain contemplates a behavior, the more likely it is that the person will engage in it.

Second, questions are powerful. We don’t consciously tell our brain to think about an asked question; it does it automatically. This is called instinctive elaboration.

Contrary to popular belief, our brains are actually not made for multitasking. In fact, research has found that when your brain is thinking about the answer to a question, it can’t think of anything else at the same time (6). This means that questions are like riverbanks, shaping the flow of our thinking and, in a very tangible way, determining our possibilities and directing our destiny.

And finally, we should not underestimate the flexible nature of our brains. The concept of neuroplasticity (also called synaptic plasticity) has been described and researched extensively (7).

In a nutshell, through skillful questioning we can biologically CREATE new pathways in our brains by changing these connections between neurons. When we focus our minds by asking questions about how we can integrate a new behaviour or habit, we are gradually building a new pathway in our brain that will, over time, become more powerful until it potentially becomes our new default. This is what is described by the old maxim of moving from being unconsciously unskilled, to consciously unskilled to consciously skilled to unconsciously skilled.

Even more interesting is the fact that by being asked questions we activate the pleasure center of our brain. It seems that answering questions about ourselves activates a reward mechanism in our brain, similar to food or sex. Apparently, something to do with dopamine, the reward molecule of our brain. This is even more stimulated by knowing that our thoughts will be communicated to another person. WE JUST LOVE IT (8)!

“Through skillful questioning we can biologically CREATE new pathways in our brains by changing these connections between neurons.”

HOW WE PUT THIS INTO ACTION

By asking yourself, and those around you, the right questions, you can actually change your everyday reality and your life. No, it’s not magic, it’s science!

Having said that, there are so many questions we can ask ourselves to create magical new possibilities in our lives. Some of our favorites include:

  • What am I grateful for?
  • What do I stand for?
  • What is being asked of me in this situation/relationship/project?
  • What one thing can I do more of that would transform my results?
  • What one thing can I do less of that would transform my results?
  • How can I make today memorable?
  • What do I want?
  • What would love do?
  • What can I CREATE in my life today?

Remember, the quality of your quest will be determined by the quality of your questions and a whole new world of possibilities is usually only a breath and a question away.