I will go back to my roots and start this article with a slightly ridiculous and very domestic story.
I had just moved to a new country and was looking for affordable sunscreen at the pharmacy. I’ve touched one, looked for a price tag on the other one, and carefully inspected the third one. Since some of them didn’t have price tags and since this wasn’t the best time to be touching things unnecessarily (remember COVID?), I’ve decided to simply go for it. To be – in my head – brave.
I’ve turned to the pharmacist and asked:
“Excuse me, which one’s the cheapest one?”
The cheapest option was pointed out to me, a purchase was made, and I left that pharmacy very satisfied. I was feeling great, and simply because I’ve asked a rather simple question.
But not only did I ask a simple question: I asked the right one.
This takes me to a reminder I’d like to share with you today: we have to train ourselves to ask better questions.
What do I mean?
I believe it can help us in two major ways.
One, asking empowering questions becomes an integral part of using empowering language with ourselves.
As I’ve talked about in my mini-series on language, we can either be kind or unkind to ourselves; either use language that shows agency or a lack of it; either tell our minds what we want or question it.
For example, there is a huge difference between “why does this always happen to me?” and “OK, what’s the next step of integrity for me here?”.
“I’m always gonna be stuck here” is very different from “If were to leave this situation, what would I have to do, who to talk to, what deadline to set?”
A good question has the power to interrupt a pattern of thoughts of self-pity and to push us into action.
It can also push us into being kinder to ourselves, for example, if that question is “What do I need to believe about myself to start healing?”
I know things don’t get magically resolved by simply asking better questions. But they are even less likely to be resolved – in a magical or a non-magical way – when the questions are not serving us.
Two, asking the right questions can help us cut through a lot of confusion and simply save us time.
Being from a country that is somewhere between embracing and celebrating passive-aggressiveness (which usually means one thing: people don’t know how to handle any confrontations in a way that’s not considered an attack of sorts), I have seen what “letting it be known…” but not actually saying what we mean can do to people — including in my own family, oh yeah!
When how to express our needs is never taught, and a direct question is considered rude, learning how to ask for what we need is no small task.
Sometimes, that means asking tough questions, allowing your vulnerability to show, questions that clarify things and actually lead us forward.
I’m not sure if I got it right. Can you explain it to me one more time?
What’s the ideal outcome we’d like to see here?
If we could identify an area where we didn’t do well, which one would it be? What are the learnings we have gotten from it?
When you told me you didn’t want to go with me on that trip, I didn’t know what to make of it. I’d feel much more at ease if you could tell me why that is.
I remember you’ve told me your friend had some serious problems recently. Is there anything I should know about it so I don’t trigger a painful conversation by accident?
Boom. So much – just like the cheapest sunscreen riddle – can be solved, avoided, saved, or prevented by simply expressing ourselves just a little bit more clearly.
I’m not saying it’s easy or comfortable.
But only doing what’s easy doesn’t necessarily mean an easy life, right?
So I hope you use this reminder to, if anything, step into discomfort that is more meaningful.
And in a cheesy way, I do wanna leave you with a question to remember: