The Importance of Questions
In our discussion on values we investigated the importance of discovering and defining our personal core values. And we uncovered an interesting (at least in my case) correlation between happiness and how well we live up to the expectations we set for ourselves after defining our values. We ended by asking two questions: “Is there a correlation between values actualization and happiness? And if so, how can I use this information to bring more happiness into my life?”
To the first question I believe the answer is a definitive ‘yes’. As for the second, I suggested we attempt to answer it by asking another question; let’s investigate the importance of the questions we ask ourselves scores of times every day.
The trait that defines “humanness” more than anything is our superior intelligence, our ability to reason, to weigh options, accumulate knowledge and apply what we’ve learned to our current situation. All reasoning and all pursuit of knowledge begin with questions, and without questions there is no increase in knowledge. Prehistoric man’s question “What if?” led to the invention of the wheel, and without that question the Ferrari Testarosa wouldn’t even be a concept. Then where would your life be?
Questions are powerful, and so can be the answers they produce. But power is a two-sided coin; while “What if?” ultimately led to the convenience of the automobile, it also led to the extermination of six million Jews. That was what Katherine was teaching Rudy, that there was power in the questions he asked himself, but the power to enlighten was balanced by the power to destroy.
We are constantly in silent communication with ourselves, and much of that “brain chatter” comes in the form of questions for which we expect rational, concrete answers. “What shall I fix for dinner?” “Where should I apply to college?” “Who can I call to fix the plumbing?”
Your brain will provide answers from its data bank, but it will not, it cannot, provide solutions that it has not recorded by virtue of experience. If meatloaf or pot-roast don’t sound appealing, you’ll need to find a cookbook; you’re brain will not suggest “Thai shrimp-kabobs on a bed of saffron couscous with squid-ink sauce”. (While in fact your brain might suggest Thai shrimp, that would be creative, a function of the brain entirely separate from what we’re discussing now.)
At the emotional level things can get messy.
We still get answers, but the effects of those answers on our emotional well-being carry far heavier consequences than the effects at the rational level. Asking the wrong question at the rational level could result in a plumber showing up to repair your faulty wiring; that would be embarrassing and might even cost you some money. Asking the wrong question at the emotional level could ruin your life. So in order to find out how to harness the power of our values let’s ask an empowering question.
Once you feel you’ve accurately defined a value ask yourself , “What would have to happen for me to feel_____?” and fill in the blank. My fill-ins would look like “honest; integrated; loved; a sense of achievement and contribution; free.” In chapter XXX Katherine teaches Rudy the power of questions:
“… you need to understand the power of your mind and its ability to provide answers to your questions. Your brain is a storehouse of information and logic, and sometimes it’s the only place we can turn to get answers. And if you ask it something with the expectation of getting an answer, you will eventually get one based on the information it has available.”
Let’s give it a try…
Question: “What would have to happen for me to feel honest?”
My brain: “You would need to tell the whole truth, not lie or be deceptive.”
Okay, I’m doing as instructed and being honest makes me feel good. I like feeling good so I think I’ll continue being honest! Let’s try another…
Question: “What would have to happen for me to feel a sense of achievement and contribution?”
My brain: “You would need to utilize your inherent talents to create something of value to others.”
Like writing a book and building this site? That makes me feel real good; I think I’ll continue doing it! Let’s give it one more try with a different angle…
Question: “What would have to happen for me to feel frustrated and unfulfilled in my life?”
My brain: “Try to do things you’re poorly qualified to do. Do not attempt to do things you are well qualified to do. And that’s just for starters!”
Your answers to the same questions may be entirely different from mine; remember, your answers will come from your experiences so it makes sense that ours would differ. The thing to remember about this exercise is this; actualizing your values will make you feel good and ignoring them won’t. If you haven’t already take these steps now:
- List 8 or 10 things that are important to you.
- Define what each value means to you.
- Rate how well you are actualizing each of them on a scale from 1 to 10.
- Add the scores together then divide by the number of values selected. This will provide your Success Quotient.
(You’ll find a detailed explanation of the process described briefly above in the “Values/Happiness Assessment.”)
There is no scale to interpret your score for you. The purpose of the exercise is not to tell you how happy you are; you already know that. Rather, I hope to provide you with a tool that will give you some clues as to how you might increase the joy in your life by spending more time doing things you enjoy and pursuing ends that are important to you. Remember Katherine’s words to Rudy;
“Do what you must!”
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