“He who asks questions cannot avoid the answers.” CAMEROON PROVERB
They needed no reason. They came simply because he was of Jewish descent. The Nazis stormed into his home, arresting him and his entire family. Soon they were herded like cattle, packed into a train, and then sent to a death camp in Krakow. His most disturbing nightmares could never have prepared him for seeing his family shot before his very eyes. How could he live through the horror of seeing his child’s clothing on another because his son was now dead as the result of a “shower”?
Somehow he continued. One day he looked at the nightmare around him and confronted an inescapable truth: if he stayed there even one more day, he would surely die. He made a decision that he must escape and that escape must happen immediately! He knew not how, he simply knew he must. For weeks he’d asked the other prisoners, “How can we escape this horrible place?” The answers he received seemed always to be the same: “Don’t be a fool,” they said, “there is no escape! Asking such questions will only torture your soul.
Just work hard and pray you survive.” But he couldn’t accept this—he wouldn’t accept it. He became obsessed with escape, and even when his answers didn’t make any sense, he kept asking over and over again, “How can I do it? There must be a way. How can I get out of here healthy, alive, today?”
It is said that if you ask, you shall receive. And for some reason, on this day he got his answer. Perhaps it was the intensity with which he asked his question, or maybe it was his sense of certainty that “now is the time.” Or possibly it was just the impact of continually focusing on the answer to one burning question. For whatever reason, the giant power of the human mind and spirit awakened in this man. The answer came to him through an unlikely source: the sickening smell of decaying human flesh. There, only a few feet from his work, he saw a huge pile of bodies that had been shoveled into the back of a truck—men, women, and children who had been gassed. The gold fillings had been pulled from their teeth; everything that they owned—any jewelry—-even their clothing, had been taken. Instead of asking, “How could the Nazis be so despicable, so destructive? How could God make something so evil? Why has God done this to me?,” Stanislavsky Lech asked a different question. He asked, “How can I use this to escape?” And instantly he got his answer.
As the end of the day neared and the work party headed back into the barracks, Lech ducked behind the truck. In a heartbeat, he ripped off his clothes and dove naked into the pile of bodies while no one was looking.
He pretended that he was dead, remaining totally still even though later he was almost crushed as more and more bodies were heaped on top of him.
The fetid smell of rotting flesh, the rigid remains of the dead surrounded him everywhere. He waited and waited, hoping that no one would notice the one living body in that pile of death, hoping that sooner or later the truck would drive off.
Finally, he heard the sound of the engine starting. He felt the truck shudder. And in that moment, he felt a stirring of hope as he lay among the dead. Eventually, he felt the truck lurch to a stop, and then it dumped its ghastly cargo—dozens of the dead and one man pretending to be one of them—in a giant open grave outside the camp. Lech remained there for hours until nightfall. When he finally felt certain no one was there, he extracted himself from the mountain of cadavers, and he ran naked twenty-five miles to freedom.
What was the difference between Stanislavsky Lech and so many others who perished in the concentration camps? While, of course, there were many factors, one critical difference was that he asked a different question. He asked persistently, he asked with expectation of receiving an answer, and his brain came up with a solution that saved his life. The questions he asked himself that day in Krakow caused him to make split-second decisions that led to actions that significantly impacted his destiny. But before he could get the answer, make the decisions, and take those actions, he had to ask himself the right questions.
Throughout this book you’ve learned how our beliefs affect our decisions, our actions, the direction of our lives, and therefore our ultimate destiny. But all these influences are a product of thinking—of the way your brain has evaluated and created meaning throughout your entire life. So to get to the bottom of how we create our reality on a daily basis we need to answer the question, “Just how do we think?”
OUR QUESTIONS DETERMINE OUR THOUGHTS
One day, I was thinking about important events in my own life and in the lives of people I had encountered along the way. I had met so many people, fortunate and unfortunate, successful and unsuccessful; I really wanted to know what allowed successful people to achieve great things, while others with similar or better backgrounds disappeared over the tails of Niagara. So I asked myself, “What really makes the biggest difference in my life, in who I become, in who I am as a person, and in where I am going?” The answer I came up with was one I’ve already shared with you. “It’s not the events that shape my life that determine how I feel and act, but, rather, it’s the way I interpret and evaluate my life experiences. The meaning I attach to an event will determine the decisions I make, the actions I take, and therefore my ultimate destiny. But,” I asked myself, “how do I go about evaluating? What exactly is an evaluation?”
I thought, “Well, right now I’m evaluating, aren’t I? I’m trying to evaluate how to describe what an evaluation is. What am I doing right now?” And then I realized I had just been asking myself a series of questions, and obviously those questions were:
How do I go about evaluating?
What exactly is an evaluation?
Right now I’m evaluating, aren’t I?
What am I doing right now?
Then I thought, “Is it possible that evaluations are nothing but questions?” And I started laughing and thought, “Well, isn’t that a question?”
I began to realize that thinking itself is nothing but the process of asking and answering questions. If after reading this you’re thinking, “That’s true,” or “That’s not true,” you had to ask yourself—either consciously or unconsciously—a question, and that question was, “Is this true?” Or even if you thought, “I need to think about that,” what you’re really saying is, “1 need to ask myself some questions about that. I need to consider that for a moment.” As you consider it, you’ll begin to question it. We need to realize that most of what we do, day in and day out, is ask and answer questions. So if we want to change the quality of our lives, we should change our habitual questions. These questions direct our focus, and therefore how we think and how we feel.
The masters of question asking, of course, are kids. How many millions of questions do they constantly bombard us with as they’re growing up? Why do you think that is? Is it just to drive us crazy? We need to realize that they’re constantly making evaluations as to what things mean and what they should do. They’re starting to create neuro-associations that will guide their futures. They’re learning machines, and the way to learn, to think, to make new connections, is initiated by questions—either questions we ask of ourselves or others.
This entire book and my life’s work is the result of my asking questions about what makes us all do what we do and how we can produce change more quickly and easily than it has been done before. Questions are the primary way that we learn virtually anything. In fact, the entire Socratic method (a way of teaching that dates back to the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates) is based upon the teacher doing nothing but asking questions, directing the students’ focus, and getting them to come up with their own answers.
When I realized the incredible power of questions to shape our thoughts and literally our every response to our experiences, I went on a “quest for questions.” I began to notice how often questions appeared in our culture. Games like Trivial Pursuit, Jeopardy!, and Scruples were all the rage. The Book of Questions—an entire book of nothing but questions to make you think about your life and your values, was a bestseller.
Ads on TV and in print asked, “What becomes a legend most?” “How do you spell relief?” “Is it soup yet?” Spike Lee asks Michael Jordan “Is it the shoes?” in a TV ad for Nike’s Air Jordan basketball shoes. I not only wanted to know what questions we were asking as a society, but I also wanted to discover the questions that made a difference in people’s lives. I asked people in my seminars, in airplanes, in meetings; I asked everyone I met, from CEOs in high-rises to homeless people on the street, trying to discover the questions that created their experience of day-to-day life. I realized that the main difference between the people who seemed to be successful—in any area!—and those who weren’t was that successful people asked better questions, and as a result, they got better answers. They got answers that empowered them to know exactly what to do in any situation to produce the results they desired.
Quality questions create a quality life. You need to bum this idea into your brain, because it’s as important as anything else you’ll learn in this book. Businesses succeed when those who make the decisions that control their destiny ask the right questions about markets or strategies or product lines. Relationships flourish when people ask the right questions about where potential conflicts exist and how to support each other instead of tearing each other down. Politicians win elections when the questions they raise—whether explicitly or implicitly—provide answers that work for them and their community.
When the automobile was in its infancy, hundreds of people tinkered with building them, but Henry Ford asked, “How can I mass-produce it?”
Millions chafed under communism, but Lech Walesa asked, “How can I raise the standard of living for all working men and women?” Questions set off a processional effect that has an impact beyond our imagination. Questioning our limitations is what tears down the walls in life—in business, in relationships, between countries. I believe all human progress is preceded by new questions.
THE POWER OF QUESTIONS
“Some men see things as they are, and say, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were, and say, ‘Why not?'” GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
Most of us, when we see someone of extraordinary capability or someone who seems to have a superhuman capacity to deal with life’s challenges, think things like, “They’re so lucky! They’re so talented! They must have been born that way.” But in reality, the human brain has the capacity to produce answers faster than the “smartest” computer on earth, even considering today’s microtechnology with computers that calculate in nanoseconds (billionths of a second). It would take two buildings the size of the World Trade Center to house the storage capacity of your brain! Yet this three-pound lump of gray matter can give you more firepower instantly for coming up with solutions to challenges and creating powerful emotional sensations than anything in man’s vast arsenal of technology.
Just like a computer boasting tremendous capacity, without an understanding of how to retrieve and utilize all that’s been stored, the brain’s capacity means nothing. I’m sure you’ve known someone (maybe even yourself) who has purchased a new computer system and never used it simply because he or she didn’t figure out how. If you want access to the files of valuable information in a computer, you must understand how to retrieve the data by asking for it with the proper commands. Likewise, what enables you to get anything you want from your own personal databanks is the commanding power of asking questions.
“Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.” E. E. CUMMINGS
I’m here to tell you that the difference between people is the difference in the questions they ask consistently. Some people are depressed on a regular basis. Why? As we revealed in the last chapter, part of the problem is their limited states. They conduct their lives with limited movements and hamstrung physiology, but more importantly, they focus on things that make them feel overloaded and overwhelmed. Their pattern of focus and evaluation seriously limits their emotional experience of life. Could this person change how they feel in a moment? You bet—just by changing mental focus. So what’s the quickest way to change focus? Simply by asking a new question. When people are depressed, it is more than likely due to asking themselves disempowering questions on a regular basis, questions like: “What’s the use? Why even try, since things never seem to work out anyway? Why me, Lord?” Remember, ask and you shall receive. If you ask a terrible question, you’ll get a terrible answer. Your mental computer is ever ready to serve you, and whatever question you give it, it will surely come up with an answer. So if you ask, “Why can’t I ever succeed?,” it will tell you—even if it has to make something up! It might come up with an answer like, “Because you’re stupid,” or “Because you don’t deserve to do well anyway.”
Now, what’s an example of brilliant questions? How about my good friend, W. Mitchell? If you read Unlimited Power, you know his story. How do you think he was able to survive having two-thirds of his body burned and still feel good about his life? How could he then endure an airplane accident years later, lose the use of his legs, and be confined to a wheelchair—and still find a way to enjoy contributing to others? He learned to control his focus by asking the right questions. When he found himself in the hospital, with his body burned beyond recognition, and surrounded by a large number of other patients in the ward who were feeling sorry for themselves, patients who were asking themselves, “Why me? How could God do this to me? Why is life so unfair? What’s the use of living as a ‘cripple’?,” Mitchell chose instead to ask himself, “How can I use this? Because of this, what will I be able to contribute to others?” These questions are what created the difference in destinies: “Why me?” rarely produces a positive result, while “How can I use this?” usually leads us in the direction of turning our difficulties into a driving force to make ourselves and the world better.
Mitchell realized that being hurt, angry, and frustrated wouldn’t change his life, so instead of looking at what he didn’t have, he said to himself, “What do I still have? Who am I really? Am I really only my body, or am I something more? What am I capable of now, even more so than before?” After his airplane accident, while in the hospital and paralyzed from the waist down, he met an incredibly attractive woman, a nurse named Annie. With his entire face burned off, his body paralyzed from the waist down, he had the audacity to ask: “How could I get a date with her?” His buddies said, “You’re insane. You’re deluding yourself.” But a year and a half later, he and Annie were in a relationship, and today she’s his wife.
That’s the beauty of asking empowering questions: they bring us an irreplaceable resource: answers and solutions. Questions determine everything you do in life, from your abilities to your relationships to your income. For example, many people fail to commit to a relationship simply because they keep asking questions that create doubt: “What if there’s somebody better out there? What if I commit myself now and miss out?” What terribly disempowering questions! This fuels the fear that the grass will always be greener on the other side of the fence, and it keeps you from being able to enjoy what you already have in your own life. Sometimes these same people destroy the relationships they do eventually have with more terrible questions: “How come you always do this to me? Why don’t you appreciate me? What if I were to leave right now—how would that make you feel?” Compare this with “How did I get so lucky to have you in my life? What do I love the most about my husband/wife? How much richer will our lives be as a result of our relationship?”
Think of the questions you habitually ask yourself in the area of finances. Invariably, if a person isn’t doing well financially, it’s because they’re creating a great deal of fear in their life—fear that keeps them from investing or mastering their finances in the first place. They ask questions like “What toys do I want right now?” instead of “What plan do I need in order to achieve my ultimate financial goals?” The questions you ask will determine where you focus, how you think, how you feel, and what you do. If we want to change our finances, we’ve got to hold ourselves to higher standards, change our beliefs about what’s possible, and develop a better strategy. One of the things that I’ve noticed in modeling some of today’s financial giants is that they consistently ask different questions than the masses— questions that often run counter to even the most widely accepted financial “wisdom.”
Currently, there is no denying that Donald Trump is experiencing financial challenges. For almost a decade, though, he was clearly an economic kingpin. How did he do it? There were many factors, but one that virtually everybody agrees on is that in the mid-seventies, when New York City faced bankruptcy and most developers fretted over questions like “How will we survive if this city goes under?,” Trump asked a unique question: “How can I get rich while everyone else is afraid?” This one question helped to shape many of his business decisions and clearly led him to the position of economic dominance he enjoyed.
Trump didn’t stop there. He also asked another great question, one which would be good to emulate before making any financial investments. Once he was convinced that a project had tremendous potential for economic gain, he would then ask, “What’s the downside? What’s the worst that can happen, and can I handle it?” His belief was that if he knew he could handle the worst-case scenario, then he should do the deal because the upside would take care of itself. So if he asked such shrewd questions, what happened?
Trump had put deals together that no one else would have considered during those economically stressful times. He had taken over the old Commodore building and turned it into the Grand Hyatt (his first major economic success). And when the tide turned, he had won big. However, he eventually ran into major economic trouble. Why? Many say he changed what he focused on in making investments. He began to ask questions like “What can I enjoy owning?” instead of “What is the most profitable deal?” Worse, some say Trump began to believe he was invincible, and as a result he stopped asking his “downside” questions. This single change in his evaluation procedure—in the questions he was asking himself—may have cost him a good part of his fortune. Remember, it’s not only the questions you ask, but the questions you/ail to ask, that shape your destiny.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in seeking out the core beliefs and strategies of today’s leading minds, it’s that superior evaluations create a superior life. We all have the capacity to evaluate life at a level that produces outstanding results. What do you think of when you hear the word “genius”? If you’re like me, what immediately comes to mind is a picture of Albert Einstein. But how did Einstein move beyond his failed high school education into the realm of truly great thinkers? Undoubtedly, it was because he asked supremely formulated questions.
As Einstein was first exploring the idea of time and space relativity, he asked, “Is it possible that things that seem simultaneous are not really so?” For example, if you are a few miles away from a sonic boom, do you hear it at the exact moment it occurs in space? Einstein conjectured that you do not, that what you experience as happening in that moment is not really happening then, but rather occurred only a moment ago. In day-to-day life, he reasoned, time is relative depending on how you occupy your mind.
Einstein once said, “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.” He conjectured further into the realm of physics, and believing that the speed of light is fixed, he found himself asking the question, “What if you could put light aboard a rocket? Would its speed be increased then?” In the process of answering these fascinating questions, and others like them, Einstein postulated his renowned theory of relativity.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.” ALBERT EINSTEIN
The powerful distinctions that Einstein made resulted from a series of questions. Were they simple? Yes. Were they powerful? Absolutely. What power could you unleash by asking some equally simple but powerful questions? Questions are undeniably a magic tool that allows the genie in our minds to meet our wishes; they are the wake-up call to our giant capacities. They allow us to achieve our desires if only we present them in the form of a specific and well-thought-out request. A genuine quality of life comes from consistent, quality questions. Remember, your brain, like the genie, will give you whatever you ask of it. So be careful what you ask for—whatever you look for you’ll find. So with all this power between our ears, why aren’t more people “happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise”? Why are so many frustrated, feeling like there are no answers in their lives? One answer is that when they ask questions, they lack the certainty that causes the answers to come to them, and most importantly, they fail to consciously ask empowering questions of themselves. They run roughshod over this critical process with no forethought or sensitivity to the power they are abusing or failing to ignite by their lack of faith.
A classic example of this is a person who wants to lose weight and “can’t.” It’s not that they can’t: it’s that their present plan of evaluating what to eat is not supporting them. They ask questions like “What would make me feel most full?” and “What is the sweetest, richest food I can get away with?” This leads them to select foods filled with fat and sugar—a guarantee of more unhappiness. What if instead they asked questions like “What would really nourish me?,” “What’s something light that I can eat that would give me energy?,” or “Will this cleanse or clog me?” Better yet, they could ask, “If I eat this, what will I have to give up in order to still achieve my goals? What’s the ultimate price I’ll pay if I don’t stop this indulgence now?” By asking questions like this, they’ll associate pain to overeating, and their behavior will change immediately.
To change your life for the better, you must change your habitual questions. Remember, the patterns of questions you consistently ask will create either enervation or enjoyment, indignation or inspiration, misery or magic. Ask the questions that will uplift your spirit and push you along the path of human excellence.
HOW QUESTIONS WORK
Questions accomplish three specific things:
1. Questions immediately change what we’re focusing on and therefore how we feel. If you keep asking questions like “How come I’m so depressed?” or “Why doesn’t anybody like me?” you will focus on, look for, and find references to back up the idea that there is a reason for you to feel depressed and unloved. As a result, you’ll stay in those unresourceful states. If instead you ask, “How can I change my state so that I am feeling happy and am being more lovable?,” you’ll focus on solutions. Even if your brain initially responds, “There’s nothing I can do,” but like Stanislavsky Lech or W. Mitchell you persist with a sense of certainty and expectation in spite of it all, then eventually you will get the answers you need and deserve. You will come up with authentic reasons for feeling better, and as you focus on them, your emotional state will immediately follow suit.
There’s a big difference between an affirmation and a question. When you say to yourself, “I’m happy; I’m happy; I’m happy,” this might cause you to feel happy if you produce enough emotional intensity, change your physiology and therefore your state. But in reality, you can make affirmations all day long and not really change how you feel. What will really change the way you feel is asking, “What am I happy about now? What could I be happy about if I wanted to be? How would that make me feel?” If you keep asking questions like this, you’ll come up with real references that will make you begin to focus on reasons that do in fact exist for you to feel happy. You’ll feel certain that you’re happy. Instead of just “pumping you up,” questions provide you with actual reasons to feel the emotion. You and I can change how we feel in an instant, just by changing our focus. Most of us don’t realize the power of memory management. Isn’t it true that you have treasured moments in your life that if all you did was focus on them and think about them you’d immediately feel wonderful again in this moment now? Perhaps it was the birth of a child, your wedding day, or your first date. Questions are the guide to those moments. If you ask yourself questions like “What are my most treasured memories?” or “What’s really great in my life right now?” and you can seriously consider the question, you’ll start thinking of experiences that make you feel absolutely phenomenal. And in that phenomenal emotional state, you’ll not only feel better, but you’ll be able to contribute more to those around you.
The challenge, as you may have guessed, is that most of us are on automatic pilot. By failing to consciously control the habitual questions we ask, we severely limit our emotional range and thus our ability to utilize the resources at hand. The solution? As we covered in Chapter 6, the first step is to become aware of what you want and discover your old limiting pattern. Get leverage: ask yourself, “If I don’t change this, what is the ultimate price? What will this cost me in the long run?” and “How will my whole life be transformed if I did this right now?”; interrupt the pattern (if you’ve ever felt pain, then been distracted and not felt it, you know how effective this is); create a new, empowering alternative with a set of better questions; and then condition them by rehearsing them until they become a consistent part of your life.
A SKILL OF POWER
Learning to ask empowering questions in moments of crisis is a critical skill that has pulled me through some of the toughest times in my life. I’ll never forget the moment I discovered a former associate doing a seminar and claiming credit for material I had developed, word for word. My first impulse was to ask things like “How dare he! How could he have the nerve to do this?,” but I soon realized that getting involved in these kinds of unanswerable questions would only whip me into a frenzy, creating an endless loop out of which there seemed no escape.
The guy did what he did—I realized I should simply allow my attorneys to apply the pain-pleasure principle to straighten him out—so why should I have stayed in an angry state in the meantime? I decided to move on and enjoy my life, but as long as I kept asking, “How could he do this to me?,” I’d remain in this negative state. The fastest way to change my state would be to ask a series of new questions. So I asked myself, “What do I respect about this guy?” At first my brain screamed, “Nothing!” but then I asked, “What could I respect about him if I wanted to?,” and finally I came up with an answer: “Well, I’ve got to admit that he’s not sitting around passively; at least he’s using what I taught him!” This made me laugh and definitely broke my pattern, enabling me to change my state, reassess my options, and feel good about their pursuit. One of the ways that I’ve discovered to increase the quality of my life is to model the habitual questions of people I really respect. If you find someone who’s extremely happy, I can guarantee you that there is a reason. It is that this person focuses consistently on things that make them happy, and this means that they’re asking questions about happiness. Find out their questions, use them, and you’ll begin to feel the way they do. Some questions we will simply not consider. Walt Disney, for instance, refused to entertain any questions about whether his organizations could succeed or not. But that doesn’t mean that the creator of the Magic Kingdom did not use questions in more resourceful ways. My grandfather, Charles Shows, was a writer with Disney before he went on to work with Hanna-Barbera developing such cartoon characters as Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound. One of the things he shared with me was that anytime they were working on a new project or script, Disney had a unique way of requesting input. He designated a whole wall on which he would display the project, script, or idea, and everyone in the company would come by and write down the answers to the question: “How can we improve this?” They’d write solution after solution, covering the wall with suggestions. Then Disney would review everyone’s answers to the question he’d asked. In this way, Walt Disney accessed the resources of every person in his company, and then produced results commensurate with that quality of input. The answers we receive depend upon the questions we’re willing to ask. For example, if you’re feeling really angry, and somebody says, “What’s great about this?,” you may not be willing to respond. But if you value learning highly, you might be willing to answer your own questions of, “What can I leam from this situation? How can I use this situation?”
Your desire for new distinctions will cause you to take the time to answer your questions, and in so doing, you’ll change your focus, your state, and the results you’re getting.
Ask yourself some empowering questions right now. What are you truly happy about in your life right now? What’s really great in your life today? What are you truly grateful for? Take a moment to think about the answers and notice how good it feels to know that you have legitimate reasons for you to feel great now.
2. Questions change what we delete. Human beings are marvelous “deletion creatures.” You and I have so many millions of things going on around us that we can focus on right now, from the blood flowing through our ears to the wind that may be brushing against our arms. However, we can consciously focus on only a small number of things simultaneously. Unconsciously, the mind can do all sorts of things, but consciously we’re limited in terms of the number of things we can focus on simultaneously. So the brain spends a good deal of its time trying to prioritize what to pay attention to, and more importantly, what not to pay attention to, or what to “delete.”
If you’re feeling really sad, there is only one reason: it’s because you’re deleting all the reasons you could be feeling good. And it you’re feeling good, it’s because you’re deleting all the bad things you could be focusing on. So when you ask someone a question, you change what they’re focusing on and what they’re deleting. If someone asks you, “Are you as frustrated as I am with this project?,” even if you weren’t frustrated before, you may begin to focus on what you were deleting previously, and you may start to feel bad, too. If someone asks you, “What’s really lousy in your life?,” then you may be compelled to answer, regardless of how ridiculous the question is. If you don’t answer it consciously, then the question can stick in your mind unconsciously.
Conversely, if you’re asked, “What’s really great in your life?,” and you keep focusing on the answer, you might find yourself feeling excellent immediately. If someone says, “You know this project really is great.
Have you ever thought about the impact we’re going to have because of what we’ve created here?,” you might become inspired by a project that seemed laborious. Questions are the laser of human consciousness.
They concentrate our focus and determine what we feel and do. Stop for a moment and as you look around the room, ask yourself a question: “What in this room is brown?” Look around and see it: brown, brown, brown. Now, look down at this page. Blocking off your peripheral vision, think of everything that’s . . . green. If you’re in a room you know very well, you can probably do this easily, but if you’re in a strange room, chances are that you’ll remember a lot more brown than green. So now look around and notice what’s green: green, green, green. Do you see more green this time? Again, if you’re in an unfamiliar environment, I’m sure your answer is yes. What does this teach us? Whatever we look for we’ll find.
So, it you’re angry, one of the best things you could ask yourself is, “How can I learn from this problem so that this never happens again?” This is an example of a quality question, in that it will lead you from your current challenge to finding resources that can keep you from having this pain in the future. Until you ask this question you’re deleting the possibility that this problem is really an opportunity.
THE POWER OF PRESUPPOSITION
Questions have the power to affect our beliefs and thus what we consider possible or impossible. As we learned in Chapter 4, asking penetrating questions can weaken the reference legs of disempowering beliefs, enabling us to dismantle them and replace them with more empowering ones. But did you realize that the specific words we select and the very order of the words that we use in a question can cause us to not even consider certain things while taking others for granted? This is known as the power of presupposition, something of which you should be very aware.
Presuppositions program us to accept things that may or may not be true, and they can be used on us by others, or even, subconsciously, by ourselves. For example, if you ask yourself a question like “Why do I always sabotage myself?” after something ends disappointingly, you set yourself up for more of the same and set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why? Because, as we’ve already said, your brain will obediently come up with an answer for anything you ask of it. You’ll take for granted that you’ve sabotaged things because you’re focusing on why you do it, not on whether you do it.
One example occurred during the 1988 presidential election, just after George Bush had announced Dan Quayle as his running mate. A television news organization conducted a nationwide poll, asking people to call a 900 number to answer the question, “Does it bother you that Dan Quayle used his family’s influence to go into the National Guard and stay out of Vietnam?” The glaring presupposition built into this question, of course, was that Quayle had indeed used his family’s influence to unfair advantage—something that had never been proven. Yet people responded to it as if it were a given. They never questioned it, and just automatically accepted it. Worse, many people called to say that they were extremely upset about this fact. No such fact was ever substantiated!
Unfortunately, this process happens all too often; we do it to ourselves and to others all the time. Don’t fall into the trap of accepting someone else’s or your own disempowering presuppositions. Find references to back up new beliefs that empower you.
3. Questions change the resources available to us. I arrived at a critical juncture in my life about five years ago when I came home from a grueling schedule on the road to discover that one of my business associates had embezzled a quarter of a million dollars and run my company $758,000 into debt. The questions I failed to ask when I first hired this man had brought me to this point, and now my destiny hinged on the new questions I would ask. All of my advisors informed me that I had only one choice: I’d have to declare bankruptcy. They immediately started asking questions like “What should we sell off first? Who will tell the employees?” But I refused to accept defeat. I resolved that, whatever it took, I would find a way to keep my company going. I’m still in business today not because of the great advice I got from those around me, but because I asked a better question: “How can I turn this around?”
Then I asked an even more inspirational question: “How can I turn my company around, take it to the next level and cause it to have even more impact than it ever has in the past?” I knew that if I asked a better question, I’d get a better answer.
At first, I didn’t get the answer I wanted. Initially, it was, “There is no way to turn it around,” but I kept asking with intensity and expectation. 1 expanded my question to “How can I add even more value, and help more people even while I sleep? How can I reach people in a way that is not limited to my physical presence?” With these questions came the idea of my franchise operation in which more people could represent me across the country. Out of these same questions, a year later I came up with the idea of producing a television infomercial, an answer that I received from that same burning question.
Since that time, we have created and distributed over 7 million tapes worldwide. Because I asked a question with intensity, I got an answer that’s helped me develop relationships with people all over the world whom I would never have otherwise had a chance to meet, know, or touch in any way. In the realm of business, especially, questions do open up new worlds and give us access to resources we might not otherwise realize we have available. At Ford Motor Company, retired president Donald Petersen was known for his persistent questions: “What do you think? How can your job be improved?” On one occasion, Petersen asked a question that undoubtedly steered Ford’s profitability up the road of success. He asked designer Jack Telnack, “Do you like the cars you are designing?” Telnack replied, “Actually, no, I don’t.” And then Petersen asked him the critical question: “Why don’t you ignore management and design a car you’d love to own?”
The designer took the president at his word and went to work on the 1983 Ford Thunderbird, a car that inspired the later models of Taurus and Sable. By 1987, under the direction of master questioner Petersen, Ford had surpassed General Motors in profitability, and today Taurus ranks as one of the finest cars made. Donald Petersen is a great example of someone who really utilized the incredible power of questions. With one simple question, he completely changed the destiny of Ford Motor Company. You and I have that same power at our disposal every moment of the day. At any moment, the questions that we ask ourselves can shape our perception of who we are, what we’re capable of, and what we’re willing to do to achieve our dreams. Learning to consciously control the questions you ask will take you further to achieving your ultimate destiny than almost anything I know. Often our resources are limited only by the questions we ask ourselves.
One important thing to remember is that our beliefs affect the questions we’ll even consider. Many people would never have asked the question “How can I turn things around?” simply because everyone around them had told them it was impossible. They would feel it was a waste of their time and energy. Be careful not to ask limited questions, or you’ll receive limited answers. The only thing that limits your questions is your belief about what’s possible. A core belief that has shaped my personal and professional destiny is that if I continue to ask any question, I will receive an answer. All we need to do is to create a better question, and we’ll get a better answer. A metaphor I sometimes use is that life is just a Jeopardy! game; all the answers are there—all you have to do is come up with the right questions to win.
The key, then, is to develop a pattern of consistent questions that empower you. You and I both know that no matter what we’re involved with in our lives, there are going to be times when we come up against these things we call “problems”: the roadblocks to personal and professional progress. Every person, no matter what station of life they’ve achieved, has to deal with these special “gifts.” The question is not whether you’re going to have problems, but how you’re going to deal with them when they come up. We all need a systematic way to deal with challenges. So, realizing the power of questions to immediately change my state and give me access to resources and solutions, I began to interview people and ask them how they got themselves out of problems. I found out that there are certain questions that seem to be somewhat consistent. Here is a list of the five questions I use for any type of problem that comes up, and I can tell you that these have absolutely changed the quality of my life. If you choose to use them, they can do the same for you as well.
I’ll never forget one of the first times I used these questions to change my state. It was after I’d been on the road almost 100 days out of 120.
I was utterly exhausted. I found a stack of “urgent” memos that had to be responded to from executives of a variety of my companies, and a list of over 100 phone calls that I had to return personally. These were not calls from people wanting to visit with me, but important calls to some of my closest friends, business associates, and family members. I lost it right then and there! I began to ask myself some incredibly disempowering questions: “How come I have no time? Why don’t they leave me alone?
THE PROBLEM-SOLVING QUESTIONS
1. What is great about this problem?
2. What is not perfect yet?
3. What am I willing to do to make it the way I want it?
4. What am I willing to no longer do in order to make it the way I want it?
5. How can I enjoy the process while I do what is necessary to make it the way I want it?
Don’t they understand I’m not a machine? Why don’t I ever get a break?” You can imagine what kind of emotional state I was in at this point. Fortunately, in the midst of it I caught myself. I broke my pattern and realized that getting angrier wasn’t going to make it any better; it was going to make it worse. My state was making me ask terrible questions.
I needed to change my state by asking some better questions. I turned to my checklist of problemsolving questions and began with,
1. “What is great about this problem?” My first response, like so many other times, was “Absolutely nothing!” But I thought about it for a moment and realized that just eight years ago I would have given anything to have twenty business associates and friends who wanted to visit with me, much less 100 people of such national impact and caliber that this list of friends and business associates represented. As I realized this, I started to laugh at myself, it broke my pattern, and I began to feel grateful that there were so many people whom I respect and love who wanted to spend time with me.
2. “What is not perfect yet?” My schedule obviously needed more than a little fine-tuning. 1 felt like I had no time to myself, and that my life was out of balance. Note the presupposition of this question: asking “What is not perfect yet?” clearly implies that things will be perfect. This question not only gives you new answers, but reassures you simultaneously.
3. “What am I willing to do to make it the way I want it?” I decided then that I was willing to organize my life and my schedule so that they were more balanced, and I was willing to take control and learn to say no to certain things. I also realized that I needed to hire a new CEO for one of my companies, someone who could handle some of my workload. This would give me more special time at home and with my family.
4. “What am I willing to no longer do in order to make it the way I want it?” I knew that I could no longer whine and complain about how unfair it all was or feel abused when people were really trying to support me.
5. “How can I enjoy the process while I do what is necessary to make it the way I want it?” When I asked this last, most important question, I looked around for a way to make it fun. I thought, “How can I enjoy making 100 calls?” Sitting there at my desk did not turn up the mental and emotional juice. Then I got an idea: I’d not been in my Jacuzzi in six months. I quickly slipped on my swim trunks, grabbed my portable computer and speaker phone, and headed for the Jacuzzi. I set up shop out in my back yard, and started making the calls. I called a few of my business associates in New York and teased them, saying, “Really, it’s that cold? Hmmm. Well, it’s really tough out here in California, you know. I’m sitting here in my Jacuzzi!” We all had fun with it and I managed to turn the whole “chore” into a game. (But I was so wrinkled that I looked about 400 years old by the time I got to the bottom of my list!)
That Jacuzzi is always in my back yard, but you’ll notice that it took the right question to uncover it as a resource. By having the list of these five questions in front of you on a regular basis, you have a pattern of how to deal with problems that will instantly change your focus and give you access to the resources you need.
“He that cannot ask cannot live.”
Every morning when we wake up, we ask ourselves questions. When the alarm goes off, what question do you ask yourself? Is it, “How come I have to get up right now?,” “Why aren’t there more hours in the day?,”
“What if I hit the snooze alarm just one more time?” And as you get in the shower, what are you asking yourself? “Why do I have to go to work?,” “How bad is the traffic going to be today?,” “What kind of stuff is going to be dumped on my desk today?” What if every day you consciously started asking a pattern of questions that would put you in the right frame of mind and that caused you to remember how grateful, happy, and excited you are? What kind of day do you think you’d have, with those positive emotional states as your filter? Obviously it would affect how you feel about virtually everything.
Realizing this, I decided I needed a “success ritual,” and I created a series of questions that I ask myself every morning. The wonderful thing about asking yourself questions in the morning is that you can do it in the shower, while you’re shaving or drying your hair, and so on. You’re already asking questions anyway, so why not ask the right ones? I realized that there are certain emotions we all need to cultivate in order to be happy and successful individuals. Otherwise, you could be winning and feel like you’re losing, if you don’t keep score or take the time to feel how fortunate you are. So take the time now to review the following questions. Take a moment to deeply experience the feelings of each one.
THE MORNING POWER QUESTIONS
Our life experience is based on what we focus on. The following questions are designed to cause you to experience more happiness, excitement, pride, gratitude, joy, commitment, and love every day of your life. Remember, quality questions create a quality life.
Come up with two or three answers to all of these questions and feel fully associated. If you have difficulty discovering an answer simply add the word “could.” Example: “What could I be most happy about in my life now?”
1. What am I happy about in my life now? What about that makes me happy? How does that make me feel?
2. What am I excited about In my life now? What about that makes me excited? How does that make me feel?
3. What am I proud about in my life now? What about that makes me proud? How does that make me feel?
4. What am I grateful about In my life now? What about that makes me grateful? How does that make me feel?
5. What am I enjoying most in my life right now? What about that do I enjoy? How does that make me feel?
6. What am I committed to in my life right now? What about that makes me committed? How does that make me feel?
7. Who do I love? Who loves me? What about that makes me loving? How does that make me feel?
In the evening, sometimes I ask the Morning Questions, and sometimes I ask an additional three questions. Here they are:
THE EVENING POWER QUESTIONS
1. What have I given today? In what ways have I been a giver today?
2. What did I learn today?
3. How has today added to the quality of my life or how can I use today as an investment in my future?
Repeat the Morning Questions (optional).
If you really want to create a shift in your life, make this a part of your daily ritual for personal success. By consistently asking these questions, you’ll find that you access your most empowering emotional states on a regular basis, and you’ll begin to create the highways to these emotions of happiness, excitement, pride, gratitude, joy, commitment, and love.
Pretty soon, you’ll find that when you open your eyes, these questions will fire off automatically just out of habit, and you will have trained yourself to ask the kinds of questions that will empower you to experience greater richness in life.
GIVE THE GIFT OF QUESTIONS
Once you know how to ask empowering questions, you not only can help yourself, but others as well. You can give these as a gift to other people. Once in New York City, I met a friend and business associate of mine for lunch. A prominent literary attorney, I admired him for his business acumen and for the practice he’d built since he was a young man. But on that day, he had suffered what he perceived as a devastating blow—his partner had left the firm, leaving him with tremendous overhead and not many ideas as to how to turn it around.
Remember that what he was focusing on was determining the meaning. In any situation, you can focus on what is disempowering, or on what is empowering, and if you look for it that’s what you’ll find. The problem was that he was asking all the wrong questions: “How could my partner abandon me this way? Doesn’t he care? Doesn’t he realize that this is destroying my life? Doesn’t he realize that I can’t do this without him? How will I explain to my clients that I can’t stay in business any longer?” All of these questions were riddled with presuppositions about how his life was destroyed.
I had many ways in which I could intervene, but I decided that I could just ask him a few questions. I said, “Recently I’ve created this simple questions technology, and when I’ve applied it to myself, I’ve found it to have incredible impact. It’s pulled me out of some pretty tough spots. Do you mind if I ask you a couple questions and see if it works for you?” He said, “Yeah, but I don’t think anything’s going to help me right now.” So I started out by asking him the Morning Questions, and then the ProblemSolving Questions.
I started with, “What are you happy about? I know that sounds stupid and ridiculous and Pollyanna, but what are you really happy about?” His first response was, “Nothing.” So I said, “What could you be happy about right now if you wanted to be?” He said, “I’m really happy about my wife because she’s doing really well right now, and our relationship is very close.” I asked him, “How does that make you feel when you think of how close you are with her?” He said, “It’s one of the most incredible gifts in my life.” I said, “She’s a special lady, isn’t she?” He started focusing on her and feeling phenomenal. You might say that I was just distracting him. No, 1 was helping him to get into a better state, and in a better state, you can come up with better ways of dealing with challenges. First we had to break the pattern and put him in a positive emotional environment.
I asked him what else he was happy about. He started talking about how he should be happy about how he’d just helped a writer to close his first book deal, and the writer was delighted. He told me that he should feel proud, but he didn’t. So I asked him, “If you did feel proud, how would that feel?” He began to think about how great that would be, and his state began to change immediately. I said, “What are you proud of?” He said, “I’m really proud of my kids. They’re such special people. They’re not just successful in business; they really care about people. I’m proud of who they’ve become as men and women and that they’re my children. They’re part of my legacy.” 1 said, “How does it make you feel to know that you’ve had that impact?”
All of a sudden, a man who had earlier believed that his life was over came alive. I asked him what he was really grateful for. He said that he was really grateful that he’d made it through the tough times when he was a young and struggling lawyer, that he’d built his career from the bottom up, that he’d lived the American Dream. Then I asked, “What are you really excited about?” He said, “Actually, I’m excited that I have an opportunity right now to make a change.” And it was the first time he’d thought about that, and it was because he’d changed his state so radically. I asked him, “Who do you love, and who loves you?” He started talking about his family and how incredibly close they were. So I asked him, “What’s great about your partner’s leaving?” He said, “You know, what could be great about this is that I hate coming to New York City. I love being at my home in Connecticut.” He continued, “What’s great about this is that I get to look at everything in a new way.” This started a whole string of possibilities and he resolved to set up a new office in Connecticut not five minutes from his home, bring his son into the business, and have an answering service pick up his calls in Manhattan. He got so excited, he decided to immediately go and look for a new office.
In a matter of minutes, the power of questions had worked their magic. He always had the resources to be able to deal with this, but the disempowering questions he’d asked had rendered his power inaccessible, and had caused him to see himself as an old man who’d lost everything he’d built. In reality, life had given him a tremendous gift, but the truth had been deleted until he started asking quality questions.
A QUESTION OF DESTINY
One of my favorite people—and one of the most impassioned men I’ve ever met—is Leo Buscaglia, author of Love and many other outstanding books in the area of human relations. One of the things that is great about Leo is his continued persistence in asking himself a question that his father instilled in him from the time he was a little boy. Each day at the dinner table, his father would ask, “Leo, what have you learned today?” Leo had to have an answer, and a quality one. If he hadn’t learned something really interesting in school that day, he would run and get the encyclopedia to study something that he could share. He says that to this day he won’t go to bed until he’s learned something new that’s of value. As a result he’s constantly stimulating his mind, and a great deal of his passion and love for learning has come from this question, asked repeatedly, begun decades ago. What are some questions that would be useful for you to ask of yourself on a regular basis? I know two of my favorite are the most simple. They help me to turn around any challenges that may come up in my life. They are simply, “What’s great about this?” and “How can I use this?” By asking what’s great about any situation, I usually find some powerful, positive meaning, and by asking how I can use it, I can take any challenge and turn it into a benefit. So what are two questions that you can use to change your emotional states or give you the resources you truly desire? Add two to the standard morning questions I’ve already given you, and customize them so that they meet your personal and emotional needs.
Some of the most important questions we’ll ask in our lives are “What is my life really about?,” “What am I really committed to?,” “Why am I here?,” and “Who am I?” These are incredibly powerful questions, but if you wait to get the perfect answer, you’re going to be in deep trouble. Often, the first emotional, gut-level response you get to any question is the one you should trust and act upon. This is the final point I want to make with you. There’s a point at which you must stop asking questions in order to make progress. If you keep asking questions, you’re going to be uncertain, and only certain actions will produce certain results. At some point, you’ve got to stop evaluating and start doing.
How? You finally decide what’s most important to you, at least m the moment, and you use your personal power to follow through and begin to change the quality of your life. So let me ask you a question. If there was one action that you could take immediately to instantly change the quality of your emotions and feelings each and every day of your life, would you want to know about it? Then go on quickly to …
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