A question that naturally comes to mind when something goes wrong is “Why?” But it’s a question fraught with danger. Research has repeatedly shown that the human brain is designed to answer a question with whatever knowledge it has (no matter how little) and come up with a plausible answer (however wrong). Self-blame or victimhood is a frequent side effect.
For example, you can ask why you’re overweight and, without any problem at all, your mind will come up with answers. But all it can give you are theories. What’s the “real” answer? Is it because you weren’t loved as a child? Is it a genetic weakness in your family? Is it an evolutionary holdover precaution against famine? Is your mouth simply bored?
The problem with a WHY question is that you get too many answers you can do nothing about. You can’t change your childhood or a genetic weakness.
There is only one good thing about asking WHY: It can be entertaining. It’s intriguing. It’s like a mystery and mysteries capture our attention like nothing else. But if what you want is to handle the situation well or solve the problem and get on with the business of living, ask HOW not WHY. It’s more efficient.
Since your mind will try to answer any question you put to it, the kind of question you ask makes a big difference. So ask what you really want to know: “How could I get slimmer?” Or “How can I avoid this problem in the future?” Or “How can I solve this problem now?” Or “How can I make things a little better?” Let your mind go wild on one of those questions. The answers will be more productive.
With HOW, you go straight for a useful answer. You avoid getting sidetracked into what can become an endless search for “understanding.” With HOW your answers lead to actions. And it is actions that solve problems and produce real change.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.