I was at “my office” at Starbucks the other day, working hard on cool new things to share with the world, when I overheard a woman having a very lively conversation over the phone with a co-worker. It went something like this (I could only hear the woman’s side of course, so use your imagination to fill the gaps):
“Why can’t you set up the website this way? It’s all broken!”
A few seconds later, yelling into the phone
“And can’t you make the reports come out in the proper formatting… I told you to fix this yesterday! You always do this! ”
And then a few more seconds later, now really loud, the whole place could hear her…
“And why can’t you set up the client setup on the website?! I’m meeting him later today!”
And that went on for a while.
It was obvious that she was very upset about the actions that the person on the other side of the conversation had taken, and obviously the results she expected didn’t happen, but it seems like she kept asking the wrong questions.
This “conversation” really got me thinking. Are we also like this woman? Asking the wrong questions about the things important to us?
Here’s an example:
The other day, I was walking through my living room and bumped into the coffee table while rushing passed it. I stubbed my toe, and there was also a glass of water on the table that spilled over because of the bump. So I’m in pain and also have to clean up the water from the table and dry up the stuff it spilled on, very unpleasant…
Immediately, I thought to myself “why am I always so clumsy!?”
Well, as a response, my mind started coming up with thoughts about me being clumsy.
So why is this the wrong question?
Well, first, I’m not ALWAYS clumsy… I just happened to bump into the table.
Second, the universe is just like a computer, or like a Google search. When you ask a question, your mind, and then the universe will start answering it and provide you with divine pings to correspond to your request.
So if you ask “why am I clumsy?” the universe will start bringing you more opportunities to be clumsy and “analyze” your question with real life data…
This is really counterproductive, isn’t it? The last thing you want is to be “more clumsy”, you actually want to avoid being clumsy, no?
This type of question is also very judgmental of you and your personality, and why would you be judgmental of yourself, you are oneness, right? There’s nothing wrong with your personality, you just happened to bump into a table.
So the right question to ask, if you really have to ask a question at all in this case, would be “how do I avoid the table next time I pass it” or “what do I need to do to not bump into the table and spill the water when I walk by”
Even as I type this, my mind is already starting to come up with solutions like “well, maybe if you get a heavier glass of water next time, it won’t spill” and “maybe move the table a bit further from the couch, so you have more room to walk by”
This question has no bearing on my personality and who I am, it’s just a very tactical question as to the placement of stuff around my house.
There is also another critical difference between the two questions.
The “why” question, doesn’t have any useful answers. No answer would prevent me from bumping into the table next time I pass by. It would just make me feel bad about myself.
The “what” or “how” questions on the other hand, are very practical. The answers to them provide clear and actionable responses that if followed, can easily prevent the situation from happening again.
This is also what was wrong with the conversation I overheard. The woman wasn’t solving a problem, trying to get results and move her project forward, she was just venting anger and making the other person feel bad about themselves.
She could have said:
“The website is broken, what are you going to do to fix it?” instead of “Why can’t you set up the website this way? It’s all broken!”
And “I’m meeting the client later today, and he’s not set up on the website yet, how are you going to fix this in time for the meeting”? Instead of “why can’t you set up the client setup on the website, I’m meeting him later today!”
At this point, it doesn’t matter why the actions she requested didn’t happen, maybe the person responsible for that part of the project was sick that day, maybe the dog ate his homework, who knows? Right now, she wants to get the project moving forward and fix the problems, so “why” isn’t the right question to ask.
So start paying attention to what you’re asking yourself and if you’re asking too many “why” questions about yourself, rethink them and figure out how to change them into a “how” or “what can I do” questions.
P.S. That said, there’s definitely a time to ask “why”, when you want to analyze the root cause of a problem for example as in “why is the car making these weird squeaky noises when I accelerate” but this type of question is something you should ask only if you have the knowledge to answer it and if it doesn’t relate to your or others’ behavior. If you’re not a car mechanic, and don’t know anything about cars, you won’t be able to find an answer easily. In this case, you’re also asking this about the car, so it’s detached from you or your personality, so there’s really problem with asking it.