Our brain is like a search engine:
Ask a question and it will look for the answer.
Except too often, we’re asking the wrong questions:
- “Why do I always do that?”
- “Why doesn’t anything ever go right?”
- “Why wasn’t I able to make it work?”
And the real answer to those questions are hidden in our subconscious where we don’t have access to them.
So we end up inventing answers that feel true — “I’m just not good at managing people” — but that are actually irrational and full of biases.
In reviewing transcripts of interviews with highly self-aware people, organizational psychologist Tascha Eurich and her research team found something interesting:
- The word “why” appeared less than 150 times.
- The word “what” appeared more than 1,000 times.
The key lies in changing just one word.
👉🏻 Instead of “Why do I feel so awful?” self-aware people ask: “What are the situations that make me feel awful, and what do they have in common?”
👉🏻 Instead of “Why did you say these negative things about me?” self-aware people ask: “What are the steps I need to take in the future to do better?”
👉🏻 Instead of “Why wasn’t I able to make my business work?” self-aware people ask: “What do I need to do to move forward in a way that minimizes the impact to our customers and employees?”
“WHY” takes us into the past, swimming in muddy, emotional waters.
“WHAT” keeps us focused on the productive actions we can take going forward.
So go on that search for answers.
Just ask what, not why.
p.s. This is just one of dozens of techniques high-growth leaders in my Evolving Faster leadership program learn to optimize their thinking and burn the ‘mental fat.’ If you’re ready to level up as leader, you can see if the program’s a good fit here.