“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the answer, I would spend the first 55 minutes figuring out the proper questions to ask. For if I knew the proper questions, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.”Albert Einstein
Questions are an underrated tool and resource. With the right question, you can radically shift your perspective and open up new possibilities in your life. But we don’t usually like questions. They make us insecure, they shift the ground beneath our feet. They invite chaos.
Answers are more soothing and comforting. So, we are always looking for them. We yearn for the silver bullet, the simple solution that will solve all our problems and put us at ease, give us some kind of peace.
But in this vast complex world we live in, we need to value questions more. We cannot assume the answers we have will always work, because things are always changing. We have to become more adept with living through questions than latching on to answers.
Questions are more important than answers because they instigate. They force us to think, to examine assumptions, to dig deep and find true answers, not just surface answers, but the ones that resonate to our core.
Because to truly learn is to question, not just blindly accepting answers, questions are a learning super tools that turn us from passive receivers to being active participants. They stress test the limits of our knowledge and show us the gaps we need to work to fill, leading us down paths of discovery.
The very best questions can even change your life by helping you find new meaning, or prioritise, or deal with the challenges of life.
In my life experience, and over years of reading some good books and listening to people way smarter than myself, I have come across a few questions that are potentially life changing if addressed regularly. Here are 6 of them.
1. What is the ONE Thing I could do that would make everything else on my list irrelevant?
This is one of my favourite questions. I’ve written about it over and over again. It is the focusing question at the heart of the book – The One Thingand is the main question I use to prioritise my day, my week, my month, my year, all the way to my major goals.
At its core, and most immediately applicable level, it is the question I ask myself first in the morning – what is the ONE Thing I could do today that would make everything else on my list easier or irrelevant? Or what is the ONE Thing I could do today that would make the most impact? Then I go do that thing. The focusing question allows me to identify what is most important.
2. What if it were easy?
Hard work is important, and a lot of great things are only won with great effort. But there is such a thing as wasted effort. Sometimes, a great amount of value can be unlocked with minimal but perfectly placed effort.
As much as many people would love to have 4-hour work weeks, there is also such a thing as the fetishization of hustle. We love the idea of the grind so much, that we get wrapped up in
An interesting way to figure how to achieve a goal, is to ask ‘what if it were easy?’. Or ‘what is the easiest, lowest pain way to get this done?’ If there is an easier way to do it, do it. Save your energy for the things that are most important.
Hustle is important, hard work is guaranteed, but we have finite resources and we must allocate them wisely.
3. What important truth do very few people agree with you on?
This one is from Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. The ‘unpopular question’, as I once read it called, is a powerful one. It separates the incremental thinkers from the truly innovative and out the box thinkers.
When we hold a belief that most people don’t, we stand against the tide of popular opinion. It is a call for deeper introspection and becomes the launch pad that allows us to have original thoughts, and exploit unseen opportunities to do something remarkable and new.
4. What do you really want?
“This is a fundamental irony of most people’s lives. They don’t quite know what they want to do with their lives. Yet they are very active.” – Ryan Holiday
You would think you always know what you want. You probably don’t. The pull of society and our upbringing is very strong and rightfully so. It takes time and effort to get still and reach deep within. To withstand knee jerk reactions, conditioning and habits. I use this question a lot, to monitor my desires, to make sure I am oriented towards a larger purpose, to delay gratification, to make decisions when I am swamped by requests and demands on my time, presence or energy. What do I really want?
5. What do you truly value?
A derivative of the desire question is the value question which allows you to prioritise your options in life and make the choices best suited to you.
Our lives are driven by our values, consciously or subconsciously held. And for each of us, they are different. Some people value material comfort, others value adventure. Some people value stability, others need constant change to feel alive.
Understanding your value system allows you to
6. Where is the good in this?
The alchemic question. The one you use to turn tragedy to triumph and shit to sugar – where is the good in this?
This question allows us to step back and analyze situations, and circumstances, even the worst of them, and glean something good. If we are able to do this constantly, we are able to see the silver linings in dark clouds, the opportunities in chaos, and the lessons in failure.
It teaches us that everything has the potential to be used for good, to be turned on its head, or as a lesson to be learned.
In this way we become stronger, wiser and more resilient.