As with many other people, the question I asked my parents the most when I was a child was, “Why?”
“Why is the sky blue?”
“Why do I have to go to bed?”
“Why can’t I have candy for breakfast?”
As a kid with no real points of reference when it came to living, the question of “why” was my way of understanding the world and how it operated around me.
But as I grew up, I began to form my own reference points and understand how life worked in a more fundamental way. My questions about the world became more nuanced and in-depth, yet I still found myself asking, “Why?”
“Why did she break up with me?”
“Why didn’t I get that promotion?”
“Why do these things keep happening to me?”
Stripped of the innocence of childhood, “why” began to feel less like a way to learn new things and more like a way to wallow in my own setbacks.
It’s not that we, as adults, can’t learn from asking “why,” but more often than not, this type of question is framed in such a way that we present ourselves as a victim of circumstance—a stance that can leave us spinning our wheels.
As we mature, so should our way of questioning. Rather than concentrating on the “why” of a situation, we should be looking at the “what.”
Discover the power of what.
When I began to switch from “why” to “what,” I looked at the world through a new lens. I empowered myself with a sense of seeking the future rather than contemplating the past. Instead of asking, “Why did I lose this job?” I asked, “What did I learn from working there?” and “What can I do to get and keep the job I want?”
My questions pushed me forward instead of leaving me sitting and scratching my head. Asking “why” was driving with my foot on the brake; asking “what” was allowing me to finally accelerate.
When we ask, “What does this mean?” rather than asking, “Why did this happen?” we help ourselves take a step forward. Sometimes, these steps are big—a relationship change, a job change or resolving to run a marathon or climb a mountain—but, more often than not, these steps are small, like picking up the phone to open a conversation or close a feedback loop. What’s important isn’t the size—it’s that you keep taking these steps until you find the right path.
Find the right path.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” is an old saying, but it still holds true. If taking a step one way doesn’t feel right, try another path. If it doesn’t work, don’t get stuck in the same patterns and situations.
After a breakup, don’t get in the same kind of relationship with the same kind of person. Ask, “What does it mean that I broke up with this person?” and take a different step. We’re all human. We all feel emotions and want to ask, “Why?”
As positive as I want to be, I still have moments when I ask, “Why?” Although it’s small, the difference between the person who reflects and moves on and the person who gets stuck in the “why” can have big consequences.
The questions we ask reflect the attitude we bring to a situation. The same goes for how we present ourselves. Think about how often you can tell that a person is having a bad day just by looking at him. Sometimes, a simple physical change is all that’s needed to lead to changes in our psychology.
It may sound silly, but refusing to focus on the “what” instead of the “why” is promising yourself to focus on pessimism instead of hope.
That doesn’t mean we’ll always like the answer to “what” questions. Maybe it will mean moving on from a job that was secure but unsatisfying or leaving behind a bad influence despite misplaced feelings of loyalty. These difficult answers are some of the reasons it’s so tempting to stick with the “whys” of the past. These moves, however, are necessary for growing up, maturing and finding the right path.
So how do you begin to accomplish this?
Don’t ask yourself, “Why should I do this?” Instead, ask yourself, “What should I do first?”
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Author: Rick Martinez
Editor: Travis May
Image: Flickr/Jacob Bøtter