Asking the Wrong Question

by Haider on June 2, 2009 · 15 comments

in Personal Growth

There is a question that seems to make a constant appearance in our minds. It accompanies us everywhere we go and joins us in every task we carry out.

But it’s the wrong question to befriend.

Although it seems like a very reasonable question, and one that’s very popular in the field of personal growth, neither asking the question nor finding an answer for it is ever reasonable.

This question distracts us from the question we should be asking and befriending.

As soon as you abandon the wrong question and embrace the right question, you’ll realize that many of the obstacles you’ve been facing in life have nothing to do with the challenges that life throws in your direction, but the way you approach them and the question that you use to face these challenges.

“But there are no wrong questions!”

That’s wrong! Very wrong!

Of course there are wrong questions!

I don’t know who came up with this whole “there’s no right or wrong” nonsense, but you’re undermining your personal growth if you think that all questions will help you grow.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Look at the consequences of the questions you ask yourself and decide which questions you should be asking yourself and which ones you should ignore.

The Wrong Question

You might be shocked to find out what the wrong question is, but give yourself a minute to digest why it’s wrong before you think what I’m saying is wrong ;)

The wrong question to ask yourself is: “Can I do it?”

This question comes up in a variety of ways, but all with the same intention: to question yourself and your abilities.

“Can I do it?”

“Can I handle it?”

“Can I be happy?”

“Can I succeed?”

The list of possible ways to ask yourself this question is endless. For every situation you face or emotion you experience, there is a version of that question especially designed to fit that situation and screw everything up in the process.

Answering the Wrong Question

It’s important to bear in mind that wrong questions shouldn’t be answered. They should be ignored.

Sadly, many personal growth “experts” get you to invest your time, energy and money in answering the wrong question.

Instead of telling you what the right question is, they try to inject you with shots of motivation and try to boost your self-esteem:

“You can do it!”

“Believe in yourself!”

“Everything is possible!”

This usually doesn’t help (and not for long, anyways). By accepting the wrong question as though it was valid (and needs answering!), they are reinforcing the negative effects of the wrong question.

Instead of giving the wrong question the attention it seeks, you should direct your attention to finding answers to the right question.

The Right Question

Although the right question looks very similar to the wrong question, their consequences are worlds apart.

The right question is: HOW can I do it?”

Now THAT’S a question you can proudly befriend!

Right and Wrong

The labels “right” and “wrong” belong to a very sensitive subject: judgment.

Some people shudder at the thought of being judged or even judging others. And while I’ve been juggling these two labels quite liberally in this article, I don’t intend on casting a judgment on my readers. In fact, I aim for the opposite: you shouldn’t be judging yourself.

And this is what’s at the heart of the difference between the two questions.

The wrong question leads you to question yourself and to put labels on your character, while distracting you from the issues you should be dealing with and the challenges you are facing.

It necessitates a judgment.

Can I do it?

No I can’t, because I’m ignorant, I’m incompetent, I’m shy, I’m depressed, I’m angry, I’m lonely, etc.

Even if the answer to the question is a resounding: “Yes I can!”

It’s based on a judgment.

Because I know how to, I’m confident, I’m excited, I’m intelligent, I’m charismatic, etc.

What happens when you face your next hurdle? You ask yourself the same question again. And again. And again.

But with time and a series of challenges, you may begin to doubt yourself, especially when confronted with new challenges you can’t rely on past experience to confirm whether you truly can handle or not.

The right question doesn’t come with this problem. It’s not intended to be a means to judge yourself and what you can do. It forces you to look at the problems you face and seek solutions for them. Without questioning your abilities or doubting yourself.

If your approach doesn’t work the first time, the same question will pop up again (though slightly modified): How [else] can I do it?

By asking the right question you don’t end up worrying so much about your own strengths and weaknesses. Instead, you will put your strengths into use and look for ways to overcome your weaknesses. Without judgment. Without blame. Without doubt.

Facing Life with the Right Question

You can only effectively deal with life’s challenges by focusing on how they should be dealt with and not on whether you can deal with them or not.

Most problems we face in life are a result of asking the wrong question. Don’t amplify its impact by searching for an answer. Instead, ask yourself the right question in order to develop the right focus in life.

Decide today to commit yourself to asking the right question, and you will realize the enormous impact it has on your life!

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Malcolm June 2, 2009 at 4:14 pm

This is great! I love it – I wrote “How can I do it?” on my wall (literally – pencil erases from my wall) as soon as I read that.

Great example of not just removing the negative but replacing it with something useful. Now one just needs mindfulness to catch “can it do it?” thoughts =)

Malcolm’s last blog post..Child Abuse

2 Haider June 3, 2009 at 7:52 am

Malcolm, that’s great!

Yes, replacing the wrong question with the right one definitely needs mindfulness to catch the mindset that comes with the wrong question, especially when that stupid wrong question is very sly and comes in different shapes and sizes! ;)

3 Malcolm June 3, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Mmmm…. like you mentioned in your original post, sometimes it doesn’t feel right to call things “right” or “wrong”. I find myself in that scenario often, unwilling to judge something even when I should. In general, judgement will not make you happy, but it is worth that sort of identification.

Actually, that’s it right there. I was about to say “judgement is bad”, but then I changed it to reflect what I actually meant and what is actually important. The identification of a thought as negative or positive is very helpful, but when you say “that thought shouldn’t be there”, I guess, you’ve got your problem, because if it is there it should be. This goes back to the “You Are Here” post idea.

When I get negative or unneccessary thoughts, one technique I use is to mentally or aloud say “Shh…”. It’s a way of saying “I have more important things to do than worry” without getting frustrated. The “Shh…” is better when it’s the kind that one would say if beautiful music is playing and somebody is talking, rather than the “Shh!” one says angrily when being bothered.

Malcolm’s last blog post..Child Abuse

4 Haider June 6, 2009 at 11:55 am

Malcolm, you make a good point about judgment. I’m not against judgment, but I am against us judging ourselves when the focus should really be on judging actions and forming a better understanding of what actions we should and shouldn’t be doing.

When you label yourself with negative labels you can jump to the conclusion that this is the type of person you are and that you can’t really change that. But when you put the label on the action, you can recognize that that is only one of the available options in your life and you can go for actions that have better labels.

There *are* character traits that refer to the individual, such as hypocrisy. That’s a character judgment and a valid one to acknowledge. You shouldn’t tip-toe around using it. Having said that, you would still need to see hypocrisy as a possible trait to possess and that you have the choice to let go of that trait by acting differently and becoming a different person.

Morality isn’t about the labels. It’s about using the labels to guide our lives. If we simply choose to go around putting labels on everything without really knowing what to do about them or how we can bring about positive change, then morality works against us instead of for us. Many people sadly suffer from guilt all their lives because they choose to accept the negative labels they place on themselves (or have others place on them) without choosing to do anything about them.

As for the “shh” technique, I usually hum when my mind is actively trying to pursue a negative train of thought.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. They’re very inspiring for me. :)

5 Galen June 10, 2009 at 3:04 pm

I loved this! Thank you very much!!

6 Haider June 10, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Thanks Galen! :D

7 Malcolm June 23, 2009 at 3:40 am

I finally got around to reading your reply to my comment. I actually don’t have much to say – it all sounds great =)

I enjoy commenting on your blog especially because it’s small, so (a) I know that my comment is more valuable than it would be if you got hundreds, (b) you’re more likely to reply, and (c) there’s a much smaller chance that somebody else has already posted the same thing I was going to.

Most of all, though, I find your blog posts personally engaging and thought-provoking, so that’s why I comment =)

8 Haider June 24, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Malcolm, your comments are always valuable, regardless of the number of people commenting on my blog :)

Glad you find my posts engaging and thought-provoking! :D

9 Kathie June 29, 2009 at 12:04 am

I read a number of personal development blogs every week…actually read the post “A light unto yourself/in case of emergency” on the blog.

I found this post the most helpful, for me at this time, than any other. It seems so simple, and yet I have been caught in a loop of asking the “wrong question”, or the ineffective question as I like to think of it, for *years*.

Making this shift will make a huge difference in my life. I have struggled with chronic illnesses (multiple – Lupus, Addisons, Sjogrens, FMS/CFS) for over 12 years now – over a decade. I function at varying levels of health depending on what is going on in my life, and how ill I am, but I have been asking the ineffective (wrong) question! I honestly think that asking “HOW can I do it?” will change my focus away from *illness* and towards *functionality* as a human being.

I have not been able to raise to a level of functioning that would allow me to work since I went on disability 13 years ago. Now…I wonder if I can do *some* work. I have gone back to pursue my PhD in an online format, but have not been able to keep up. Perfectionism is not my friend in this endeavor, and yet it rears its ugly head, and I fall down. (1st quarter – and incomplete that I have completed, 2nd quarter, had to withdraw after becoming severely ill in 2nd week.) Looking at it, journalling about it, I have come to the conclusion that I did not fail, rather perfectionism is getting in my way. So I have been wringing the proverbial hands and asking, “Can I do this?” “Should I even be trying?” Both ineffective questions!

Thank you so much for taking the time to share these thoughts. I have printed your post and have pinned it to my wall by my desk. Great article! For me, potentially life altering!

10 Haider June 29, 2009 at 10:57 am

Dear Kathie,

Thank you for leaving your feedback. I hope the advice you read here will be life altering for you, towards the better! :D

I’m sorry to hear about your disability. While I can’t possibly claim I know what you’re going through or how I would think, feel and behave in your situation, I strongly believe that all success and growth comes from accepting the facts, before we seek to change the situation we are in. Some things require gradual change while others can be transformed overnight. But we always need to begin with the acceptance of reality, without trying to fight against it.

In many ways “perfectionism” is rebellion against nature and its laws. You can’t start speaking a new language without making a ton of mistakes. Holding a standard that forbids mistakes is unnatural and damaging to our well-being. When you’re noticing yourself gravitating towards perfectionism, dismiss the idea as unnatural, rather than blame yourself for not achieving perfection.

I wish you all the best! :)

11 Malcolm June 29, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Hello Kathie

You may find, as well, that asking the right question will aid you on the path to healing your illnesses as well and reabling yourself.

I’ve just recently started reading a book called Evolve your Brain [The Science of Changing Your Mind] by Joe Dispenza. This book teaches about how you can use positive and effective thought processes to not only change the pathways in your brain but to heal your body as well.

I strongly suggest getting this book because it definitely has the potential to change your life for the better.
There’s a link for where you could buy it, but it’s also in bookstores.

Good luck!


12 Bill June 29, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Nothing new to add. Just wanted to say I appreciate your blog. It is the only personal growth blog I haven’t dropped. You have good insights. Keep doing it the way you’re doing it. Don’t give in to that tendency to over-blog to the point of irrelevance…

13 Haider June 30, 2009 at 9:44 am

@Malcolm: Thank you for your input. I added the book to my wishlist. :D

@Bill: Thank you for your feedback and positive impression of my blog. I hope I’ll never drift towards irrelevance, but I do need to write more because there’s a lot to cover! And I hope you’ll never be disappointed. :D

14 Paula Grant-LeClaire July 3, 2009 at 7:38 pm

What an incredible insight! “Can” is presupposed in doubt; “How” presumes success … got it!

15 Haider July 5, 2009 at 1:14 am

Thanks Paula!

That’s the most succinct explanation of the post I’ve seen! ;)

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