2 Insightful Questions

Ever asked yourself, “Why did I do that?” – or hear yourself or someone else ask, “Why did you do that?” (referring to you)? Especially after doing something you later regretted doing? I admit, it’s one of my favorite “inside-my-head” questions.

This week in a conversation with Carol, I experienced one of those “ah-ha” moments in which I realized that when I ask that question of myself, I’m really inwardly searching for a justification to defend my behavior or at least make myself appear right, justified, or proper. In other words, the question is a setup for defense.

What if, instead of setting up a defense, I looked for insight? To do that, I might want to ask a different question or set of questions.

Hmm. Two questions pop to mind that might serve:

  1. “What is my [psychological] payoff (for this behavior)?” (i.e., “What am I getting out of this behavior?”)
  2. “Why is that payoff important to me?”

The first question investigates what motivates me to do the behavior. The second question digs into my values, which underlie my motivations.

I realized that when I heard that question, “Why did I do that?” inside my head, I could replace it with the other two questions (in no particular order – just whichever one is easiest to answer right away). Then I would oscillate between the two questions until I arrive at a core value – and maybe some useful awareness about my interpretation of benefit and threat.

Honesty – getting down and dirty with myself – really helps here. When I feel myself getting drawn into blame or self-loathing, I must retreat a bit and ask myself those questions about blaming or self-loathing – because that’s where it’s taking me! Follow the energy!

For example, not long ago I heard myself ask the question, “Why did I eat that [fattening food] when I know it destroys my diet?” Perfect time for my two questions! Instead of building a defense around why I should or shouldn’t eat the item(s), I could use it as an aha moment to learn what my psychological rewards are for such behavior and why those rewards are so important to me.

Questions make answers possible – questions are a bridge to understanding conclusions – they aren’t intended to solve or resolve conflict – just a means of ascertaining the effects of information. The questions are intended to merely help me uncover my hidden (real) motivations and values.

Using just two questions, I might uncover some useful information about myself – and discover what’s in this for me.

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