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:
- “What is my [psychological] payoff (for this behavior)?” (i.e., “What am I getting out of this behavior?”)
- “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.