Powerful Questions that Just Might Change Your Life.
Power Question #1: The courage to see the good.
It has been said that a powerful question can change your life more than a thousand answers. In my 35 years of experience as a family and marital therapist, organizational leadership consultant and life coach, I have found this to be true.
As my mentor Dr. James Farr would often say, asking a powerful question helps to “aim the mind” toward solutions that are, in fact, on target. Knowing the right question to ask in a particular situation or moment in your life can be transformative and liberating. It’s not an exaggeration to say that powerful questions can change your life.
Our world is currently crowded with answers, people shouting at us via the internet, media, billboards, even through product packaging. Yet just as computer programmers warn, “garbage in, garbage out”, you need to make use of powerful questions if you want to expect life changing answers.
4 Life Changing Power Questions
There are four power questions that I have been consistently using over the last many decades as I have worked with individuals, families and organizations. These are easy to remember and yet profound when used consistently, generating important reflection and engagement toward meaningful, life-affirming responses.
The first power question is one of the most important and yet it is almost never asked. It is taken for granted or ignored and that is tragic. Ready for it?
What are the top 1 or 2 things to celebrate in YOUR life, in YOUR organization, about YOUR project, about YOUR relationship?
In other words, can you be courageous enough to see the good? Can you be courageous enough to see current reality and acknowledge what is going well, and what is already right?
This powerful question liberates energy and helps to build momentum. Not asking this is like having $100,000 dollars in your bank account and not factoring those funds into your plans. The money just sits there, a valuable and underutilized resource, as you focus instead on what you do not have.
Asking this first power question invites you to see the good in your world, focus on strengths, and create leverage for your life goals. It’s like taking the $100,000 and investing it toward a much higher return. It generates enthusiasm, celebrates capacity and engages others in recognizing what is good, right and affirming, whether that is in a relationship, a work team, an organization or even a society.
It takes courage to see the good as we live in a cynical age and problem-focused culture.
Good news does not sell. Watching the news at night, it can seem as if everything is falling apart and the world is becoming worse and worse. Imagine a news story on CNN or Fox saying, “600 million parents in the world went home and loved their children tonight” or “NEWS FLASH: 200 million Americans had a great dinner tonight with someone they loved.”
When you ask the provocative, counter-cultural question, “What is here to celebrate?” you open new pathways of appreciation that liberate good will and passion, at work and in your personal life. You allow yourself to see the good. This in turn helps you to grow.
Research in psychology and sociology over the past two decades points to a powerful insight: focusing on strengths and building on them produces better outcomes and greater satisfaction than focusing only on what is wrong and trying to fix that.
You can read more about this in Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham. You can also explore Appreciative Inquiry, a body of work developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva, now with a global following of practitioners and researchers.
I applied this power question in my own life at the age of 29
And the answer literally changed the course of my life and informed everything I brought forth in my work and my personal life since.
Back then I was working at a VA hospital as part of my graduate internship. One of my clients over several months was a man dying of cancer. I was at his bedside when he took his last breath. I watched as his wife and daughter poured their intense love out to this man, and abruptly realized that had it been my father – also a veteran – lying in that bed, I would not have been able to express my love in the same way.
Rather than choosing to see the good, I had, in fact, chosen to focus on everything that was “wrong” about my “tough-as-nails” father and spent as little time around him as possible. After witnessing death, I decided that I wanted to transform my relationship with my father before it was too late.
I began by making a list of my father’s admirable qualities. It turned out to be much easier than I thought. As a soldier, he had always been extremely loyal to his men and had acted heroically on several occasions.
He exhibited unwavering integrity when many others would have taken the easy road; he had a great laugh; and he was devoted to his wife and six children. By focusing on these traits, I began a determined journey to repair my relationship with my father.
It took persistence and conscious focus on the positive (you can hear my story as part of this TEDx talk), yet in the end my father and I honored and respected each other. Luckily I had ten years before he died to express my appreciation and love to him. Since then, I’ve seen the courageous choice to see the good and focus on what is “right” transform many lives. It has repaired personal relationships, revived failing companies, and saved careers.
Commit to a week of starting every day with the courage to see the good by answering this powerful question:
“What are the top 2 things to celebrate about my life today?”
Then, as you move through your day, keep asking, “What is right here? What is good? What are the top 1 or 2 things to appreciate about this person, this work, this team, this situation?”
I believe you will find it life changing and transformative to begin each day with this kind of celebration. Let it provide a glide path to a higher perspective in the face of any challenge you might face; let it give you energy and greater resilience.
You can take this exercise a step further by asking an additional powerful question: “How can I best build on or leverage what is already right to make things even stronger and better, to move forward to where I want to go?”
Open yourself to a wealth of creative energy flowing to help you. I invite you to share what you discover by posting a comment to this blog.
Ready for the Power Question #2?
In my work as a therapist, executive coach and organizational consultant, power question #2 has uncovered critical information and provided the focus for creating superior outcomes. Asking this question allows you to leverage your strengths and blessings to help you generate more positive results in any area of your life.