Asking Questions as a Life Skill

We all get upset with other people or situations; this is the norm. So it follows that one’s focus would be less about the upset, itself, and more about our response, how we handle the situation. For myself, I’ve learned that one of the most effective ways to address those unwanted and/or unexpected upsets are to stop and ask myself one of two questions:

  • What else could be true?
  • What if that’s the best that person can do?

What else could be true?

Asking myself this question allows me to consider other possibilities and stop from jumping to conclusions. It helps me break that habit I have of looking for the negatives; I consciously stop, ask myself the question, and then, methodically, search for the answers. Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain, tells us that,

“your brain has a built-in negative bias, it generates an unpleasant background of anxiety, which for some people can be quite intense; anxiety makes it harder to bring attention inward for self-awareness or contemplative practice, since the brain keeps scanning to make sure there is no problem.”

Additionally, asking myself this question expands my thinking, saves me from the toll associated with an emotional overreaction, and the embarrassment that comes with saying or doing something as a knee-jerk reaction. Taking the time to seek clarity strengthens my communication skills, allows me to wait before making a judgment or reaching a conclusion, all strengthening my social-emotional life skills.

What if that’s the best that person can do?

Eventually, I do reach a conclusion about whatever took place. Sometimes I’ve gained more clarity and acceptance about the situation, and sometimes I’m truly disappointed in the words or actions of another. Still, I will react in one way or another and, when feeling let down, I try to ask myself,

“What if that’s the best he could do? What might have led to this being the limit of his abilities?”

While reaching this line of thinking may not result in my being happier with the events that occurred, it does lead me to consider the other person’s situation. Now, I can easily admit that this thinking does not help everyone; my son says beginning when he was in the fourth grade I was always “making excuses” for the actions of others. But, for me, this is less about defending someone’s behavior and more about finding a way to understand how he could choose to act in such a manner.

And, then, it is my decision to make. Do I want to continue the relationship with that person? If I have no choice but to be connected in some way, how can I minimize the interactions, or otherwise protect myself to the greatest possible degree?

Solving no problems

It is true that these strategies solve no problems, but they do save me from emotional overreactions, a cycle of negative thinking, and they certainly help me manage the typical ups and downs of daily life. And, for me, that, alone, makes it worth the time it takes to practice these strategies.

Might you be willing to try?

Dr W


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