October 12, 2021

Episode 8: Ask better questions

The brain is built to answer questions. A fantastic way to create great thoughts that you already believe is to ask yourself great questions.

What you will discover

  • What questions and golden retrievers have in common
  • How to create great questions
  • 5 fundamental assumptions that will change the way you see the world
  • The most powerful way to look at failure
  • Why you never have to pick your kids up from school
  • A list of powerful questions you can ask yourself right away


Mixed and produced by Adrien Grenier

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Episode Transcript

If you want to have abs that look like a six-pack but you hate going to the gym – so you love the result of the six-pack, but you hate the process of going to the gym – there's a very high chance that you're not going to go to the gym often enough for you to develop those muscles.

Hi, welcome to the Excellent Rider podcast. I'm Mélanie, I'm a certified life coach and I specialize in helping people like you get things done, find ease and motivation again and get unstuck when it feels like you've lost your mojo.

Last episode, I mentioned several ways that you can find a better angle of view in your situation. A better interpretation of what's going on. A point of view that will create more useful feelings for you. And a fantastic way to create great thoughts that you already believe or to find great thoughts that you already believe, it's to ask yourself great questions. The brain is built to answer questions.

If you pay attention, you will notice that it's asking you, you're asking yourself or your brain is asking itself questions all the time. What's for lunch? What time will this meeting be over? How will I manage to do all this work? Why is my boss so unpleasant to me? Why am I not yet SVP at my age? So it's questions questions questions all the time and your brain is a machine that is answering questions.

So what I find useful is to imagine that my brain is like this big golden retriever dog, like, you know, the kind of dog that looks at you very happy, wagging their tail and going uhu-uhu-uhu like this, you know, with their tongue out. And I imagine it's an extremely extremely loyal dog. So it will do exactly what I ask it to do. It has this incredible sense of smell. Much more developed than my own.

So, if I ask a question to my brain or if I throw something to my dog, my dog will be able to find every single object in the landscape that looks like the thing I have thrown at it. So it means, if you're asking yourself a question, your brain is extremely well-equipped to find tons of answers to that question, and it will go out in the landscape and it will look very carefully for what you have just thrown at it.

So you've thrown a good question and it will come back with all the answers to that question. So, imagine that if you throw an old shoe to your dog, your dog will come back with all the old shoes that it can find in the landscape. And because it's a very, very gifted dog with a very powerful sense of smell, it will find about fifty or a hundred different old shoes there.

So you will throw an old shoe and you will get back a huge pile of old shoes. But if you throw a golden ball to your dog, it will be exactly the same. So, your dog will come back and will create a huge pile of golden balls just in front of you. So you have to be careful in what kind of questions you ask your brain because it's a very, very loyal dog and it will never question the question that you asked.

So for example, if you would like to find a job that is more exciting, that has more responsibilities or that's in a different line of work from what you're doing today; if you ask yourself, “why can't I find that job?” “Why is it so difficult to find a job right now on the job market?” “Why don't my managers ever trust me with responsibilities?” “Why can't they see my potential?”

Your brain will not ask itself whether it's a good or a bad question or whether asking and answering this question is helping you.  It will just go ahead and find the answers. So if you're asking yourself, “Why can't I find that job?” Well, your brain will come back with all the reasons why it is indeed very difficult for you to find a job. All the reasons why you shouldn't find a job, right?

So it will tell you that the job market is very saturated; that there are no good ads; that you don't have the right skills; that you are too old for this kind of position, or too young for this kind of position or whatever; but it will come back with all the answers. So, what you want to do is instead, you want to ask yourself questions that you actually want the answer to.

So you want to ask yourself questions like “How can I find that job?” “How can I make it easy or easier to find that job?” “In what ways do my managers already trust me with these responsibilities?” “How can I show my potential?” Etc, etc. So a great question is a question that when it's answered, the answers are useful to you.  The answers are actually helpful for you to go towards your goal.

So it's a very simple definition but it's a very powerful one. So when you ask yourself questions, you need to ask yourself first: if I did get the answer to that question, would that help me go towards my goal? If the answer is yes, it's a wonderful question. If the answer is no: drop the question, don't even ask it. Don't spend any time on it.

So the way to ask great questions, it's to make great assumptions. You have to imagine that when you're looking at a specific situation – for example, if you're looking for a new job or if you have a difficulty with somebody or whatever – if you make great assumptions, you're going to ask questions based on those assumptions.

And when the assumptions are great, it's going to be much easier for you to find questions that are really good, alright? So I want to share today the assumptions that I choose to cultivate and that help me a lot to create the questions that are very powerful and that create the kind of answers that I really want to have.

And I just want you to know that these are not the core beliefs that I was born into the world with, at all. Just like most people, my spontaneous beliefs have more being along the line that “I'm not good enough”, that “I don't count”, that “I'm expendable”, that “I'm only lovable if I always have the right answer”, that “I need to work hard to be worthy”, that “If I don't contribute, if I don't produce, I am not worthy and I'm not lovable” etc etc.

But I spend a lot of time and a lot of effort challenging those beliefs and replacing them with new assumptions, and that work pays off and it pays off much quicker than you would imagine. And over time, I've started to take for granted the assumptions that I'm going to share now, and these are the assumptions that make it easier to ask great questions.

So the first very important assumption that you can make is that things are possible to change. So if you've ever read the book by Carol Dweck which is called “Mindset”, she talks about growth mindset and fixed mindset. So if you look at the world from the basis of a fixed mindset, you're going to assume that your skills, your intelligence, your possibilities are fixed.

So if you're not good at something, you're never going to be good at it. What you have is all there is.  A growth mindset means that you believe that your intelligence and your talents can be developed over time. So, typically, when you're in a growth mindset, if you don't succeed at doing something, you believe that you can learn, you can improve. That what you do makes a difference anyway, right?

And so, of course when you hear that, you understand that it means that you are going to try again. And the more you try the greater the chance there is that at some point you will find something or some angle that will succeed. And Brené Brown has an amazing way of encapsulating this concept of growth mindset and fixed mindset.

She always says that “I'm not here to be right. I'm here to get it right”. So, that's a very powerful assumption to make when you’re asking yourself questions. If you assume that you're not here to be right, you're here to get it right; you will start to ask questions from that angle into your situation.

And a lot of the questions you're going to ask from that angle are going to be questions that create answers that actually help you find the next step for you to get out of the situation. If it's a difficult situation or a situation in which you feel stuck for example.  The second very important assumption that you can make is the difference between abundance and scarcity.

Scarcity means that you assume that there is a pie and the pie is limited. That not everybody will get a piece and that you should do your best to get the largest piece possible. Because it's a matter of survival.  And abundance on the contrary, it means that you think that it's always possible to increase the size of the pie and it literally does not matter what percentage of the pie you receive;

because the pie is ever expanding, and so there will always be enough and it will cover your needs regardless. When you worry about how you're going to make ends meet, you're in scarcity. But when you're breathing, you're in abundance because I'm assuming that you never worry about whether or not they will be enough air for you to take the next breath.

And when people inform you that they are going to have children, you don't worry that this will make air more difficult for you to find. So this is what I mean by abundance. You just assume that there will be enough and you don't worry about it at all. You don't even think about it most of the time and you can have exactly the same attitude to any sort of resource in life.

You can have this attitude about money. You can have this attitude about time. You can have this attitude about love. You can have this attitude about people, friends, people who are going to help you. You can have an abundant attitude about absolutely everything. And when you have a mindset of abundance, you believe things like “there is enough”. “I am enough”. “It's all right as it is”.

And you even believe things like “take what you want, I will make some more.” So you find that it's actually possible to create more of whatever resource that you need. Another assumption that I recommend that you make is looking at things from the point of view of loving the process, rather than only wanting the results. So it's great to want the result. It's great to have targets.

It's great to have goals. But if you want to have for example abs that look like a six-pack, but you hate going to the gym – so you love the result of the six-pack, but you hate the process of going to the gym – there is a very high chance that you're not going to go to the gym often enough for you to develop those muscles. So, loving the process, it's about finding ways to make the journey itself interesting, and fun, and worth your while.

Rather than always and only focusing on the result that you want. The next assumption that you can make, it's also the difference between empowerment and powerlessness.  When we say things like “I have to do this”, we put ourselves in a sort of victim mentality because in reality, we always have a choice. It doesn't matter how dire the situation seems.

It doesn't matter how little margin of maneuver you think that you have, there is always a choice. So I'll take some extreme examples, but paying your taxes, going to work, picking up your kids from school. All of these are actually choices. You don't have to pay your taxes, you don't have to go to work. You don't have to pick up your kids from school ever.

It's just that you don't like the consequences if you don't do it. So remember that it's an active choice that you're making and presenting it to yourself like this, it will show you that you actually have power in the situation and that you actually choose to do things in a certain way. And it's an act of volition from yourself to do it this way.

And you will notice the difference in feelings that this creates when you are looking at things that way. And then the last assumption that you can make, it’s to look at people from the viewpoint that they always have good reasons to do what they are doing. And the reason they're doing what they're doing, no matter how unpleasant for you, it's that they are just trying to fulfill needs that you could probably or definitely even relate to if only you knew what those needs were.

And it's just that many people (ourselves included) have very poor strategies to fulfill their needs. So start to look at people's interaction with you from that point of view and you will see how much easier your life will be. When you think that the need that the person is trying to fulfill is probably very valid. It's just that they have a very shitty strategy to fulfill that need.

And when you make all of these basic assumptions that I have just shared about the world, you start to think like an excellent rider and you start to be able to ask powerful questions about whatever situation that you're in. So I'm going to share a few example of questions. I'll put even more in the show notes;

but the idea is really you go from those assumptions and you ask questions for which you would like to have the answer. Because once you will have the answer, it will actually help you go towards your goal. So a few example of high-level generic questions that you can ask yourself in any situations: “How can I make the situation right?”, “If it didn't matter at all who is right and who is wrong; what would I do?”, “What is the one small step I can take today in the right direction?”

“If I knew for a fact that there is enough, that everything will turn out alright; what would I think? What would I do?”, “In what ways is the journey to the goal the best part?”, “What do I love about this journey?”, “What do I get to think or to do as I go through this process?”, “How is this actually an active choice that I'm making?”, “What would happen if I didn't do this thing?”

“Why do I think it's better that I do it?”, “What human need could this person possibly be trying to fulfill with this strategy?”, “How can I relate to this need?”, “When have I behaved in a similar way?”, and “What's a better strategy that I have to fulfill the same need?” So take those basic building blocks that I've shared today as your assumption, and then go and create your own questions.

So that you get all the answers that will be helpful to you in the situation that you're in.  If you like what you heard, go to my website excellentrider.com. That's excellent rider in one word dot com and get the episode notes. They are organized in a structured way that makes them easy to remember and there are additional exercises and illustrations that you don't get in the audio.

And if you really like what you heard, go to your podcast platform and leave me a review. You can Google how to do that if you're not sure how to proceed.  This helps the podcast be more visible. It means that it will be easier to find for other people who need to hear exactly this message. And it's also a great encouragement for me.

If you felt that this information was valuable, it's the absolute best way to let me know. I personally answer everyone who is kind enough to leave a review.  Thanks a lot for listening today. I hope to talk to you again very soon. Because you my friend, even when you cannot get yourself to do what you want. Even when you're stuck in negative emotions and unpleasant thought loops, and even when you don't believe it – especially when you don't believe it – you absolutely rock. And you'll soon be an excellent rider. There's no bad horses, only untrained riders.

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