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Inside the Minds of the Successful

What if you’ve been asking yourself the wrong questions?

Asking the right questions is at the crux of psychotherapy.

No matter what school of thought informs the treatment: The clinician is supposed to ask good and difficult questions, and encourage the person they are trying to help to do so as well. Outside of clinical settings, the right questions are a fundament of what makes things work. Asking the right questions, at the right time, decreases stress, and enables us to focus on what matters in our lives. It’s part of the antidote to over-thinking, which comes about because repetition, whether in questions or behavior, is part of the denial and avoidance we all engage in. Asking the right questions breaks through the walls we put up.

Until you develop self-awareness that approximates, adds to, and replaces how others see you, you will be defined by how others see you.

From self-awareness come abilities to be aware of others; it’s not only about exceptional people, so-called outliers, but also about the successful people we meet in day-to-day life. Being the best at what they do, working harder and with more focus than others, taking pride in their work, and caring about the people they work with. These individuals ask themselves great questions to get through the day. What are those questions?

The goal then is self-narrative. What’s your story so far? What lies ahead? What happens next is predicated upon what has happened so far.

What are the right questions to ask yourself to stop being a character in someone else’s story?

Others will define you, impose their narratives on you, tell you who you are as a person, and tell you how far you can go, unless and until you define yourself; then, with that self-definition, you can tell others how you expect to be treated. Jazzmeia Horn, the great jazz vocalist, told me:

“My grandmother used to say, ‘You have to teach people how to treat you.’”

Who pushes your buttons and why?

How you react, and who you react to, has more to do with you than the provocateur. What can you do to be less reactive? We all know people whose anger or entitlement define them, who are often impossible to work with. How can we learn to step back and achieve our goals no matter who’s on our team?

The task of self-awareness is the initial phase and serves as a necessary introduction or foundation to the realization of the self in the world. We’re not alone, even in our thoughts; we are contextualizing our identities: families, work, and current relationships define us. The contextualization begins at infancy, and continues through schooling, employment, adult relationships and, structurally, through the economic frameworks of our societies and countries. Our identities are part of the relationships we are in.

The right questions often create shared awareness; once you ask yourself something that changes you, the situation or person you’re dealing with has the potential to rethink things, too. As a result, what was stuck comes unstuck. A therapist changes by asking questions of the person who came to them for help. Relationships, therapeutic or day-to-day, depend on movement; when one person moves, the other person moves, too.

Do you want to be part of changes taking place?