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Asking Your Mind Better Questions

Category: Core Paradigm
Last Updated: February 2011

Continuing our idea of the mind acting like a goal-seeking mechanism, we might ask ourselves how best to communicate our goals to the mind, in an effective and unambiguous a way as possible.

Questions are one such method to focus your 'subconscious' resources.


I'd imagine that most people have had the experience of trying to remember someone's name. Maybe it's someone they saw on TV, they can see the person's face in their mind, asking themselves "What was his name?" again and again, until finally they give up. And then, half an hour later, while they're doing something completely unrelated the name suddenly springs to mind.

The basic idea is that subconscious resources will 'pick up' things that are focused on a lot by consciousness and work on them in the background. This general process is the basis for many 'Strategies' for creativity: spend a period of time in intense concentration on the problem, then stop - and do something completely different until inspiration strikes. This principle works not only in remembering things and creativity, but has other uses:
- It affects how the mind sorts through incoming information - like if you read an article about a certain type of car and suddenly you notice them everywhere the next day - except that the subconscious can also be set to sort for more abstract concepts : like opportunities to increase the happiness and success we experience in life.
- It can also affect the 'filter' or 'frame' that life is seen through, giving the positive experiences more intensity and richness - whilst life's occasional challenges feel more insignificant and temporary in comparison, and can be resolved far more easily, with less drama and stress, as a result.

This is all great, you might think - the subconscious is all set up to purposefully and tenaciously guide us to whatever we want. Unfortunately some of our habitual styles of thinking, of asking ourselves questions, don't always mesh with this system very well and produce unexpected - and unwanted - results.

Common Mistakes

A lot of the mistakes seem to revolve around the belief that conscious verbalising is the normal, usual, de facto, primary mode of brain processing and every other neurological process must therefore fall in line with it and work the same way... In practice it would seem that subconscious resources work in more concrete, experiential and literal ways than the abstract verbal-intellectual consciousness.

Some people take this as evidence that the subconscious is deficient, or user-unfriendly in some way. Personally I think it's more likely that we're trying to force ourselves to 'think' in ways that go contrary to the way the brain has evolved to think. It's a wonder it works at all.

'Negated Questions' are one thing to be wary about.
Consider the following:

"Why don't you go down to the park?"

Okay we know that the intended communication here is 'You should go to the park' - but that is not what is being asked! On a purely literal level the subconscious is being asked to think of as many reasons why 'going to the park' might be a bad idea - 'I might get mugged, or ran over on the way, or attacked by a dog, or hit by lightning, or....' and so on and so on. The more this question is asked, the more negative movies will play in this person's head - until the concept of 'going to the park' becomes strongly associated with a general sense of unease.

Instead, how much more useful could it be to just ask "Would it be fun to go to the park today? Is there somewhere better we could go? How much fun could we have there?"

Now let's imagine some guy enviously looking at a co-worker who has just had a brilliant idea / massive salary raise / luxury car / gorgeous partner / whatever. And he asks himself:

"Why don't things like that happen to me?"

If this guy is lucky, then nothing will happen (other than missing out on an example of success that could have been emulated.) If he's unlucky the subconscious might take this question literally and start creating lots and lots of little movies about all of the reasons why these things will never happen - movies about bad luck, failure, victimisation and so on. The effects of something like this range from feelings of depression to the 'movies of failure' becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and actually appearing in real life.

Instead, how much better would it be to ask "How could I do something like that?" and start mobilising subconscious resources into making something similar happen?

'Problem-Oriented' questions have much the same issues. Someone habitually asking "What's wrong," or "What could go wrong," or "Why do bad things always happen to me," runs the same risk of missing opportunities and getting stuck in a malaise of regret and depression - it's a habit that needs changing right now.

Focus on what you want

Both Tony Robbins and Paul McKenna suggest that 'goal-oriented questions' should be made into a daily habit, to start each day with questions that guide your subconscious into an expectation that the coming day will be filled with many opportunities to increase your happiness and success.

What am I excited about in my life now?
What in my life makes me feel happy?
What could I do today to increase my life-fulfilment...?
... and how good would that feel?
How good would it feel to meet new friends?
How could I create even more happiness and success in my life?

There is no doubt in my mind that 'Asking Better Questions' is the best and most effective method of making positive change in your life. My advice is to get asking your Inner Mind those important questions that will get your life moving in the direction you want it to, don't just sit around waiting for that phone call from Morpheus.

What can you do to create more success, happiness and fulfilment in your life?

A Paradigm

As a means of getting into a better 'frame of mind' for the whole idea of 'asking yourself questions' I often find that 'externalising' the subconscious mind is very useful. To achieve this you could either imagine that you are becoming very small and travelling inside your subconscious mind, or that your subconscious mind is enormous and outside and around you. Maybe you need to imagine yourself travelling out into space to reach it, or maybe it is already here, inbetween spaces.

Depending on my mood I've had good results from imagining my subconscious mind as:
- an enormous alien machine with the power to alter reality.*
- a great black dragon at the center of the Universe.
- a 'spirit' aspect of a super-evolved Human Race from the future.

Using Questions in this way is useful for reminding you that they shouldn't just be read out like today's shopping list. They need to be directed to your subconscious / deep mind / inner genius with purpose and intent, and between each question allow a short pause, pregnant with expectation, to emphasise the idea that these questions are not merely rhetorical - they are a prompt that expects and requires action to be taken.

If it helps, you could also verbally address your subconscious:

"Hey, Inner Mind! How would I feel if I were even more happy and successful?"

Other Notes

How do you get the 'best' exact wording and structure of these questions?
So far it seems to depend more on the individual, and sometimes on the mood they're in, than any complicated linguistic tricks or wizardry.

In my experience it is better to have several different variations of the types of question you want, to cycle through them and to allow new combinations of these questions to arise spontaneously as you are asking them.

This also means that the process demands a certain level of continuous conscious attention, which in turn helps to avoid these questions becoming something that you can repeat mindlessly while thinking about what to have for dinner later.

Some people say that something like "How will I feel when I am successful?" is better because it presupposes that success will happen and is inevitable, supposedly helping to create one of these self-fulfilling prophecies.
Most of the time the only response I get from that type of question is a general feeling of 'eh?' Possibly this question requires the subconscious to internally represent the concept of 'the future' in a specific way - or to be okay with something that might be 'guesswork' being used to create the future - in order to work most effectively.

Personally I seem to get much better results from questions that are about 'exploring possibilities', rather than fixing the future in stone, so I would prefer to use something like "How happy and fulfilled could I feel if I were successful?"

Which one would work better for you?
Try them both and see.

* - Yes, like the 'Krell Machine' from Forbidden Planet, or the 'Tuning Machine' from Dark City.
The Dancers at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock was also an inspiration.