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The power of “I wonder . . .”

June 26, 2017

I just finished a most interesting book, “Wait, Why” by James E Ryan. The book is a short read on the Five Essential Questions we all ought to be asking everyday.

One particular paragraph got me thinking (I guess I should say it got me curious). Ryan writes:

This leads to the final point about asking “I wonder why” and “I wonder if”. These are questions that are useful to ask not simply about the world around you, but to ask yourself. . . I believe it’s healthy and productive to remain curious about yourself. Why do you have certain habits? Why do you like certain places, foods, events, and people, and what if others you would like just as much, if you gave them a chance? Why do new experiences make you nervous? Why are you quiet in meetings or shy at parties? Why are you easily distracted? Why do you sometimes lose your patience with certain members of your family? And what if you tried to change those things about yourself that you would really like to change? Or, just as importantly, what if you just accepted some of those things as part of who you are?

That’s a great paragraph for me. It asks a lot of questions. But aren’t questions a great way to get answers? We so often say or think “that’s just the way I am”. We can skip past understanding certain characteristics about ourselves, chalking them up to experiences or the way we grew up. After all, we have been successful so far in life, so what we are doing must be working. Okay. But I wonder if I could be different if I was willing to spend some time trying to understand myself. I wonder why I am the way I am. And does “that way I am” always serve me well?

I believe many of us are “in our heads” quite often. But most of that conversation is a monologue. It is our perception spit back at ourselves. It is us telling ourselves who we are, why we do what we do, and how we always should act. It is usually not original thinking. It is like a parrot mimicking the words spoken.

Sometimes we actually do have a dialogue. However, it tends to be with previously-prepared questions and off-the-shelf answers. We have already heard that conversation before. It is almost like a really bad tv interview, where the interviewer lets the interviewee know all the questions beforehand. So the answers come back banal and rote memorized. Who gets much out of those interviews? Who of us really likes to listen to them?

“I believe it is healthy and productive to remain curious about yourself”

When we use the approach suggested in the paragraph at the start, the world opens up to us. Now we are asking ourselves questions we have not asked in a while – or perhaps ever. “I wonder what it would be like to get up every day and look forward to work?”. “I wonder if I could try something different?” “I wonder why I don’t talk to that person about what they do for a living?” “I wonder why I am not getting any job offers?” “I wonder if I tried something different, if I would get a different outcome?”

I get it. You might not like the answer to the questions. You might not even have an answer. Guess what, we don’t always have the answer. That’s what learning is for. Go take a class, read a book, listen to a podcast or go on an informational interview. Sometimes we need others – partner, friend, co-worker, coach, mentor – to help us work through the answer. Even just asking the question and pondering it for a while is personal growth. Taking that first step offers a chance for a new direction.

Isn’t it important to get to know the most vital person in our lives – ourselves – a little better?

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