Life will give you what you ask of her if only you ask long enough and plainly enough.

Edith Nesbit

One of the best strategies for self-improvement is learning to ask the right questions as illustrated in the following story:

A fellow, new in town, wanted to get acquainted with local folks, so he walked over to the village square and saw an old-timer on a bench. Tied to the bench next to him was a rather mean-looking German shepherd. The stranger looked at the dog tentatively and asked, “Does your dog bite?” The old-timer said “Nope.” So the stranger reached down to pet him. The dog lunged at him and tried to take off his arm at the wrist. Quick reaction and a short lease saved his arm but not his coat. Looking at his shredded coat sleeve, the stranger turned to the old timer and said, “ I thought you said your dog doesn’t bite.” The old timer replied “It ain’t my dog”.

We are always talking to ourselves. We constantly evaluate and question what we have done and what we plan to do. Questions define your focus and that determines what you think. Your thoughts will determine how you feel and feelings dictate whether you take positive action or act indecisively and do less. If you want to change the quality of your life, change the kinds of questions you habitually ask yourself.

Learning to ask empowering questions helps us focus on possibilities rather than problems. People who enjoy and live life well ask better questions and as a result get better answers. Quality questions lead to a quality life.

Disempowering questions focus on what is wrong rather than what’s right. People who consistently ask themselves disempowering questions guarantee themselves negative, discouraging feelings.

Here are some typical disempowering questions that people ask themselves all the time:

Why am I a loser?

Why doesn’t anybody like me?

Why am I so unlucky?

Take a little test. Ask yourself one of these three questions and evaluate how you feel. Consider how you would consistently feel and view life if you habitually asked that question.

Disempowering questions lead to feelings of resignation and hopelessness. No good feelings ever emanate from them.

The subconscious doesn’t censor or discriminate; it merely processes. It doesn’t say, “that’s an unhealthy question for you to be asking yourself”; it automatically begins to search your memory banks and looks for data that is consistent with the question. If you ask a disempowering question, the mind will dredge up disempowering answers. If you were always asking yourself “Why can’t I ever get ahead in life?” your mind will accommodate you and feed back to you all the negative, disempowering data it can find to answer the question. Every shaming experience, every perceived defect will be found and served up to you. Answers like “because you are stupid, because you don’t deserve to, because you don’t have the proper education, because you don’t know the right people, because you are a born loser, because nobody really likes you” will pop into your consciousness. Disempowering questions always lead to disempowering answers. Any area of your life can be diminished by disempowering questions.

Marriages and other long-term relationships are either damaged or improved by how we view the relationship and the questions we ask ourselves about the relationship. I have listed and categorized questions that people frequently ask about their relationships:

Disempowering questions:

Is this the best I can do?

Why did I marry such a loser?

Why is he/she so ____________ (you fill in the blank – selfish, sloppy, stupid etc.)?

Empowering questions:

How can I improve this relationship?

How can I show more love towards my spouse or partner?

What do I really like about my spouse or partner?

How can we help each other to grow and enjoy life?

Questions about work can also be categorized:


Why doesn’t anybody appreciate me around here?

Why do I have to work with a bunch of idiots?


What needs to be done around here and what can I do to help?

How can I do my job better?

What constructive things can I do to advance my career?

What you will discover is that there are never good answers to disempowering questions; there are always good answers to empowering questions.

Begin to examine all areas of your life and locate where empowering questions can help you. You might discover powerful questions that can really assist you in getting unstuck and moving forward. I have two favorites: “What is the one thing I can do today to help me achieve my goals and realize my dreams?” When I stumble or have a setback, I ask myself “How can I learn from this problem so that it won’t happen in the future?”

Questions immediately change our focus and therefore change how we feel. Asking yourself “What are my fondest memories?” or “What am I truly grateful for?” will create warm and pleasant feelings. We can control how we feel by habitually asking ourselves good questions. “What am I excited about or optimistic about in my life now?” is a question that forces you to focus in a positive way.

Asking yourself “What was the worst day of my life?” or “Why was my childhood so terrible?” can only create unpleasant feelings. If you choose to stay stuck in a really painful emotional state, ask yourself questions that create a feeling of helplessness. “How could you do this terrible thing to me?” or “Why is my life so messed up?” or “Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?”

Questions can either make us aware of or blind to the resources that are available to us. Questions alter our perceptions of who we are, what we capable of achieving and how we feel. Be wary of asking limiting questions; limiting questions hamstring your imagination. A crippled imagination damages your creative powers and prevents you from considering all the wonderful possibilities of life.

Asking empowering question doesn’t guarantee that the best answer will instantaneously appear, but if you persist in asking a good answer you will eventually get an answer that will work for you. Good questions will lead to other good questions and puts you on the right path to discovering the answer that is best for you.

Asking empowering questions is a powerful strategy to help you change your life. Formulating a series of questions that address an issue on which progress needs to be made can refine this strategy. Anthony Robbins in Awaken The Giant Within discusses the use of questions to create a problem solving state. Here is how I used that strategy to work on my financial well being:

Issue: I was not feeling financially secure. What could I do to create wealth and to have a healthy relationship with money?

Question #1: What are the lessons I can learn from my current situation?

I didn’t know. This first answer didn’t feel like a helpful answer, so I continued to ask the question until I found an answer that contributed to the solution. The answer that worked was that I have finally developed the maturity and honesty to acknowledge to myself that this is an issue I needed to work on.

Question #2: What was I willing to change?

Several good answers and insights surfaced. I needed to live on a budget, set financial goals, accept personal responsibility for my financial life and change my attitude about money. I also decided that denial of this issue was something that needed to be addressed.

I also needed to cease trying to convince Kathy that my philosophy about money was right and hers was wrong; this shift in attitude created more intimacy in our relationship rather than constant conflict.

Question #3 – How can I enjoy the process while I do what is necessary to change?

I learned that I can enjoy creating an ambitious plan and posting progress to it and that it’s comforting to know that I can control my financial destiny and eliminate worry.

Examine all areas of your life and identify places where you feel stuck and would like to make progress.

If you are a slow starter in the morning, construct a series of questions that will put you in an optimistic mood and raise your energy level:

What are the things in life that are bringing me happiness?

What are some of the things that I am thankful for in my life now?

How can I use my unique talents to help and bring happiness to other people?

What can I do today to help myself realize my dreams?

You can end the day on a good note by asking a series of questions that helps you review the day’s events in a positive way.

What positive lessons in life did I learn today?

How did I contribute today?

How can I make tomorrow an even better day?

What did I accomplish today that makes me feel good?

If you are undertaking a new challenge in life, develop a series of questions that can assist you in learning what you need to know to be successful:

What skills do I need to master?

What knowledge do I need to acquire?

What attitudes do I want to develop?

What new feelings, convictions, and values do I want to cultivate?

What goals do I need to establish?

What resources do I need?

What resources are available to me?

A series of questions can be constructed to help you develop better personal awareness:

How have I successfully solved my problems in the past?

What types of challenges do I enjoy?

What types of questions can I ask myself that provide me meaningful answers?

What are my strengths and weaknesses?

What are my natural talents?

Where and when in the past have I been successful and how can I use that to ensure success in the future?

What motivates and inspires me?

What kind of work and accomplishment makes me feel fulfilled?

What is the right balance of privacy and interaction with people for me?

Empowering questions will provide positive answers that can motivate and inspire you to take action and alter your emotional state in a positive life affirming way.


About Riley Harrison

Likes to write (books- Are You Stuck? (is life passing you by), Getting Unstuck & Dare To Date), loves to travel and is married to a wonderful woman (Kathleen Baxter)
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