MAY 18, 2020

The way you question matters. If you ask the why and how behind an unpleasant situation and you reflect, you will gain wisdom from life. But if you question yourself by criticising and blaming yourself, you are not actually reflecting but going into a spiral of incessant and unnecessary overthinking which is in turn demoralising you…

-Prabhsimrat Gill

Often when we do something we didn’t intend to do or something unexpected happens or we make a big mistake, we are always told that you should question yourself and reflect on your actions or the events and you will learn a new lesson from life. You need to ponder over the events and do self-questioning in order to gain from the experience and move on. But what makes you or breaks you through your reflection is if you are asking the right questions or the wrong ones…

   One question that will come up after reading this statement is, “Everybody has different problems and situations to reflect on, then how can there be a specific set of right and wrong questions for everyone?” Here, I am not saying that there is a specific set of questions for everybody. By right and wrong I propound that the nature of the question is right or wrong. No matter what question it is, the nature of the question can be found by understanding the way the question is talking to you and what is its implied message towards you…

   This is the story of Jim – Jim was a bright student in school and was always among the toppers scoring 90+ marks all the time. One day he had a mathematics test on a chapter he found very easy, so he didn’t prepare for it. He spent his evening watching a movie. The next morning, he went to the school and he was perplexed to find out that the test majorly had questions from the chapter he found most confusing. He asked the teacher about the new chapter and she told that it was in the test syllabus. Now Jim was confused and he just did what he could and left all the questions from the other chapter. Jim only scored 28 marks and failed while many of his friends scored in the 70 to 80 range. Jim was feeling as if the world broke down and he started to feel unimportant and subsided as the teacher congratulated all the others around him. He went home and shut himself up in his room and questioned himself, “How could I be such a fool and not check that there was another chapter in the test?” “Why was I being so ignorant and watching a movie as if hoping that it would do my test?” “How can I get 28 marks when I always get 90+ marks?” “How can I get this disgusting grade off my record?” Jim sadly never found answers to any of his questions and he lost all his belief in reflection and questioning as he clearly experienced it could never work. Even after school finished for Jim, this grudge of scoring 28 in the test always haunted Jim and kept him from taking out any leisure time with the fear of losing the quality of work done. 

   This was Jim’s story. I feel we all can figure out that the problem was not in watching a movie or just overlooking the syllabus, the problem was in the nature of his questions. His questions to himself were directed to find answers but they couldn’t because the way the questions were asked clearly implied to Jim saying he is an ignorant and foolish person who takes things too leisurely and becomes sad. These questions are not helping Jim, but they are in turn criticising him which didn’t allow him the calm composure to reflect and learn. The mind works in a very simple manner. It will go to an immediate conclusion based on the information that is conveyed through the questions. The questions indirectly convey that Jim is foolish, and criticism is clearly visible in these questions. The mind will not see if this is right or wrong; it will take this as the information provided and based on this it will jump to the conclusion of Jim being foolish and ignorant. 

   From his experience we have learned what type of questions we should not ask – the one’s that criticize us more than helping us reflect. But Jim also deserves a second chance and I feel that we all can help the Jim around us to reflect and learn by first understanding how we can do that. The right questions are the ones which make you ponder over the why and how and don’t criticize your actions, but help you understand them and then improve them. 

   In order to understand the difference between the right and wrong nature of questions, we will ask the questions Jim asked himself, but in the right nature. 

   “How could I have possibly skipped reading about the next chapter and was there a chance for me to check the syllabus twice instead of being over-confident?” In this question Jim isn’t saying that he is a fool or he is stupid but he is admitting his mistake of not looking twice and being a little over-confident because of always getting good marks. Jim has answered his question by only asking it as his mind directly jumped onto the most rational and obvious answer that he should have checked it twice. 

   “Was it possible for me to not watch the 2-hour movie on a weekday and just watch a 40-minute web-series episode and then just brush up other chapters of mathematics with the possibility of any chapter coming in as surprise?” Again, in this question Jim has found the answer just by asking as he discussed the possibility of brushing up and going through other chapters as well and the mind simply jumps to this conclusion because it has been provided with it.

   “What are the reasons for me scoring less on this test?” This question is not criticising Jim for scoring low, but is asking him to ponder and find reasons for it which are already found by the first two questions.

   “What is it that I will need to do in order to decrease the negative consequences of this low score on my academic record?” This question is not stating that this score is bad which is removing the guilt of getting something or doing something bad as the extreme and irrational guilt becomes a hindrance in reflection and blocks the mind from rationality. By asking the question this way he is not increasing the guilt but is trying to find possibilities to reduce the negative consequences.

   Well, we have discussed the difference between the right questions and the wrong questions. Understanding this is simple, but implementing it in an emotionally chaotic state is always difficult as your mind is in a very irrational state where rationality seems to be something alienated. You will not ask the rational questions in an irrational state; so, the first thing to do is calm yourself down and let the emotional tornado subside. There is no need to hurry in reflection – take your time. When you are calm and composed, ask questions to yourself but before letting your mind jump to conclusions, understand and see if the nature of the question is to reason or to criticize. Once you understand that, you will be able to answer questions rationally.

   When we start to question ourselves in the cacophony of the emotional tornado, we often criticize more than reasoning; thus; we don’t gain from the reflection in this situation. We go down into the incessant and unnecessary spiral of overthinking and exacerbate the emotional tornado which will hinder you from rational thinking even more. Calm down and analyse the questions before letting your mind answer them. Prejudicing yourself as worthless and guilty for anything without even understanding it, is like working out and dieting for weight loss without even checking if you are overweight or not. It seems completely irrational, right?

   Questioning matters, but the way you question decides if it matters to you and helps you gain wisdom or if it just leads you into overthinking and thus demoralizing you. Questioning has great power; you can use it to understand life and its challenges or to take a dive into the ocean of irrational thinking and negative judgement without understanding. Wherever you use it, it will give you the same power; only your actions and thinking will decide the results…