In her book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life,  Marilee Adams explains how the questions we ask profoundly shape our thoughts, feelings and actions. At first this may sound a bit silly, but think about how you start your day. The clothes you pick out are based on the questions you ask yourself about what the weather is like, what you will be doing, and who you’ll be seeing. As you walk through the decisions you make in any given situation, it really does make sense that questions direct our lives!

Understanding the importance of questions leads to learning how to ask the right questions, the kinds of questions that can lead to better thinking, feeling and living. Marilee Adams identifies two types of questions: learner questions and judger questions. Learner questions are open-minded questions that focus on trying to learn and see the possibilities in any given situation. Judger questions are focused on assigning blame and are more based on negative reactions

Some examples of judger questions are: “What’s wrong?” “Who’s to blame?” “How can I prove I am right?” “How can I be in control?” and “Why bother?” As you read these, notice how negative they focus any kinds of answers. They lead to a judgmental, reactive, dismissive, blaming mindset that is inflexible, rigid and fear based. On the other hand, notice how the following examples of learner questions open up possibilities and creativity: “What works?” “What am I responsible for?” “What are the facts?” “What are my choices?” and “What’s possible?” These kinds of questions lead to a more accepting, discerning, and responsive mindset that is flexible and curiosity based.

Most of us naturally slide into the judger mindset and ask judger questions both of ourselves and others. Usually, we judge ourselves severely. Think about the last time you stubbed your toe or dropped something. You’re first question to yourself was probably something like, “how could I be so clumsy?” We immediately berate ourselves through judger questions. These questions come quickly and instinctively. A learner question in this situation could be, “how can I see the humor in this?” Can you think of some more learner questions in this scenario?

The key to utilizing questions for better living is to learn how to shift our questions and mindset from judger to learner. The first step in that process is to begin to observe the questions we ask ourselves. We are always asking ourselves questions, so it’s as simple as stepping outside of ourselves whenever we think about it (maybe even setting up an regular alarm to remind us) and observing what questions we are asking. Notice whether you are in judger mindset or learner mindset.

As we observe judger mindset thinking, we have a choice of whether to stay there or shift to learner mindset thinking and questioning. When you observe that you may be in judger mindset, pause, take a deep breath, and then ask, “am I in judger?” Then ask a mindset shifting question like this, “how else can I think about this?” or “where would I like to be?”

This takes a bit of practice, but the work is worth it! As we shift our thinking from judger to learner, we begin to live with more choice, excitement, curiosity and confidence!

What are some more learner questions you can think of to ask yourself today?