Many times in life, I found myself looking back and asking, “Where did I go wrong?” Inevitably, I would end up making a list in my mind of things I should have, or should not have, done or said. At times, I would find myself awake in bed at night, unable to stop the stream of thoughts, cataloging all the mistakes I made and the opportunities I missed. I am not sure if I ever really learned anything from this but I did end up feeling stressed, discouraged, and depressed. Why was this? Shouldn’t this type of inquiry, looking at my mistakes and shortcomings, lead me to overcoming them? Yes and no.
It is certainly wise to be aware of our weaknesses and to have the humility to ask for help in situations which require an aspect of our talent, experience, expertise, or personality with which we are weak. However, it is important to realize that when we make an inquiry, or ask a question, the answer we receive is implicit in the question. There is a fundamental psychological difference between asking, “What did I do wrong and how can I prevent doing it in the future?” versus, “What did I do right and how can I do more of it in the future?”
I first started to understand this while I was working in the high tech industry in Silicon Valley. I was responsible for software quality and part of my responsibilities were to lead quality teams aimed at improving the software development process and hence the quality of the software. In fact, the company had a mandate that every employee be part of one of these quality teams at least once a year. The process always began the same, with a gap analysis, “Where did we go wrong and by how much?” After a couple of years of this, I noticed that the moral of my team declined and their enthusiasm to participate in the quality teams dwindled. When I asked them why this was, the answer I received was that we always looked at our mistakes and never our victories. We, in fact, had no process to inquire into our victories and successes. How often do many of us do the very same thing in our personal lives, always looking at our mistakes and failures and never our victories and successes?
I want to be clear that I am not talking about positive thinking; I am talking about positive inquiry. I am a big proponent of positive thinking but it is by inquiry we make meaning of our world. It is through asking questions that we learn to understand ourselves, the world around us, and our place in it. What does it say about our world if we consistently ask negatively based questions? Remember, the wording of the question implies the answer we receive. Fortunately, there is no inherent way to inquire into the world. The way we ask questions is simply a cultural or familial bias and a personal habit. That means we can reframe the questions we ask by being conscious of how we formulate the question. Once we change the question, we will transform our world. How is this so?
Find out for yourself by answering this question and note the impact it has on your sense of value and worth. Write your answer down so you can refer to it later.
Describe a peak experience or high point in your life – a time when you felt alive, connected, engaged, or proud of yourself or your accomplishments. It can be in any area of you life: spiritual, family, relationships, professional, community, etc. What was it about you, the situation, or the people you were with that allowed that peak experience to arise?
Now is this something you want more of in your life and for which you are motivated to seek out? This is the first part of this type of powerful and potent transformation. The next step is to act upon the information you uncovered in your answer so there are more high points in your life.
If you would like to learn more about how positive inquiry can transform your life and/or your organization, please call (805) 637-4263 or email me.