How the Right (or Wrong) Questions Can Unleash Your Brain’s Potential

With Avengers: Age of Ultron coming out this week, I want to talk about one of the coolest things that every human being has without even knowing it: their own personal JARVIS. For those of you who haven’t seen Iron Man or The Avengers, JARVIS is Iron Man’s computerized assistant. Whenever Iron Man needs a question answered or quick analysis completed while he’s fighting evil villains, Iron Man simply asks JARVIS, and every time JARVIS will reply with a quickly calculated response. By the end of this article, you’ll realize you have your own JARVIS between your ears, and how to hack it to get the best results.

It turns out that our brain is really good at coming up with answers to questions. Its so good at it, in fact, that its constantly making connections between different pieces of information. Our brain is designed to make sense of the world around us, and what most people don’t realize is that you can harness this incredible power for good, or for evil. (dun dun duuuuuhn)

 “What is wrong with me? Well, let me tell you…”

For example, as I was finishing up my Bachelor of Science degree a few years back, I had several large projects all due at around the same time. I was worried about the future, and would catch myself on numerous occasions becoming overwhelmed with what I had to do. I couldn’t turn my brain off! I kept asking things like “Why did I wait so long to start this project? What is wrong with me? Why am I so stupid?” The more I thought about how much I had left to do, the more I seemed to convince myself of my impending failure.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that the questions I was asking were encouraging my brain to look for reasons why I was so stupid. As I asked myself “Why am I so stupid?”, my brain continued to generate responses. “It’s because I’m lazy. I’m irresponsible. I’m certainly a bad husband, by the way. I’ll probably make a terrible father.” And on, and on, and on…

However, since then I have realized that it wasn’t my stupidity that was causing me to obsess over my own faults that night. The issue was in the kind of questions I was asking. Since then, I have come to believe that one of the most important skills in life is the ability to ask the right kind of questions.

Ask the Right Questions

The most successful practice I have discovered for overcoming a challenge is to sit down and begin writing (with pen and paper) the answers to a few key questions. They usually go something like this:

  1. Where is the silver lining in this situation? I always start with this one, and its mostly out of habit. Starting a challenge by recognizing the silver lining takes the edge off of the situation, and brings you to a more grounded state to move forward.
  2. What is the ultimate goal in this situation? This is really important. As Stephen Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind.” By reminding myself of where you want to be, you’ll find yourself naturally filling in the roadmap ahead.
  3. What is the most important issue to address first/next? Sometimes, problem solving can get bogged down in our long-term plans. By simply asking “What’s next?” we can get started immediately on making progress.
  4. Who can I enlist to help me achieve success? One of my biggest beliefs is that we don’t need to do everything ourselves. In fact, one of the greatest lessons in leadership I have learned recently is that there are a lot of people who are much better at doing certain things than I am. Figure out who those people are, and enlist them in your cause.
  5. What are the stumbling blocks that may arise, and how can plan for them? This one is tricky, but its important none-the-less. We don’t need to plan for every single potential speed bump along the way, but if there are ones we know are going to come up, planning ahead is always a good idea.

Your Own Personal JARVIS

Your brain is an amazing thing. With a little self-awareness, you will notice how quickly your brain comes up with solutions you didn’t even know existed. Given the right kind of input, you will surprise yourself by what you and JARVIS come up with together.

Action Item: The next time you are facing a difficult challenge, use the five questions in this article to troubleshoot the situation. Maybe even add some questions of your own!

Do you have 3 minutes? Could you fill out my 2015 Audience Survey? I would really appreciate it!

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