What was the last question you asked yourself?

Was it what to have for lunch?

Was it why your boss is such an asshole?

Was it how you can be so far behind in life?

Most of us are unconsciously asking ourselves terrible, dead-end questions all the time.

Questions like:

• Why do things have to be this way?
• Why doesn’t anyone love me?
• Why are my colleagues so terrible?
• Why are my parents so critical?
• What would my life be like if I had made different decisions?

These questions do nothing for you and are essentially unanswerable. The problem is that they accept your premises and thoughts as true. Because these kinds of questions assume the premise of them is true, they never lead you to a solution. They keep you ruminating forever, but you never ever get resolution. You just keep swimming around in the negative thoughts and feelings caused by those questions.

Once you’ve asked your brain a question like that, you can’t stop thinking about it, because the human brain does not like unanswered questions. To your brain, unanswered questions are dangerous. Any unknown could be a lion that is going to eat you.

The unmanaged human mind does not do well with uncertainty. It doesn’t want to think there’s anything out there they don’t know about that could be a threat. This is the same reason that risk, change, and the unknown are all such triggers for emotional drama.

The opposite of a dead-end question is a powerful question—one that has a positive or neutral assumption baked in. It gives rise to productive action, more positive or neutral emotion, or both.

Examples of powerful questions are:

• What are the next 3 steps I can take to move me towards my goal?
• How much evidence can I find that I am loved?
• How do I want to think and feel about this situation?
• How can I make this more fun?
• What is perfect about this?

These questions all contain a positive or neutral premise and prompt your brain to come up with positive outcomes or thoughts.

I also like to play with something I learned from a coaching colleague called “afformations.” It’s a bit of a silly name, but bear with me. An afformation is like an affirmation but asked as a question to stimulate your brain to come up with positive responses. Some examples of afformations:

• Why am I so lucky?
• Why am I so successful?
• Why am I so sexy?
• Why does my partner love me so much?
• Why am I such a good doctor, lawyer, executive, wife, mother, daughter, or friend?

These questions sound funny when you read them in a list, but if you try using them, you’ll find they stimulate your brain to come up with reasons. Your brain wants to think it knows everything already, so ask it questions that will prompt self-affirming responses.

When should you do this? Any time you’re feeling anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, or self-pity is a good time to check in with yourself and see what questions are rattling around in your brain. Any time you’re in emotional childhood, you probably have a few dead-end questions up there.

When you notice a dead-end question, you can change it on purpose to a more powerful question, and you can also use this tool when you’re thinking dead-end thoughts. Any thought about not knowing how to do something can be changed into asking yourself a powerful question instead.

Your brain wants to answer questions, so rather than feed it unconscious, negative questions, choose to feed it conscious, powerful questions instead.