The Secret of “What If”

Susan S Freeman Blog

The following is a repost of my article for Conscious Shift Magazine.

fotolia © maxximmm

fotolia © maxximmm

What gets in the way of our asking the “What If” question more often? How would we lead and live differently if we did?

As human beings, we are creatures of habit. We make a lot of assumptions about how things are. Our biggest challenge is we don’t realize that they are assumptions, and that their basis is from our own experience. Others have completely different assumptions because no two people have had the exact same experiences.

The secret to discovering what is truly possible (and therefore breaking mental habits) is by asking questions. Great scientific discoveries have come through this type of inquiry. A scientist probes with one question, seeing where it leads, and then another, and another, until finally she may be in an entirely different field of inquiry than where she began.

The art of coaching relies upon questions. Getting really curious and exploring, as if it’s undiscovered terrain for the mind. There are no “bad” questions. However, the more open-ended the question, the more expansive the possibility. Often we don’t give ourselves permission to ask questions to which we don’t already know the answers. We like to feel certain, comfortable, and in control.

Yet most of what truly jazzes us isn’t found in our comfort zone. To discover, explore and create, we need to be incessantly curious. Think of the great artists. They are always pushing the boundaries of what is assumed. They asked “what if?” questions until the “assumed boundaries” were no longer there.

What are the conditions that allow “what if?” to develop and grow?

fotolia © Kaspars Grinvalds

fotolia © Kaspars Grinvalds
  1. Presence. Cultivate the ability to become aware and attuned to the current moment. This may be more challenging than it sounds but with practice, it becomes easier. Presence is what permits the conditions for curiosity to take root.
  2. Relax. Allow yourself access to your right brain. This is enhanced when you are relaxed.
  3. Question. Ask open-ended questions to which you don’t know the answers.

The poet Rilke said it best: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

We invite you to share your best “what if?” here.


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