Don’t Just Question Authority, Question Yourself
Many rules exist for the sole purpose of upholding the rule-makers’ power. By asking “Who makes these rules?” or, even better, “Who benefits from these rules?” you can gain a lot of insight.
But be careful! Questioning authority is essentially challenging authority, because authority doesn’t like to be questioned. Doing so can create difficulties for the person asking the questions. 😶
So if you’re not ready to rock the boat, there’s something else you can do. Before you go questioning anyone else (or maybe at the same time), question yourself.
You can start with asking why. This one-word question is incredibly powerful. It offers you the chance to uncover your real motivations, and maybe even your hidden desires.
- Why do you go to work (or whatever you do) every day?
- Why do you spend your free time the way you do?
- Why do you avoid certain situations or people?
- Why do you prioritize certain tasks over others?
To go further, introduce a technique called the 5 Whys, where you keep getting more detailed about your answer to any particular question. For instance, why do you go to work every day? Your first answer might be, “To pay the bills”—but why do you need to pay the bills?
Keep drilling down to multiple levels. The goal is to arrive at the root cause of the question or problem.
Of course, questioning yourself also comes with risk, which is why some people don’t like to do it. You might notice that you’re wasting a lot of time, or that you’ve been strategically ignoring something you should really address. You might realize that something in an important relationship is misaligned.
But these risks are also opportunities. Whatever problems you uncover are already present, and strategic ignorance doesn’t make them go away. If anything, exploring them a bit might give you the courage you need to make a change!
If you go through life asking the why question, you’ll be much more informed.
Next, here are some related questions to ask (this time, I’ll phrase them as if you’re asking yourself):
- If I didn’t need money to pay my bills, would I do the same thing?
- What are my important relationships, and how am I investing in them?
- What is the point of today?
- What should I do next?
- What really matters?
- What am I most proud of, and why?
- If I could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
- What feels wrong in my life right now? (What feels right in my life right now?)
Here’s the key point: if you do nothing else besides ask yourself these kinds of questions, your life will probably end up being better. Even without doing anything else!
The Illusion of Changing Others (and What You Can Actually Do)
Another thing that came up recently: the difficulty of changing other people. You know how sometimes you want to change something about someone else, perhaps in your primary relationship, or maybe just a friend or co-worker?
Well, good luck with that! Changing other people is difficult at best, and in many cases, impossible. Frustratingly, other people often have their own ways of doing things.
But there’s still something you can do. At a book event recently, I heard a story about a woman who has a difficult relationship with her mom. To put it succinctly, mom was not very supportive of her, and often directly criticized her decisions.
Mike Watts, a longtime friend, was there that evening and offered some perspective. “Your mom is not going to change. But you can change the relationship with your mom.”
I’m not entirely sure how Mike envisioned that process, but to me it meant: You can establish boundaries, you can choose how you communicate with your mom (timing, topics of conversation, etc.), you can nurture other relationships that are more supportive, and so on.
You can’t change other people, but you can change your relationship with them.
Together with questioning yourself, perhaps this can help you live better today.