8 Questions You Should Ask Yourself When You're Feeling Stuck at Work
Mona Patel is the author of Reframe: Shift the Way You Work, Innovate, and Think, a number one Amazon Bestseller. After reading her fabulous book, we discussed what makes people change their behavior (see full video interview on YouTube).
“The real problem you face isn’t the one that just came to mind;” says Mona Patel, “it’s that you have been seeing problems as problems, not as creative opportunities.”
Language is incredibly powerful and the words you choose to use determine how you feel about any given situation. “Can’t is a sad, defeatist word, and saying it makes me feel stuck,” Mona Patel explains. “It’s a trigger word. When you find yourself using it, you know you need to reframe.” Fortunately, there are eight questions she refers to as “creative openers” that help you push through any well-defined problem, move toward a creative opportunity, and, ultimately achieve new innovation and breakthroughs.
This one question helps you to define the problem. As Mona Patel explains, “‘Why’ is a fantastic question to ask at the very beginning of the problem-solving process. If you ask ‘why’ five times in response to a scenario, you will find yourself drilling down into the core essence of the challenge you are trying to solve.” Asking ‘why’ gets to the heart of the matter. It allows you to discover the truth of any given problem and collect the known facts. When helping others, however, asking why five times can feel like you’re being interrogated, so Mona Patel learned that there are seven other questions that help you get to the same insights.
2. What If?
In order to get unstuck and cultivate some creative solutions to the problem you’re looking to solve, asking “What if” encourages child-like curiosity that puts you in the creative space you need in order to reframe your situation. “Asking ‘What if’ expands on the problem or challenge once it has been assessed and articulated,” says Mona Patel. “The question is provocative and approachable. It provides the space to think big, challenge your expectations and assumptions, and, ultimately, explore the world as a child does—full of wonder, free and without barriers.”
3. Imagine If?
This question goes even further than a “What if” question. By its very nature, “Imagine if” gets you to let go of your inner naysayer and focus, instead, on your imagination and the world of possibilities that is right there in front of you. Rather than obsess about why you can’t do something, “Imagine if” helps you open up ideas and cultivate really juicy options to what once felt like an impossible challenge. In fact, this is the question that inspired Mona Patel to write her book: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if Reframecould create a reality in which kids never felt boxed in?” This question “reinforced why creativity and imagination are so important to me,” she said.
4. What if I Can’t?
This is by far Mona Patel’s least favorite question, as it often comes from that negative space that holds you back from being your creative self. It’s part of that family of destructive “I’m not good enough” questions filled with self-doubt, such as: “What if I fail? What if it doesn’t work? What if no one likes it? What if no one likes me?” So why does she include it in this list? “I really hate this one,” Mona Patel explains. “This is the only opener I would suggest avoiding. However, it can be used as a tool to help identify when people feel stuck. Often, this feeling indicates the need to reframe.” According to Mona Patel, this question helps to surface fears and can lead to a better understanding of why people think they can’t do something. To Patel, you usually can do something but are choosing not to. This question helps to surface the very reason you think you are unable to do something.
5. What if I Don’t?
This is a key question that helps you sit with why this particular problem is worthy of your time to solve in the first place. By its very nature, it clarifies what’s at stake if you don’t solve the problem. “Asking ‘What if I don’t?’ is a powerful tool to sort out how you feel about an issue,” Mona Patel says. As Tony Robbins likes to remind us, “Reasons come first, answers come second.” Sometimes, all you need a big enough reason to do something in order to kick you creative energy into high gear and break through any problem (real or perceived) that stands in your way.
Similarly, questions that begin with “What?” help you explore the underlying pain points associated with the problem you’re looking to solve. “Questions that begin with ‘What’ can be extremely helpful in situations that call for empathy and understanding more than solutions,” explains Mona Patel. “Sometimes people don’t want you to have an answer to their problems. They want help opening their minds without judgement or outside help.”
7. Why Not?
To that end, if you’re looking to spark some great dialogue around a particular issue (and even tap into people’s competitive nature), start with a “Why not?” question. “‘Why not’ often triggers the creative mindset, and it seems to be the one that resonated the most”, says Mona Patel. “These questions encourage you to disrupt the status quo and think about what would happen by not following the trends and common practices.” In her book she gives some great examples such as:
- Why not have telemarketers pay for your time?
- Why not sell pay-per-mile auto insurance?
As long as your focus doesn’t turn to all the reasons something can’t happen, “Why not?” questions are productive and will help you flex your creative muscle.
8. How About?
To probe deeper into your challenge, use this family of questions. Mona Patel explains that “‘How about?’ allows you to play a little and immediately lays the foundation for strong collaboration and teamwork, making it easier to see the light of what’s possible for certain kinds of teams that thrive by working in groups. The goal in asking ‘How about’ questions is to get people to elaborate and explain their thinking, not confront them or pass judgment.”
You Are a Powerful Creative Person Full of Solutions to Any Problem
As humans, we are designed to find solutions and answers to any given problem or challenge. When we’re feeling stuck, it’s often because we’ve inadvertently boxed ourselves into a problem rather than tapping our creative muscle to unlock any problem that stands in our way. “If you can ask open questions, listen, and empathize, you are well on your way to creative solutions,” says Mona Patel.
We’ve only scratched the surface of Reframe: Shift the Way You Work, Innovate, and Think. If you want a deep dive on a new way of thinking and being, I highly recommend you read this book. It will remind you just how powerfully creative you are. And if you’re thinking, “I’m just not creative,” then this book is a must. It will help you revert back to your childhood curiosity that got you to where you are today. You are creative, even if you don’t associate yourself with being creative in the workplace.
I really enjoyed speaking with Mona Patel and encourage you to watch the full video interview on YouTube to hear some of her stories and get a taste of just how awesome she really is.
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