The Power of Questions

My professional boxing career got off to a slow start with one draw and one loss. I instinctually knew that my issue wasn’t my skill or my training; I needed a mental shift. Determined to unleash the power I knew I had in me, I searched the library for sports psychology books and got excited by The Mental Edge by Ken Baum. I read the book, called Ken, had two training sessions with him and my next fight ended in 32 seconds. I added a win by TKO to my record.

Fourteen years later, I am still using the Mental Edge techniques personally, and professionally with my clients, so when Ken started certifying Mental Edge Coaches, I jumped at the opportunity.

One of the easiest, most fun techniques I learned during certification is the power of asking questions. Ken taught us that when the brain is posed a question it naturally wants to find an answer or solution. When we ask the right questions, we can guide people in the direction they truly want to go.

I’ve found that sometimes this leads to a clearer goal, other times it leads to a realization that the goal isn’t that important and so there is a freedom from it, and often it brings feelings and ideas to light that my clients weren’t even aware they were thinking yet, or were simply trying to avoid.

This technique is exciting (and I find quite fun) for us as trainers, coaches and therapists because no matter how much we tell people what they need to do to get the results they want, it will never stick until they have a personal experience or unless they come up with the idea themselves. When we provide an opportunity for their intuition to speak up, we get to what they really need in the moment instead of telling them what we think they need. It is a lot less work for us and gets them to the finish line much faster.

The technique is simple:

Ask a question and then repeat their answer back as a question. Keep asking questions. That’s it.

Your job isn’t to tell them anything during this process. Their brain will keep searching for a solution if you keep asking questions.

If you get stuck, or when you get to a place where a specific question would get them closer to their truth, ask something you know will get them there. Keep asking questions until the “ah ha” moment happens.

When I first started doing this during the Mental Edge certification classes, I fumbled. It felt forced and my questions were choppy. However, I found it easy to do when I was having conversations with clients, so try to keep a conversational tone and flow. Use a curious tone instead of an interview tone.

Here is a simple example with a child:

Child:  I don’t have any friends.

Parent:  You don’t have any friends?

Child:  Nobody plays with me.

Parent:  Nobody plays with you ever?

Child:  Well, Emily played with me yesterday.

Parent:  Emily played with you yesterday?

Child:  Yes. And John.

Parent:  And John?

Child:  Yes.

Parent: Are Emily and John your friends?

Child:  Yes.

Now the child is refocused on her friends instead of the lack of them. The conversation can continue, but it doesn’t really need to.

The following is a conversation I had with Anna, a fitness client:

Me:  You look a little frazzled. Is everything okay?

Anna:  I just came from a meeting with the parents at my kids’ school. It’s fine. I’m fine. She then proceeded to explain the nature of the meeting and who the players were and what was said, getting angrier every moment.

Me:  You’re fine?

Anna: (blank stare)

Me, gently:  Do you realize you just said the word “fine” 10 times?

Anna:  I did?

And then I ask an important question, because I can see she is not actually fine and for her to get a good workout it will be help if she isn’t stressed.

Me:  If you weren’t “fine”, what would you be?

Anna: (long pause) Pissed. (pause) Annoyed. (pause) Frustrated.

Me:  Good, that’s honest.

Giving her the opportunity to say what she was feeling was a big relief for her. She really thought about the question and the truth came out, not for my sake, but for hers.

I only got to ask her that important question one more day after that, because she learned to catch herself. She would hear the word “fine” come out and then quickly find the real feeling, name it, and move on in the conversation. I also seem to remember her catching me on it once too. That was fun.

The following is one of my favorite question conversations.

I had only recently become a certified Mental Edge Coach and was still practicing this technique when I was golfing one day with three gentlemen whom I had only just met. This is a fun one for me because I know how I previously encouraged people in the same the situation but simply asking questions got vastly different results.

This is also a good example of asking the right questions at the right times, not necessarily always repeating what he said in question form.

Frustrated golfer:  I can’t make a birdie putt today! (pacing around the green waving his club in the air)

Me:  You can’t make a birdie putt?

Golfer:  No!

Me:  What if you could?

Golfer, shocked:  That would be nice!

Me:  What would sinking a putt look like?

Golfer: It would go in the hole! The first time!

Me:  What would you have to do differently to achieve that?

Golfer:  I have no idea. My putting has been terrible for a while now and I have tried everything.

Me:  What were you doing when you were sinking putts easily?

Golfer:  Hmm. That’s a good question.

We proceeded to the 10th tee box and I have no recollection of his game after that point.

Then at the 18th hole as we are all shaking hands:

Golfer: Hey, I want to thank you for what you said back there. I thought about it and I realized that I have been trying so many things to fix my putting that I haven’t been positioning the ball where it used to be when I was putting well. So I went back to that and it worked!  Thank you!

Notice that he thanks me for what I said but I never stated anything, I only asked him questions. I just knew the right questions to ask to get to his unique answers.

Some helpful questions to get the brain focused in a positive direction instead of on the problem are:

What if you could?

What would that look like?

What would you have to do?

What would that feel like?

And in response to the “I need to….” statement:

Says who?

Recently, I was coaching someone on the phone and as she explained her goals:

Woman: I need to lose 10 pounds.

Knowing she is already at a healthy weight,

Me:  Says who?

Woman: (long silence)

Woman:  My husband.

More recently, I was talking to a friend who asked for help getting back in shape.

Friend: I need to lose 5 pounds.

Me:  Who says?

Friend:  My back. It doesn’t hurt when I’m at my normal weight.

With the information I gained from both of their answers, I was able to coach them appropriately for their individual situations, and I got there quickly. Both had called me for one reason and ended the call with information they weren’t expecting but is more effective and sustainable than me giving them a diet and exercise plan.

Finally, a personal example:

Me: I should send this text right now.

Smarter Me: Who are you sending it for?

Me:  Ugh. My ego.

Smarter Me:  Okay, let’s not send that then.

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