The old saying goes, there is no such thing as a stupid question.

Speaking as someone who asks A LOT of questions, I’m not sure if I fully agree with that statement. 😉

In fact, asking a lot of questions…a lot of BIG questions…has led me down some pretty eclectic career paths. In my younger days, I worked in and considered some pretty wide-ranging career paths: priest, nurse, college professor, archaeologist, musician. As a result, I have undergraduate degrees in religion with minors in philosophy and sociology. Some might say that sounds like someone that had no direction, but I like to think of it as someone who was narrowing down their possibilities.

So getting back to our original premise: can a question be stupid? I will have to say “no,” a question can not be stupid. But, that doesn’t mean that some questions aren’t bad questions. More specifically, I think that some questions can not only be unhelpful, but also downright counterproductive. I’ll explain.

The other day I was at the gym working with a member we will call Deb. Deb is on her weight loss journey and has been making steady progress of which she was proud. After she finished a set of bench press, (hitting a new PR, I might add 😀), she sat up, smiled and we exchanged a high-five. It was then when she asked, “What if I gain back all the weight again?”

As I watched, her mood suddenly shifted. In seconds she went from excitement and celebration to speaking with a low voice and looking down at the ground. It seemed like she was about to cry.

This was one of those moments when you can almost literally hear a record scratch in your head. It was like the last 25 minutes we’d been working together had never existed. So, I said sternly, “Hold on right there.” Thus began my real work of coaching for the day. Without going into the details, our conversation can be summed up in this quote by Mark Twain:

“Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe.”

Here’s the way I look at it. When we worry about something that might happen, we are using up valuable mental and emotional energy reserves. But instead of using them to solve problems we have, we are trying to address problems we don’t have…and may never have.

I see this situation manifest itself often through questions we ask ourselves, just like Deb, questions like:

  • What if it doesn’t work out?
  • What if I get the job?
  • What if I pass this exam?
  • What if I fail?
  • What if the same thing happens?

These “what if” questions often turn over and over in our minds, altering our feelings and thought patterns in a way that moves us to a state of fear. Fear stimulates our sympathetic nervous system (think “fight or flight”) and leads to a host of physiological changes. I don’t want to get too sciency here, but over time and repeated exposure, this wears on both body and mind. Fear tends to make us react rather than respond. Reactions are automatic, lightning-fast, and meant to save us from danger. Real, physical danger. Not what we need to navigate our lives for the most part.

Back to Deb.

She had just busted out a marvelous bench press PR and was excited by her strength and weight loss progress. This positive attitude is potent coaching fuel when used to ignite transformation within a person. Then, all of that ground to a halt when she asked “what if…” So right then we took a break and talked it out. I think we made progress and I’m optimistic.

After all, I want Deb to reach her goals and have the life she deserves and, to do that, I’m willing to help her do just about whatever she needs to do to continue to make progress. This day in question, that included the need for me to tell her to stop asking bad questions and instead worry about the road in front of her, instead of the road that may never appear.

How about you? Do you ask bad questions? I’d love to hear if you have any ideas on how to stop. I’m all ears.

–Coach Brad

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