The right questions can inspire action and invite opportunity.
When it comes to work, you might be considering finding a new job that really energizes you and creates more meaning in your life. Maybe you’re thinking it’s time to be compensated for what you are worth and ask your boss for a raise. Or maybe you’re contemplating going back to school to advance or switch careers. Regardless of what you’re seeking, if you are like many of the clients we coach, you are probably thinking, “This is going to be really hard.”
Yet one of our favorite questions to ask our clients is, “What if it were easy?”
“But it’s not easy,” one client, Rosa, said in an exasperated tone.
“I know it’s not,” Margaret replied to Rosa’s idea of returning to school at age 35 to become a licensed therapist. “I went back to school at age 46. I know how hard it is, but what if it were easy? Let’s play with that idea a little. Where would you start?”
These simple ideas—what if it were easy and let’s play a little—got Rosa to shift her perspective and begin breaking down the steps she needed to take.
“OK, so I can’t quit my day job right now, but I could explore schools in my area and find out what kind of prerequisites I would need to apply.”
“That’s a great start. What else could you do?” Margaret asked.
For the next 30 minutes Rosa sketched out a plan and committed to making three small steps, including reaching out to a friend whose sister is a therapist.
“I’ll ask if she would introduce us,” Rosa said. “I know I could learn a lot from her experience.”
Stealing a line from actors
Constantin Stanislavski originated the method by which actors emotionally embody their roles. One of his greatest contributions to acting is the magic “if.” Actors are encouraged to ask, “What if I were an 80-year-old grandmother?” or “What if my leg had been harmed in the war; how would I walk now?”
And what if, just by asking yourself the question, you are more likely to take an action? Jonathan Levav of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Gavan Fitzsimons of the Duke Fuqua School of Business uncovered a question-behavior link. Jonathan and Gavan found that merely asking people if they are going to do something, such as buying a car, made people more likely to buy cars compared with people who weren't asked such a question.
So we, too, encourage you to ask yourself, “What if it were easy?” to see where it leads.
To shift to a “this is easy” mindset, here are a few other prompts to play with:
1. What if you had access to all of the resources you might need, what would you attempt right now?
2. What would your future self—you 20 years from now—advise you to do?
3. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t possibly fail?