A Better Question Than "Why Can't I Do This?!"


I don't care who you are, at some point you're going to try something hard and get frustrated when it isn't working the way you want. It's easy to question yourself when that happens, which means all forward progress grinds to a halt. "Why can't I do this?!" tends to be one of my first questions. It's actually not a great one because all my answers tend to be judgmental and mean. (Because you're lazy! Because you're dumb! Because you're just not cut out for this! Etc.)

Sure, it's possible to answer the question with kindness (e.g., "Because you don't know enough yet, sweetie!"), but if I'm already frustrated, self-compassion isn't my default response.

It's time to start asking better questions. In fact, here are 15 to try instead.

  1. If my fairy godmother were going to take over for me, where would I tell her to start?
  2. How can I break this down into smaller chunks? What's the first chunk? Can I make it even smaller?
  3. How can I set myself up for success? What resources do I need to succeed?
  4. What's the story I'm telling myself, and is it true?
  5. Who can I ask for help?
  6. What are all the reasons I don't want to do this?
  7. What am I afraid will happen if I mess this up?
  8. If I were a scientist gathering data on all the ways to do this, what would I try next?
  9. What are my assumptions? Is it possible that some of them are wrong?
  10. Is it possible to re-frame this as a mystery, puzzle, game, or quest?
  11. What would I have to think and feel to be able to move forward?
  12. What is my end goal, and are there any other ways I can accomplish it?
  13. Where am I succumbing to black-and-white thinking? What's behind Door #3?
  14. When have I done something similar in the past and what lessons can I take from that experience?
  15. Why can I do this?

Our brains love questions, but we have to ask the right ones.

When you ask yourself a question that piques your curiosity, you are more motivated to find the answer. Asking yourself why you can't do something is often a shorthand for "What's wrong with me?" which is mostly rhetorical and not fun to answer.

The questions above are phrased to help you move from self-recrimination into problem-solving mode. It's impossible to be both judgmental and curious, because the curious mind sees all data as useful. Add in some self-reflection and perspective, and you're well on your way to giving your mental wheels the traction you need to move forward.

What question would you add to the list?

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