Let’s say you have a challenge in your life. Most of us do at some point; oftentimes, we have multiple challenges at the same time.
But for the sake of simplicity, let’s say we have just one challenge. I’ll use Paula’s story as an example. While based on a true situation, I have, of course, changed the details.
Paula’s sister, Lynn, has a chronic disease, a broken marriage, and financial difficulties. Paula would like to help. One practical response to the situation could be for Paula to move in with Lynn.
Paula believes that sharing living expenses would decrease some of Lynn’s financial burdens. Paula would also help with the many household chores; that might reduce Lynn’s pain and suffering from her disease. Finally, Paula’s presence would decrease Lynn’s feeling of isolation since the breakdown of her marriage.
Doesn’t that sound good?
Given only this information, we can’t say for sure though, can we? You’ll notice that I have only listed advantages that could come from this move. Are there also disadvantages? I’ll mention a few possibilities; you can probably add to the list.
First, of course, both women lose the privacy and autonomy that comes with being in charge of their own households. Might either sister end up believing that they’re being taken advantage of by the other? Will their relationship suffer from too much togetherness? What if Lynn’s condition worsens? What if Lynn’s marriage is restored—where will Paula go then? What if? What if?
When you consider those possibilities, the move looks less attractive. In fact, now it’s starting to sound downright risky!
The questions we ask have an impact on the answers we get. Even if the only person we are asking is ourselves, we’ll receive different information when we ask, “Why won’t this work?” versus, “How can I make this work?”
The first question, “Why won’t this work?” looks specifically for disadvantages. For Lynn and Paula, I’ve listed only a few of many possible risks—things may go sour, they may lose their friendship, both may ultimately end up worse than before.
The second question, “How can I make this work?” suggests that a solution is possible, but it may take creative thinking to guard against the downsides. It encourages us to consider the risks before we do something that’s difficult or impossible to reverse—like selling a house or combining finances—while not dismissing the possibility that it could work.
For Lynn and Paula, this question could encourage a frank discussion. How we will divide the chores? The expenses? How will we handle the situation if we don’t get along? They are uncomfortable questions, but better asked now than later.
Both questions have their usefulness. However, when a change is necessary—when we know that we can’t keep on doing what we’ve been doing, then asking, “How can I make this work?” may be a more effective starting point than, “Why won’t this work?”
My interest in these questions was inspired from a newsletter by James Clear—an author well-known for his work on the importance of developing effective habits. If you’d like to read the newsletter, just let me know
Welcome to Reality Check:
articles and observations inspired by the work of Dr. William Glasser
- Choosing Behaviour
- Choosing Perspective
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