We're about to teach you a powerful two-step process to live a better life and be happier.
This is golden. Don't mistake simplicity for importance. This is the foundation of all change work!
Step 1 is to understand the model of "present state" versus "target state". Then in Step 2, we'll discuss use of language to get people moving towards their target state.
Step 1: The Concept of Present State and Target State
Everyone wants to live a great life. And to make your life better you have to make positive changes, right? Without change you'll just keep getting whatever you're getting right now.
Let's define two terms.
Present state is the sum total of what you are at this moment. What are you thinking and feeling? How much money do you make? What job do you do? Who do you hang around? This is your actual life right now.
The target state is what you actually want. Maybe you want to be more fit, or to sleep better at night, make more money, improve your marriage, or whatever. The target state is ever-evolving because no matter where we are in life, right now, we usually want something to change.
Life is a series of shifts. We're constantly moving from our present state towards some hypothetical target state.
To make someone happier, we just need to help them move from their present state towards their target state by applying resources. That's literally the golden ticket to a better life. You can use this in your own life, or as a therapist.
Resources are the things required to effect a change. Some resources you don't yet have. Knowledge could be an example of a resource you need to gather. But some resources you absolutely do have, such as your ability to take action.
Here's a video of Mike Mandel walking you through all of this in his usual fun style.
Step 2: Use Language to Get People Un-Stuck, and Moving Forward
People have a nasty habit of focusing on their present state and dwelling on the problems that exist in their current situation.
"Why" questions often keep people stuck when they are aimed at a current problem. They just cause your brain to verify that something in your life is not great, and explain all of the reasons why it's not great.
We don't want to ask ourselves dis-empowering "why" questions, nor should we ask them to someone else.
Imagine going up to someone and asking "Why are you so depressed?"
All you'll do is succeed at lighting up all the circuits in their brain that validate the depressed feelings and generate an explanation of the bad things that led to these feelings.
That's not a way to help move a person forward.
Find out what the target state actually is
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
- Alice in Wonderland
The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland makes a great point.
If you don't know what you want it's going to be hard to ask questions aimed at creating that outcome.
That's why we teach people to ask the magic question.
"What do you want?"
It sounds almost too easy, but believe us when we tell you that people will screw this up, and you'll have to gently poke and joke with them to answer it properly.
People will tell you all sorts of things about what they don't want.
- I don't want to feel so tired all the time
- I don't want to work for this jerk of a boss anymore
- I'm sick of being ignored
The list of things people don't want is infinite. But people will still answer this way on autopilot. So you'll make a few quick jokes about it before repeating the question. We often say something like this:
"The list of what you don't want is infinite. You don't want to build bonfires in your bedroom. Yo udon't want to mine for tin on the planet Jupiter. You don't want a dozen root canals even if they are free and performed by Elon Musk himself!"
This always gets a laugh.
And then we can say "So ... what DO you want?" Make sure you get an answer stated in the positive.
Ask questions about the target state instead
Once you know what a person wants, you can start asking questions to help Instead of "why" questions that are aimed at a current (or past) problem, it's much better to ask questions that unlock a solution ... and create a pathway towards that coveted target state.
- "How can I get smarter?" is much better than "Why am I so stupid?"
- "Where can I connect with like-minded people?" is much better than "Why can't I find any friends who see things the way I do?"
- "How will I change my eating habits to get healthier?" is better than "Why can't I ever lose weight?"
"How" questions are great because they put things into process. They put the onus of responsibility on the person making the change, too.
You can also phrase questions using words like what or where when aiming a person's attention towards the target state. So feel free to mix it up and don't assume you must use a "how" question at all times.
You can also ask "why" questions as long as you're asking about the target state! If you ask someone "Why do you want to change careers?", at least you're leading them to think about the target state. But notice how it feels incomplete? If you discover a person's reasons for wanting something, you still haven't helped guide them towards an actual plan.
So get in the habit of following "why" questions with something even more empowering. You might call them empowering questions.
One other way to use "why" questions comes from Michael Pantalon, PhD, in his book "Instant Influence".
When considering something, he might ask "Why might this be a great idea?"
Questions like this help unlock people's thinking and expand their awareness of possible solutions.
So now it's time to leave you with a question: How will you put this into action in your own life, and really enjoy the process?