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Stay future-oriented. Photo: Gleb Leonov/Strelka Institute/Flickr

A simple word swap can make you more successful on a daily basis

Psychologist Tasha Eurich suggests problem-solving through ‘what’, instead of ‘why’

By Shana Lebowitz

In her new book, “Insight,” the psychologist Tasha Eurich argues that the more accurately you see yourself, the more successful you’ll be.

To that end, she offers a bunch of strategies for getting to know yourself better, each one characterised by extreme efficiency and a focus on problem-solving over rumination.

One such strategy is the somewhat counter-intuitive “What Not Why” tool. When you’re facing a difficult situation, or you’ve screwed up in some capacity, Eurich writes, ask yourself “what” questions instead of “why” questions.

When she visited the Business Insider office in May, Eurich shared an example of a situation where this tool would work: You’ve just given a horrible client presentation.

Here’s Eurich:

“You might ask yourself, if you’re a well-intentioned, successful person, ‘Why did I go so wrong in that meeting?’ or, ‘Why did I mess that up?

“What I’ve found, in my research and others’, is that when we ask ourselves those ‘why’ questions, it takes us down a spiral of self-loathing.

“It makes us depressed; it tends to make us beat ourselves up in a non-productive way. But if we can ask the question of ‘what,’ that’s more future-oriented. That can make all the difference in the world.”

Specifically, Eurich said, you might ask: “What can I do differently in the future?” or, “What can I learn from this particular event that will help me be more successful next time?”

In “Insight,” Eurich highlights a few reasons why the What Not Why tool works. For one thing, she writes, “asking ‘what’ keeps us open to discovering new information about ourselves, even if that information is negative or in conflict with our existing beliefs.”

Eurich cites a study that had two groups of students read a positive and negative evaluation of their personality (unbeknownst to the students, everyone had received the same evaluations).

One group of students was asked beforehand to think about what kind of person they were; the other group was asked to think about why they were the kind of person they were. As it turned out, the students in the “why” group were resistant to the negative feedback, while the students in the “what” group were more receptive.

Another reason why the What Not Why tool works: It prompts us to label our emotions, a practice that psychologists have found helps us manage those feelings.

If you come from work in a foul mood, Eurich writes, it’s helpful to ask, “What I am I feeling right now?” She writes: “Perhaps you’d realise that you’re overwhelmed at work, exhausted and hungry.” From there, you can take measures to eliminate those individual stressors.

Overall, Eurich writes, the What Not Why tool takes us out of a self-pity mindset and orients us squarely toward the future. She writes: “Making the transition from why to what can be the difference between victimhood and growth.”