Ask Better Questions

Ask better questions

Things that make me want to scream:

  • Bending my fingernail backwards
  • Having a customer ask me for advice, then attempt to tell me how I should fix the problem.

This week, yet again, I had a customer ask me to look at a technical problem. She’s paying my hourly consulting fee, mind you, because I’m on site for a consult. She explains the problem and the proceeds to Google for an answer (using the very worst Google syntax ever), with the onsite tech guy sitting next to her pointing at results. I lean against the credenza in her office, meanwhile, waiting for them to give up and ask the expert they’re paying.

There are two parts of the problem: 1) Email has gotten mangled coming into her inbox and needs to be restored. 2) We need to keep this from happening in the future. We quickly discover the solution to #2 and fix it. The fix for #1 is a longer, more tedious procedure. We’ve exhausted the rabbit hole of Google results, and yet they just. keep. searching. In desperation and confusion I ask the question that seems obvious, but no one has asked yet:

What is the best possible outcome you could have?

She looks at me as if I have a third eye, or a horn sticking out of my forehead. After a minute it’s obvious she doesn’t have an answer to my question. Does she want the email restored? Does she want to step through the tedious procedure to fix the mangled emails? Does she want to skip it altogether, because it’s only a handful of emails? She’s had her head buried so deeply in the situation that she’s never stopped to consider what she wants to happen.

What is the Best Possible Outcome?

This is one of those questions as a consultant and troubleshooter that I have to ask over and over, because many people don’t really know what they want, or have lost sight of what they want, or keep changing their minds. They keep encountering the same situations over and over because they haven’t identified where they want to go.

Obviously, the question extends to the personal:

  • What is the best possible outcome of this relationship?
  • What is the best possible outcome of buying this car?
  • What is the best possible outcome of this conflict with my kid?
  • What is the best possible outcome of taking this job?

Take, for example, “What is the best possible outcome of this relationship?” Because you don’t know what you want, you can’t identify what the result of being in a life-long relationship with someone will be. Do you want to have kids?  What kind of values do you want those kids to have? Is your wife going to demand a certain standard of living? Will she remain faithful? Will you remain faithful to her? Once you identify what you want you know where to start looking for a wife. And, just as important, you know when to cut and run. This question will keep you from wasting time on people or things that aren’t taking you in the direction you want to go.

“What is the best possible outcome of this conflict with my kid?” It may be that you and your son or daughter won’t see eye to eye, but that the best possible outcome is that you model disagreeing well, and model grace in accepting a different opinion. Not knowing the best possible outcome will see you on the defensive, insisting on your way, even when it really doesn’t matter. The result being a broken, resentful relationship with your son.

  • What is the best possible outcome of talking to my ex on Snapchat?
  • What is the best possible outcome of tutoring a kid?
  • What is the best possible outcome of eating healthier?

Conclusion

This question, along with “What is the wise thing for me to do?“, can help you weed out the helpful from the destructive. The wise from the foolish. The wasteful from the resourceful. Take some time to sit down and identify some areas in your life that are vague right now. Are you looking at a major financial decision? Are you in a relationship that doesn’t have an end-game. What will your career look like 20 years from now? Have you set any longevity goals? Pick one and ask the question, “What is the best possible outcome?” and begin to shape your decision(s) based on what you see.

 

 

 

On The Wagon 2018

I’m going on the wagon.

I’ve never been a heavy drinker (well, other than my freshman year in college) but over the last couple of years, drinking a couple of glasses of wine or a couple of beers at night has become a more regular occurrence. I don’t drink to get drunk but there are times that I certainly drink past the point of simple relaxation.

For a variety of reasons, some practical, some for the cause of science, I’ve decided to climb on the wagon for the month of July.

Stomach Discomfort

File this under both practical and science. Practically (and the primary driver for this), something has been causing me stomach discomfort over the past few months: bloating, gas, etc. I’ve been trimming gluten and dairy from my diet, and although I feel better overall, it is still occurring. However, in times when I’ve taken a week or two without a drink, my digestive issues have been relieved. So I’m conducting a science experiment to decide whether alcohol is the culprit.

Sleep

Essentially everything you read on the Internet (which, of course, is true) points to alcohol’s ability to disrupt sleep patterns. More specifically, a 2013 review of scientific studies on alcohol and its effect on sleep concluded “At all dosages, alcohol causes a reduction in sleep onset latency, a more consolidated first half sleep, and an increase in sleep disruption in the second half of sleep”.[1] My own experience is that I have no problem falling asleep, but have an incredibly hard time staying asleep. By 3 or 4 am, I’m awake, wishing I wasn’t.

Sleep is huge to me (and should be, to you). It affects testosterone levels, fat buildup, and repair and recovery after strenuous exercise. I want as much quality sleep as I can get. If avoiding alcohol helps, then I’m on board.

Attitude

Frankly, I’m cranky when I drink. It’s probably related to the loss of quality sleep. But on more than one occasion I’ve found myself low on patience with my wife and kids and I feel like it’s attributable to drinking the night before. Nothing is more valuable than those relationships. If anything is impairing my relationships with those I love most, then it should go!

Testosterone

This is less of a factor, but there are indications that high alcohol use impairs testosterone production. Again, I don’t drink excessively, but if there’s any chance that drinking a few beers is cutting into my T-levels, then count me out. Add to this the effect on sleep mentioned above, which also affects T-levels, and I’d rather do without the booze.

Muscle Building

I’ve written before (here) about the importance of Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) and the importance of adequate protein intake as we age because of sarcopenia (age-related muscle wasting). There is research showing that drinking inhibits muscle protein synthesis after exercise[2] (at least in rats).

Money

If there is anywhere my life is out of control, it’s my finances. Raising five boys (three of whom are in college) takes a toll on your budget. Cutting expenses is one way to help bring things back into line. Eliminating booze is easy money. Sure, a $10 six-pack or bottle of Cabernet doesn’t seem huge. But when it’s a six-pack per week, across 52 weeks a year, that’s a couple of utility bills, a few new tires, or a handful of college textbooks. Much better uses of funds.

Conclusion

I’m writing this on July 2, day two of my experiment. I’ll keep you posted.

Anyone want to join me? Chime in in the comments, below. I’m sure this would be easier with some company.

[1] Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. “Reviewing alcohol’s effects on normal sleep.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2013.; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122162236.htm;
[2] “Alcohol impairs skeletal muscle protein synthesis and mTOR signaling in a time-dependent manner following electrically stimulated muscle contraction.” Journal of Applied Physiology, November 15, 2014.; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25257868