Ask “WHY?” four times ….

Years ago the presenter at a professional conference gave me a word of wisdom which has made it much easier, ever since then, to understand and assess problems, events, trends or whatever, and to make informed decisions.

That day I sat there, my clip-board and pen ready to catch what I’d possibly later forget. The presenter then made a general statement: “There’s no need to take notes. I’m giving you a hand-out at the end.” Perhaps she wanted to make sure we gave undivided attention to her presentation. Perhaps she was an aural learner, whereas I am visual.

Me being what I am, I went ahead recording what made an impact in my mind at the time. When suddenly she stopped and added “By the way, always ask WHY four times,” she went on with the seminar content without further explanation. But I wrote down that little aside that might otherwise have been forgotten: it was NOT in her hand-out notes.

Back home, I reviewed my notes and pondered the meaning or application of that sentence. I assumed that the answer to the first question became the second question, or in some way sparked it off. That answer became the gist of the next question. And by the time you got to the fourth answer you had a much deeper insight. It proved subsequently to be an extremely valuable tool for getting down through the layers to the nitty-gritty, and it seemed as if it applied to any area of anybody’s life.

For example, as a music teacher I had conquered a lot of  ‘content’, had gained skills but was aware that the day a teacher believes she knows it all is the day she should give up teaching. At the time I was practising for a further diploma, but one particular scale, unlike most others like it, was giving problems at the ‘turnaround’.

The four questions helped me to realise (1) the manoeuvre was anatomically awkward (2) my conscious mind knew whenever the particular manoeuvre was pending (3) I was taking a deep breath in preparation, and holding it for the few seconds during the problematic passage (4) my muscles were tightening in response to the fight-or-flight situation, and ease of movement was hindered as a consequence.

Bingo! I had become aware of my body responding to my mind, and how that affected technique. I needed to devise something to forestall that response.

The next step was simple enough: mark places in the music, immediately before each difficulty, where I should puff out my breath, and make that a habit. That left me relaxed for my muscles to do exactly what they knew to do.

I didn’t have to mark when to breathe again — I could trust my body to do that. And thereafter I was more vigilant to note other reasons for lapses in students’ technique.

Not every problem is caused by what you would think. So for any problem (physical, emotional, social, political, financial…) ask WHY, analyse your immediate answer, then take that to bits, and so on. You may uncover hidden impulses, habits or motives on your part or on the part of others, that have had an unwarranted effect on your life. That will help you to remedy the matter and regain control or make a more profound judgment.

I was so glad I had kept scribbling, that day in that lecture room.


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