“Why is this happening to me?”
“Why can’t I do anything right?”
When something stressful happens to you – you miss your train by seconds, you lose your wallet or your child gets sick on the day of an important meeting – these kind of rhetorical questions tend to pop up in your mind.
But a 2014 study by psychologist Andrea Bassanini and colleagues found that asking “why” when faced with everyday problems doesn’t lead to useful answers that improve your situation. On the contrary: this kind of abstract, unconstructive thinking only contributes to a bad mood and negative beliefs about yourself and the world.
Asking yourself “how”, on the other hand, helps you focus on possible solutions instead of dwelling on the bad situation you’re in: “How can I fix this?”, “How can I still make it to work in time?”. Instead of getting stuck in a vague, general, worrisome reasoning, “how” questions shift your attention to taking concrete and decisive action to deal with the present event.
So next time you’re stuck in traffic or your phone breaks down, ask yourself “How can I…” instead of “Why did this happen to me?“ to move from a problem-focused to a solution-oriented mindset.
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