The power of the right question

Learning from a skiing accident

I now suspect it was bound to happen sooner or later. I was recently on a skiing holiday and managed to break a bone in my left arm.

As I write this I am plastered up with a sling and can just about type with a single finger! At this point it would be so easy to get frustrated and disappointed with life, myself and the universe.

I could ask myself questions like, "Why am I such a bad skier? Why did I allow myself to go on that slope? Why did I not stay back that afternoon and rest rather than going out to ski again? How am I going to deal with all the inconvenience and hassle this will cause? I haven't got time to be unwell. Haven't I got more important things to do than just stop to recover? What have I done to deserve this?"

The problem with questions like that is they are focused on the past or outside of anything I can control. They put me at risk of getting into a negative defeatist spiral. By putting me in a victim mindset they can so easily lead to depressive thinking.

The human brain is so powerful that asking questions like that to myself will only cause me to find reasons to reinforce my situation. In other words what you focus on will only get bigger. Argue for your limitations and you will invariably be right. Argue for your possibilities and options, then you will be right as well. The choice is yours. There is a much better way.  This does not just apply to skiing accidents, but to so much else in life.

Fortunately I was able to not go down that negative road and instead ask myself a better, more future focused question: What does this now make possible?

In addition to that I was able to join that question with two true statements:...

It could have been worse.

For this I have Jesus.

Let's examine in more detail each of these three phrases:

1. When I ask the question, 'What does this now make possible?'  then a whole new world of possibility opens up. I move from a mindset of defeat and frustration to a new mindset of possibility and options. I begin to take responsibility for myself.

Indeed if you break down the word responsibility you have the two words 'response' and 'able'. I am able to choose how I respond to this experience.  That is what makes us uniquely human. We have agency. We are able to choose our response in any given situation. We don't have to travel along a path of defeat, cynicism or despair. Another way of saying that is we become proactive. Being proactive is much than taking initiative. Here is how the writer, Stephen R. Covey puts it:

"(Proactivity) means that as human beings we are responsible for our own lives. Our behaviour is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen."

Indeed we can call upon 4 uniquely human abilities:
Self-awareness: the ability to think about our very own thought processes. And by being able to do that we can change our thoughts.

Imagination: that is the ability to create something new in our minds beyond our current reality.

Conscience: a deep inner awareness of what is right and wrong. Along with this we can sense the principles that govern our behaviour and become aware to the degree our thoughts and actions are in harmony with them.

Independent will: the ability to act based on our self-awareness, free of all other influences. We are not robots, but can choose our response in any situation.

(For more on this also see Is It Really That Person's Fault They Are Irritating You So Much?)

So what does this make possible?
Immediately it meant no more skiing! But it also made possible the opportunity to read some books and watch some online programmes I had been putting off for months.
With time off work the opportunity to connect with family and friends in a way that would otherwise be much harder.
Time to slow down, read, reflect and pray.

And those two other statements?

2.It could have been worse.
Well it certainly could have been! The accident was not any more severe. I only broke the distal radius of my left arm and it was not displaced. No other bones were broken. I had a beautiful walk down the slope in some stunning scenery. My sister-in-law Nikee was able to carry my skis down the slope, encourage me along and ensure I didn't get stuck on the slope, needing a helicopter! Her positive can-do attitude was a great example to me. My brother-in-law Peter was able to get us to stop half way down at a picturesque cafe to enjoy hot chocolate and the stunning scenery. And at the bottom of the slope right in front of us was a ski injury clinic (now that is a good business!) to get seen to and sorted. I fortunately had insurance cover to pay for most of the damage. Yes it has been painful, but then painkillers are effective. Yes I am so much slower at getting things done and need help, but that also gives me more of an opportunity to connect with others. (For more on gratitude see here).

3.For this I have Jesus.
So often in life when we hit a problem or difficulty the temptation is to want to get the problem fixed and move on with our lives, agendas and plans. On one level there is nothing wrong with that, but on another level we lose perspective.

In life of primary importance is nurturing and developing an intimate relationship with God that is available to us through what Christ has achieved for us through the cross. The Westminster Catechism of 1646 says "The chief purpose of man (and woman!) is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever". Or as John Piper puts it, God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.

One of the online programmes I had been intending to watch for over 6 months was a talk by Joni Eareckson Tada on the 50th anniversary of a diving accident that has left her quadriplegic. Well if it was not for the skiing accident I would never have watched it! Since the age of 17 following a diving accident she has lived in a wheelchair without the use of her arms or legs. Two quotes from Joni that particularly struck me:

"I really would rather be in this wheelchair knowing Jesus as I do than be on my feet without him."

"Ten words have set the course for my life: God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves."

Now that is challenging! Does my relationship with Jesus mean that much to me? Does it mean that to you? Do you hunger for that? (To read more about Joni see here. Another person with deep joy in spite of his severe disability is Nick Vujicic).

The morning after my accident this was part of my reading from the devotional book, "Jesus Today":

"Let me have all your worries and cares. This may sound easy, but it is not; you are accustomed to worry thoughts roaming freely in your brain. So you must train yourself to bring all your cares into my Presence, trusting Me to help you. Remember that you are never alone in your struggles. I am always aware of you and your circumstances. I can help you because I have all authority in heaven and on earth.  As you come into My presence  let go of your worries and cares - so you can cling to me in child-like trust."

How has finding the right question challenged and changed you?

Also see 7 Life Lessons From A Skiing Holiday

 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “The power of the right question

  1. What can this make possible? Such a great question, Sunil. And how about going even deeper? What could THAT make possible? I’m looking forward to a follow-up to hear what was made possible that you perhaps didn’t expect.

  2. Well – having returned recently from my favourite sport (in Austria this year) I sympathise greatly. For me I am immensely grateful that those accidents I had in the past, skiing completely out of control that sent my whirling thru 360 degrees did not result in anything worse than bad bruising (I am a bit older and slower now!). Thanks for showing us we have a choice to respond positively or negatively. And Joni Eareckson Tada is amazing – i shall write down that quote “God permits ….” and certainly use it. I do hope ypou recover soon Sunil!