If you have ever pondered questions like, "What is the
meaning of life?" or "Why do we feel motivated to do
good?" you may have noticed that doing so really takes no
more brainpower than balancing your checkbook. And although you
are more likely to be satisfied and certain with the result of
the checkbook balancing, thinking about these things is not just
good brain exercise. This kind of thinking gives you insight
But how do you think about the big questions of life? What
do you do to get more deeply into them and develop a more profound
understanding? Try one of the easiest and most effective ways:
Do like children do and keep asking simple questions.
Why? What? How? - The Big Questions
Perhaps a child has challenged you with this game of questions.
She might start by asking why you have to leave. You say, "To
go to work," and then she asks you why you have to go to
work. You answer, "To make money," and she asks why
you have to make money. You answer, "To pay for food and
a house and clothes," but of course it doesn't stop there.
Let her, and the child may lead you right up your hierarchy of
values to the meaning of life itself.
If it is a "what" question, you (or the child) would
continually define each new explanatory word as it was used.
"What is happiness?" might be answered, "A feeling
that everything is all right," and then you ask what a feeling
is and what "all right" means. Define "all right"
to mean "as it should be," and you are heading for
the question, "What is the meaning of 'should'?"
This repeated questioning that children use is great for creating
an explanation, and also good for pointing out assumptions that
we may not have previously stated or been aware of. For example,
you might arrive at "Going to work makes me money which
buys things we need which will make me and my loved ones happy,"
or the shortened version "Going to work makes me happy."
Unfortunately, explaining things and making assumptions more
conscious isn't necessarily very educational or useful.
How then, do we increase understanding, and to point out possible
errors in thinking? We can start with this questioning technique
to outline the logical chain of ideas in our explanation. However,
that's just a start. Then we need to challenge each of these
ideas to see if there is a better perspective or an error in
our thinking that we can correct. Using the above example, we
can ask "Does going to work actually make me happy?"
or "Is there a better way to make money?" Now let's
look at another example.
Assuming you do, why do you want to do brain exercises? "To
be more intelligent," you might answer. And why do you want
to be more intelligent? To solve problems more effectively, perhaps,
and you want to solve problems more effectively to have more
control over your environment, to make more money, or to improve
your personal situation. Why that? Maybe to be happier?
Look at each of these steps in the reasoning and you can identify
a number of assumptions - which may or may not be the best ones
available. For example, it might be a valid question to ask if
exercising the brain actually improves intelligence, or if only
certain kinds of mental exercise are effective. You could ask
if being more intelligent really helps you solve problems more
effectively. Maybe learning specific problem solving techniques
is more important than your IQ level.
Challenging any and all assumptions is the second step in
this process. Then you look for new perspectives and approaches
by moving up the hierarchy to see if there are other ways to
re-create this logical chain of ideas. If the end result is supposed
to be happiness, for example, what other approaches make more
sense than brain exercises? Or part-way up the hierarchy, what
about the idea of having more control? Are there specific actions
you could take that will get you there faster than just generally
increasing your brainpower?
This three-step process will give you new insight into any
of life's big questions or even not-so-big ones. You create the
logical chain of ideas first, by asking those "why,"
"what" or "how" questions repeatedly - write
these down for best results. Then you challenge each assumption,
and look for better ones. Then you look for other ways to get
to each point in the hierarchy of ideas that you created.