A Simple Way to Improve at Anything

Asking thought provoking questions of yourself with a touch of devil’s advocate can bring intentionality to your life.The title of this article makes a big claim—that there exists a single technique that could improve just about everything in your life.Such a big claim deserves a logical argument to back it up, and that’s what I hope to provide.The best, most universal way I know to better get across any number of dimensions of life is to approach them with intentionality. I take it as a given that anything done with deliberate and purposeful action is more likely to succeed.But what exactly does being intentional mean?To be intentional requires reflection, thoughtfulness, and conscious choice. This is opposed to our default mode, which is often impulsive and without much consideration beyond surface-level concerns.For me, the fastest way to switch from my default mode to my intentional mode is by asking myself a series of simple but probing questions and attempting to give satisfactory answers.Related StoriesThis approach has its roots in the teaching method of the Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. The Socratic method, as it’s become known, typically involves two or more people having a friendly, cooperative, but argumentative dialogue. One person gently but directly challenges the other with questions, with the mutual goal of deeper understanding and the pursuit of truth.I’ve discovered that you don’t need two people at all. It’s possible to slow yourself down, challenge your own thinking, and get similar benefits.How to Apply the Socratic MethodThere’s no secret recipe for asking good “Socratic” questions. The usual types of questions, especially those that start with “why,” “what,” and “how,” are a good place to start.You can stack these questions, for example, by asking “why” multiple times to reveal the deeper reasons or assumptions behind your thoughts.The Socratic method works similarly to talking through a problem or decision with a close friend. By articulating your thoughts out loud, you may see how thin or vain your motives are in a particular area or make a connection you would have otherwise missed.Though playing it alone is fine if no one is available, the Socratic method is even better when done with someone you know and trust. This is how it was originally devised. The best companions—the ones you go to with your struggles—apply this method naturally. They aren’t trying to fix your problems for you but rather helping you to think more clearly and deeply about them.No matter how you apply it, alone or with a friend, the Socratic method is a powerful tool for being more intentional about any area of life.My Favorite ‘Socratic’ QuestionsBelow are some examples of questions I use to push myself towards intentionality. If you’re like me, a good reminder to use these questions is when you find yourself wrestling with negative emotions like stress, boredom, or apathy. These questions can be a gentle way to bring your emotions back in alignment with your goals.‘What’ QuestionsWhat am I trying to accomplish?What do I want to want?What do I actually want?What do I assume to be true?What am I waiting for?‘Why’ QuestionsWhy do I want what I want?Why do I feel the way I do?Why is this not working?Why do I think this will work?‘How’ QuestionsHow might my faith inform my perspective?How do I get started?How do I want this to look in the future?How can I enjoy this more?3 Benefits of the Socratic Method“A Simple Way to Improve at Everything,” is, as afore mentioned, a bold claim for a short article. The truth is that the Socratic method is no magic elixir—it only works when you put in the effort and apply it diligently.But honestly, I can’t imagine many scenarios in life where it won’t make things much better if you actually use it. This process of asking yourself (or a friend) a series of probing questions works because it encourages these three beneficial actions:Slow yourself down in a busy, busy world. In this age of distraction and busyness, many of our decisions are made by emotional impulse. Either that, or we uncritically remain on the default paths of life. Anything that gets us to pause is, in my mind, a welcome balance. Force your thoughts to go deeper than the surface. Whether it’s always been the case, or if the constant stimulation of our screens has made it worse, deep thinking seems to be in short supply. When we do think, we rarely do so methodically—instead, we skip around from one fleeting thought to another. The Socratic method presses us to reflect on the important questions of life with deeper consideration.Set a positive intention and mark a line in the sand. The Socratic method isn’t just a brainstorming tool—it asks questions of us and expects thoughtful answers. These answers may be aspirational, but they may help us imagine a better version of ourselves and what that could look like. Knowing clearly the good thing you want to do is an important step in that very direction.

A Simple Way to Improve at Anything

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Asking thought provoking questions of yourself with a touch of devil’s advocate can bring intentionality to your life.

The title of this article makes a big claim—that there exists a single technique that could improve just about everything in your life.

Such a big claim deserves a logical argument to back it up, and that’s what I hope to provide.

The best, most universal way I know to better get across any number of dimensions of life is to approach them with intentionality. I take it as a given that anything done with deliberate and purposeful action is more likely to succeed.

But what exactly does being intentional mean?

To be intentional requires reflection, thoughtfulness, and conscious choice. This is opposed to our default mode, which is often impulsive and without much consideration beyond surface-level concerns.

For me, the fastest way to switch from my default mode to my intentional mode is by asking myself a series of simple but probing questions and attempting to give satisfactory answers.

This approach has its roots in the teaching method of the Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. The Socratic method, as it’s become known, typically involves two or more people having a friendly, cooperative, but argumentative dialogue. One person gently but directly challenges the other with questions, with the mutual goal of deeper understanding and the pursuit of truth.

I’ve discovered that you don’t need two people at all. It’s possible to slow yourself down, challenge your own thinking, and get similar benefits.

.

How to Apply the Socratic Method

There’s no secret recipe for asking good “Socratic” questions. The usual types of questions, especially those that start with “why,” “what,” and “how,” are a good place to start.

You can stack these questions, for example, by asking “why” multiple times to reveal the deeper reasons or assumptions behind your thoughts.

The Socratic method works similarly to talking through a problem or decision with a close friend. By articulating your thoughts out loud, you may see how thin or vain your motives are in a particular area or make a connection you would have otherwise missed.

Though playing it alone is fine if no one is available, the Socratic method is even better when done with someone you know and trust. This is how it was originally devised. The best companions—the ones you go to with your struggles—apply this method naturally. They aren’t trying to fix your problems for you but rather helping you to think more clearly and deeply about them.

No matter how you apply it, alone or with a friend, the Socratic method is a powerful tool for being more intentional about any area of life.
.

My Favorite ‘Socratic’ Questions

Below are some examples of questions I use to push myself towards intentionality. If you’re like me, a good reminder to use these questions is when you find yourself wrestling with negative emotions like stress, boredom, or apathy. These questions can be a gentle way to bring your emotions back in alignment with your goals.

‘What’ Questions

  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • What do I want to want?
  • What do I actually want?
  • What do I assume to be true?
  • What am I waiting for?

‘Why’ Questions

  • Why do I want what I want?
  • Why do I feel the way I do?
  • Why is this not working?
  • Why do I think this will work?

‘How’ Questions

  • How might my faith inform my perspective?
  • How do I get started?
  • How do I want this to look in the future?
  • How can I enjoy this more?

3 Benefits of the Socratic Method

“A Simple Way to Improve at Everything,” is, as afore mentioned, a bold claim for a short article. The truth is that the Socratic method is no magic elixir—it only works when you put in the effort and apply it diligently.
But honestly, I can’t imagine many scenarios in life where it won’t make things much better if you actually use it. This process of asking yourself (or a friend) a series of probing questions works because it encourages these three beneficial actions:
  1. Slow yourself down in a busy, busy world. In this age of distraction and busyness, many of our decisions are made by emotional impulse. Either that, or we uncritically remain on the default paths of life. Anything that gets us to pause is, in my mind, a welcome balance.
  2. Force your thoughts to go deeper than the surface. Whether it’s always been the case, or if the constant stimulation of our screens has made it worse, deep thinking seems to be in short supply. When we do think, we rarely do so methodically—instead, we skip around from one fleeting thought to another. The Socratic method presses us to reflect on the important questions of life with deeper consideration.
  3. Set a positive intention and mark a line in the sand. The Socratic method isn’t just a brainstorming tool—it asks questions of us and expects thoughtful answers. These answers may be aspirational, but they may help us imagine a better version of ourselves and what that could look like. Knowing clearly the good thing you want to do is an important step in that very direction.

.