A better question than “Can I?”


In this episode of On Being, Krista Tippett speaks with social psychologist Ellen Langer about the powerful force of belief. Her research over the last several decades has helped prove scientifically what New Thoughters and self-helpers and the spiritually attuned have long known: That your words and beliefs alter your perception, which then alter your experience.

Langer has an interesting take on how to reframe the question Can I do this?

She recasts it as How can I do this?

Instead of Can I make this happen?

. . . it becomes How can I make this happen?

Can I …? is past oriented, Langer says. When you ask Can I do X?, your brain scans your experience to see how you might measure up, if it’s even possible given your history.

How can I …? thrusts you into possibility thinking. As Langer notes, the questions you ask pull answers to you. Asking how you can accomplish a thing draws potential pathways to the fore.

I’m already asking new questions.

How can I fit two businesses into one workday — art gallery and creative side hustle — and shut it all down by 6 pm?

And . . .

How can I help more in the kitchen?

(Answer: I bought a knife.)

(A very special blade whose heft fits my hand so perfectly I now jump at the chance to sous chef.)

And, from a bald guy in his 50s . . .

How can I be more ridiculously good looking?

Asking questions is fun. Especially in this empowering way.

It’s OK to try this one at home, kids.


Note: Proceed
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