21 of the smartest questions you can ask

The right question at the right time can achieve dramatic results

Like Comment

The words ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there’ are generally attributed to the Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but are actually lyrics from the song 'Any Road' by George Harrison.

The exchange between Alice and the cat goes like this:  

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘—so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

Many of us are jay-walk through life without a clear idea of where we are heading.

 It’s a bit like jumping into a car and driving around without a destination in mind and without a map either. We do end up somewhere, that’s for sure, but it might not be where we need to be and we’ve used up a lot of precious time and fuel to get there.   So it makes sense to at least have a plan, even though, to continue the Beatles theme, as John Lennon wrote Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans’ in his song ‘Beautiful Boy,' and actually a quote from a 1957 Reader's Digest article by Allen Saunders.

  Some believe our lives are pre-ordained. They share a fatalistic philosophy that destiny holds the key to their future. A more scientific view is that we have powerful brain filters, such as the reticular activating system (RAS) which come into play when we set our intention, focus on what we want and why we want it.  

Painting a picture with your imagination brush

  Truth is, when we create a detailed image of a future we want, and tag it with emotion, the brain registers it as significant, allowing through information it may previously have filtered out. A series of seemingly serendipitous events then gently pull us in the direction of our  goals.   But you have to get the detail right and, for most people, the open question (1) ‘If you had all the time, money, energy and resources and failure was not an option, what would make you happy?’ is too global. It will either elicit the response ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I just want to win the lottery’. At this point, I generally ask (2) ‘If you did win the lottery, what is the life you would choose to live?’ and take out a copy of the Fusion wheel of life exercise to break the answer down into its component parts.  

It's true, the right question posed at the right time and asked in the right way, will invite the recipient to go on an internal search and paint pictures in their imagination and, the more explicit those pictures are, the better, because RAS loves detail.   In all my years of therapeutic coaching and 30,000 plus hours of client experience, the 21 questions outlined here are some of the most powerful I've come across and will create a super-highway to the chosen destination.   But first, we need to be clear about the starting point. If there are problems or worries, they will need to be addressed. The following questions are designed to cut to the core issues.

3. What’s the essence of the problem?

Many of us suffer from cognitive overload. The clutter in our heads prevents us thinking clearly. When we get emotional, our brains become disabled and we are denied access to the rational brain hemisphere which actually loves to solve problems.
So if the screaming in your head is drowning out the logical way forward, ask yourself ‘what does this all boil down to? If I had to give a simple explanation of the problem ‘in a nutshell’ what would it be about?’

4. What’s the essence of the solution? 

In true Sherlock Holmes style, having clarity about the answer to the first question will lead to the answer to the second: 

  • If the essence of my problem is anxiety attacks, then the answer to the problem is to learn to relax whilst noticing what is triggering my anxiety.
  • If the essence of my problem is that I’m unhappy in my relationship, then the answer to the problem is to either find a way of improving that relationship or find the most appropriate way of exiting.
  • If the essence of my problem is tiredness and irritability through lack of sleep then the essence of the solution is to find out what’s keeping me awake and look for ways of getting better quality sleep.

5. What’s the focus for the work? 

  • For panic attacks, the STOP System® works well with its breathing, counting and scaling. In fact it works well for most things, as it’s a quick way to get off auto pilot and into mindful awareness. A CBT hot cross bun exercise will connect anxious thoughts to physical, emotional and behavioural effects. Positive mental rehearsal will link the therapeutic process to the outside world, giving it a greater chance of success, and a well placed story can change perception in an instant.
  • Relationships are a minefield. As ever, it’s about effective and honest communication. One of the most useful tools I’ve found is the communicating difficult feelings template. I wrote about it in my article ‘The art of naked conversation’. We all have needs. In a relationship it’s often a compromise to get our individual needs met. It takes patience, understanding, empathy and kindness. But it also takes two to make the effort. If you’ve tried and it’s still not working, perhaps it’s time to negotiate your exit with dignity. 
  • There’s a lot we can do to improve sleep quality. Small changes can make a bit difference. I use the Blackboard Method and it works well for most. Again, it starts with the command to self ‘STOP’ to get the attention of the mind. As Buddhist monk Mingyur Rinpoche observes ‘The monkey mind is always giving its opinion. It’s up to us whether we listen to it.’ 

Questions, questions

  Once the problems of the present and the worries about the past are on the road to resolution, it’s time to plan for a problem free the future.   The following 16 questions are taken from the Fusion Therapeutic Coaching Diploma programme. They are structured to set brain filters for future goals and to get results fast.   So, put your running shoes on, prepare for action, and do what author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ author Steve Covey suggested, ‘Start with the end in mind!!’
Good luck and let me know how you get on…

  • What do you want?


  • Why do you want that?


  • How will you know when you have got it?


  • What will that feel like?


  • What will others notice?


  • Imagine a ladder. If 10 is where you want to be, where are you now?


  • What have you done to get you this far?


  • What do you have to do to get you up just one more step?


  • What are your internal and external resources?


  • What skills have you used so far?


  • What challenges have you met and overcome?


  • What can you do to take this forward?


  • What could stop you?


  • When do you want to achieve this by?


  • When will you take the first step?


  • When will you take the next step? 


Mindfulness Based Mind Management (advanced MBSR), Post natal depression, solution focus, guided visualisation, addiction, epigenetics, mapping the connectome, polyvagal theory, the reticular activating system (RAS), secondary gain, trauma resolution, coaching for kids, treating depression, worrying well, working SMART, therapeutic stories, insight, psycho education, suicide prevention, affirmations, positive mental rehearsal, imagery, dissociation, goal setting, new paradigms, reframes, fast track learning, perception shifting, self actualisation, positive psychology, reframing, metaphor, personal empowerment, motivational thinking, lifting depression, the happiness principle, resilience and resourcefulness, human flourishing, anchoring, rewiring your brain, the STOP System, the SAFE SPACE happiness recipe,  Fusion training programmes.theories, tools and techniques underpin the content of the fast paced, fast track, plus many other professional holistic coaching and working on the continuum of wellbeing


Frances A Masters

Psychotherapist, Coach, Writer. Live your best life.

Do you want to be happier and more resilient? Some people seem to just 'bounce back' no matter what life throws at them. We can't choose many of life's events but we certainly do have a choice about how we respond. My passion for mental health began 25 years ago when I suffered postnatal depression and realised the help I needed simply wasn't there. The pills didn't work. In fact they made things worse. What I really needed was to understand how anxiety, depression and emotional ill health can develop. I needed to learn good 'mind management' skills which would act like a 'psychological inoculation' against future problems. When I recovered, I made a decision to find out how and why I had become so depressed and made a personal pledge to do something to provide the kind of help for others which I had needed. I wanted to prevent people suffering unnecessarily. So I embarked on a personal and professional journey and, along the way, developed a brand new approach to health and well-being. My journey began with four years of traditional counselling training, followed by a postgraduate diploma in psychotherapy. I studied cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), hypnotherapy, coaching and cognitive neuroscience. I built up 30,000 hours professional experience which I brought together into the new happiness and resilience programme l named 'Fusion.' I also wrote a book about how to resolve post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), founded a therapeutic coaching charity and trained volunteers to work in this new way. This training programme would later become the nationally accredited Fusion Therapeutic Coaching Diploma and Distance Learning Skills Certificate. Now... The journey continues. Now I want to reveal all my professional secrets about good mind management to as many people as possible through social media and by training Fusion Breakthrough trainers from all over the world. One of them could be you... Something new.. Something different.. Something which lasts.. What if you could experience one day which could actually change your life for good; giving you your own eureka moment; not only helping you create a vision of the life you want to live, but actually give you the real skills to get there and stay there? Fusion is a tried and tested system which combines the best of psychotherapy and coaching into a powerful new formula for lasting change. My aim is to help and empower as many people as possible to feel their best, be their best and live their best lives. Perhaps I could help you too....