We think, therefore we are: how can Cartesian Questions help you?

Cartesian questions

Can Cartesian Questions help you solve your puzzle?

Have you ever noticed that sometimes a simple solution can be really powerful?

Named after René Descartes, the Cartesian Questions encourage us to delve beneath the obvious and unearth subconscious thoughts when we’re trying to make decisions or work on a goal. They help loosen up our thinking and push past self-imposed mental boundaries into a new perspective.

These four simple questions help you to examine a situation from all angles by asking –

  1. What would happen if you do?
  2. What would happen if you don’t?
  3. What wouldn’t happen if you do?
  4. What wouldn’t happen if you don’t?

I know that when you see them written down in a list like that, they can seem like some strange riddle but let’s look at an example of how they work in practice.

Let’s take the case of someone who’s trying to decide whether to apply for a promotion.

Question one: What would happen if you go for promotion?

I could end up with a new job, new challenge, increased salary. I’d feel excited, a bit nervous, recognised for my skills and experience. I’d be able to trade in my car for something more reliable and we could start saving for a trip to Disneyworld.

Question two: What would happen if you don’t go for promotion?

Well, I don’t think they’re going to come along and head-hunt me so I guess I’d still be here in this role, feeling a bit frustrated, bored and unnoticed. We won’t be able to have a foreign holiday and I’ll have to keep the car going. However, I do know what I’m doing in this role, it’s pretty straightforward and I don’t have to work late or travel much.

Question three: What wouldn’t happen if you go for promotion?

I wouldn’t spend all my time wondering ‘what if’. I wouldn’t be making futile plans for stuff I’ll never get to do in this job.

Question four: What wouldn’t happen if you don’t go for promotion?

I wouldn’t risk being rejected – but on the other hand, I wouldn’t give myself the opportunity of being given the job. I wouldn’t know whether the bosses think I have the potential needed for this role. I would never know for sure what would have happened if I’d just summoned up my courage and gone for it.

So question one helps clarify your goal; question two helps clarify why you may not want things to stay the same as they are now; question three looks at what you may lose if you’re successful – and that loss could be a positive or a negative loss; and question four with its double negative initially confuses our logical thinking and can help uncover any thoughts which haven’t surfaced so far.

This isn’t a process to be rushed. I’ve had clients come back to me several days after using this in a session and pass on new insights they’ve gained on further reflection. I strongly recommend these questions and giving them the time and space they deserve in order for you to really benefit.

Today’s pebble for you to contemplate: is there a situation in your professional or personal life which would benefit from the Cartesian Questions?

If you’d like to work through the Cartesian Questions with a coach (or would just like to know more about coaching in general, please do email me to see how we can work together.


ps I’m taking a screen break for a couple of weeks: I’ll back here on the blog in October.

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we could work together?

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2 Responses to We think, therefore we are: how can Cartesian Questions help you?

  1. Pingback: Should you rush past problems? | Turning over pebbles

  2. Pingback: Do you need to say no? | Turning over pebbles

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