On any given day, about 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts cross a human mind. That means, if you don’t sleep, it is a little less than a thought per second. And if you do sleep, it is far more. Thoughts flash past our minds so fast, that we do not even have the time to process them well. And we rarely, if ever, question them. Yet, our thoughts determine how we feel about ourselves. If we choose to listen to our positive thoughts, we may feel fulfilled, happy, euphoric, even. But if we have negative thoughts about ourselves, and we choose to heed them, we could feel entirely negative about ourselves. We could experience stress, depression, anxiety, panic, or several other mind numbing feelings if we let our thoughts get the better of us. And because thoughts have such power over us, and because humans are the only species who have the distinct ability to think about what they are thinking, it is crucial that we learn to question the thoughts that could potentially harm us. Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher focussed on eliciting answers from his students by asking questions. Socrates believed that “the disciplined practice of thoughtful questioning enables the scholar/student to examine ideas and be able to determine the validity of those ideas.” The idea was to assume an ignorant mindset and compel the student to assume that he knows more than the teacher. Through a series of questions, the student is then able to question his own beliefs, arrive at the contradictions, find evidence for or against, and distil his thoughts. This method called Socratic questioning is widely used by counsellors and therapists alike in trying to get their clients to question their own negative thoughts. Since the method is fairly simple, any person, with or without a counsellor can apply this technique to his thoughts and validate (or invalidate) them. Socratic questioning involves six types of questions that go to the heart of any thought and to lay down the issues threadbare. The six types of questions are:
- Questions for clarification:
- What do you mean by that??
- Why do you say that?
- How is this related to our discussion?
- Questions that probe assumptions:
- What is the evidence in favour of what you say?
- What is the evidence against it?
- Questions that probe reasons:
- Can you give me an example?
- What is this similar to?
- Why does this happen, according to you?
- Questions about viewpoints:
- Is there an alternative way to look at it?
- What would be a counterargument for this?
- Questions that probe implications:
- What does this imply?
- What would the consequences be?
- What would the overall impact be?
- Questions about the question:
- Why do you think this question is important?
- What does this mean?
- How do you apply this to daily life?
These questions are examples, of course and each situation would warrant different types of questions but with effective use of this technique, one can easily determine the validity of his thoughts and make an effort to restructure them in a more positive direction.