Why is asking “Can I fix it?” better than stating “I will Fix it!”
The first is in form of a question —and because we love curiosity and learning here, we already like it more for the possibilities it opens. The second is a promise —and while we may be confident, our ability to deliver increasingly depends more and more on our desire to tackle ever more complex problems for which there may not be a blueprint and plenty of hard work.
But there is a more scientific reason why the one is better than the other. As Dan Pink says:
In a nifty set of experiments, three social scientists explored the differences between what they call “declarative” self-talk (I will fix it!) and “interrogative” self-talk (Can I fix it?). They began by presenting a group of participants with some anagrams to solve (for example, rearranging the letters in “sauce” to spell “cause.”) But before the participants tackled the problem, the researchers asked one half of them to take a minute to ask themselves whether they could complete the task—and the other half to tell themselves that they would complete the task.
The self-questioning group solved significantly more anagrams than the self-affirming group.
The researchers—Ibrahim Senay and Dolores Albarracin of the University of Illinois, along with Kenji Noguchi of the University of Southern Mississippi—then enlisted a new group to try a variation with a twist of trickery: “We told participants that we were interested in people's handwriting practices. With this pretense, participants were given a sheet of paper to write 20 times one of the following word pairs: Will I, I will, I, or Will. Then they were asked to work on a series of 10 anagrams in the same way participants in Experiment One did.
The outcome was the same. People "primed" with Will I solved nearly twice as many anagrams as people in the other three groups. In subsequent experiments, the basic pattern held. Those who approached a task with questioning self-talk did better than those who began with affirming self-talk.
Why is the question so much better than the declaration? Pink says researcher Albarracin explained setting goals assumes a gap between where we are and where we want to be. It's a psychological mechanism similar to the idea attributed to Woody Allen that, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.”
We likely tell ourselves that just by setting the goal we're halfway there. Except for the research doesn't bear that we follow through as well when we're all self-talk. We do better when we have a healthy dose of skepticism —it helps us prove to ourselves that we will through action.
Something else comes with action —clarity of purpose and a greater understanding of what it takes to make something happen. There is another side benefit of exploring the question, it helps us avoid breathing our own fumes, or drinking our own kool-aid. Says multiple venture entrepreneur Lisa Gansky:
When you create something, you can fall in love with it and aren't able to see or hear anything contrary. Whatever comes out of your mouth is all you're inhaling, but when you ask a question—Will I?—you're creating an opening. You're inviting a conversation—whether it's self- conversation or a conversation with others.
We operate in a world where going with the default of anything is hardly going to create much new opportunity. It includes out thinking. Starting with a why-type question —why and why not can I fix this?— and doing the work to figure things out sometimes opens unexpected doors.