My brain constantly comes up with questions that make you think…. thought-provoking questions.
I’m the type of person who contemplates the infinite wisdom of the universe, randomly, in the middle of the afternoon. I can’t identify with being bored because the fact that I even exist fascinates me.
Have you ever contemplated the idea of sentience itself and it makes your brain hurt? I love that feeling.
My curiosity is my best quality. I love to think, write, and come up with answers to interesting and thought-provoking questions. Take a look at some of these insightful questions that make you think.
This question comes from one of my favorite books, Zero to One: A Note on Startups, or How to Build The Future. It’s a question, the author, Peter Thiel asks during job interviews.
He asks this question to see how well people truly think outside of the box. He notes that a lot of contrarian beliefs aren’t contrarian at all, mentioning common feuax-contrarian answers like “Our educational system is broken and urgently needs to be fixed.” “America is exceptional.” “There is no God.”
“The first and the second statements might be true, but many people already agree with them. The third statement simply takes one side in a familiar debate. A good answer takes the following form: “Most people believe in x, but the truth is the opposite of x.”
He says that to have truly original ideas, you have to pay this costly price:
“This question sounds easy because it’s straightforward. Actually, it’s very hard to answer. It’s intellectually difficult because the knowledge that everyone is taught in school is by definition agreed upon. And it’s psychologically difficult because anyone trying to answer must say something she knows to be unpopular. Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.”
His important truth: globalization isn’t the answer to our problems and instead we need brand new technology, not just information technology, to move society forward.
My answer? I think too much choice is bad when it comes to figuring out what to do with your life. Most people should take a test to analyze their strengths and work within a narrow set of career options.
The why five times strategy helps you get to the root of what you really think or how you really feel. When you’re having struggles, it helps you get to the root of what’s bothering you.
Say for example you’re struggling with motivation.
You can ask yourself “Why am I lazy?” The answer might be “Because I don’t feel like working hard.” “Why don’t I feel like working hard?” “Because I’d much rather chill and do nothing.” ”
Why would I rather chill and do nothing?” “Chilling and doing nothing is fun it makes me feel good.” “Why does it make you feel good?” “It helps me stay distracted.” “Why do I want to be distracted?” “Because I’m afraid of being with myself and my own thoughts.”
A process like this could lead to you taking steps like forcing yourself to sit in a room quietly and contemplate your life. This is a process you can use for a myriad of questions. It can reveal some useful insights.
True critical thinking means challenging your own ideas. If you still have the same exact beliefs you did five years ago, it shows that you’re rigid, close-minded, and afraid to test your own biases.
I’ve gone through many mental shifts over the years. In college, I had very liberal beliefs. I thought that everything could be explained through the lens of systemic racism and that the government wasn’t doing enough to help its people, especially minorities.
Later on, I swung to the entire opposite side of the pendulum and rejected ‘woke’ culture wholesale. I started listening to a lot of Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman. I became very libertarian to the point of supporting full laisses faire capitalism.
Now I’m somewhere in the middle. I like ideas like universe healthcare, but think the money for it should come from decreasing spending on pointless stuff like wars instead of raising taxes.
I’ve developed a nuanced stance on topics like race, gender, sexual orientation, etc — we don’t have true equality but I believe it’s more equal than some might say.
Anyway, try to answer the question. If you can’t, it might be time to pause and reflect.
Often material goals in and of themselves aren’t enough to push you to work hard for them. If there’s not a strong ‘why’ behind what you choose to do you’ll probably flame out and quit.
Enter shit sandwiches.
I learned this concept from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of bestselling books like Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic. A shit sandwich is the type of goal worth struggling for. You can keep yourself motivated when you find something that compels you to work for it.
She made it up in her mind that she’d be a writer no matter what, even if it made no money. She was content to work in roles like server or retail staff as long as it meant she had time to write. Clearly, her decision paid off well.
About a year or so into writing, I knew deep inside my bones that I’d never quit. Come hell or high water I would sit my ass in the chair and put words on the page. Worked out pretty well for me, too.
Stop thinking about what you want and start thinking about what’s so compelling to you that it’s worth suffering for.
Many people struggle because of the way they view the world.
The way you view the world is as real to you as the laws of physics. It’s important to choose the right beliefs because beliefs are hard to change.
Your beliefs shape your decisions which shape your outcomes which further reinforce your beliefs. This process can create beautiful upward cycles or nasty downward spirals, which brings me to the first set of principles I use to answer the question:
Those are just a few beliefs in my full set of mental models. I judge my models on whether or not they help me create the life I want to live. If they don’t, I ditch them.
I love the famous Letter from Hunter S Thompson that answers this question:
As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).
Like he says in the full letter it is presumptuous to try and answer it, but screw it, why not. I pretty much agree with Hunter. To me, the meaning of life is to be useful.
I’ve said this many times before, happiness isn’t a goal of mine. Being overly preoccupied with your own feelings keeps you from doing what’s necessary to have genuine satisfaction.
Genuine satisfaction comes from taking whatever gives you’ve been given and using them to make a positive contribution to the people around you, your tribes, and the world as a whole.
People who don’t use their gifts are selfish. They have all this talent, talent we could be enjoying the benefits of, and they won’t share their gifts because of self-centered fear. That’s all fear is, after all, preoccupation with yourself and your safety.
Too many people are looking to see what they can take from the world. Far too few are asking themselves what they can give.