"In order to access the most clear, confident, creative part of who we are we must avoid asking "BS" or brainstem questions."
~ Bill Crawford

“In order to access the most clear, confident, creative part of who we are we must avoid asking “BS” or brainstem questions.”
~ Bill Crawford

Are We Asking BS Questions?

Why are questions more important than answers? I saw this question on the cover of an issue of the Harvard Business Review and thought it would be a great idea to focus on in my weekly newsletter. Of course, those of you who follow my Life from the Top of the Mind philosophy know that I love to bring you the science behind good ideas and this is no exception.

In fact, while the article in the Harvard Business Review was excellent, it really didn’t address the science behind the power of questions, and therefore, I’m going to take this opportunity to give you all I know on the subject. You see, the reason that questions are so powerful (and, thus, actually more important than answers) is because questions engage a specific part of the brain.

The lower 10% of the brain is called the brainstem and is where our fight-or-flight responses are located. The upper 80% of the brain is where we access our best interpersonal skills and problem-solving skills and is called the neocortex. The middle 10% of the brain is called the limbic system and acts as a gatekeeper, or a scanner, processor, and router.

In other words, depending on how the limbic system interprets incoming data, it will either engage the brainstem or the neocortex, and the type of questions we ask ourselves will have a tremendous impact on this process. The reason this happens is that the brain (much like a computer) will attempt to answer any question it is asked. It doesn’t determine whether it is a good question or bad, helpful or not, it simply goes searching its data banks for the answer. This means that if we are asking “BS” (or brainstem) questions, such as, “What is wrong with (that driver, my spouse, the government, my kids, or me)?” the limbic system will engage the brainstem. However, because few, if any, situations we encounter today can be dealt with from a fight-or-flight perspective, we are likely to feel powerless and frustrated when the brainstem is engaged, which only triggers more BS questions.

The alternative is to use the power of questions to engage the clear, confident, creative part of the brain (the neocortex), and to do this we must ask “neocortex questions.” In my Life from the Top of the Mind System, I have four neocortex questions that I believe can help know what part of the brain we are coming from so that we can shift from the brainstem to the neocortex, if necessary. They are:

1. Have I chosen these thoughts or feelings deliberately or on purpose?
2. Are they working for me, or getting the results I want?
3. Is this the way I want to be defined (as someone who reacts to ____ with _____)?
4. Would I teach or recommend this way of thinking or feeling to someone I love?

Once we can answer “Yes” to all these questions, we know we are in the clear, confident, creative part of the brain, and we can turn this powerful decision-making function towards the other important questions in our lives.

This is what I do. I travel around the world teaching people how to access the upper 80% in all situations, and engage others in such a way that they shift from their resistant brain to their receptive brain so that they can hear and understand what we are wanting them to know. Therefore, if you would like to learn more about this process, I would love to hear from you.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill