Recently, I’ve become aware of the idea of interrogative thinking and am fascinated, probably because it rhymes with an idea I came up with in the early 2000s. Back then, I posited that being blindly positive could become toxic and suggested replacing it with constructive thinking; based on the question: “What is the most constructive response to this event or situation?” The originators of interrogative thinking seem to have found similar limits to incessant positivity. As the name suggests, they propose that we interrogate ourselves. Rather than saying, “I can do it,” we ask, “can I do it?” and follow up with, “how can I do it?”
The Mind Responds to Questions
The human mind responds to questions. We can improve our thinking by improving our questions. Interrogating with a future orientation—there is no changing the past, although we can learn to reinterpret it—directs the mind to seek solutions. We must be careful, though, because an internal interrogation can quickly turn into blaming and shaming. It has to pivot to solutions to be helpful.
The Serenity Prayer Connection
Since becoming sober in 1999, I’ve learned to lean on the Serenity Prayer during challenging times. I am going through one such period right now. A few weeks ago, I realized that a mechanical recitation of the prayer was not working as it used to. I was going through the motions and not reaping the usual benefits of more serenity and courage. Without much forethought, I started using interrogative thinking, and it led to an epiphany.
The Interrogation Process
Before I tell you my epiphany, here is a sample of what it looks like when I blend the Serenity Prayer and interrogative thinking.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,”
Interrogation: What is it that I am resisting? Is it something I can change or control? The resistance shows me that a part of me thinks I can change it. Why do I believe that? How have I tried to change it and failed? How can I illustrate my limits to myself so that I can accept and invite serenity to replace my fruitless striving for control?
“courage to change the things I can,”
Interrogation: What is it that I can control? Not the past or other people. I can only control my thoughts, words and deeds. And I can’t even control them all the time. How can I remind myself of the things I can control when I am tempted to try and control things I can’t? How can I summon the courage given to me to act?
Wisdom to Know the Difference
“and wisdom to know the difference.”
When I arrive at the last part of the prayer, I feel I have already found wisdom through the interrogative thinking technique. My awareness of things I cannot control is heightened. I see them with more clarity because I paused and reflected. I asked questions instead of mindlessly repeating the words. My focus on things I can control is also clearer. The process of sifting through the actions at my disposal helps me arrive at the actions I can take.
Serving Me Well
Combining the Serenity Prayer and interrogative thinking is serving me well. I begin every evening meditation with this process and revisit it during the day if I feel the need. As a result, I experience more moments of peace. I also find myself drawing on courage and taking action with less reservation. Balancing the two is of utmost importance. Action without serenity can result in stress and anxiety. Serenity without action can result in resignation and apathy. Balancing the two is what the Serenity Prayer has helped me do for decades, and interrogative thinking is a welcome addition.
Author and Mindfulness Teacher
Picture: CC0 License