Asking the correct questions…

Imagine that you are trying to complete an assignment, learn a skill or to achieve a certain milestone.

The undertaking seems more difficult and requires more effort than you initially assumed.

As a result, you are somewhat frustrated and might be asking yourself one of these questions…

“Why can’t I get this right?”
“Why do I have to do this?”
“What have I done wrong?”
“What can I do differently?”
“How can I break this down into simpler steps?”
“What can I learn from this?”

What’s the difference between these two groups of questions?

Would you feel and respond differently to questions from group A compared to group B?

What if you are a coach, what sort of questions would you ask your athlete?

Will they resemble questions from Group A – “Why can’t you get this right?” or Group B – “What can you do differently?”

Like most people, you would likely be more cognitive and solution-focused when you ask yourself questions from Group B.

Meanwhile, questions from Group A are likely to compound your frustration. You may even respond defensively when these questions are directed at you.

So what’s responsible for this difference in the way we feel and respond to these questions?

An understanding about how different regions of our brains respond to these questions will give us a better idea!

The Prefrontal Cortex and Amygdala

The Prefrontal Cortex is found behind our foreheads. This region is associated with executive brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making.

The Amygdala is located at the temporal lobe behind our ears. It is responsible for the fight-or-flight response.

This response is triggered by emotions like fear, anxiety and anger and in turn, the Prefrontal Cortex signals the Amygdala whether the alarm is justified

The questions from group A tend to fire up the amygdala and limit thinking.

Questions from group B activates the Prefrontal Cortex to manage emotions and focus on solutions.

It is also important to note that the Prefrontal Cortex is usually fully developed only when we are in our mid-twenties. Consequently, there is an important difference in how adolescents process information as compared to adults.

The Amygdala of adolescents tend to get fired up more easily and they tend to be led more by their emotions.

Also, when they do try to make use of their prefrontal cortex, it requires more deliberate effort as compared to an adult.

What does this all mean to you?

If you are an athlete,

How would the type of questions influence your ability to focus on the process, learn and to develop resilience?

If you are a parent or coach,

How does this knowledge about the two regions of the brain, and the rate of maturation of the Prefrontal Cortex, influence the way you guide the young athlete?

Which group of questions will more likely guide your young athlete towards the Growth Mindset?

Looking forward to your responses!

Coach Hansen

P.S. This is a somewhat simplistic way of explaining the Prefrontal Cortex and Amygdala. The actual process is more complex.

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