Bluebird Lane Blog
Bluebird Lane Blog

Ask a Better Question

by Lori Albrough

One of my favorite techniques for successfully motivating myself, as well as for troubleshooting just about any problem – all the way from horse training to health issues – is something I call “Ask a Better Question”.

Every Question Demands an Answer

Here’s the thing. If ask myself a question like, “Why can’t I get motivated to do my stretches every evening before bed?”, my brain starts searching for answers, and it comes up with all sorts of things, such as:

  • Because I’m tired at the end of the day.
  • Because I’m lazy.
  • Because I’d rather read a bit before bed.
  • Because I don’t feel like it.

All of those are perfectly reasonable answers to what is essentially a crappy question. By phrasing my question in this way, I have given my powerful human brain a signal to come up with all the reasons why I should not do my stretches. If I listen to those answers I am less likely than ever to do my stretches in the evening!

Instead, I need to ask a better question. Here’s one: “Why might I want to do some stretches every evening before bed?”

That’s much better, now my brain can start to come up with the reasons in favour of doing this beneficial activity. Notice that I used the wording “why might I want” instead of “why do I want” or “why would I want”. By saying might, I am effectively deflecting in advance any resistance from my brain along the lines of, “Hey! Who said I wanted to do any such thing?”

But, “Why might I want to do some stretches every evening before bed?” is hypothetical enough that resistance doesn’t need to rear it’s ugly head. Thus, my brain is free to go ahead and come up with lots of reasons why I might want to do stretches, such as:

  • Because then my hips will be less tight and sore.
  • Because stretching out my muscles at the end of my day makes me sleep better.
  • Because I’ll ride better tomorrow.
  • Because I find it relaxing.
  • Because the more supple I am the less tired I will get when riding multiple horses.
  • Because being asked to carry a supple rider is being kinder to my horses.
  • Because it’s a nice way to check in with my body and notice any little problems before they become big.

With that simple change in how I asked my question, I’ve gotten myself right back in touch with all the personal reasons that stretching would be beneficial for me. I also remember that I would not be the only one to benefit, but my horses would benefit as well. Now that is motivating! Connecting with all these positive reasons makes it much more likely that I will take action.

Ask a Better Question to Solve a Problem

My friend was asking me for some training advice for a problem she was having with her young horse, who had started being a bit resistant and bracing against the rider when traveling to the left. The owner had the physical angles checked out by the vet and chiropractor, and I gave her some long-distance, sight-unseen pointers. On the next training session, the horse went well on the lunge line, but when mounted, she immediately began to say, “I don’t want to go forward” and, “I don’t want to give to the bit”. She was being a real Little Miss Attitude. My friend stopped, pondered, and asked herself a question.

What she could have asked, but didn’t, was, “Why is this horse being so uncooperative?” and her brain could have come up with all sorts of unhelpful answers like, “Because mares can be mare-ish”, or “Her mother had a bit of a high opinion of herself and now the attitude is coming out in the daughter”.

Instead, she asked herself, “What has changed since the horse was going well?”.

The answer to that was, “I started riding my upper level horse first in the morning before I get on her.” Uh, OK, and how could that possibly be significant? “Because with him I use different spurs, and I didn’t bother changing my spurs back to the baby ones she is used to.”

So, my friend got off, put on her rounded ball spurs, and when she remounted her young horse, the mare was back to her own sweet self. The horse just didn’t like being touched with the different spurs! What a simple answer and a great example of using a better question to guide your brain down a productive pathway to find a solution.

If You Want Better Answers, Ask Better Questions

If you typically ask yourself questions of the form, “Why can’t I…?” try changing them to, “How can I….?” and see how much better answers your brain comes up with.

“Why can’t I sit the trot?” becomes, “How can I learn to sit the trot?”
“Why can’t I be brave out on the trail?” becomes, “How can I become a bold and confident trail rider?”
“Why can’t I have a horse like that?” becomes, “How can I get a horse like that?”

Good questions are at the root of so much knowledge, achievement, and focus. Let me know your thoughts, and your questions!


5 Responses to “Ask a Better Question”

  1. Toni Farrell wrote:


    Great, uplifting post. You really poked a stick in some areas in which I need help at times. Instead of saying, “It’s really, (REALLY) muddy out there, no sense in playing with my horses today”, I will ask, “How can I turn a mud hole into a training experience?” After all, trail riding isn’t all sunny days and perfect footing. Better to be prepared.

    Thanks for your optimism,


  2. Lori Albrough wrote:

    “How can I turn a mud hole into a training experience?” After all, trail riding isn’t all sunny days and perfect footing.

    I love this Toni! Thanks for another useful example of making use of better questions. Might even have fun out in the mud 🙂

  3. sue freivald wrote:

    As usual, you have come to the heart of the matter! What a lovely epiphany for me on this particular day. I have been asking myself the wrong questions about any number of things :~). I’m sure even my husband will benefit from this change of perspective. thanks, Lori! Sue

  4. Lonnie wrote:

    I just discovered your amazing blog, THANK YOU, for giving me a lot to think about – I think some of these subjects will make a great difference to how I ride.

    Love your beautiful fjord-horses. Just bought my first one.

    Greeting from Denmark

  5. Lori Albrough wrote:

    Thanks for the note and welcome to Fjords, Lonnie!

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