What if, overnight, a miracle occurred, and you woke up tomorrow morning and the problem was solved? What would be the first thing you would notice?
The above is called the "Miracle Question" (de Schazer & Lipchick, 1984), and it is used in various forms by both coaches and therapists. It's a powerful question that puts a person in a forward-thinking state of mind, and helps a person gain clarity about their problems or unattained dreams and the importance they put upon them. The answer to this question reveals things about a person's priorities and unmet needs, and sometimes a flash of insight behind the desire for this goal or dream. At first it seems simple, but in the context of a coaching conversation, it can open up many doors.
When I posed this question to myself concerning a problem that had severely affected me for a long time (I'll spare you the details), at first I could not imagine what I would notice. I posed the question to myself several times over a few days, my mind was always blank. I could not see past this one problem that I was so obsessed about. Around the 15th or 16th time I asked myself the Miracle Question, the answer appeared in a flash in my head:
"Oh no. I'd be stuck in Japan forever"
Wait what? This can't be right. The first thing I'd notice is that I'd be trapped in Japan? But the solution to this problem is supposed to fix everything that's wrong! Why would my first thought, after solving this problem, be one of dread?
This flash of insight is exactly what I needed to sit down and examine the problem in detail, and really figure out if 1) it was an actual problem and 2) Did I really want it to be solved the way I thought it I wanted it to. From my answer, it was obvious that my desired solution would create a possibly much bigger problem. Although not easy at first, I had to accept that what I thought I wanted wasn't what I really wanted or needed for my future. The severity of this perceived problem was greatly diminished, and I was able to focus my time and effort on other areas of my life.
For lack of a better word, the "problem" still exists, but instead of having a stronghold on my life decisions, it is now relegated to the level of "I forgot to buy toilet paper," or "I overslept".
For those of you with issues in your life that you struggle with, I urge you to pose this question to yourself. At first you might not be able to see past the initial relief of the problem being solved, but if you give yourself enough time for introspection, the answer will come. If the answer is shocking, perhaps it's time to reevaluate what's really going on. If the answer gives you even more energy and more motivation to push on, then start mapping out some possibilities to get rid of the problem. Either way, you'll learn more about yourself and where to go from the present.