I learned about The Miracle question from Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Switch; a highly recommended read, by the way, on what is likely to be the major challenge in life – igniting and following through on behavioural change.

So what is The Miracle question? In the words of the Heath brothers,

“Solutions-focused therapists use a common set of techniques for discovering potential solutions. Early in the first session, after hearing the patient explain his or her problem, the therapist poses the Miracle Question: “Can I ask you a sort of strange question? Suppose that you go to bed tonight and sleep well. Sometime, in the middle of the night, while you are sleeping, a miracle happens and all the troubles that brought you here are resolved. When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first small sign you’d see that would make you think, ‘Well, something must have happened—the problem is gone!’?”

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Notice the focus at the end – “what’s the first small sign“. That’s the crux of the matter! No lengthy therapy, no psychological archeology, no digging deep and uncovering hidden blockers. Simple stuff –  how do you know that your problem is gone? Here’s another example:

“If a miracle solved your drinking problem, what would you be doing differently the next morning? “I don’t know, I can’t imagine.” Try. “Well, all my friends drink, so what do you expect me to do?” I know it’s not easy, but think about it. “Well, there are all sorts of things.” Name one. “Maybe I would go to the library and look at the newspapers.” How would your day be different if you went to the library?”

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Why is this way of asking impactful? Because it makes the big hairy audacious goal or problem achievable. Because you can feel it, you can touch it! Becaus<em>e it’s hard to move a boulder but very easy to pick up a pebble</em>. Once you’ve envisioned this small success, what’s to stop you from achieving it? And once you’ve achieved this small success, what’s to stop you from achieving the next one? It makes the impossible achievable. It gives you, as Chip and Dan Heath put it, the bright spots, and it makes you imagine a better future.

Importantly, it focuses you on actions and outputs. In a strange way, it reminds me of what David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done says on what’s preventing us from, well, getting things done. It is often times the lack of clarity on what your next action should be to move something a step forward, and what next action means is this:

The “next action” is the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality of this thing toward completion.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity, David Allen

The emphasis on ‘physical’ is absolutely crucial for it’s often the lack of tangibility that causes things to remain on our to do list. If you manage to break down a major task into its smallest components, it’s no longer a daunting one – just a series of actions that you need to take (in a certain order or another) to get it done. And I feel it’s pretty much the same with The Miracle Question. We can’t solve big problems but we can all make small steps, as long as we visualize them in our heads. This is exactly what this question does for me – allows me to see more clearly what I need to do on Monday morning to help myself and the people around me become a better human.

My best wishes for a great day ahead!

One thought on “The questions that change us: The Miracle question

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