Cartesian questions

(6 minute read)

Cartesian questions are accredited to Descartes, who was the “I think, therefore I am” chappy. He was also a notable polymath (can’t relate) and had a wide knowledge and expertise of soooo many subjects.

He must have been either absolutely fascinating, or an utter bore, to listen to! He is also known for stating that a reasonable theory must be proven in four ways, called the Cartesian coordinates.

Why do you need to know this?

You don’t, but I thought a little background information might be interesting.  I am also curious about the origin of things, including the etymology of words, and in this case I am curious why Descartes’ name was latinized…by removing the first three letters of his surname.

Why use cartesian questioning?

Cartesian questions are used in coaching and are useful to help people gain clarity and to think critically. 

They enable deeper insight and encourage a different perspective about any situation where a decision needs to be made. 

The questions also help us understand more about our values and what inspires or limits us.

 WillWon’t
DoWhat WILL happen if I DO…?What WON’T  happen if I DO…?
Don’t What WILL happen if I DON’T…?What WON’T happen if I DON’T…?

I wish I had known about these when I was younger!

I consciously explored this way of thinking when contemplating becoming a mature student and I offer the example of my personal situation and what prompted me to join Warwick university in my forties. I prefer to use the more conditional would and would not when thinking, instead of will and won’t which sound too determined and inflexible for my liking.

1. What WOULD happen if I DO decide to go to university? (increases motivation)

I would gain experience and skills to get the career that I want, do something just for me, meet new people, increase my sense of self-worth and confidence and prove to myself I am capable of achieving more, instead of feeling trapped and bored in my job. 

I would have less income as I would live off my student loan (I tried to work and study and raise a family, but I am not superwoman and I don’t like letting people down or doing things badly, so I quit my job because that was least important to me and because I could not get a refund on the kids!). 

Being at uni means I get to spend more time with my beloveds – quality relationships are very important to me : )

2. What WOULD happen if I DO NOT decide to go to university? (identifies what I don’t want which could motivate me to make change)

I would feel frustrated and bored in my existing job and probably spend an unhealthy amount of my time on futile job search websites, realising most of the jobs that look interesting to me require applicants to have at least an undergraduate degree to be eligible to apply. This frustration would also negatively affect other areas of my life and relationships, too.

3. What WOULD NOT happen if I DO decide to go to university? (highlights possible ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ losses)

My life would not fall apart if I go to uni.  I would not have as much money, but my family would not starve just because my income shrinks.

I would not feel confined to doing the same job on minimum wage for the rest of my life, as university would open up new possibilities for me to explore.

I would not be frustrated looking at all the jobs I could apply for with a degree, as I know I would be working towards it.  I would finally be able to apply for jobs that I would really enjoy.

4. What WOULD NOT happen if I DO NOT go to university? (reveals hidden feelings and perspectives)

I would not achieve my goals, as I would still be unable to apply for all the jobs that interest me.

I would not have the opportunity to embark on a transformative experience, learn more about myself and the world, broaden my horizons and learn transferable skills to help me in my future goals.

I would not have developed the self-confidence to take risks in my life, so I’d probably be stuck in a job just to pay my bills and my quality of life would suffer, along with my self-confidence and sense of meaning and purpose.

So, that’s what was going on for me four years ago. Despite financial uncertainty and the uncomfortable thought of huge student debt, I decided it was wiser for me to take the plunge and I am so glad that I did. 

I graduated this Summer with a First Class Honours degree in Social Studies, found my passion for coaching and psychology in my final year, made fabulous friends and I am continuing to do my MSc and even thinking about my PhD thesis already ;p

: )

So, why not give Cartesian questioning a go?

Think of something (absolutely anything, from chocolate cake to a career change) that you would like to make a decision about and give yourself plenty of time to think, uninterrupted by the opinions of well-meaning folk.

1. What WOULD happen if I DO…?

2. What WOULD happen if I DO NOT…?

3. What WOULD NOT happen if I DO…?

4. What WOULD NOT happen if I DO NOT…?

Notice if anything reveals itself that surprises you.

Enjoy some quality time to think for yourself. You deserve it.

So, what will you…or won’t you… do… or not do… today?!

Onwards and funwards xXx

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