The Four Cartesian Questions in Action

The Four Cartesian Questions in Action

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In this post, we’ll use the four cartesian questions to solve a problem. You will learn what are the Cartesian questions and how to use them.


The Four Cartesian Questions

What WOULD happen if you DID make that change?

What WOULD happen if you DIDN’T make that change?

What WOULDN’T happen if you DID make that change?

What WOULDN’T happen if you DIDN’T make that change?

I’m going to give you a real-life example of Cartesian questions in action. Let’s use them to attempt to resolve a personal issue, such as weight loss. How can the Cartesian questions help resolve issues such as this?

Here we go!

Applying the Four Cartesian Questions Life Coaching Style

I have a weight-loss issue. It’s the same old, crazy-making story that millions are carrying around. Yo-yo dieting, self-sabotage. The real issue for me, however, is terminal uniqueness. Let’s tackle it.

The first step is to write a bit about the adversity you are facing. Just enough to remind you what’s going on.

In this case, I would say:

I can’t lose weight right now but that is only one symptom of terminal uniqueness in my life. There are many. Basically, I consider myself a special case that deserves an easy path forward in life. I must have done enough suffering in childhood, I suppose.

So, when the going gets tough and the process begins to feel like a sacrifice, I give up. It becomes obvious to me that this or that weight loss plan is NOT right for me.

Asking and answering the Cartesian questions as applied to the above adversity. The change in question is to stop overeating and stick to a previously vetted and agreed upon eating plan.

What WOULD happen if you DID make that change?

If I were to simply stop overeating and stick to the plan, I would lose all the weight I want to lose. I’d also prove that I am not unique. I’m no special case because sticking to the regular, normal, applies-to-everyone plan worked for me.

I’ve always been the outsider, thinking back to school days. I went to a new school every year. Some years it was more than one move, totaling 17 schools in 12 years. You could say I don’t have roots.

Always being the new kid, in a sense, I was a special case every year, at least during primary school. I was also good-looking enough to develop crushes easily and smart enough to be in the top 2-3 students in every class.

The new kid! Handsome, smart! Whatever. Something like that. And people typically made exceptions for me. I hate every minute of it, feeling as though I’d rather have roots than be treated like a special outsider.

What WOULD happen if you DIDN’T make that change?

If I did NOT stop overeating, I will remain obese, get diabetes, and die a miserable death, at least 20 years sooner than I would die of natural causes.

I’d remain depressed about my weight. And self-critical. And ashamed every single day that I know what to do but am not willing to do it. Ashamed of my terminal uniqueness!

Not losing the weight, I’d live in shame, which is what I have been doing, living in shame – ashamed of myself. I am already living in shame of my own behavior and obesity. It will just continue until I die knowing I brought it all upon myself, just like my father.

What WOULDN’T happen if you DID make that change?

I would not die a miserable death, ashamed of my last breath.

What WOULDN’T happen if you DIDN’T make that change?

I would not ever again experience the joy of having a body. I would never again be proud of my physical being. I simply would NOT EVER again feel strong and agile and energetic.

I would die in shame. Not because I am a bad person. I’d die with disappointment in myself that I let my wife down. She has such hopes for me. She loves me. She loves me. And she desperately wants me to be healthy.

My wife works harder than I do at MY OWN weight loss. She’s so supportive. Every time I screw up she is hurt and scared of facing a future all alone.

And me, too. Me too. I’d be letting myself down tremendously. That is not beyond me – to suffer and die a gruesome death from any of the lifestyle diseases. Even though my eyes are wide open, I could still drive my bus off a cliff. So sad.

Finally, wrap-up by asking what your client learned about themselves, and what they will take away from their answers:

  • What surprised you?
  • Was this exercise actually helpful?
  • What are you likely to ponder more?
  • How do your responses impact the decision or motivation towards your goals?
  • What values (things that are really important to you) can you see reflected in your responses?

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