Asking Yourself Questions

  • Introduction
  • Examples of Differences
  • Compare Before and After
  • The Route to Insight
  • Another Way to Prompt Questions

Introduction

There is one skill which, if you can teach yourself to use it consciously, can help enormously with understanding the effects of your brain injury and can also help you create your own strategies to help you through those ‘brain block’ moments.

It seems inconceivable that anything could happen to us that could possibly interfere with the way we approach change and challenges that arise in our everyday lives. 

Sometimes, even where no brain injury is present, people don’t always consciously use these tools to help them use their thinking skills in practical ways. 

Because our brains are all wired differently we can recognise that some people are naturally more flexible and willing to adapt to change than others. 

This relates back to our personality and the innate beliefs we hold – together these create a whole bunch of core preferences the brain uses during processing. When these preferences are always our conscious ‘go-to,’ they are also the subconscious information your brain is confident to use so that whatever ‘comes out’ as behaviour or communication, always ‘matches’ with the fundamental self. 

Effectively, when the brain is working well and healthy – what you intend, the predicable part of you – is what people see. What comes out is recognisable as being what would be expected from you.

However, when the brain is injured, the mechanisms that allow these processes to happen automatically get broken.

It can take a long time for you to be able to recognise this is happening, although other people may notice and tell you that you have changed. 

‘You’ haven’t changed at all – those innate beliefs and your personality are still there and so too are your associated preferences. 

Let’s look at some examples in the next section.

Example of differences in your behaviours and communication pre and post-injury

The following examples will help you compare what you used to do, with what happens when you attempt this illustrative scenario now. 

Let’s start with what you remember about what you used to do. If you are struggling to remember, try to think in terms of how you felt. 

A practical task – making a meal

Say your intention is to make a meal for the family. This skill used to be something you could achieve by rote or habit without thinking too much.

The impetus that drove you may have been the enjoyment of feeding yourself and/or your family a nutritious home-cooked meal. It may have been a practical need you might not have enjoyed but eating is always necessary. 

Think now about what you believe about yourself in relation to cooking a meal. Don’t think about the challenges you may have since your brain injury, but in terms of how you used to feel – how did you feel about this task before? 

If you really didn’t ever cook, and didn’t like to, swap the task for something you did like to do, and use that as the basis for your consideration of the following questions. 

  • Do I enjoy cooking?
  • Do I have a range of skills?
  • Do I plan ahead?
  • Do I like checking out new recipes?
  • Do I get satisfaction from eating well?
  • Do my family enjoy my cooking?

If you need to, write down your answers so that you will remember them. This exercise may have prompted you to think about more things than are on this list – which is a good thing! Write down anything that comes to mind.

Communication – helping a friend

Imagine you want to try and help a friend who is under stress and needs your support. Again, try and picture or imagine what an exchange like this would have meant to you before your brain injury. What would you have done before? How would you have reacted?

Would you:

  • Have held the intention of wanting to help?
  • Been willing to give your time?
  • Listened to them and helped them figure their problem out?
  • Treated your friend with kindness and compassion?
  • Gone the extra mile to do something practical to help, like do some shopping or cook a meal?

Think of some other examples of what you would have done yourself and write these down so that you don’t forget what you are thinking about in respect of how you would have been pre-brain injury.

Note: 

If you are struggling with memory, try and relax and see if you can remember something from your past that you can use as your example. If you can’t recall anything, give yourself time to think about it and come back when you are ready.

You can also try thinking in terms of what you would want to do now – but leave aside any issues of your brain injury and any problems you are aware of. You are trying to get ‘beneath’ the problems and understand your intentions and motivations.

Compare how you felt and how you were before the brain injury, to what it is like for you post-injury

When you think in terms of your intentions and the kinds of feelings you had before your brain injury, you should see resemblances between the before and after. 

Ignore thoughts about what happens to you when you do things, or the responses you get during or after. Try and think about what ‘provokes’ your thoughts and actions. What is the impetus?

The practical task

Do you start out with the intention of forgetting to buy the ingredients for a meal? 

Do you start out with the intention of falling asleep and being late in thinking about a meal?

Do you start out with the intention of forgetting to turn the timer on or of forgetting to turn the gas off?

Communicating with a friend

Do you start out with the intention of saying the wrong thing thing with the purpose of upsetting your friend?

Do you start out with the intention of making sure you forget what time and day you have arranged to meet?

Do you start out with the intention of not focusing on what your friend wats to say?

Do you start out with the intention of only talking about you when you respond?

Do you start out with the intention of getting tired as you listen?

Your answers

Your answers to all the above questions will be no. Of course you don’t start out with bad intentions. 

If you think about the previous questions you answered in the earlier sections, you should notice that, even if it was hard to do, your still want to do things the way you did before and you still want to be the person you were before. 

The purpose

The purpose of getting you to do all this thinking was not to tire you out, which it may have, and it was not to make you think about things you might want to avoid. 

The purpose is to help you realise and understand that who you are on the inside is still you – you are still the same you.

The route to insight

If you have realised that underneath everything that is tough for you to do, difficult for you to think about, and how most everything you try to do and say goes wrong despite your natural intentions, then hopefully you will be able to see that it is your brain that is injured – not who you are.

It is what happens to your sponsoring thoughts once they have left your intentions that they go into the cortex and things go wrong. It is the damage that causes problems – not ‘who you are.’

This lightbulb moment should help you realise and understand that you now have the advantage of knowing you can intentionally work towards helping your brain to rewire, by using who you are to get the results you want.

Your brain will rewire slowly, so you will have to be persistent. You will have to repeat tasks, actions and at fulfilling your intentions, until doing things the way you want becomes habit again. You will have to work hard!

What is the best tool you can use to help with insight?

If you stop and think about it you might be familiar with meeting black holes or voids in your thinking when things go wrong. If you have lost self-awareness and self-insight then your brain won’t offer you feedback in the way it usually does.

You will struggle to notice or realise that things have gone wrong, and may only become aware of this happening much later on. 

For example, you may pick up a ladder to reach apples to pick. You see that the ladder is rotten but you use it anyway. When you climb the ladder and the rungs break you fall to the ground and hurt yourself but take little notice – you are still intent on getting to those apples. You may even try the ladder again. You might not think of trying another solution. 

If you do think of trying something else, it may equally be as dangerous because your brain hasn’t processed what went wrong. Your intention is good – getting the apples and storing them before they rot – but your brain hasn’t planned the ‘how to.’

It is only much later, perhaps when you are relating this or a similar story, that you begin to put things together and realise the scope of the errors you made. 

To provoke the planning and organisation you should have been using but no longer can because of damage to your executive and thinking functioning, you can teach yourself to pause and ask yourself questions first. 

Unbelievably, it is the ability to think of and ask yourself questions that is an important stage in maintaining attention, processing the situation so that you can consider consequences, and effectively plan.

Consider how difficult it is for you to think of questions to ask yourself. 

Most people are unaware that this stage of the process of thinking is ‘missing.’ It is like being in groundhog day where you repeat the same mistakes over and over, but in your case your brain is unable to tell you to try something different next time because what you did, didn’t work.

Usually, in your brain pre-injury, you would have considered so many things and so quickly that you wouldn’t even have been aware this was happening. Your brain would have delivered the result to you based on the fact that it knew all about your preferences, knew all of your habits, was aware of everything you have ever learned and so on.

Your brain no longer has all of this information available to it because of the neural damage so it has to learn all of these things over again from scratch.

There are strategies you can use to help yourself with this. Please see ‘Breaking things down.’

Another way to prompt yourself to ask questions

The BEST suite is a range of apps which have been developed as a cognitive rehabilitation tool. 

To use the BEST Suite you have to think about what you want, and how you want to do things, to set it up. This necessitates thinking, asking yourself questions, making considerations, along with planning and making choices. 

You will be using cognitive and executive skills automatically and, as you do so, you will have insights about aspects of your brain injury that were holding you back, but you hadn’t previously recognised.

Hear what Julie and Cari have to say:

Julie Hendrickson

Cari