10 Thought Provoking Questions To Ask Students & Friends

10 Thought Provoking Questions To Ask Students & Friends
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

While it’s easy to think that there’s hardly any new thing not known to humans, the reverse is actually true: So much remains outside of the human mind. It could be the final word about prime numbers, the definitive theory of everything tying up quantum physics and the rules of relativity, and the endless chain of genome occupying the planet. In the past, deep questions about human existence and our ultimate place in the universe has given to birth to various disciplines, starting with rudimentary logic, philosophy, and math. In one way or another, these all began with some thought provoking questions.

To find the right answers, one should ask the right questions. After all, the usefulness of knowledge and effectiveness of any action can only be verified by asking quality questions (Vogt et al. 2003, cited in Han, 2014).

This article seeks to further establish the benefits of asking thought provoking questions in the acquisition, development, dissemination, and application of knowledge. It will also list down examples of questions to ask oneself and others to elicit creativity, as well as encourage action.

10 Thought Provoking Questions Table of Contents

  1. What is your personal mission statement?
  2. If you could only speak one word, what is it and why?
  3. What gives you peace?
  4. How do you maintain a good perspective when life gets tough?
  5. What are your psychological barriers and how do they hinder you?
  6. If you could get rid of one thing in your life, what is it and why?
  7. What is a harsh truth about your life that you choose to ignore?
  8. If there is one thing you would change about yourself, what is it and why?
  9. What should be humanity’s goal?
  10. Is mankind going the right or wrong direction?

Asking people the right questions instead of telling them what to do can prove more effective in inspiring action and success. Questions push people to think deeper, encouraging them to figure out answers and solutions on their own. This is why many coaches and therapists start training and therapy by asking questions. It assists in the discovery of how a person thinks and how they apply their mindsets to achieve goals (Stasiulionyte, 2016).

Questions, whether asked by someone else or to oneself, help people discover meaning in life. Even though individuals differ in terms of how diligently they search for meaning and how much meaning they actually find (Newman et al. 2018), the questions that can jumpstart the search are often the same. There are deep questions to ask to help one get started in discovering important aspects of their life and the things that they can do to improve it (George, n.d.).

There are various thought provoking queries that can spark self-discovery and reflection, including the following:

1. What is your personal mission statement?

When someone is asked about their personal mission statement, it pushes them to think deeply about their life’s purpose and what is truly important to them. This question makes one identify and prioritize values and goals. When one is given the time and opportunity to think about their personal mission, they are also able to imprint it in their mind, eventually guiding them as they plan for their life ahead (Power, 2016).

2. If you could only speak one word, what is it and why?

Words are powerful. A single word has the ability to win someone over, turn them off, establish boundaries, and change perceptions (Haden, 2016). The words a person chooses to use can say a thing or two about their values and intelligence. Asking someone this question pushes them to provide a word that best represents them. In the process, they will also need to dig deep down their thoughts. In return, the person who asks the question will get to know the other person better.

3. What gives you peace?

Mental strength is said to go hand in hand with inner peace (Morin, 2018). Leaders who are aware of what gives them peace and those who possess inner peace, are able to offer a steady hand amidst uncertainties (Myers, 2017).

Different people achieve inner peace and peace of mind differently. To some (60%), it is financial security, while others (14%) prioritize health and family well-being (Statista Research Department, 2013). Often, one can get a sense of another individual’s character by knowing what gives them peace. It also shows how well a person can handle challenges in their personal and professional life.

Source: Statista

4. How do you maintain a good perspective when life gets tough?

It is very easy to lose perspective and fail to see the bigger picture when faced with difficulties (Breazeale, 2016). Resilience is what helps people handle stress and conflict, as well as maintain perspective. It is also a key element in one’s well-being and it allows a person to bounce back after a major challenge.

Knowing how someone maintains a good perspective despite problems shows how they will perform and react when put in a tight and difficult situation. This can be applied both personally and professionally.

5. What are your psychological barriers and how do they hinder you?

Psychological barriers can affect various aspects of life, from communication (Businesstopia, 2018) to injury recovery (Sitzler, 2019). Answering this question allows one to identify any psychological barriers they may have, which is the first step to doing something about them. It also helps determine whether those barriers have been keeping them from pursuing and achieving their goals.

6. If you could get rid of one thing in your life, what is it and why?

Excessive clutter has been linked to stress, which can eventually build up and affect one’s quality of life. Physical and psychological clutter can distract people, even if they do not notice it. The very reason why people tend to notice clutter around them is that they tend to just ignore them, and ignoring clutter can take the same amount of energy as focusing on something (Ho, n.d.).

Clutter brings forth the need to ignore, making one’s brain work harder than it should. Asking a person about something that they would get rid of pushes them to recognize a psychological or physical clutter that could have been draining their energy without them noticing.

7. What is a harsh truth about your life that you choose to ignore?

Some truths hurt, which is why many choose to ignore harsh truths in their lives. However, moving forward in life both personally and professionally sometimes means having to accept these realities, no matter how harsh they may be. Accepting a harsh truth in one’s life paves the way for finding solutions and ultimately, healing and progress.

8. If there is one thing you would change about yourself, what is it and why?

Nicolo Machiavelli (1532) once wrote, “It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.”

Initiating change is not always easy, but merely recognizing the things that must be changed in one’s life is one of the first steps toward development. Changes can help one focus on what truly matters. They also help keep life exciting and lead to the discovery of new opportunities.

With so many divisive issues everywhere you turn, you must be aware of the counterintuitive fact about many humans: facts don’t change minds. How would this reflect in your own belief system?

9. What should be humanity’s goal?

Thinking about what should be humanity’s goal prompts someone to think of ways people can develop and improve as one. This question also helps people recognize their purpose as part of humanity. Everyone and every sector has a purpose. For one, higher education is involved in the development of progress goals for humanity (Montgomery, 1993).

10. Is mankind going the right or wrong direction?

Similar to the previous question, this also makes one think about how humanity as a whole is performing and developing. There are multiple ways to go about this question. For instance, if people consider how technology is used for making life better (Sharma, cited in Stansberry et al., 2019), one can say humanity is heading in the right direction. In fact, the majority of people in the U.S. view the effect of technology as positive (Liu, 2019). However, technology, the internet in particular, also comes with outcomes that can be considered negative such as privacy concerns and political abuses (Anoymous, cited in Stansberry, 2019). A quick look at the comments on public social media posts can also make one question humanity’s goals and morality. While it is true that social media has provided people a way to connect and communicate, it has also paved the way for cyberbullying and harassment.

Ultimately, asking whether mankind is going the right or wrong direction makes for a fruitful and challenging debate.

Source: Statista

The Benefits of Asking Thought Provoking Questions

Asking questions is a part of life, so much so that its benefits are often unnoticed and taken for granted. Human curiosity and the need for explanation are ingrained in humans very early in life (Gopnik, 2002). Questioning is a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking value in organizations (Brooks & John, 2018) and people, and it has profound effects on the following aspects:

Restoring balance and promoting well-being

Schmutte and Ryff (1997 cited in Loon et al., 2019) define psychological well-being as a general feeling of happiness. Asking the right questions can create happiness as people give themselves more time to think about what makes them feel at peace, and what gives them purpose.

Finding one’s inner strength

Questioning helps people become wiser as they are able to reach deep down themselves to search for meaning. The more one questions, the better answers they get. 

Furthermore, Viglund et al. (2017) found that sources of inner strength include the tough times one has managed before, besides mutual love and support. By asking themselves about their psychological barriers and harsh truths, people are able to recognize the hurdles they were able to surpass. Eventually, their answers can provide them with a renewed sense of strength and pride.

To Get the Right Answers, Ask the Right Questions

Conversations don’t start and end with ice breaker questions for college students. Curiosity is what drives growth and development. However, for questions to be effective, they need to be framed correctly to elicit the best possible answers. Furthermore, a person who asks thought provoking questions should be truly curious and engaged, so they would know when to dig further. 

Stay curious. Stay hungry for answers.



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  13. Machiavelli. The Prince (n.d.). Goodreads.
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