Creating a Learner Habit

Marilee Adams

Aug 12, 2019

The way that any mindset approach and creating a Learner habit will work for you is to purposefully practice it every day. Whenever you feel like the busyness of life derails you, the solution is simple: give yourself grace, take a deep breath, look at the Choice Map, find yourself on it, and ask yourself a Switching question.

How can you practice Learner Living habits?

Anytime you’re with yourself, you can reflect on your mindset. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Am I in Judger?
  • What is going on in my body?
  • Do I need to step back and take a deep breath?

This purposeful self-reflection opens the door to recognizing your current mindset and taking steps to learn to switch to a Learner mindset.

Watch my video for creating a Learner habit.


And for those of you who are visual rather than auditory learners, here’s a transcript:

Learner Habit

Once you’ve built that Learner habit with yourself and with others, then whenever you’re with yourself—which is always—and whenever you’re with others, both professional and personal, you bring that ability to be centered and present, and to be able to listen with Learner ears. That literally has the potential to impact every moment, every interaction, and every outcome. And I know that sounds kind of, “Oh gee, she must be kidding.” But I actually mean it.

It doesn’t mean this to the exclusion of other things—though you could use it exclusively. When you really take this on, you can use it fruitfully and productively, and with success and satisfaction, virtually everywhere, anytime. As long as you are honest in recognizing your Judger.

Mindset practices, especially recognizing Judger and switching to Learner, often require the grace to let yourself start over. I think we are often not open enough about when we need a restart.

Please share how you’re building your Learner habit in the comments.


Thank you for sharing!

Written by:

Marilee Adams

Aug 12, 2019


How Mindset Can Impact Us and Others

Marilee Adams

Aug 6, 2019

Have you ever walked into a meeting room and immediately felt tense, edgy, or nervous? Have you experienced an immediate feeling of peace in a spa lobby, library, or when you walk through the door at the end of the day? While physical environment—lighting, size, temperature, noise level, and smells—can play a role in how we respond to a place, the mindset of the people in the room also make a difference.

What is really useful for us to know is that we can alter our own moods, our own possibilities, our own relating, our own mindset and by doing this, we also affect the people around us.
When we are aware of how we impact others we have the power to switch from Judger to Learner.

In this video I share the experience a workshop attendee who purposely spread his Judger mindset.


I know that audio isn’t always office friendly, so here’s the video transcript.

Mindset Impact – Learner/Judger

So, we’ve learned to manage our own mindset. It’s really funny how it works, but suddenly the people around us, sometimes they’re calmer, they’re more present, they listen better. We don’t realize the impact that we have on people with our mindset.

I remember in a workshop once, this gentleman was very doubtful about what I was teaching. So, in one of the exercises he assigned himself something, but didn’t tell me, or the other person, what he was doing. They were in a dyad situation: they were talking to each other, and while the other person was talking, he would switch himself from Judger to Learner and then from Learner to Judger. Then he would stay in Judger and stay in Judger and think negative thoughts about that person, but not say them. And then, at the end of the exercise, he shared, “I just had the most amazing experience when I switched myself to Judger, even though I didn’t say anything. I could see the impact of my mindset on the other person.”
He was blown away by that. I think that’s really useful for us to know that not only do we affect our own moods, our own possibilities, our own relating, but by doing this, we also affect the people around us.

If you’re interested in the basics of mindset practices, feel free to check out my post on Mindset Awareness.

Have you been in a situation when you were aware that your mindset was impacting others and what did you do? Tell me about it in the comments.

Written by:

Marilee Adams

Aug 6, 2019


How Mindset Awareness Can Influence Learner Living

Marilee Adams

Jul 26, 2019

Mindset awareness may be a trend right now, but I’ve been teaching and training deep mindset work for over 30 years and mindset awareness affects every aspect of how you think, listen, and speak, moment by moment.

What is a mindset?

My definition of mindset is the set of beliefs and assumptions we hold about ourselves, others, and the world. It’s the what in how we describe our state of being. Mindset is not positive or negative; it just exists. What’s truly important about mindset is that with routine observation and consistent practice, it’s changeable.

In the following video I share my insights about mindset awareness and Learner and Judger mindsets.


For your convenience, I’ve included the following transcript of the video.

Mindset Awareness – Learner/Judger Mindsets
Mindsets operate all the time. They affect us all the time, even if we’re not aware of them. And mostly, people aren’t. They affect us at every single moment. And when we become aware of the mindsets we have, which one is affecting us, and which one we’re leading with at a particular moment, it gives us an enormous amount of freedom and choice. We are able to say, “That mindset’s not working so well. Let me try this one.”

Beyond recognizing we have mindsets is acknowledging we all have Judger. We all have Learner. We always will. And we can grow by accepting that we have Judger. And you notice that accepting doesn’t mean necessarily liking or approving. It just simply means, “Oh, okay, I accept you. I’m wearing a pink shirt right now.”

I accept that. That’s a pink shirt. It’s a fact. I happen to like my pink shirt. So when we talk about making friends with Judger, it’s a really important aspect of experiencing our own wholeness. So when we make friends with Judger, embracing that part of us, it doesn’t mean that we let it run away with us. In fact, I challenge you to ask yourself: do I have my Judger or does my Judger have me?

If you can ask that in the moment, you more likely have your Judger. But, most of the time, people’s Judger has them. I want you to have the experience, the capacity, and the skill (not just the intention) to be in charge of your Judger when it shows up. So in that sense, we can welcome Judger. You may remember a chapter in the book, Change Your Questions Change Your Life is called, “We’re All Recovering Judgers”—it’s true. And we all have a Learner mindset: a rich, vibrant resource of curiosity and connection and possibility. So when we accept and embrace our Judger and accept, embrace, and build on our Learner, then we have a methodology for approaching and thinking of ourselves as whole. From wholeness, we can be strong in whatever we take on.

Remember, mindsets are always present and always changeable. Choosing to stop and observe your current mindset, without judgment, will allow you to switch to Learner at any given moment.

I want to know how you’re using these practices to observe your mindset and choose your reactions and actions. Leave me a comment with the details!

Written by:

Marilee Adams

Jul 26, 2019


Conversations Worth Having and Appreciative Inquiry

Marilee Adams

Aug 3, 2018

An Interview with Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres 

Hi Everybody!

Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres were my guests on my for this special July Facebook Live conversation. They are co-authors of a wonderful new book, Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement. The enthusiastic preface is by David Cooperrider of the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain College, Stiller School of Business.

Jackie has been using the Choice Map for years with her students and clients, so our philosophies and practices are obviously very aligned. I think you’ll find this book a useful and important complement to the work of Inquiry Institute. It’s filled with stories that illustrate the importance of their basic two practices: asking generative questions and switching to a positive frame. I think you’ll find our 30 minute conversation down to earth, practical, and inspiring.

Please click on this link to receive a PDF handout about Asking Generative Questions that Jackie and Cheri mention in the interview.

Conversations Worth Having is available at

We’d love to hear your responses in the comments here, on YouTube or Facebook.


Are you interested in learning more about how you can include appreciative inquiry and Question Thinking in your work and life?  Click here for Inquiry Institute’s Fall Workshop schedule.

Written by:

Marilee Adams

Aug 3, 2018


Mindsets & Questioning

Marilee Adams

Jun 22, 2018

Every coach knows that the questions we ask clients largely determine coaching success. We intuitively understand that “a question not asked is a door not opened.”1 But how confident, comfortable and skillful are we at coming up with those seemingly magical questions? How intuitive are we at predictably generating questions that cause clients to stop in their tracks and exclaim, “Wow, I never thought about it that way before!”

As a coach, it’s logical to think that learning about great questions means focusing on the question it- self. But that’s only part of the story. Beyond the practices of questioning, what’s essential is the question asker, the source of those life-changing questions. And for that, the mindset of the coach makes all the difference. It’s about cultivating the mindset from which great questions arise.



The Choice Map is practical in several important ways. Our ability to distinguish between Learner and Judger mindsets helps us become more aware in general and better observers of ourselves and others.

Eventually, we’re able to simply ask ourselves at any moment, “Where am I on the Map right now?” or “Am I in Judger or Learner?” If asking “Am I in Judger?” make sure you’re asking non-judgmentally!

Additionally, the imagery of the Choice Map provides common language, a kind of shorthand for communicating. I often ask clients (in-person or virtually), “With this person or situation, where would you say you are on the Choice Map?”

Another practical, even transformational aspect of the Choice Map, is the moment by moment “how to” it provides for switching from Judger to Learner, as illustrated by the Switching Lane. Taking the Switching lane becomes highly intuitive once we’ve caught onto the practice. It begins with waking up from the trance of Judger by asking “Am I in Judger?” We follow up with Switching questions such as: “Is this what I want to think or feel?” “Is this how I want to be communicating?” or perhaps, “How else can I think about this?” As we practice self-observing and asking Switching questions, we cultivate the resilience and possibilities that come alive with Learner. This is what Carol Dweck means when she writes about changing “… from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework.”

Let’s revisit the Learner mindset as the coaching mindset. Imagine you’re preparing for a coaching session and find yourself in Judger, thinking, “What irrelevant things will she/he bring up this time?” Noticing your Judger, you switch by wondering what Learner thinking would help you better serve your client. You come up with a new question, “How can I invite her/ him to stay more focused on their real agenda?” This shift will impact your coaching presence as well as how you listen, connect, and communicate.


Each time we switch to our “Learner self,” we reinforce the first two pillars of emotional intelligence (self-awareness and self-management/ self-regulation). We recover from an amygdala hijack–-those moments when our fears catapult us into Judger, which I call a “Judger hijack”—by asking Switching questions, thus returning yet again to Learner mindset territory. This also reinforces the principles of appreciative inquiry, strength-based thinking, and positive psychology.

By learning to mindfully “accept Judger and practice Learner” and asking Switching questions, we’re literally taking advantage of neuroplasticity—our brains’ innate capacity for learning and change.

This reinforcing of Learner makes a difference in neuroplasticity. As Rick Hanson instructs, “Your brain takes its shape gradually from what you routinely rest your mind upon.”7


An aligned term for Learner mindset is “Inquiring mindset.” When we’re in Learner, we’re continually curious, naturally asking many questions of ourselves and others. By shifting from an “opinion and statement way of being” to a “curiosity and questioning way of being,” we’re simultaneously cultivating the mindset from which great questions arise.

Notice that the questions in the thought bubbles of the figures on the Choice Map are in the form of internal questions, which I call Question Thinking. By becoming facile with recognizing the power of mindsets and the internal questions associated with them, coaches can significantly enhance the quality, quantity, and impact of the questions they ask clients.


The focus on the twin engines of mindsets and questioning can complement any coach training and coach approach. Operating with curiosity and caring, the more coaches become aware of their own mindsets and develop the capacity to “live from Learner,” the more deeply they cultivate the mindset from which their own great coaching questions can arise.

Staying in Learner mindset and engaging in the practice of asking ourselves one question – “What do I want my question to accomplish?” – helps coaches cultivate the skills for coming up with those transformational questions that make all the difference in our clients’ success.

1 Adams, Marilee (Goldberg). The Art of the Question: A Guide to Short-Term Question-Centered Therapy. John Wiley
& Sons, Inc. Publishers, New York. 1998.
2 Adams, Marilee. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 12 Practical Tools for Leadership, Coaching, and Life (3rd edition). Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., Oakland, CA. 2016.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Dweck, Carol S., Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House Publishers, New York. 2006.
7 Hanson, Rick. Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Oakland, CA. 2011

Published in, and reproduced with permission from, choice, the magazine of professional coaching

Written by:

Marilee Adams

Jun 22, 2018


The Spirit and Discipline of Organizational Inquiry

Marilee Adams

Feb 8, 2018

Asking Questions for Organizational Breakthrough and Transformation


When leaders, managers, and organizations recognize the true power of inquiry and take advantage of question-centered methodologies, they set a dynamic course for organizational excellence and competitive advantage. However, many are not fully aware of the impact of questioning and therefore are not motivated to take advantage of this vital strategy. It’s as if questions are so ubiquitous and so much·a part of our conversational landscape that we hardly notice them. Even leaders and managers who do recognize the impact of questions often consider them mainly as means to answers, rather than appreciating the potential of questioning for catalyzing breakthrough and transformation.

“Organizational inquiry” is a term coined to focus attention on the importance of asking questions for optimizing organizational breakthrough and transformation. By the “spirit” of organizational inquiry, I mean the willing­ness and courage to practice “not knowing,” which is the key to breakthrough thinking. By “discipline,” I mean the practice of questioning assumptions about structures, strategies, and business processes that shape an organization’s culture and operations. Much research into organizational effectiveness and learning is already available; for example, in the literature about learning organizations, action learning, and dialogue in general. See Senge (1990), Argyris (1992), Revans (1980), Weinstein (1998), and Dixon (1996). The purpose of the present article is to suggest a unifying concept focused on question-asking processes that can strengthen the power of organizational inquiry in creating competitive advantage.

While the power of inquiry has long been appreci­ated, the context suggested for it here is new. In the fifth century BC, Socrates established inquiry as the essential element of effective thinking and action. Perhaps one of history’s oldest tenets represents one of the most imperative “new” ideas for organizational excellence in the twenty-first century.
The Imperative of Inquiry in Organizations

In organizational and business life, asking questions is essential for opening new possibilities for virtually every goal and function: understanding emerging markets, gathering information, building key relationships, thinking objectively, learning and developing as an organization, and making unprece­dented things happen. Asking questions also is funda­mental for resolving breakdowns, making decisions, creating innovations, and managing organizational change. The most successful leaders and managers know they can’t get the “right” answers without asking the “right” questions.


Questions predictably cause new openings for action, whereas statements and opinions rarely do. Astute leaders and managers also recognize that effective questions lead to effective action, while inef­fective or neglected questions often result in detours, missed goals, and costly mistakes. Furthermore, break­through alterations in thinking depend on new, provocative questions. A paradigm shift can occur only when a question is asked inside a current paradigm that can be answered only from outside of it.

When leaders of an organization are unwilling to challenge conventional thinking, the company’s culture will naturally reflect its leadership, often leading to the ossification of the entire organization.
To get a sense of how vital effective question asking is for organizational and business excellence, ask yourself how much more productive a leader or manager could be in the following business functions by using a powerful methodology for asking questions:

  • Sales and marketing
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Strategic planning
  • Research and development
  • Budgeting and cost containment
  • Customer relations
  • Career path counseling and succession planning
  • Information technology
  • Building relationships and networking
  • Running meetings, teams, and projects
  • Conflict resolution and ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution)
  • Everyday communications

Why Isn’t Organizational Inquiry the Norm?

Since our goal is to encourage the spirit of inquiry and the discipline of strategic questioning as an orga­nizational norm, it is useful to appreciate how many factors work against this. From an early age, most of us were discouraged from asking questions, especially challenging ones, whether at home, in school, or in religious institutions. As a consequence, many believe asking questions is rude, inconsiderate, or intrusive.

We also fear being asked questions since it might seem like being interrogated (note that one term for question is “interrogative!”). Moreover, it is common to fear not having the “right” answers, and therefore, not “looking good.” We even avoid asking for fear we won’t like the answers we get, or that we might need to change. Furthermore, we may not ask because we are not adept at how to ask. After all, how many of us have had the advantage of being trained in ques­tioning expertise, or have had bosses or mentors who encouraged the development of such skills?

While answers are obviously important, many organizations miss critical and pivotal questions by looking only for answers. Perhaps this is because many individuals are reluctant to challenge the status quo and are uncomfortable when faced with questions, especially if they assume they need to provide  the “right” answers. When leaders of an organization are unwilling to challenge conventional thinking, the company’s culture will naturally reflect its leadership, often leading to the ossification of the entire organization.
In answer-driven organizations (those more committed to avoiding risk than pioneering new solutions), curiosity, creativity, risk taking, challenging the status quo, and even the willingness to be wrong must take a back seat. The prevailing culture·of such organizations, either implicitly or explicitly, calls for rigidity, risk avoidance, protectiveness, defensiveness, and automatic routines and habits. Such organizations become “fossilized.” Without the intentional discipline of questioning the assumptions and beliefs of its culture and operations, an organization is reactive rather than proactive, surviving rather than thriving.

Inquiry As the Source of Organizational Transformation

Transforming an organization into one devoted to the discipline of organizational inquiry requires appreciating that questions are usually the most influential and creative aspect of speaking, listening, and thinking. Therefore, to be optimally effective in making inquiries of ourselves and others, we need to be able to “question our questions.” This means developing the attitudes and skills to notice, analyze, and revise our questions. It also allows for choosing the right kinds of questions and knowing how and when to ask them. It is not enough to rely on intuitive questioning abilities, which the most accomplished leaders, managers, and consultants certainly have. Rather, we need to include in our appreciation of inquiry an understanding of the practical importance of distinguishing those questions that lead to success and those that can prevent it.

Questions That Help or Hinder Success

To see the discipline of organizational inquiry to effect transformation, it is necessary to recognize that different kinds of questions produce qualitatively different results, whether we ask them of ourselves or of others. Distinguishing between these kinds of questions provides the possibility of consistently choosing those that lead to effectiveness, break­through, and transformation. The Choice Map (see below, click to enlarge) is useful for illustrating the differences in two classes of queries – “Learner” and “Judger.” Of course, these terms designate mindsets, not actual people, and all human beings have both. It is often more natural to fall into operating from our judgmental mindset. Maintaining a commitment to Leamer thinking and behaving is more challenging, although it is ultimately more rewarding. Distinguishing between these mindsets provides the powerful opportunity to choose which one to operate with at any given moment.

By examining the Choice Map, it becomes clear that Leamer questions and Judger questions lead to divergent results. Questions typical of the Learner aspect of ourselves are responsive to life’s circum­stances and lead to thinking objectively, creating solutions, and relating in a win-win way. Learners ask genuine questions, which are those to which they don’t already know the answers. Learner questions typically presuppose fresh possibilities, a positive future, and abundant resources.

On the other hand, questions typical of the Judger aspect of ourselves are reactive. They lead to automatic reactions, limitations, and negativity, and they focus attention on problems rather than solutions. Such questions result in win-lose relating, or operating in what may be called an “attack-or-defend” paradigm. This Judger, or judgmental, aspect of ourselves, may be focused either internally or externally. Whatever the focus, Judger thinking and speaking both result in denying responsibility and searching for blame.

A Learner mindset and a preponderance of Learner questions lead to organizational  excellence.  Imagine the results if Learner questions such as these were to consistently guide your individual, team, and organi­ zational effectiveness: “What options haven’t I (we) considered?  “How can this be the best  possible win-win?” “What limitations might I (we) be placing on thinking, planning, or actions?” “How else can I (we) think about this?” “Am I (Are we) being honest with myself(ourselves)?” “What’s useful about this?” “What can I (we) learn from this?” and “How can I (we) be sure we stay on track?”

Questions predictably cause new openings for action, whereas statements and opinions rarely do.

On the other hand, Judger questions produce the opposite results. A company whose culture is over­ ridden with Judger questions will probably become uncompetitive, sooner rather than later. Most Judger questions present some version of “Who’s to blame?” and lead to predictable, painful, and often costly stalemates – or worse.

Learner Questions As a Source of Transformation

The power of the model of Learner and Judger thinking lies in using this awareness to bring about a transformative shift from the Judger position (charac­terized by a “knows-it-already” mindset)  into Learner possibilities. Here’s an example of how a team in a major organization did just that. “At one meeting, the project team discovered that a report had taken an unacceptably long period of time to go from one building to another. The immediate response was for members of one department to accuse the other, with the usual denials, upsets, justifications, and explanations.”  In other words,  these team members were caught in an attack-or-defend paradigm that could have caused a production delay, financial losses, and an erosion of their working relationships. Fortunately one member “commented on the non­-productive nature of assessing blame (and) altered the discussion to one of identifying the missing struc­tures. Team members then came up with a way in which the review could happen simultaneously rather than sequentially. Soon they instituted accountabilities to put the new structures and proce­dures into operation.”

That courageous team member was operating in, or “coming from,” a Learner mindset. Consequently, the implicit thinking that led to his intervention must have included questions such as: “Is this blaming useful?” “Can we bring the project in on time if we keep this up?” and “How can I turn this situation around?” Of course, he probably wasn’t aware of many, if any, such questions. This would be typical, partly because the thinking process is so swift and streamlined. However, he did take an action that was consistent with questions such as these. In fact, his behavior could even be thought of as representing an answer to these implicit queries. Thus his Leamer mindset (operationalized as Learner questions) led him to take a Leamer action that produced a transformation in a troublesome situation with his project team

The Power of Breakthrough Questions

Here’s another example of the power of Leamer thinking through the use of a strategic, unpredictable question. This one altered a prevailing paradigm in a marketing context with bottom-line consequences. Barbara, a colleague of mine, was the head of a marketing team for a large pharmaceutical company that had developed an exciting new drug. Despite the fact that the response to their drug had been disap­pointing, the company was still eager to capture the market share it thought this product deserved. The problem was that the competition was already in place and two similar drugs from other companies already had much greater visibility and sales. Barbara’s dilemma revolved around her budget, which was too meager to fight the other giants, and her boss, Walt, who seemed rigid and unresponsive to her plight.

Barbara was a natural Learner, and usually able to think strategically rather  than  emotionally.  However, in this case, she was angry and frustrated by her boss’s seemingly indifferent response to her plan for boosting their product. Consequently, she fell into a Judger mindset, and found herself mired in judgmental, limiting questions such as, “How could he be so stupid and short-sighted?” and “Why did I have the bad luck to get stuck with a boss like him? “

Barbara and I met to discuss a strategy for trans­forming the situation. She recognized that her Judger questions were making her increasingly upset and unable to think objectively or creatively. She came up with the following Learner  questions  to get her back on track: “Do I have enough information about our company’s attitude about this product?” “Is my boss experi­encing any pressures about this situation that I don’t know about?” and “How can I get him to be an ally, so we both can win?” Then she and I reviewed the entire project, systematically questioning  her  assumptions  and beliefs about the product, the market,  and  her company. Subsequently, she requested a meeting with Walt to reappraise the situation.

If we consider organizational inquiry in the sense of “A question not asked is a door not opened,” the possibilities it promises seem limitless.

Barbara and Walt easily got back to their previous camaraderie and were even able to laugh about the constraints the company was placing on their efforts. Then Barbara reconfirmed her commitment to the success of the product and asked Walt if they could consider some things they hadn’t covered in previous meetings.  Eventually, she asked him a pivotal question that catalyzed a breakthrough in the entire situation. Her provocative query was, “Has the company ever put its entire yearly budget for a product into a single quarter?”
In fact, such a bold move was completely unheard of in this industry, even for a lagging product. However, Barbara and Walt convinced the company to do just this. The six-month market penetration was unusually successful and they convinced the company that the product was worth a much larger marketing investment. A year later this product had gained sig­nificantly in market share.


Organizational inquiry represents an imperative attitude and a set of practices for creating organiza­ tional breakthrough, transformation, and competitive advantage. It is useful to make a distinction between Leamer and Judger mindsets, thus providing the pos­ sibility of consistently asking Leamer questions. This leads the way to organizational excellence, both in terms of a company’s culture and at the practical level of daily operations. If we consider organizational inquiry in the sense of “A question not asked is a door not opened,” the possibilities it promises seem limitless.

Written by:

Marilee Adams

Feb 8, 2018


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