If someone tries to make you do what they think is good— do you like that? Most people answer "no": we value the freedom to choose.
When someone does something bad to you― do you like that? Most people, again, answer "no": we like it when others are good to us.
We don't, however, always want to do good to others—and it can be hard to guide a child, adolescent, or employee to use freedom wisely. It can be hard to use freedom wisely ourselves, too, and little eyes are often watching.
Imagine discovering a way that you can do good, freely, with minimal effort.
Imagine choosing good because it's what you want to do.
Imagine not needing to be forced to do things—and rarely needing to force yourself.
Imagine having a body and mind that cooperate in helping you live peaceably with others.
You don't have to imagine. Practicing the 8 Questions for just 60 minutes per week can help you do just that—and it can help your spouse and children, too.
What We Have in Common
The 8 Questions are the backbone of an approach to decision-making that reduces the power and scope of self-deception and procedural blindness, that facilitates family cohesion through clear distinctions, and that empowers personal freedom through directed attention. Important to this approach is a thoroughgoing appreciation of what people—even very different people—have in common.
Sometime when you're out in a crowd, look around you. Notice all the different faces, different body types, different styles of clothing. Can you guess what different professions these people might have? the different moods they might be in now? the different home lives they come from, or might be returning to this evening?
Can you recall a time when you were offended? a person who's wronged you? Do you know someone, perhaps of a different faith, who understands the world differently than you do—or seems to live in a different world altogether? You and them. Different. Really different… right?
People are different, it's true—but we're also very much the same. Beyond ideology, each of us shares the same necessities as everyone else. Necessities are part of our way of being now, physically, in this world.
When we say "necessities," these are what we mean:
i. We need to move. Even when we’re sleeping, we’re not still. Movement is an unavoidable constancy.
ii. We need space. To state the obvious, we’re three-dimensional. When you are present, or when I am, every part of us is simultaneously present, too.
iii. Physically, we need to be distinguishable. We’re not in every place at once. We can be counted. Our movements can be sequenced.
iv. We need to interact with what we cannot change. Every second, we interact with gravity, inertia, air pressure, and countless other forces. These forces shape our experiences whether we want them to or not. They shape what is possible.
v. To physically live, we need to find sustenance (air, water, and food), to eliminate wastes (to use the bathroom regularly and support our healing if we’re ill), and to sleep. In each of these, we silently declare I’m here. I’m not part of whatever disorder I slough off or leave behind. This is meaningful.
vi. We need to grow different tissues, depending on the environments within us. Our cells need to form blood vessels, nerves, and lungs. Thankfully, our bodies generally take care of this automatically.
Our Basic Needs
We also share the same basic needs with everyone else on the planet. These are part of what it means to be human.
Eight of these, which correlate with the 8 Questions, are:
1. We need to be okay—to know, "We're good, and things are good with us right now." This lets us feel safe… instead of feeling fearful, guilty, or angry.
2. We need to have enough—and, thereby, to feel secure.
3. We need to act on what's urgent.
4. We need to choose what's relevant.
5. We need to do what we can.
6. We need to be trusted and liked.
7. We need to stay connected.
8. We need to matter.
At the end of the day, we have a lot in common with others. We share the same necessities. We share the same basic needs. And more often than not, we get our needs met most efficiently when we help others get their needs met too.
A Universal Challenge
Unfortunately, we also share a universal challenge: how can we meet our own and others' needs, without focusing too much on our selves or on our problems?
•   Unmet Needs: People who are unaware of their needs or of the actions they can take to get their needs met often become self-effacing, or their needs become neglected. However…
•   Compulsivity: People who focus on their needs often become problem-focused, or neurotic, and
•   Self-Centeredness: People who focus on justifying what they need and getting what they want often become self-centered, or narcissistic.
So, if we're not going to focus on our problems or ourselves—yet we still think it's important to get our needs met and to help others get their needs met, too—what can we do? That's where the 8 Questions come to the rescue!
The 8 Questions change our focus. They orient us to opportunities for constructive action. They empower us to act in ways that get our own and others' needs met, without becoming overly focused on ourselves or our problems. They help us do good, freely, with minimal effort.
Q: What does the basic process of the 8 Questions look like?
A: There are several processes, of course: learning the 8 Questions, practicing the 8 Questions, and using the 8 Questions to help oneself and others do good, freely, with minimal effort. We'll talk about the first two soon. The process of using the 8 Questions looks like this:
A person asks Question 1. If the answer is "yes," (s)he continues on to Question 2. A person continues asking each Question and, if the answer is "yes," continuing to the next Question… until all the Questions have been asked. At that point, the person is free to resume whatever (s)he was doing, or to do whatever (s)he was considering doing.
Q: Why does a person keep going when answers are “yes”?
A: If all the Questions were answered “yes” about a particular course of action, that course of action will almost always result in the Questioner's—and others'—needs getting met. Knowing this frees a person to act with confidence, without needing to think of him-/herself or his/her needs.
Q: What happens if a person answers a Question “no”?
A: The person stops.
Q: Why does the person stop?
A: First, a “no” answer means that the questioner isn’t in a good state of mind to ask subsequent questions; (s)he’s prone to self-deception. Future “yes” answers, therefore, aren’t reliable guides.
Second, a “no” answer means that the questioner isn’t in a good state of mind to take action; his or her awareness and ability to avoid injury are compromised. This makes continuing after a “no” answer risky.
Finally, a “no” answer means that either one or more Necessities, or the Basic Need that corresponds to the question we asked, likely isn’t being met. Pausing gives a person an opportunity to meet that need.
A Systematic Method
The 8 Questions methodology is systematic.
The 8 Questions help people whose thinking isn’t naturally spontaneous to be sufficiently present in the world that they can be more flexible in the decision-making—both because they’re more in touch with the world, with their own desires, and with the people around them, and also because they can relax in the awareness that they have truly considered, as best as they can, everything they need to consider before making a decision.
The 8 Questions focus a person’s attention, systematically, on what successful, empathetic people often consider when making decisions. Successful, empathetic people often ask some version of the 8 Questions spontaneously—without even thinking about it. When prompted, they recognize: “Well yes, I considered that… and that… and that… and that—yeah, most of the 8 Questions—when making my decision. I guess I wasn’t conscious of it.”
Help for Anyone Willing
Even for a person who, 90% of the time, considers every relevant factor when making decisions, an assurance that “I’ve considered what I need to consider” can still be liberating. The 8 Questions provide that assurance: they’re an important part of an approach to decision-making that can raise the percentage of time that a person, when making a decision, considers every relevant factor they know about, to 98… 99… even 100%—as long as that person has honestly answered every Question “yes.”
Since everyone, at times—even successful, empathetic people—occasionally overlook important factors when making a decision… the 8 Questions can help anyone!
To determine whether the 8 Questions are right for you, consider: do you want to (a) do good, (b) freely, (c) with minimal effort? If so, the 8 Questions can help.
Is the “8 Questions” Process for Me?
The 8 Questions help people (a) do good, (b) freely, (c) with minimal effort. The process helps people act not just responsibly, but also responsively. Because of this, the 8 Questions are often particularly helpful for people who:
- Have autism-spectrum conditions or stress or mood disorders, which make it more difficult to do good under stress, without personally breaking. (The 8 Questions help people adapt to change and, over time, significantly reduce stress.)
- Have grown up in legalistic families or adopted rigid parenting styles. Either makes it more difficult for parents to give themselves and their children freedom to fail, grow, and begin to take ownership of their learning. (The 8 Questions help people handle freedom.)
- Have struggled with workaholism or perfectionism. Either complicates finding and adopting effort-minimizing, sustainable ways of living. (The 8 Questions facilitate more relaxed, more enjoyable living.)
- Have expected their lives to turn out a particular way and been disappointed when things didn't go as planned. (The 8 Questions open up a different, less mechanistic way of looking at and being in the world. This can be very liberating!)
If you want to be able to get your own needs met without focusing too much on yourself or your needs—of if you want this for your child—the 8 Questions can help. Ultimately—because everybody can benefit from doing good, freely, with minimal effort—anybody can benefit from the 8 Questions.
How Long Does It Take?
Q: How long does it take to learn the 8 Questions?
A: Learning the "8 Questions" process generally takes between 10 weeks and 6 months. Mastering it takes a lifetime—but since people see benefits throughout the journey, you can take your time. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can start seeing benefits—but once you've begun your journey, there's no hurry to finish. It's more important to develop asking, answering, and acting on each Question into a habit.
Q: How long each week will I (and/or my child) need to practice?
A: We generally recommend 60 minutes per week: much more, and the process can get annoying; much less, and habits don't get well established. Regardless, you won't have to block off a solid hour for training.
The 60 minutes of training aren't consecutive. When you're training, a pocket timer will vibrate every twelve minutes to remind you to ask whatever Questions you've learned thus far about whatever you're doing now or are thinking of doing soon. After asking the Questions—generally, less than a minute later—you can resume what you were doing or begin a new activity, perhaps in response to direction provided by the Questions.
If you ask yourself the Questions once every 12 minutes, practice will last about five minutes per hour. Spread over four hours, that's 20 minutes of training. Three days per week, that's the ideal 60 minutes. Those minutes, moreover—once invested—will return many times your investment. They often enable hours of work that's focused and productive, and of play that isn't bogged down by fear, guilt, anger, worry, or other negative emotions.
Q: Can the "8 Questions" work for children who can’t—or won’t—ask the Questions themselves?
A: Yes. It’s often best, in fact, for a mentor (whether a parent, teacher, caregiver, or mature friend) to introduce the 8 Questions by asking each Question him- or herself. Not only do children learn the Questions and related key concepts by observing, the process of asking and answering each of the 8 Questions often changes the mentor in powerful and profound ways.
Q: Do the mentor and child learn all 8 Questions at once?
A: No; one question is introduced at a time. This gives the mentor and child ample opportunity to memorize and practice corresponding Needs, Actions, and HANDLE Activities. Upon learning Questions 7 and 8, a mentor or child can ask these at any time.
Q: Is this hard to implement?
A: Implementing the 8 Questions sometimes involves a shift in perspective for parents, teachers, and caregivers. This shift in perspective can be challenging, but for parents who want to see their children mature into responsible, responsive adults—or for adults who want to be more responsible and responsive—it's an important, rewarding shift to make.
Any new habit takes time and dedication to master, and this process is no exception—but the results are worth it.
The process itself is straightforward, and we provide whatever help mentors need along the way.
Q: What happens when a child is visibly unable to answer a Question “yes”?
A: The mentor makes sure the child has his or her Necessities met, checks which Basic Needs may be unmet, then helps the child meet whatever Basic Need corresponds to the Question being asked.
Q: How does this happen?
A: First, the child and mentor learn specific HANDLE® Activities, which make it easier to get Basic Needs met. Once a Question is answered "no," pausing to do a HANDLE Activity or two together can make a world of difference!
Q: You said “first.” How else can a mentor and child help meet each other’s needs?
A: Each Question corresponds to one of the 8 Basic Needs, to a particular Sensory System (helped by HANDLE Activities), and to a particular Action that can be taken to get the Basic Need met.
The mentor thus also focuses on helping the child take the Action they have memorized and seen help before. This shift in focus itself—toward productive action and away from "trying harder," compliance, or whatever problems have cropped up—is often immensely helpful. As soon as the child is able, (s)he can take the appropriate Action and resume asking the remaining Questions that (s)he’s learned thus far.
What Is the History of the "8 Questions" Process?
Q: I haven’t heard of this process before. Who came up with it?
A: Matthew McNatt developed this process. He began working on it in 2000, three years before he founded the McNatt Learning Center. He finished its development in 2010, after a decade of dedicated work, and has enjoyed teaching it to clients since then.
Q: What qualifications did Matthew McNatt have to come up with this?
A: Matthew’s academic background in philosophy and learning theory were indispensable for creating the 8 Questions Process, which rests upon a detailed and rigorously fleshed-out philosophy.
Matthew also grew up with a neurological impairment. He knows the challenges that many people with autism-spectrum conditions face from the inside out. He knows that techniques that work well for "neurotypical" people often don’t work so well for people with autism-spectrum conditions.
Matthew wanted a system for himself that would work 100% of the time. He knew it would benefit his clients with autism-spectrum conditions, too. Matthew's tireless pursuit of this goal, coupled with his unique approach and parents' feedback, produced the system he uses and teaches today. The 8 Questions are the core of that system.
How Do I Get Started?
Eventually, you and others will be able to get started with the 8 Questions by visiting a local 8 Questions group, just as new moms worldwide can now visit a local La Leche League group, or people who realize they need help with alcoholism can attend an Alcoholics Anonymous group. At least, that's our hope, which becomes possible for more people as more groups are formed for mutual support, more materials are published for group study and exploration, and more 8 Questions Coaches become certified to assist one-on-one (online or in person), when someone needs extra help.
For now, you can get started by calling for more information on our regular group in Morris, Illinois, or by emailing for information on our online webinars, offered periodically.