Use The Cartesian Questions to Unblock Your Client and Make Better Decisions PLUS Tool to Help!

personMP900385424This month we're looking at back-to-school, goals and getting refocused. Now, I have loved "The Cartesian Questions" ever since I first came across them on my NLP Training. What prompted me to write about the Cartesian Questions was a powerful coaching experience I had with them last week...

First, What Are "The Cartesian Questions"? (and why you should care!)

In coaching, the Cartesian Questions Tool is a set of 4 questions that help your clients get new perspectives and understanding of what inspires and blocks them in making a decision - or seeking a particular goal. Use this tool to find new solutions and resources, identify secondary gains (the benefits of the client staying just as they are!) as well as other areas where we self-sabotage.

In technical coaching terms, the Cartesian Questions help you explore the ecology of a client's goal or decision, delving beyond the conscious and into the subconscious mind to explore underlying thoughts and beliefs related to their goal. You can also use the answers to the questions to identify and explore values. Note: Details on how to use the Cartesian Questions are found below, after the example.

Great for business too: The Cartesian Questions are ideal to help with critical thinking and considering all possible options around a business decision or goal!

A Very Personal Example:

The best way to understand how powerful these questions can be is to share an example: During a coaching session with MY coach recently she asked me, "What if your inner critic took a vacation?". I took August off work so why shouldn't my critic take September off? The idea felt incredibly liberating, and scary at the same time! And that's how we got to the place of further exploring the idea of my inner critic taking a vacation USING the Cartesian Questions.

Now, many of you know I suffer from anxiety - caused in large part by an abusive inner critic. And as you'll see below, my responses to the questions may give you some idea of how powerful these questions can be.

Question 1: What WOULD happen if you DID make that change?
"What WOULD happen if my inner critic DID go on vacation?"

  • I would feel wonderful! I might have fun!!! I might get to play! I might get TONS done - because I would be enjoying myself! I would see more of my friends! I would feel light. I would be HAPPY!! Relief! Joy! This is who I want to be!!! My kind, wise self would be in charge!
  • I WOULD HAVE FUN DOING MY WORK! I love my job but I never get to enjoy it because I'm always so busy trying to do more, beating myself up, haranguing myself, trying to cover up my feelings of worthlessness.
  • I might also be more spontaneous & free. Doing what I WANT to do work-wise (ie. What I feel like in the moment), rather than driving and pushing and beating myself up with SHOULDs.
  • Added later, after reflection: I might fall apart, mess up, fail.

Question 2: What WOULD  happen if you DIDN'T make that change?
"What WOULD happen if my inner critic DIDN'T go on vacation?"

Well, it's going to be an unpleasant month. I'm going to feel driven, like I HAVE to do stuff. It's not going to be fun. I'll be guided by my shoulds, needs & musts instead of enjoying my work. Because I have a stronger connection to my kind, wise self it won't be as bad as in the past - but I would be jumping in and out from inner critic to kind wise self to inner critic to kind wise self. I'll be stepping between the two all the time. I'll have to really focus on being my kind, wise self and taking care of my needs (instead of reacting to my fear and anxiety). But it will be easier in some ways - what I'm used to.

Question 3: What WOULDN'T happen if you DID make that change?
"What WOULDN'T happen if my inner critic DID go on vacation?"

  • Well (without my inner critic driving me), I might not get stuff done! I might fail! I might not do the things I have committed to do. (eg. finish the worry sleep tool, survey for September).
  • I wouldn't beat myself up!!! I wouldn't feel guilty when I do have fun! I would enjoy my work!!!

Question 4: What WOULDN'T happen if you DIDN'T make that change? (AKA: The mind-blowing question!)
"What WOULDN'T happen if my inner critic DIDN'T go on vacation?"

  • I wouldn't have fun.
  • I wouldn't know what it would be like with my inner critic gone.
  • I will also be very afraid... I'm scared! Woah! (Although I am laughing inside as I think about this - isn't that interesting!!!) Isn't it amazing that fun and fear can co-exist!

The two BIG things that came up for me were 1) That I LOVE my work but that my inner critic turns it from this amazing career into fear, shoulds and drudgery and 2) That fear and fun can co-exist! (OK, so I've been on a rollercoaster - but here I'm talking about in daily life!). The first realisation I already knew - I've journalled about it before - but it sank down to a whole new level of my being. And the second major realisation brought light and playfulness to this (rather scary) idea of sending my inner critic on vacation... (After all, without my critic, keeping me under control, being professional, working hard - I might fall apart!). Powerful stuff huh?

Values Identified using the Cartesian Questions: Friendship, Play, Fun, Achievement, Kindness, Wisdom, Spontaneity.

How You Can Use the Cartesian Questions with Your Clients:

First, set up your client: To avoid irritating your clients with similar sounding questions, frame up these questions first. Try something like, "I'm going to ask you 4 questions and they may seem a bit strange or repetitive, but bear with me. Also, I'll ask you to dig deeper into the answers by asking you 'What else?' ". Also, the best answers often come between sessions, so you may like to say something like, "You may find that one question sticks or it may be days or even weeks for the effect of these questions to 'kick in', so don't worry if you don't have an answer right away."

Note 1: Substitute their goal for 'the change' when you ask the questions.
Note 2: Remember, we don't necessarily need our clients to give a verbal answer – just full consideration of the question.
Note 3: Allow plenty of thinking time, especially for question 4. After each response wait a while and then ask, "And what else?"

Now, ask these 4 Cartesian Questions, in order:

  1. What WOULD happen if you DID make that change?
    HELPS THE CLIENT: Visualise their goal fulfilment - increasing motivation.
  2. What WOULD happen if you DIDN'T make that change?
    HELPS THE CLIENT: Identify the pain of staying as they are - which can be a powerful motivator.
  3. What WOULDN'T happen if you DID make that change?
    HELPS THE CLIENT: Understand what they lose if they achieve their goal (this could be a useful loss - or a painful one!).
  4. What WOULDN'T happen if you DIDN'T make that change?
    HELPS THE CLIENT: Identify hidden perspectives and feelings. This question befuddles our left or conscious mind and can provide fresh perspectives through intuitive leaps.

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

  • What surprised them?
  • What is really helpful?
  • What would they like to ponder on more?
  • How do their responses impact their decision or motivation towards the goal?
  • What values (things that are really important to you) can you see reflected in your responses?

In Summary

Image of Cartesian Questions Tool

Cartesian Questions Coaching Tool!

Use these Cartesian Co-ordinate Questions to help your clients expand their understanding - to explore the consequences and how they feel about a decision or goal more fully. Frame up the questions first, and allow plenty of time for the client to really think about and feel into the questions. And be sure to ask a few questions afterwards to capture the learning!

If you liked this article about The Cartesian Co-ordinates, Coaching Questions & Goals you may also like:


  1. Alka

    Dear Emma-Louise:

    Really appreciate you sharing this tool, very interesting one! Keep up the great work.

  2. Anita

    Love, love, love this!

    Thank you soo much for sharing - It provides greater depth than asking "and what will this get for you".

    A xo

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Geraldine, that's great to hear 🙂 Thank-you so much for taking the time to comment - keep enjoying the Megapack! Warmly, Emma-Louise

  3. Jumana

    great explanation about using this 4 questions and very interesting ,thank you for sharing

  4. Adrian Cahill

    Excellent and I love your resources. What really blows clients away here is if they go into a 'know nothing' state, a transderivital search, or simply get totally confused, then in the confusion, they want to grab a firm hold on what DOES make sense, so you put forward, 'whats different now?' or 'what are you noticing now?' if it's positive, then ground it, if not, do more cartesian co-ordinates, once it's good, ground it, then while it's grounded, collapsing the original state or problem state anchor. Im looking to do this process again in 30min hence revising. 🙂

    • mturcott

      Thank you Adrian! We're so glad you find this article on Cartesian Questions helpful!


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