It depends…

Posted on — | 2 min read

Last year I went to physical therapy because I had severe lower back pain. It turned out the pain was mostly because of bad posture. As I was visiting the physical therapy place regularly, I started describing to the therapist how I sit on the couch, how I sit at a table and what my overall posture is during these times.

I would ask questions like “I sit with my back straight at my desk, and for my legs I use a soft foot stool. Does that help with the posture”. And he’d say, “Well, it depends…” Then I would ask a question like, “I sometimes sit cross-legged on the sofa and I find that to be very comfortable. Would this affect my back in the long run?”. He’d again say, “Well, it depends…”

Pretty much all his answers started with “it depends…” and then a caveat. At first I was annoyed that I never got direct answers and I hated any answer that started with “it depends…”.

I later realized that I just wasn’t asking the right questions. Most of the time, the answers to many questions are not straight-forward, so it’s hard to get concrete answers. Take losing weight, for example. Asking questions like “Can I do X to lose weight?” will never get you a clear cut answer, because there are so many variables involved - like food, portions, exercise, sleep, stress, and many other factors. This is why there’s a plethora of information out there and people generally feel overwhelmed by it all. Our brains don’t deal very well with overwhelming amount of information. So, it tries to look for shortcuts and simple explanations. We also get into this habit of looking for specific information without understanding the overall picture. And many times, given the overall picture, the answer we get may not be the right one.

Back to my story, I realized I wasn’t asking good questions and I was also taking similar mental shortcuts. What I should have asked was questions like, “what muscles get worked while sitting?”, “what’s the best way to strengthen those muscles?”, “how do muscles perform while being sedentary vs. while doing a physical activity?”. These and may be few other questions would have helped me get closer to the answer I was looking for.

What I learned from this experience was to keep an eye out for answers that start with “It depends…”. That’s a good signal that my question must be refined and that may be I should approach it in a different way.