I’ve been working with college students in the field of student affairs in higher education for over 10 years. For many reasons I love working with young adults who are pursuing post-secondary education. One of the reasons is because they are discovering that they are the “author of their own life,” and it’s now time to make decisions for themselves and not just because “that’s what my mom/dad told me to do/say/believe.”

As a new parent, I totally get wanting your child to grow in the values and traditions that you so dearly believe in, but as a higher education expert in the field of college student development, I’m all about helping students “become authors of their own lives,” as Dr. Marcia Baxter Magolda coined in her theory of “self-authorship.”

So with Baxter Magolda’s philosophy of being a “good partner in the journey” of a college student’s life, I have developed my own method of helping them when dealing with a difficult decision. Of course, my job is not meant to give them the “right answer,” but merely to ask them the right questions so they uncover the nearest truth themselves.

I call my method “The 3 Reallys.” Why? Because I ask students, and honestly anyone I encounter who might consider our conversation a formal or informal executive or life coaching moment, the “3 reallys” question. I do not ask them “what do you want?” Instead, I ask them, “What do you really, really, really want?” Yes, it takes 3 “reallys” to ask yourself to get to heart of the matter in front of you.

For instance, I may ask a student who is contemplating if she wants to run for Student Body President at her college, but afraid her grades may suffer despite wanting to run for political office 10 years afters she graduates from law school. So I’ll ask her, “what do you want?” and then she’ll respond. I’ll then take note of that answer, and then ask, “but what do you really, really want?” Surprised that the first answer was insufficient, the student will respond with a second answer with a little more depth. Then I’ll finally ask, “OK, but now what do you really, really, really want?” After that response, we continue dialoguing around that answer.

The 3 Reallys Method is a simple strategy that I developed to try to peel a few layers of issue to better understand any student or client of mine. Many times there’s no one “right” answer (that’s considered “absolute knowing”, the first stage of one’s cognitive development according to Baxter Magolda), but there is a “nearer right” answer from my perspective when you’re more of a “contextual knowing” stage that Baxter Magolda writes about. The 3 Reallys Method puts you in the right framework to set you in the context you need to understand your perspective with clearer lens.

So the next time you are at a crossroads in your life, be prepared to answer the 3 Reallys. It’s a method to help you come up with answers and strategies you would not develop on your own, and something that I believe really, really, really works.

Originally published at lizbapasola.com