The Socratic Method is a way to question how we think in an effort to develop a more favourable, healthy and constructive personal philosophy.

The conditions of our mind determine the conditions of our life – we don’t experience life as it is, we experience it as we are, and by that I mean that everything we experience in the world around us is filtered through our own beliefs, values, biases and preconceptions. This means that our resulting experience and how we feel and perceive a thing, is coloured by who we are.

This feeling determines our actions, and these actions, over a period of time, change the course of our lives. The conditions of our mind will determine the conditions of our life, and today we’re going to use the philosophy of Socrates to learn how to make these conditions as favourable as possible and help us move towards the lives we want for ourselves, whatever that might mean for you.

Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher, born 470BC the son of a stone worker and a midwife and an Athenian citizen. Throughout the 420s Socrates was deployed to various battles during the Peloponnesian war, and ultimately returned to Athens, becoming the philosopher we know him as today.

Despite Athens being a place in which people put a strong value on appearance, beauty, wealth and status, Socrates seemed to shun these things and was notoriously ugly with a turned up-nose, bulging eyes and large belly. He was indifferent to material wealth, in contrast to those around him. He neglected personal hygiene, comfort, walked barefoot and owned only one tattered coat. He moderated eating and pleasure and altogether went against the grain of the society he lived in.

Despite all of this he became a man of interest among the Athenian people, some favourably as they followed his teaching and listened to him speak on philosophy and the ways to live a good life, others unfavourably because of his tendency to challenge poor decisions from officials or question people’s beliefs and motives, which isn’t always welcome.

Socrates became known as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and while we won’t have time to go over all of his work here, we will explore his Socratic Method. A practice of questioning ourselves to uncover inconsistency, falsehood in the beliefs and options we hold. The benefit of this is that, when we use this method regularly, we weed out and protect ourselves from negative and destructive beliefs from rooting themselves in our mind, and as a result respond more favourably to experiences around us.

This practice can be split into three steps – each of which goes some way to shedding light on why we believe what we believe and challenging us to be accountable for the beliefs that underpin the way we live our lives and guide our actions. If we struggle to defend an opinion, it may well be because the optionion is grounded in falsehood and requires modification.

  1. Awareness

  2. Questioning

  3. Reframing


Awareness is needed before anything else – if a builder doesn’t have a plan for the building or know what materials they’re working with, it’s going to be very difficult to get a good end result – similarly if we don’t have a clear image of the belief we hold, or the reasons for it, it will be very difficult for us to mould it and shape it into something more favourable.

Personally I find the best tools for helping with awareness are a combination of meditation, focusing on a specific subject, belief or option to try and understand it better, and journaling to write down what you find. Meditation adds clarity, and writing it down helps solidify the realisations in your mind. It also allows you to return to things you’ve worked on in the past if you need to refresh the activity.

These are personal to me so it’s worth trying new things to find out if something different will work for you. Some people like recording messages, others like post-it notes, white boards, having an object on them as a reminder like a pendant or a ring, whatever it is, if it works, it works.

Socratic Questioning:

Questioning is needed after we’re aware of what we’re working with, and this is probably the largest and most difficult part of the process and where we’ll look to Soctrates and his philosophy for guidance.

Questioning is difficult because it requires us to be open and honest with ourselves and this often involves admitting where we’re wrong, accepting that we have work to do, being vulnerable, opening up to the fact that what we believe isn’t accurate, and a host of other things that may well be difficult pills to swallow. However this is exactly what’s needed in order to grow, develop and ultimately reframe the weeds in our mind that are subtly warping how we see the world, ourselves and other people. The better we become at being honest with ourselves, the faster we flow through this process and the better our lives become as a result. As we’ve said, the conditions of our mind dictate the quality of our life.

So what questions do we need to ask and how can we use the work of Socrates to help us live better lives?

We can split the Socratic Method into roughly six parts. These parts, when done in sequence can be used at any time when we are trying to reframe a thought of belief.

  1. Identify what you are thinking?

    1. Why do you say that?

    2. Explain what you mean.

  2. Challenge the thought

    1. Is this always true?

    2. Under what conditions could this not be true?

    3. What assumptions are you making?

  3. What facts make you believe this?

    1. Is your source reliable?

    2. Is there any evidence to contradict it?

    3. How do you know it to be true?

  4. Look at it from a different angle?

    1. Is it possible for someone to see this in a different way?

    2. What would be the counter argument?

  5. Exploring implications and consequences

    1. But if this happened, what else would result?

    2. How does this affect that?

  6. Questioning the question

    1. Why do you think that I asked that question?

    2. Why was that question important?

    3. Which of your questions turned out to be the most useful?

This loop can be done over and over as you get to a clearer and clearer image in your mind of what you believe about a certain thing. It’s almost like a purification process, starting with murky, muddy water we go through each step making it clearer and clearer until we know exactly what it is we have.

As we move through these steps we’re also made aware of how flawed and baseless some of our beliefs really are. Many of the thoughts that hold us back are more a product of our own imagination than of any real tangible fact and this process helps to highlight that and weaken the hold of destructive beliefs.


Reframing is the final step – awareness has helped us find a specific belief, value or assumption that has been holding us back or causing a negative response to something, questioning has helped us find the cause and the reasons behind the belief, and it’s likely that this questioning has weakened the foundation upon which the belief has been built. Now we have reframing to knock the old belief down and build it up again in a way that works with us, rather than against us.

Where the questioning stage erodes false belief and eats away at any thought we hold that doesn’t have merit, reframing is the process of asking: “if that belief is not true and had a negative impact on my mindset, what belief is true and constructive?”

Of course we have to be careful not to create beliefs that on the face of it seem constructive, but are in fact built on information that’s just as false as the negative ones. It’s better to align ourselves closely with reality than it is to pull the wool over our own eyes. Generally the further our beliefs are from reality, the more we suffer when we inevitably have them face reality.

We can even run our new beliefs through the socratic questioning to make sure they’re as solid as they can be and hold up against the light.

Regardless of how you use this information and how helpful you think Socrates and his philosophy are, I hope there’s something here you can use in your day to day life.

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