Miracle Question: A Solution-Focused Therapy Question

The Miracle Question is a popular question in Solution-Focused Therapy (SFT) — a type of therapy that focuses less on problems and the past and more on solutions and the future. The genius behind this question is that it forces you to stop thinking about why you can’t achieve something and allows you to imagine how your life could be if something miraculous occurred.

The follow are excerpts from the book “The Miracle Question: Answer it and Change Your Life” by Linda Metcalf, Ph.D.

The Miracle Question

Answer it and Change Your Life

Linda Metcalf, Ph.D.

Chapter 1:  Begin With a Miracle


“Suppose tonight while you sleep, a miracle happens.  When you awake tomorrow morning, what will you see yourself doing, thinking, or believing about yourself that will tell you a miracle has happened in your life?” (5)


The Theory Behind the Miracle Question

  • Doesn’t require digging into past history and explaining why life has turned out the way it has. (8)
  • The past is helpful only in regard to the client’s ability to get through previous difficulties. (8)
  • What parts of their lives were better before the first therapy session; because often, solutions had already occurred. (10)


The process includes viewing life differently, focusing not on what causes your problems, but on the times when problems occur less. (11)



Chapter 2:  Answer the Miracle Question


“What would having my wish do for me?” (14)


You will be asked to focus on where you want to be, not on how you will get there. (15)


What are My Miracle Goals?

  • Your answers reflect the possibility that something very important is and has been missing from your life.  It could be something you’ve never experienced yet feel you deserve, or something that you’ve lost and miss terribly. (17)
  • Lasting change occurs more slowly and considers the system (a system refers to your family, marriage, and job) within which you live. (18)


Understanding the Miracle Goal

  • Think about what the miracle would do for them.  Notice how the original goals remain, but change slightly into more achievable goals that are much more specific, realistic, and action-oriented. (18)
  • I asked the clients:  “What will it do for you when you begin achieving a small part of that miracle some day soon?” (18)


Changing the Goals to Take New Actions

  • Sarah:  In my miracle I would stay sober.

LM:  Great.  What would being sober do for you? (20)

  • The goal becomes one of achieving something rather than leaving something behind.  It becomes less of a life sacrifice and more of a life improvement. (20)
  • The important point to remember in setting goals around The Miracle Question is to focus on what will be different, not what won’t happen anymore. (22)
  • The Miracle Question should always be answered in terms of what is desired, not what is not wanted. (22)
  • Some of the miracles are actually impossible—yet notice what happens when people look for a broader meaning and ask themselves what the miracle will do for them.  They become more realistic and possibility-oriented. (23)


The Client Who Couldn’t Answer the Question

  • LM:  As you go through next week, I want you to watch for any time, place and situation when you feel a little less sad. (26)
  • As you go through the next (day or week), watch for those times when things are slightly better. (28)
  • What activities or interactions brought you some satisfaction? (28)
  • What did those activities or interactions do for you as you experienced them? (28)
  • How will your life be when you start adding more of these experiences on a regular basis? (28)
  • A brief explanation of the actual process: (29)
  1. The Miracle:  The answer to the Miracle Question.
  2. The Miracle Goal:  How the answer to the question will affect a person’s life.
  3. The Exceptions:  A description of the times when the goal happened slightly more often and the problems happened less often.
  4. The Action Plan:  The plans that developed from examining the goal and the exceptions.
  5. The Results:  What changed and how the task worked to accomplish the changes.


You Can Even Help Others Define Their Miracle

  • How would you rather things be? (30)
  • What do you want instead? (30)
  • If he can’t tell you what he wants, ask him to think about what he would like to be different. (30)



Chapter 3:  Check Out Your Exceptions


Exceptions are simply times when life works better, or times when problems are less likely to take over. (32)


Use your miracle goal and miracle answer to search for times when those goals were more likely to happen in the past. (32)


It’s Not Easy Being Exceptional—But You Can Be

  • Exceptions are the times when you are able to deal with problems in a way that makes them less burdensome for you. (32)
  • Some people have difficulty identifying exceptions because they stay so focused on their problems. (32)
  • And tell me about times when you felt just slightly successful? (33)
  • What’s your secret to staying committed to those relationships? (33)
  • How would you explain your ability to stay calm at work for over eight hours a day? (33)


Never Say Never and Always Ignore Always

  • “Never” and “always” leave no room for hope and possibility. (35)
  • Exceptions occur when problems do not. (37)
  • Become acutely aware of times when problems are not as prevalent in your life. (37)
  • Wonder to yourself, “What went better this morning, this afternoon, this evening?”  Maybe you and your daughter chatted on the way to school and she wasn’t as abrupt as she normally is.  What did you do differently?  What would she say you did differently?  Begin learning to make a mental note of the situation, place or the people involved and, most importantly, what you did and thought about as you experienced those actions. (37)


Remember:  Don’t Do Anything New

  • Don’t attempt anything unless you have had success doing something similar before. (37)


Exercise 3.2:  Match Your Actions with Exceptions

  • Do not ask you to identify problem-free times.  Instead, they ask you to consider times when the problems occurred slightly less or not as often. (38)
  • Consider all kinds of circumstances when you have come close to achieving the same type of goal you have named.  Go outside the context of your current miracle and look at other areas of your life. (38)
  • Describe a time when your miracle goals nearly happened for you in similar or other circumstances. (39)
  • “How have I handled tough situations like this before and survived?” (40)


Adopting a Life Without Depression

  • I’m not sure how you will do this, but I would like you to do something that relates to being around kids a little more often. (43)
  • The words that helped in the example were those that focused on what would make things better rather than what would not be happening in her life.  Asking why things happen to us and discussing what is wrong in our lives rarely gives us any direction. (44)
  • It’s better to look for times when we are achieving what we want, even if it’s on a small scale. (44)


Consider Your System Before Moving Forward

  • Your system involves your significant others and anyone else with whom you interact on a fairly regular basis. (45)
  • Your system may involve your current partner or spouse, family, of origin (parents, step-parents or adoptive parents), children, employer and colleagues at work, and friends and acquaintances. (45)
  • Consider the people who will be affected mostly by the new changes in your life.  Include those who will be there to applaud your progress and those who might not feel positive about your change. (46)
  • Think of some other small changes your system has made successfully in the past.  What assets and beliefs seemed to help the people in your system adapt to those changes, even if those changes were difficult for them? (47)
  • Systems can be resistant because those involved will have to adjust to your changes.  Some may resist adjusting. (49)


Getting Better All the Time

  • Look for exceptions every day.  Before you fall asleep, think about what worked for you that day.  Look beyond the problem and what did not work and focus, focus, focus on what did. (55)
  • Whatever they are, your exceptions will always be the answer during frustrating times. (55)



Chapter 4:  Write Your Action Plan for Change


Whenever I inquire about a person’s behavior in other situations, I can see him through a different lens.  This technique ultimately provides me with information on my client’s valuable competencies outside of the situation of concern. (58)


Changing Legacies by Changing Descriptions

  • How we describe ourselves influences how we act and interact in our lives. (61)
  • If the way you describe yourself keeps you stuck, perhaps it’s time to redescribe yourself. (61)
  • My intention was to help him view himself differently.  The problem became the issue, not him.  Instead of being an angry person, he became a person bothered by an anger habit.  Then he could formulate a strategy to control the habit.  That’s easier than changing yourself.  As you begin to develop your Action Plan, think of yourself as a person who has stepped out of a problem into a Miracle Day during which life works the way you want it. (61, 62)
  • Descriptions label the people, giving them cause to behave a certain way.  A sexual abuse victim will act very differently from a person who sees herself as a sexual abuse survivor.  A different perception of a terrible incident makes all the difference. (62)



Chapter 5:  Recognize Your Success


It was more helpful to identify the days that went better than talk about the problem. (72)


Common Threads Weave Similar Miracles

  • They each involved people seeing only problems and not exceptions, until they learned to recognize their exceptions.  They were stuck in stories that only seemed to be headed for unhappy endings.  They were too focused on pinpointing their problems to take a break, step back and look at the times when the problems did not intrude. (72)
  • They were given assignments to watch for the opposite of adversity… times when life worked better. (72)
  • What went better today, yesterday or any day at work, home, etc.? (73)


Chapter 6:  Give Your Marriage a Miracle


Felix and Elaine thought they needed to reinvent their marriage.  They thought they needed new ideas to do so.  In the dialogue, they talked about what they used to do that worked.  These are the exceptions that compose their miracle. (78)



Chapter 7:  Parenting Your Small Miracle


Parenting Young Children:  Externalize and Mesmerize

  • Give your child an opportunity to conquer the problem through new actions.  You can also help by collaborating on how you will conquer the problem. (104)
  • I spoke of the fear as something outside of Joey and blamed the fear for pushing Joey out of bed. (104)
  • Let’s go twenty years into the future.  A reporter wants to interview Cecilia about what her life was like at age five, living with Daddy and Mommy.  Over the next week I want you to think about what you hope she tells the reporter. (106)



Chapter 8:  Take Control of Harmful Habits


When dealing with harmful habits, The Miracle Question involves searching extensively for exceptions, times when the habit is not occurring. (111)



*No notes from Chapter 9



Chapter 10:  You Miracle Journal


Thoughts, beliefs, and actions that helped you to achieve the above exceptions. (141)

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