In the long run, the simple questions you ask yourself on a regular basis will determine the type of person you become.
“Today, I miss who I was. I miss the girl who had something to be proud of. I miss the girl who was genuinely happy in her own skin. I miss the girl who was innocent and free and thought for herself. I miss the girl who would look in the mirror and not see every flaw. I miss the girl who didn’t let the negative words of others bother her. I’ve transformed myself to make everyone else like me. But now I don’t like me. I really miss who I was.”
That’s the opening paragraph to a long, heartfelt email I received last night from a reader named Lori. Her email goes on to, inadvertently, describe nearly a dozen self-defeating questions she asks herself on a regular basis – questions I know for a fact she doesn’t even mean to be asking.
Negativity often breeds not from the answers we receive from this world, but from the questions we ask ourselves every day. Like Lori, if you ask negative questions, you will get negative answers. There are no positive answers to:
- “Why me?”
- “Why didn’t I?”
- “What if I’m not good enough?”
Think about it. Would you allow someone else to ask you the demoralizing questions you sometimes ask yourself? I doubt it. So stop and swap them for questions that push you in a positive direction. Here are some ideas to get you started…
- What could you be grateful for and positive about right now, if you really wanted to? – Your greatest weapon against stress and negativity is your ability to choose one thought over another. Happiness escapes from those who refuse to see the good in what they have. When life gives you every reason to be negative, think positive.
- What’s one problem you’re thankful you don’t have? – Smile right now; not because life has been easy, perfect, or exactly as you had anticipated, but because you choose to be happy and grateful for all the good things you do have, and all the problems you know you don’t have.
- What are you holding on to that you need to let go of? – Oftentimes holding on actually makes us weaker, and letting go builds our strength. Does that thing you were extremely upset about six months ago, or last year, really matter now? I bet it doesn’t. And if you’re still thinking about it, it’s not serving your best interests. (Read The Untethered Soul.)
- Who, or what, needs your forgiveness? – Forgiveness doesn’t always lead to healed relationships and situations. Some relationships and situations aren’t meant to be. Forgive anyway, and let what’s meant to be, BE. Go ahead and set yourself free. When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and break free.
- What’s the right thing to do? – Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Just because it’s easy, doesn’t mean it’s worth your while. Do what’s right, not what’s easy. It’s a far less stressful way to live.
- What’s something nice you can do for someone else right now? – Do all the good you can, to as many people as you can, as often as you can. No act of love and kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. Good vibes always come back around.
- What compliments have you received lately? – Remember, butterflies don’t know the color of their wings, but the human eyes know how beautiful they are. Likewise, in the haste of your busy days, you likely don’t notice just how great you are, but others nearby still see that you are incredible. When someone says something nice about you, it’s worth remembering.
- What do you know you’re great at? – Although it’s nice to hear people compliment you, it’s not essential to your self-worth. And if no one offers to give you a compliment, give yourself one. You are GOOD enough, SMART enough and STRONG enough. You don’t need other people to validate you every minute; you are VALUABLE! Notice your strengths, focus on them, and celebrate them.
- What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you? – Truth be told, you can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t try. Care less about what the haters say about you and smile more about what you know is true. Live your life and be happy with yourself, without their negative judgments. Practice listening to compliments and constructive criticism, and ignoring insults and negativity. It’s far from easy, but it’s worth working on.
- What activities help you feel most like yourself? – In other words, figure out what motivates you to grow into your most authentic self. And remember that you can’t grow unless you’re willing to change. But as you grow you’ll notice you don’t change much… you just become more of who YOU are.
- What gets you excited about life? – Think… If you truly wanted to be excited right now, what could you get excited about? Find it and focus on it more often. When you truly believe in what you’re doing, it shows and it pays. Success in life is for those who are excited about where they’re going. (Angel and I discuss this concept in more detail in the “Passion and Growth” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- What excuses do you need to stop making? – As George Washington once said, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” Nothing could be closer to the truth. If you are good at making excuses, you will never be good at anything else. No matter what the obstacles are that you see in front of you, the only thing truly standing between you and what you want is the excuse you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.
- If you learn from your mistakes, why are you always so afraid to make a mistake? – If you want to do it right, make lots of mistakes and accept a great deal of discomfort along the way. It might sound crazy, but it’s worth your while. In life, mistakes make you smarter and discomfort makes you stronger. Both are necessary growing pains.
- When was the unexpected better than what you expected? – When something goes wrong in your life, just yell, “Plot twist!” and then do your best to adapt. You won’t always get where you intended to go in life, but you will eventually arrive precisely where you need to be.
- What do you now know better for next time? – Don’t let your fear of past events affect the outcome of your future. Live for what today has to offer, not what yesterday has taken away. There will always be obstacles, but we are confined most often by the walls we build ourselves. What we see depends on how we look at it. Forget what you’ve lost and focus on what you’ve learned.
- What’s the next best step forward from here? – Every unwelcomed event, person or situation is really just a doorway into the next YOU. A stronger, wiser YOU. (Read Change Your Thoughts.)
- What’s priceless about this moment? – Step forward, but don’t rush. Don’t completely waste the season of life you are in now, simply because you want the next one to begin. There is always beauty waiting to be realized. Notice the goodness happening around you right now, even if you have to look a little harder than usual.
- When was the last time you noticed the sound of your own breathing? – Relax. You are enough. You have enough. You do enough. Breathe extra deep, let go and just live right now in the moment.
- Who do you need to spend less time with? – There are over seven billion people in the world right now; don’t let a handful of negative ones ruin your happiness. No, you can’t choose every person you meet in life, but you can choose who you spend your time with. So be thankful for the people who walk into your life and make it better, but also be thankful for the freedom to walk away from the ones who don’t.
- How have insignificant past rejections messed with your self-confidence? – Don’t let old rejections take up permanent residence in your head. Kick them out on the street. Realize that sometimes you have to try to do what you think you can’t do, so you realize that you actually CAN. And sometimes it takes more than one attempt. If ‘Plan A’ doesn’t work out, don’t fret; the alphabet has another 25 letters that would be happy to give you a chance to get it right. The wrong choices usually bring us to the right places, eventually. You just have to believe in your own potential to get there.
Life is filled with unanswered questions, but it is the courage to ask enough of the right ones that ultimately leads you to an understanding of yourself and your purpose.
You can spend your life wallowing in fear by avoiding the obvious, or asking negative questions like, “Why me?” Or you can be grateful that you’ve made it this far – that you are strong enough to breathe, walk and think for yourself – and then ask, “Where do I want to go next?”
What did I miss? What encouraging questions do you need to start asking yourself? Leave us a comment below and let us know.
Photo by: Moyan Brenn
Question #20 is the one I’ve been asking myself recently. My lack of self-confidence has been plaguing me. I had a series of very difficult situations this past spring, and I sunk down and my confidence was completely zapped. Difficult at any age, but I then felt badly that here I am, 51 years old, and I’m feeling so incredibly insecure. The downward shame spiral kicked in, and I’m now working my way back out of it. I think resilience is a practice – we have to build it up so that it’s there for us when we need it. Many of these items speak to self-care so that we’re resilient when we need it.
Thanks… will share these questions and thoughts as they are awesome triggers for getting in touch with the inner knowing and inner calling. I really identified with this because I have a hard time minimizing negative people from my life and I certainly struggle with maintaining a positive point of view sometimes.
My question I need to ask myself more often:
Why am I enough, just the way I am?
Susan Rae says
“Where do I want to go?” is a question I’ve only recently started to ask myself. I want to change so many things and do so much more. And over the past year, I’ve made a lot of changes and discovered a confidence in myself that makes that hunger for change even stronger. Some of this confidence comes directly from the little pep talks I have regularly received from your emails and audiobook.
I’m slowly learning to make the EFFORT to live in the present, aim at the next step (not the goal), and accept that stumbling is part of traveling. I’m a slow learner, but I’m on a good path and believe I’ll get to where I’m supposed to be if I focus on my balance and keep moving. Thanks for another great write-up right when I needed it.
Very useful article.
Questions are a tremendous way to focus our mind to any subject (ultimately Emotions) we choose to.
Great post as always… The question I need to ask myself is: “Why am I friends with this person?” I’m tired of my negative friend who is also manipulative, and every time time I talk to her I feel her negativity seeping through to me. I’ve taken the first step: Limiting all communication. Hopefully, I hope I can be the girl I was before I met her (driven, happy, optimistic).
The first paragraph almost brought tears to my eyes. Reading it, I felt as if I was looking into my own life. Anyway, I’m done trying to live my life in any way others want. And thank you guys for posting this right when I needed it. 🙂
I really like this. I need to copy the questions in my journal. Thanks for stimulating my mind. 🙂
I think those questions are brilliant. I don’t have anything to add right at this moment in time but I do love the variety of questions. They’re both targeted at ourselves and our relationships with other people but I guess I’m not entirely sure how to solve my own problems though I do suspect they’re quite a bit stress related as I have my exams in a week and it’s got to the point where one feels like one will just forget everything. Though I do trust my brain isn’t as awful as that 😛 Have a great one and thank you!
For me it is also a powerfull one:
What would you do if you could not fail?
Another great writeup!
It’s very true that my thinking has made me feel happier even at the most worst situations. I have started realizing it now and I like the way I can change my mind by asking the right questions.
It was a massive shock when I was diagnosed with cancer in late 2012 and my world fell apart. I vacated my “normal” world for a while and went through surgery, chemotherapy, hair loss and radiotherapy. I happily admit that I lost my way for a while, but I believe I needed time to adjust, to hurt, to be angry, to pull myself and my precious family into a big protective bubble.
During that time, I met some wonderful new people and got involved in some wonderful new things. A lady I met along the way wrote down a quote that has helped her and I keep it with me in my purse. It reads: when life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, give life 1,000 reasons to smile.
A year and a half on, I am in remission and I have an amazing head of thick curly hair. I feel blessed that throughout all the dark times, my light of hope kept shining to lead me back my “normal” world, but with a new insight.
No matter how tough life gets, there is always hope.
If I wanted to feel grateful right now, what could I think about? – This is a question I try to ask myself whenever I’m feeling down.
David Rapp says
Read some great stories on forgiveness recently. I’ll paraphrase here. Forgiveness does not erase the past. It does not let the other party of the hook for their past deeds, words or actions. It does not free you from pain, loss or regret.
Forgiveness puts all of that negativity into a box. It puts boundaries around it. And then it allows you the choice of moving forward one of two ways:
with another box of experience on the shelf, or still dragging the anchor only you can feel on your heels.
Dave Nordella says
I loved the declaration made in # 14. “Plot twist!” What a great way of confirming the spirit of adventure in your life.
Why waste time beating yourself up when things don’t work out like you thought they should? Step in and take action anyway. You can still deliver abundance into your life.
Sandra Pawula says
These are powerful questions! And this is so true: “Think about it. Would you allow someone else to ask you the demoralizing questions you sometimes ask yourself? I doubt it. So stop and swap them for questions that push you in a positive direction.”
I would add, “What do you love about yourself.” You more or less have it covered, but it’s a slight variation that might bring out something new.
Okorie Victor says
You guys are doing really great. I’m grateful to Providence that made me come across this site. Your writings have really influenced me in countless ways! I just want to say God bless you guys richly! I’m going to ask a question here and I hope to hear from you… please what’s the source of your inspiration? Thanks. Anticipating your kind response. -Victor
Mary Lou Green says
First of all, Lori is a great writer. I felt like I was inside you when I read your description. Marc, Lori’s heartfelt email was a brilliant opening to your post. Thank you both for giving me such a great read and food for thought. I made my own list of the 20 questions so I can see them and think about them while sometimes doing mindless tasks.
Marc Mawhinney says
#3 is a powerful one. Most people are being held back by something, and they probably don’t even realize it. Every minute spent thinking about something that has happened in the past (a mistake, a grudge, etc) is one less minute that can be used to move forward with positive action.
Once again a wonderful stuff to read… Insight and wisdom level 9000+ 🙂 thank you…
My question would be, “why am I so hard on myself all the time?” I’m trying to get out of this mindset, but it sure is a long hard process.
@Melissa, spot on and thank you. I wish you the best.
Again, I am trying one day at a time. Thank you for this “in my face” post.
Abe Stone says
Thank you Marc. That’s one of the beautiful secrets of coaching. I love how just asking the right questions changes everything. Sometimes we are stuck in crazy eight thought patterns whether they are negative thoughts, or simply stifled potential. Learning how to ask powerful questions is one of the best tools anyone seeking to grow can employ. Take care!
@Melissa – I am at exactly the same spot – hang in there! I have beaten myself up so many times I should have a shiny belt and a world title. I would never let anyone say those things to my children, so why should I do that to myself?
Kindness is a practice we must start with ourselves. So easy to say, so much harder to put in place. To remember that we have the choice of our thoughts – there is the key.
Many blessings my friends – let us be kind to ourselves, and then to the world.
Fayaz Pasha says
A thought provoking post indeed. Most of the times we ask questions about everything on earth except asking some important questions that may change our perception and perhaps our life too.
Thanks again Marc and Angel for the wonderful post.
The Navigator says
I take on board the inspirational thoughts of choosing to have a positive outlook on where I have been, where I am and where I may be headed. When the storms of life leave one exhausted physically, emotionally and spiritually it takes energy, commitment and determination to take ownership to push aside the negativity. Talking to a trusted friend, keeping a personal journal, finding a place, without distractions, to just muse over the views of fields or the sea can start to change one’s view of the horizon. Shalom
Very informative post. We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking. Our thoughts today create our life tomorrow.
“What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?”
It’s hard to avoid the feeling of being judged. And as you said, the problem is we don’t like it if we are judged badly.
As I began reading this post, I thought to myself ‘he could be writing about me!’ According to my mother (the only person I share my true self with), I am a self-defeating negative person. And I never realized it until she pointed it out. Just as you’ve done with the letter that prompted this post. I too always ask the negative questions and receive the negative responses and somehow even turn positive feedback into negative criticism. And thus begins the spinning cyclone of negativity. So, Question 1, right off the bat is the thing I struggle with most. Trying to catch each negative thought and turn it around. And let me just say; it’s HARD WORK!! And it takes constant self-auditing. And sometimes, actually most of the time, the negative thoughts still win. Because they’re easier. They’ve become a habit.
But thank goodness for websites like yours because you keep reminding me that I can choose to think positive. I can choose to see a little mistake (or a big unexpected event) as a “plot twist.” So thank you, this is an awesome post, and one that I will no doubt return to for inspiration many times in the coming months.
Great article! Love this!
I think my question is definitely: what gets you excited about life?
For me finally coming into my own and taking that jump at finding my purpose. which is writing and sharing life stories, mine and others.
I am finding it at a later stage in life and I think that is really what propels me because I don’t have much time to put my all into this.
Since I decided to go for the gusto life has sped up drastically and I feel like running with the wind to the sun is by far the most exciting thing. To have discovered my purpose, is bliss.
So many of us are prone to negativity and self-doubt. I was reading an article today about women’s self-confidence and how it differs from men’s over time. One thing that hit me hard was that research showed that in the same situation (interviewing for a job), the majority of men would ask themselves “Who wouldn’t want me?” when the majority of women would ask themselves “Who would want me?” Ahhh, the difference two characters makes! We should ALL ask ourselves “Who wouldn’t want me?” This version of the question could help defuse that negative thought.
Awesome piece of writing. Another question I ask myself, which makes me see right through the mist of negativity is “What do I really want in life?” Do these people I worry about, the frivolous behaviour, being judgemental about others and myself.. How is what I am thinking right now leading me to what I really want. Keeping a vision of who you really want to become; a better person, a success in business or just about anything will help steer your mind of the clouds of negativity.
Nabila Kamran says
Having a sense of humor is also so beneficial you can always enjoy a joke. Keeping yourself and others entertained is as much a duty to yourself as to others. We always like ourselves more if we don’t take ourselves and our opinions oh’ so seriously. Thanks for a great read!
Cindy London says
What a fabulous post. I have re-posted it on my blog to be published today. Love your ideas. I resonate greatly with you!! Keep going, my friend!
Cindy London, MS
Marc Chernoff says
@Gail: Your story is so incredibly inspiring. I’m so happy you got a second chance at life. And even better, you get to live it with a beautiful new perspective. Best of luck to you.
@David Rapp: I love your take on forgiveness. I couldn’t agree more. Forgiveness is one of the core foundations of inner peace and positivity.
@Dave Nordella: You got it – nothing happens without positive action!
@Okorie Victor: Thanks for the kindness. We gather our inspiration from the incredible people we interact with every day, from the adversities we strive to overcome, and from the incredible wisdom of those who came before us.
@All: Thank you for sharing your questions and insight with us. Yet, again you have given Angel and I lots to think about for upcoming posts. We appreciate you like you can’t imagine.
adesanya seum says
This is wonderful advice!
Something little you guys said hit me. # 18 of this paper..it was the part about breathing. I was kidnapped 4 years ago, and I changed. I used to be confident, and now i’m a very unsure person. I literally watch other people breathe or how they stand, or sit or even walk, bc its like i forgot how to and how to just be myself! Its horrible really. I don’t even know who i am anymore, and can’t be myself even alone when by myself. Like I’m constantly I dunno..just not free still. The last 7 months i’ve changed though. God intervened. Long story short, i’m in counciling and alot of what you Marc, and Angel say..I have learned in counseling and in my program! But you 2 know more, and really know how to say it 2 get to me..making it seem so simple. You 2 are amazingly smart and not just that..you are exactly right.
Anyways, you talked on this page about breathing, which is # 18. You asked “When was the last time you noticed the sound of your own breathing?” And i always stray away from hearing myself and definitely freeze up and act. stop breathing if someone is looking at me..you guys said to relax, and that I’M enough, and to breathe EXTRA deep and LIVE in the MOMENT! That just helped me SO much and i’m going to practice doing that, and do it more whenever i get anxiety or panic and freeze! I’m just gonna breathe extra deep..bc every time i panic and stop breathing, i don’t live in the moment. i can’t focus and i lose oxygen to my brain! lol don’t know why i do it so..its worth a try doing what you said! thank you.. I figure..obviously what i’m doing isn’t working, so what do i lose trying what you say will work? I appreciate both of you. You are angels. You are helping me get my life back..
This is a really great list of questions. I’ve definitely kept a few to go back to whenever I feel my mind straying to the dark side. Life isn’t about finding all the answers but just the ones we need to move forward, and it’s hard to remember that sometimes. Sharing your post with one of my favorite questions on our Twitter!
Catherine | The Single Diaries
Life lessons for women in their 20s
The Queen of Dreaming says
Thanks for this article, I’m quite in a bad period of my life and now I’ll start to motivate myself with these questions!
Frank Steiner says
“What’s the right thing to do?” This is the ultimate question to get rid of negativity. This is the question I use to motivate myself from time to time.
Thanks for the thought provoking blog post.
For me it is all about asking questions that will elicit the positive response. So instead of the “why me?” victim questions, they should be turned into “let’s start” questions.
Instead of “why does my boss keep criticising me?” maybe a question such as “how can I change my working life to be appreciated more?”
What do you think?
I wonder every day about one thing you mention in your list….I search every single day of my life about how I need to go. I realize my situation is unique and that this is a pseudo-relationship site, but I cannot be hurt on some level by your #3. I am, somewhere in here, an exceptionally confident woman, however, I cannot get over the death of my husband after a 25 yr. relationship. I KNOW, I KNOW…this chick needs to be on a grief website. Gotcha-I really do. But regardless or not if someone dies or not, there are always great things to hold on to from every relationship. Perhaps what you are implicating is those thoughts that pollute a woman’s mind and make her feel inadequate or whatever. Whatever the case, there are always good things and lessons to take with you. Perhaps I’m looking too deeply into your answer.
Beautiful post Marc!
Loved it. Mine is: What is the worst that could happen?
Nicolle Acosta says
This is beautiful, keep changing the world!