At the end of the day, the questions we ask ourselves determine the type of people we become.
When you’ve been running a successful personal development blog and life coaching business for the better part of a decade, one thing becomes crystal clear:
Everyone has the same basic wants and needs.
No kidding, over the years Angel and I have gotten to know thousands of people of different ethnic backgrounds, from different cities and countries, who live at various socioeconomic levels, and trust me, every one of us basically wants the same things. We want validation, love, happiness, fulfillment, money, and hopes for a better future. The way we pursue these needs is where things branch off, but the fundamentals are the same.
Think about it. If I ask you, “Quickly, in one sentence, what do you want most out of life?” I bet your rushed response is going to be something like, “I want to be happy, and have a healthy family, and a career I like that pays well, etc.” Your response is going to be so common and ubiquitous that it basically doesn’t even mean anything. Which is precisely why senseless, happy-go-lucky questions like this aren’t very helpful. And yet, this is precisely the kind of questions we often ask ourselves.
So what kind of questions might you ask instead? Questions that force you into a corner. Questions that help you embrace the sacrifices it takes to get where you want to go. Questions that motivate you to focus on the next step forward. In other words, questions like…
- What is worth suffering for? – If you want the benefits of something in life, you have to also want the costs. If you want the six-pack abs, you have to want the sweat, the sore muscles, the early mornings at the gym, and the low carb meals. If you want the successful business, you have to also want the late nights, the risky business deals and decisions, and the possibility of failing fifty times to learn what you need to know to succeed. If you find yourself wanting something month after month, year after year, yet nothing happens and you never come any closer to it, then maybe what you actually want is just an idealization, a fantasy, and a false promise. Maybe you don’t actually want it at all, because you’re not willing to suffer though the work it’s going to take to achieve it.
- Based on my daily routines and actions, where can I expect to be in five years? – This question just backs up the first one. If you have an idea about what you want the next chapter of your life to look like, you have to DO things that support this idea every day. An idea, after all, isn’t going to do anything for you until you do something productive with it. In fact, as long as that great idea is just sitting around in your head it’s doing far more harm than good. Your subconscious mind knows you’re procrastinating on something that’s important to you. The necessary work that you keep postponing causes stress, anxiety, fear, and usually more procrastination – a vicious cycle that continues to worsen until you interrupt it with ACTION. (Read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)
- What do I need to spend more or less time doing going forward? – Most of us spend way too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important. In other words, productivity is not just about getting things done, it’s about getting the right things done. At the end of each day, look at how you have spent your time, and adjust the allocation as necessary for tomorrow. Do your best to get rid of your schedule’s complexities so you can spend more time on the things that matter. This means fine-tuning and eliminating all but the essential tasks, so you are left with only the ones that add value to your life. And above all, know when to set aside the important things for the vital things, like family.
- In service of what? – As Viktor Frankl so eloquently put it: “Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued, it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than one’s self.” So think bigger. Be a part of something greater than yourself. This could be anything. Some people take an active role in their local city council, some find refuge in their faith or family, some join social clubs supporting causes they resonate with, and others find passion in their careers. In each case the psychological outcome is the same. They engage themselves in something they strongly believe in. This engagement brings happiness, success, and meaning into their lives.
- What am I pretending not to know? – Reality denied always comes back to haunt. There are two ways to be fooled by your own subconscious. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true. Both are tragic forms of self-deception, because the person who lies to herself and listens to her own lies comes to a point that she cannot distinguish the truth within her, or around her, and so loses respect for herself and for others she cares about. Don’t be this person. All possibilities open up when we stop deceiving ourselves.
- What old rejections are still holding me back today? – All too often we let the rejections of our past dictate every move we make. We literally do not know ourselves to be any better than what some opinionated person or narrow circumstance once told us was true. Of course, an old rejection doesn’t mean we aren’t good enough; it just means some person or circumstance from our past failed to align with what we had to offer at the time. It means we were graced with more time to improve our thing – to build upon our ideas, to perfect our craft, and indulge deeper in to the work that moves us. Don’t let old rejections take up permanent residence in your head. Kick them out on the street. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- What do I not want others to know about me? – This question cuts right to the heart of your insecurities. Let it remind you that problems and flaws are a part of everyone’s life. If you try to hide them, you don’t give the people in your life a chance to truly know you and love you. And you allow small problems to escalate and dominate your self-confidence. When you make a mistake, it might be irritating, but don’t bury it. Be open about it, address it, and move on. Our problems are really our blessings if we use them to grow stronger. And, ultimately, the people who belong in your life will see your problems and flaws simply as signs that you are just as human as they are.
- Are the people around me helping me or hurting me? – A big part of who you become in life has to do with who you choose to surround yourself with. And as you know, it is better to be alone than in bad company. You simply cannot expect to live a positive, fulfilling life if you surround yourself with negative people. Distancing yourself from these people is never easy, but it’s a lot harder when they happen to be close friends or family members. As hard as it may be, it’s something you need to address. To a certain degree, luck controls who walks into your life, especially as it relates to your family and childhood friends, but you decide who you spend the majority of your time with.
- How are my “shoulds” getting in the way of my “haves”? – The desires of our ego are often in conflict with the emotions of our heart. Find your balance between planning and presence – between striving and appreciation. Work hard, but don’t go looking for something better every second. You must be willing to loosen your grip on the life you have planned so you can enjoy the life that is waiting for you in this moment. It may not be everything you want for your future, but it’s everything you need right now. Experience it and appreciate it.
- What is worth smiling about right now? – As Shawn Achor describes in his book The Happiness Advantage, a recent scientific study showed that doctors who are put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis consistently experience significant boosts to their intellectual abilities than doctors in a neutral state, which allows them to make accurate diagnoses almost 20% faster. The same study then shifted to other vocations and found that optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by over 50%. Students primed to feel happy before taking math tests substantially outperform their neutral peers. So it turns out that our minds are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative, or even neutral, but when they are positive.
At any given moment, life is filled with unanswered questions, but it is the courage to seek these answers that continues to give our lives meaning. Honestly, you can spend your life wallowing in despair, wondering why you were the one who was led down a road strewn with trouble and confusion, or you can be grateful that you are strong enough to survive it and step forward.
So with that said, which of the questions above hit home the most? Why? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights with us.
Photo by: Marco Bellucci