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.
This article was co-written by Marc and Angel and Mark Manson, and inspired by Mark’s insightful work which can be found here.
Photo by: Marco Bellucci
Great post! In some way, every single one of these questions resonate with me. Right now #7 hits home the most. I often battle with my insecurities. It’s one of the main reasons I started reading your blog and book. And it’s also why I’m interested in your course, which I will be joining soon. I getting a better handle on myself and my emotions, but it takes lots of practice on my behalf.
Also, to add to the list, I often ask myself:
Are my actions and efforts adding value to my life and the lives of those I care about?
Robin Lassel says
Number 2 is question I need to ask more often: Based on my daily routines and actions, where can I expect to be in five years?
A secondary question that would reinforce that one might be: What could I have spent more/less time doing?
Recently I definitely, definitely could have spent less time checking social media this week. I am very aware that a lot of my time is spent going between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. I am going to try to unplug this weekend and see how things go.
More time could have been spent on my core goals. I was really motivated at the end of the week, but for some reason, as the week progressed I started feeling a bit lost and not sure how to approach them. Hopefully I can get back on track today.
Lei Lani Lucero says
As usual, you have provided what is useful in my life at this moment!
I always ask myself “Am I being true to myself, to my values?” Is what I am doing adding to my life and the lives of others? Am I spreading happiness and joy like manure to see what grows in my wake?”
I have to keep reminding myself that all of my responsibilities are ones that I choose, every day,, and I have to remember that I can always change my direction.
I am writing my own story, and your blog posts, and the comments from others are a vital tool keeping me on my true path.
Wow! This is a thought-provoking list of questions. Number 9 really hits home right now. We must be careful that, as we strive toward our goals, we also make time to appreciate the life we are presently living. Otherwise, we risk sending the message to our loved ones that we are not happy and that the life we have is not enough.
I’m bookmarking this to refer back to when I need to really reflect.
Pamina Mullins says
Brilliant questions Marc – that make us take responsibility for the quality of our lives, instead of regurgitating vague and generic answers!
Well put, Marc. I’d say for me #8 is the most profound question I need to start asking myself more. Usually I find that the people around me are NOT a benefit to my mission, but letting go is difficult for a multitude of reasons.
A question I find myself asking myself every day when I start to feel my temper heat up (mildly) is: Am I creating more suffering by being resistant to what IS?
I think that all of these points are very thought provoking. Number three stands out for me the most. I find that there has to be a good balance daily between work and personal life. The struggle I face in a productive day is finding time for aspirations. Taking time for things that inspire me keep my life in balance. On the days where I put my aspirations aside I will feel a void. A sense of – what is all this hard work really for? – kind of feeling. Many thanks for your inspirational, thought provoking blog!
Your post hit the nail on the head. I have let daily “less important stuff” get in the way of the bigger picture. Thanks for the reminder and instilling the motivation to get back to work on the impactful big stuff that matter. -Doc
Marc and Angel,
I have been reading your emails for a few months now, and find them very helpful! After reading this one. Item #1 seems to hit me the hardest. I ask myself if I’m willing to endure the pain, and put forth the effort to start my own business after my retirement ( in 6 months). Am I mentally prepared to accept the fact that I may fail a number of times before it actually takes off. I know in my heart that the idea of my business is going to be a success, but am I able to stay focused, persevere, and be determined enough to make it work. I have spoken with a number of my close friends about my business idea, and all of them say it’s a great idea. Now I feel more compelled to succeed, not only for myself, but to show my friends that I can make it happen, and make it a success. I’m always going to pray for guidance in this, and so far, it has been a great start on setting the foundation for this venture.
Very thought provoking post. And it have enjoyed reading the replies so far… equally thought provoking.
Very, very good !!
I really like the introduction.
But question #1 stopped me dead in my tracks.
“What is worth suffering for?”…
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.”
How is this different than no pain, no gain? What if I want to feel better about myself?
Then do things that make me feel better! What if I don’t feel better? Then I haven’t done enough (tried hard enough) of the things that would make me feel better, OR maybe I don’t want to feel better. Really!?
Maybe if I just tried harder, prayed harder, had more faith, etc. It’s just not that simple.
I love your emails. They make me be honest with myself. I have always been such a poser/pretender in my businesses. I’m great at telling others my great idea, but I rarely make it work. Do I not want it? Or am I just lazy? Then the self loathing begins…
#3 is the area that needs more attention, specifically, identifying – Acknowledging! – that I am allowing excuses to prevent me from working toward a goal I determined was important to me. It is showing in the overall form of procrastination, but is probably fear-based.
I have been able to shift my thinking on many other part so my life to get closer to what I want. I need to make this goal more attractive than the methods I use to procrastinate it.
Thanks for some continued great thoughts.
Michal from Poland says
I’ll make it short: GREAT SITE! My first day here and I’m very impressed as coming back after a hard day normally would mean … doing nothing. But after reading all this I feel even more energized than in the morning… just fantastic. Keep up the good work and … THANK YOU! 🙂
Recently i had a repeat experience in trying to explain “who” i was to a person who quickly typecast me and took offense when i simply tried. Apparently, her reasons for befriending me had to do with her need to find me in a group she preferred to ‘help’ and then told a mutual friend how she was ‘hurt’ by my brief “no, that’s not my experience; I’m okay with how i am (disability)”. Both have them have cut me off completely, with no further opportunity to explain my experiences to either of them. She claims to be all about “peace, love, and acceptance for all” but her actions don’t follow her claim. I just know I needed to speak up for myself; if the littlest attempt to do that gets shut off, no wonder I’ve found myself ‘speechless’ because that won’t get heard. But I have learned to recognize ignorance that some don’t want to let go of. I want to be tolerant of ignorant people but still need to be able to be honest about how their views of me don’t necessarily apply.
Once again, your articles and posts come to me when I NEED THEM MOST! It’s like you have universal intuition for all of us. I have to actually sit down with myself and explore ALL these questions. I feel so lost and uncertain the older I get and I thought this would not be the case. I thought the older you got the more clear things become. However, I have to keep remembering about the concept of “impermanance”. It seems people are changing left and right and even those friends who I’ve know forever seem like strangers. It seems everyone is out to “better deal” you or something and unhappiness is rampant. Then I get caught in the BULL until I come back to this website. I guess in short, THANKS for keeping things in perspective for all of us. There are days I feel I can’t go on and then I read your posts and I make it through another day. Aloha from Hawaii.
Rose Costas says
Another great article. they all resonate with me and I needed to hear it.
I have done the why me, pity party thing. I have also spend years being frustrated chasing success and all the other things that I could never get hold of and now have gone weary tired and exhausted and have given up chasing only to find out things are turning around for me.
I have now found that the person I thought I was I wasn’t and the things I cared for I didn’t and I am now loving the new person I am getting to know.
Thanks again for the great post..
Captain Kirk says
Thank you for this compelling post, that offers me an opportunity to share with our community.
4. In service of what?
In response to your comments on number 4,
A life of SERVICE is truly the most satisfying and fulfilling life. For many years, I have volunteered in a “community service” and dedicated most of my life to enhance the quality of life for others.
This lifetime of service can be both exhausting and exhilarating, and fuels each day with purpose and meaning. My life – and numerous memorable experiences validates – that one person can make a difference in the lives of many.
The true value of SERVICE to others is summarized with this perspective:
“We make a living by what we get.
We make a LIFE by what we give.”
– Winston Churchill
Thank you Marc and Angel for your passionate dedication to daily offering your wealth of services in public view (this website), and in your private lives with numerous other life-enriching experiences. You clearly are enhancing our lives by your lifetime of SERVICE.
Thank you to everyone in our community. Each member adds value and unique insight into the complicated, challenging, and ever-changing landscape of life.
My main focus in life is staying on the positive side in all my adventures including the many times that I have started a business. Failing has been a good learning experience that has given me strength and knowledge to try again!
Thank you for the thought provoking perspective.
I really prefer the written to the video blogs – and thanks for this one – since I can chew over the ideas and read and reflect on them at my own pace… Thanks!
Asking great questions is very important to find answers that are really meaningful. Breaking down the generic “what do you want most out of life?” into more concrete and specific questions is very helpful to face issues that matters in your life. So thank you for this gift 🙂
The questions that resonated the most for me were 4 (In service of what?) and 7 (What do I not want others to know about me?). I am feeling a discrepancy between what I am doing for living (in a successful way) and who I am and want to be. I am working on it though but it’s tough…
Thanks for the inspiration!
Bryan Collins says
Asking questions like these is a great way of figuring out if you’re working on the right things at the right time.
I try to ask myself “What will I write today?”. I find this question already contains a “Yes” and gets me to focus on writing.
Hazel Timpe says
An inspirational set of questions. As a life coach myself it is truly rewarding to read your take on life’s important questions versus the generic meaningless ones.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and as I specialise in procrastination and barriers in my business I shall certainly be utilising some of your valuable insights. Thank you for sharing.
Josie Thomson says
Loved this. Thank you. Last two points resonated deeply.
The whole process of changing includes the risk of answering GOOD questions. That way is the only one in order to know who I really am when I truly want to be ME ( genuily )and give more love and find love all around me in this world in constant movement. than you.
Matthew Cheyne says
This is as profound as it is brilliant. Consider this bookmarked!
I just really wanted to take a minute and say thank you. Thank you for getting up everyday and writing. You have a gift, and you’ve found it. Look at all of your followers! Look how many lives you brighten. Your words never seize to stop me- not believe what I’m reading- and have to re-read the sentences over and over. You make perfect sense! And it is the highlight of my day. You are like a breath of fresh air on a sunny day.
Thank you so much.
I am trying to be happy but not succeeding . Relationships continue to stress me . I try to move on and it keeps me at bay . I have been off and on with my girlfriend my life is changing and I have been moving towards a positive lifestyle but I can’t seem to get it right with her . I know she needs more but I feel I don’t have more I just have now . God is an important part of my life. Things she does it does not align with my faith I love her so much but I can’t seem to let her go. Today I start on that journey .
Marc Chernoff says
@All: I agree with you all – these questions are extremely thought-provoking and require us not only to reference them now, but again and again in the future. And as we grow and change so may our answers. Angel and I will be discussing the additional questions you suggested this week. Thank you!
WOW! #3 #6 and #8 hit me deep in my heart!! I’m gonna save this to my phone so that I can continue 2 reference it from time 2 time. Thank U so much!! I truly believe that reading this is goin 2 change my life 4 the better from this day forward!!
Thanks for this great post! Number 2 also resonates with me. So often we live in the past or future, yet don’t take action today, right now.
I like to replace “I want to be…” with “I am working towards…” because it not only keeps things in perspective, but helps you focus on what matters.
Looking forward to future posts like this!
I’m sure my journal will appreciate these questions. Thanks
Great questions to reflect on. The question, “What do I need to spend more or less time doing going forward is a question that I need to answer for myself?” will help me to accomplish my goals in life. Thanks for sharing.
edwin ireri says
Love your article. It is touching and helpful.
Kristine tan says
Yes it is very helpful for me specially that I was diagnose with chronic depression and PTSD
Thanks and more power
I, too, found each question useful & so helpful that I immediately sent them to a friend with whom I had a discussion last night touching on these “problems”– problems that will be helped immensely with these clarifying questions.
I did reword the one about “suffering” to make it more personalized to me. I have to quit needing instant gratification (which means maturing some & I am 60-years-old; I believe I can still reach my goals).
In certain areas I keep going for immediate “feeling good” (the chocolate cake) instead of learning to delay gratification to get the ultimate long-term gratification that comes from better health & feeling proud of myself for doing the “hard thing.”
I get so much useful info. & motivation from EVERY ONE OF YOUR ARTICLES.
DON’T STOP WRITING!
My favourite was Question 5, by far and away. The simple act of acknowledging that we have lies we tell ourselves, and truths that we ignore, makes it so much easier for them to all spill out. And boy oh boy do they spill. Such a good trigger for self-honesty, from which to build a more authentic existence. Love it.
Phuong Nguyen says
The article really enlightened me a lot. I’m quite a negative person who always worry about what others are thinking about and that leads to tons of depression. I feel like if people deeply know about me, they will use that to against me! Paradoxically, I want to be open more but my head always holds me back. #7, #9 and #10 resonate with me.