The questions we ask ourselves determine the quality of our lives.
Only a few years ago, my life was sad. I didn’t like my job, the people around me weren’t the ones I needed, and I felt like a hamster running a bike. I didn’t understand it then, but it was mostly because I wasn’t asking the right questions.
Instead of asking myself, “How can I change this for the better?” I shook my head, “Why is this happening to me?” This is not the question that leads you to decisions.
In the end, I somehow managed to realize that successful people from every sphere of life are united by one important skill – to ask good questions. Then I tried to gather some such excellent questions that would help me get out of the “hole”, remove my inner limitations and make me start thinking differently.
They are 10 and have radically changed not only my life but also the business of our company. I hope they help you too.
1. What will happen if you forgive?
I found this question with Tim Ferris, author of the best-selling 4-hour work week. We, humans, tend to overcomplicate a situation or problem. Or, as Confucius said, “Life is simple, but we keep complicating it.” We don’t notice it because it doesn’t happen all at once. When we face a problem, we find a solution. And then another. And one more. In the end, we have a whole bunch of solutions, which in itself becomes a problem. I’ve always learned to ask myself, “How could this be simplified?” or “What if we simplify this?” This is a question that can save you hundreds of hours of work in the future.
2. What can I do in the next 6 months to achieve my goals for the next 10 years?
If this question sounds too ambitious, you probably haven’t asked it yet. And Peter Till advises us to ask it to overcome our inner limitations. This does not mean that you can achieve a long-term goal in 6 months. But it will make you go beyond your current capabilities and determine the necessary steps towards the goal. As complex as the answer to this question may be, it has helped our business think more boldly and on a larger scale.
3. If this is my last day on Earth, would I be proud of it?
Most of us behave as if we will live forever. The purpose of this question is not to be upset, but to remind yourself of reality. This is the question that motivates me every day to work with full dedication and to treat people with the respect they deserve.
4. What is on the other side of fear?
First, everyone tends to exaggerate their fears. When we are afraid to go on stage in front of an audience, the probability of being physically injured is close to 0%. So, what’s on the other side of fear? Nothing.
And yet, I use this question to remind myself that whenever I’m excited or afraid to do something, it’s usually the most important thing I have to do. Therefore, this is a sign that I need to do it right away.
5. “Yes, damn it”?
I love Derek Sievers! He has a unique approach to business and a unique philosophy of life. One of his most popular articles is about what he calls “Yes, damn it” or “No, damn it.” The idea is that you feel overwhelmed and exhausted because you say too much “Yes”. As a result, you are overwhelmed with a huge amount of “good opportunities” instead of focusing on the best. Ask yourself, “Is this, yes, damn it, or not?” It will help you say “No” to almost anything and discover new opportunities that will inspire you.
6. Is there anything that will make the rest easier or less necessary?
Another way to formulate Peter Till’s question (№ 2). Its essence is that there is only one thing that is your strongest asset, no matter what field you work in. As Derek Sievers’ question (№ 5) shows, it is often more important to choose what should not be done to focus on what is important.
7. When, if not now?
I used to fight procrastination. Every time I didn’t want to do something, I put it off for a long time, hoping the matter would resolve itself. It was a losing strategy. The “When, if not now?” The tactic has been used by many leaders but was popularized by Eckhart Tole, author of The Power of the Present. I ask myself this question every time I find myself postponing an important decision or task. The question of “when” makes me set a deadline for the completion of what I want to postpone, instead of saying to myself “some other time” that may never happen.
8. How to ensure failure?
Richard Branson may enjoy the fame of an adventurer, but he is also known for always having a plan for possible failure. Before launching Virgin Atlantic, Branson agreed with Boeing that he would return all aircraft if things did not work out. He thus ensured himself against heavy fixed financial losses that could paralyze his business. This is not just Branson’s patent. Many successful entrepreneurs are not risk-takers. On the contrary, they strive to avoid risks and are always looking for opportunities to ensure against failure. The best way I’ve found for myself to minimize risk – both in business and in life – is to prepare for it before it happens. The habit of asking ourselves this question helps us plan for the worst-case scenarios, and frankly, it helps us sleep more peacefully at night.
9. Is this happening or is it my version?
Many of the things we think of as real events are just scenarios that we draw in our heads. Someone is not smiling in response to our greeting, and we are already making up a story in our head, although it is possible that the person may not have noticed us. I have noticed that when I cheat on myself when things don’t go my way, my worst fears come true. That is why to this day I continue to learn to separate my “own story” from what happened. I often recall a useful thought by Tony Robbins: “To be true leaders, people must first and foremost see things as they are, not worse than they are.”
10. And why don’t I do the exact opposite?
“Every time you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to stop and think,” said Mark Twain. This is one of my favorite quotes. We need to keep reminding ourselves that to do something meaningful, we need to do things differently than others do. Swimming downstream, we have to face many conflicts, skeptics, and even envious people who do everything possible to sink our boat. That is why it is so easy to be on the side of the majority if you do not always try to question the traditional ways of doing something.
It is always worth considering whether the traditional way is the best or it seems to us, simply because everyone else does. For myself, I have concluded that in most cases the latter is true.