We don’t realize that we are carrying on an internal dialog with ourselves, but we do it every day. The problem is most of the time we are not consciously aware of it, which means our subconscious is running on autopilot. Our brain has a bias designed to help us survive, so left on its own it will usually think about what can go wrong and how to avoid danger. However, when you ask yourself high-quality questions, you engage your prefrontal cortex to go to work for you.
The Best Kind of Questions
Questions that focus on where you’re headed (not where you’ve been) are the ones most likely to get you to the results you want. The best questions have been around for hundreds, even thousands of years, which is why they are so valuable. When you feel like you are struggling with your business, ask yourself the following questions, and write your answers in a journal. The writing process slows down the mind, allowing you to see your thoughts more clearly and you can track your progress over time:
- Why am I choosing to feel this way? The power of this question is that it asks you to see that you choose our thoughts, they don’t “happen” to us. The answer to the question will be some version of a thought you think is true about yourself, other people or a circumstance. But remember our thoughts are not facts, they are interpretations. Other thoughts are available if we want to think them.
- How do I want to feel? Asking how we want to feel can jolt you into the awareness that you have a choice. If you are angry because someone hit your car, you may say that you have a right to be angry, you are going to be late and the repairs are going to be inconvenient. These thoughts you are thinking lead you to believe we should feel angry. But stop for a minute, do you really want to feel angry? Consider that you are the one physically feeling the anger, not the other person. Even if they can clearly see that you are angry at them, they are not literally feeling your anger in their body, they are feeling their own feelings. You are the one causing yourself to feel bad. Circumstances don’t dictate how you feel. You could choose to think how fortunate it is that no one was hurt or imagine how you would feel if you had caused the accident or any number of other thoughts. You decide how to feel by the thoughts you think, even though this is not intuitive.
- What am I making this mean? This question intentionally prompts you to see that you are the one assigning meaning to a circumstance and that you have a choice.
- What else could this mean? To answer this question, you have to imagine other possibilities. This is where you exercise your power to create the future because you purposefully choose what you want circumstances to mean. Even in a “negative” situation, you can choose a positive meaning, even if it is only that you are glad you are aware of the situation instead of having it hidden from view.
- What advice would your future self give you? Picture your future self, having achieved the goal or resolved the issue, looking back on you now from a place of success. This future self would likely say some version of “This is just a step along the way, keep going.” Write down any other thoughts or advice you believe your future self would give you.
- What if you did know what to do? This is especially useful when you are feeling overwhelm, confusion, or doubt. Command your mind to answer this question and it will. Remember that there really is no wrong action because the worst that will happen is that you will get more information in terms of feedback about the action you took. The worst thing you can do is nothing. The second worst thing you can do is take action from a place of feeling bad, such as you feel when you are overwhelmed or confused. Your feelings come from the thoughts you think. Expect that things will work out.
- Where else does this happen in my life? We develop patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting which often lead to similar results. These patterns point to core beliefs. Because many beliefs are formed during childhood to keep you safe, they may be holding you back as an adult and especially as an entrepreneur. We are unaware of many of these beliefs, but patterns provide us with clues. Once you discover a pattern that points to a core belief, you can use the belief process later in the book to replace it.
- How is this good for me? Many times, a circumstance you think is a disaster causes you to change in a way that will lead you to even greater success. The lost client or employee who quit. The relationship that failed. When these circumstances happen, you can use the opportunity to notice your automatic habit of thinking and this question prompts you to choose what you make it mean. It can turn out that the circumstance is the best thing that could happen because of how you grow in response to it.
- What would the best version of me do? Instead of resisting or reacting to situations, can you allow and accept circumstances as neutral and act with poise and grace? Can you set an example for others?
- What do I want? Most of the time when I ask this question to clients, the first answer is about what they don’t want. So much time is spent pushing away from what we don’t want that we don’t even realize we are doing it. Focusing on what we don’t want just makes it more prevalent in our thoughts. When you ask yourself what you do want, answer it honestly. Not what you think you deserve or what you think you should want but what you really want. As soon as you identify what you want, notice your thoughts about whether you deserve it or can have it.
Recruit Your Brain
Your brain will answer any question you give it, and it’s important to phrase your questions to receive the best answers possible. When you ask a better quality question, you get a better quality answer. Asking “Why can’t I get everything done?” instructs your brain to find all the reasons, like “Because you are disorganized, you don’t plan, you overcommit, etc.” These answers not only make you feel bad but more importantly, they don’t lead to answers. Asking “How can I get everything done that is important?” will lead to concrete answers, like “Prioritize, focus on one thing at a time, block out my calendar, turn off my phone, build a cushion,” etc.
There is a very important reason for creating the daily practice of asking yourself these specific questions. The answers show you your habitual patterns of thinking. You can’t change what you don’t see and until you become aware of how your mind interprets the world around it, your mind is operating on automatic pilot. You may be reacting to circumstances in ways you are not even consciously choosing. Instead, use these questions to surface the thoughts and beliefs in your subconscious and recruit your brain to develop new ways of thinking that not only feel better, but that get better results.