Most of the time our minds are running on autopilot. The problem is when we are not consciously aware of our thoughts, they can lead to feelings and actions we don’t want, like feeling anxiety and overworking and overeating. Our brain has a bias designed to help us survive, so left on its own it usually thinks about what can go wrong and how to avoid danger. But your internal dialogue does not need to be a constant loop of negative thoughts. When you ask yourself high-quality questions, you can 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. When you feel like you are struggling, ask yourself the following questions:
- Why am I choosing to feel this way? The power of this question is that it asks you to see that you choose your thoughts. Your thoughts don’t just happen to you. The answer to this question will be some version of a thought you think is true about yourself, other people or a circumstance. However, 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 you want to feel can jolt you into the awareness that you have a choice. If you are angry because someone hit your car, you could 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 will lead you to believe you 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. 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 by purposefully choosing 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 overwhelmed, confused, or doubtful. Command your mind to answer this question and it will. Know that there really is no wrong action because the worst that will happen is that you will get more information. The least effective thing you can do is nothing. The second worst thing you can do is take action from a place of feeling bad. 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, they may be holding you back as an adult and especially as an entrepreneur. While we may be unaware of many of these beliefs, our patterns can provide us with clues. Once you discover a pattern that points to a core belief, you can replace it using the strategies below.
- How is this good for me? Many times, a circumstance you initially think is a disaster causes you to change in ways 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 what you choose to make it mean. If you consciously choose your thoughts, that disastrous circumstance could turn out to be the best thing that could have happened. It’s all about how you grow from 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 then act with poise and grace? Can you set an example for others? We can be our own greatest role models.
- What do I want? Most of the time when I ask clients this question, their first answer is actually 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.
These questions alone can be life-changing. But in case you want to take it to the next level (and I know you do), here are my three tips to using this strategy MOST effectively.
Write It Down
I recommend you write your answers down in a journal. The writing process slows down the mind, allowing you to see your thoughts more clearly, and the written record allows you to track your progress over time.
Recruit Your Brain
Your brain will answer any question you give it, so the way you phrase your questions matters. 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 move you forward. Asking “How can get all the important things done?” 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.
Do It Daily
There is an important reason to create the daily practice of asking yourself these 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.