The Mindset for Success: Five Questions to Ask Yourself…
I had to laugh at the weekend when I read in the local paper that according to a new survey, two-thirds of Scots are living with an unfinished home improvement project with almost one-fifth enduring it for three years or more. I am little better than my fellow countrymen as this Mindset article was supposed to be posted before the end of August!
So with my deadline firmly missed, here it is …
To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.
Questions, as Albert Einstein relates so poetically in the quote above, help us frame our thinking and define our problems. We can rarely think of an answer outside of the way we’ve framed the question, so it stands to reason that the questions we ask – particularly those we ask ourselves – will drive our thinking and our behavior.
If we’re looking to take our lives – professional, personal, spiritual, physical – to the next level, we need to change the types of questions we ask ourselves. The purpose of this report is to help you take a look at the way you speak to yourself, and to make some changes along the way. I’ve included five questions you should be asking yourself to broaden your thinking and make you more successful, and in my next post I will throw in five more to stop asking yourself because of their limiting influence.
Whether you want to compete in an Ironman triathlon, start your own business, or find a way to move your family to the country and live in a log house you made with your own two hands, the encouragement and suggestions in this report will help you define your path and remove obstacles that may have been holding you back.
Let’s get going!
Five Questions to Ask Yourself #1: What Are My Highest Value Activities?
We hear only those questions for which we are in a position to find answers.
It’s a common complaint among busy people: They reach the end of the day, only to realize that although they were running from project to project and crossing things off their list, they didn’t make any movement towards their largest goals.
If you can identify with this scenario, you’ve got an issue with the kind of tasks you’re undertaking. While it’s great to be busy and feel productive, it’s even more important to do the things that matter. The key to making this distinction is this question:
What are my highest value activities?
The answer to this question is going to be unique to you. No coach, no matter how skilled, can tell you what you derive the most value from. It stems from a combination of your unique gifts, talents, and skills, and your overall goals and dreams. Marry the two, and you’ve got a list of the things that only YOU can accomplish – and these are the things that should get priority on your daily to-do list.
If you find yourself getting sidetracked by tasks that aren’t on your highest-value list, you need to find a way to extricate yourself from them. You can delegate them to someone else, hire another person to do them, or just simply stop. Every minute you spend doing something “below your pay grade” is a minute you aren’t reaching your full potential. Concentrate on the tasks that you and only you are capable of doing, and leave the rest to someone else.
Think of it this way: If you call Microsoft, Bill Gates doesn’t answer the phone. He doesn’t respond to customer complaints. He doesn’t sweep the floors, order more paper for the copy machine, or make sure the cafeteria is fully stocked on coffee. He leaves those details to others, and he focuses on the projects and activities that only he can do: Visualizing the future path for Microsoft. Focus works. If it’s good enough for Bill, it’s good enough for you.
Five Questions to Ask Yourself #2: What is the one thing I could do today to move myself forward?
Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.
Sometimes we get stuck in the overwhelm of life. There are simply too many projects, too many things to do, too many people clamoring for our attention, and too much information. We aren’t at all sure on what we should do next, and so we retreat to the comparative peace and quiet of a game of Solitaire on our computer, or we check our email yet again, or we head to the refrigerator.
When we find ourselves taking the long way home to avoid dealing with the snarl that appears to be our life, we need to stop. Instead of avoiding the tumult, we need to dive in, looking for that one loose end that will unravel the mess and lead us to our goals. Sounds too easy, eh? It really is.
When you come to a stuck spot and you are baffled as to what to do next, or you are tempted to run away and hide in a pint of Mackie’s finest ice cream, ask yourself this question:
What is the one thing I could do today to move myself forward?
Sometimes the answer is a big task – “Buy that expensive ticket to the Writer Conference.” But most of the time, it’s something very simple: Make the phone call, buy the book, answer the email. In fact, the answer is often so simple that we’ve discounted its power, which is why we’ve been feeling lost. Just like with a knot in a rope, sometimes it just takes a bit of wiggle room to make the whole thing loosen and come free.
Remember, you’re not looking for the grand gestures or huge movements (“I need to sell my house and move to Idaho”); you’re looking for one thing you can start and accomplish TODAY that will let you make progress. Often, it’s something you knew you needed to do but were avoiding; other times, it’s something you hadn’t realized was holding up the works. In either case, identify it, write it down, and make it happen.
If all you did was ask yourself this question day after day, and then take action on the answers, you’d soon find yourself closer to your goals than you ever imagined.
Five Questions to Ask Yourself #3: What is blocking me right now?
Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.
Knowing what you need to do and doing it are two very different things, just as having a map for running a marathon and actually making it to the finish line are miles (26.2 very long miles, to be exact) apart.
The gap between knowing and doing can be the result of many things:
- Skill. You know what to do, but you don’t know HOW to do it. For instance, you know the next step in your business is to create a website opt-in form so people can easily join your mailing list, but you have no idea how to do that. You’ve got a SKILL problem.
- Mindset. You know what to do and how to do it, but you don’t think you can. You’re stuck because you lack confidence in yourself, or there’s some other mental block. You’ve got a MINDSET problem.
- Emotion. You know what to do and how to do it, and you even know you can do it, but you don’t want to do it. You avoid making the phone call for fear you’ll be rejected, or you don’t tackle your taxes because you’re afraid you’ll owe money. You’ve got an EMOTION problem.
The only way to get past your obstacle is by identifying its source, and the only way to identify the source is by asking yourself:
What is blocking me right now?
When you ask yourself this question, you need to go past the obvious. What may seem like a skill issue (“I don’t know how to create an opt-in form”) may actually be a mindset or emotion issue (“I’m afraid of technology” or “I don’t think this will work even if I do create it”). Be relentless in asking yourself “What is blocking me?” over and over until you get at the root of your true issue.
Once you’ve identified the problem, you can figure out a way to address it. If it truly is a skill issue, you can learn how or hire someone else to do it for you. If it’s a mindset or emotion issue, you can work with a coach or other trusted person to help you blow past those blocks.
The question may seem simple, but the results are huge.
Five Questions to Ask Yourself #4: What would happen if I didn’t do this task?
Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers.
Once something makes it onto our task list or into our calendar, it’s nearly impossible to remove it. What seemed like a good idea at the time – posting an extra video every week on your blog, running the school book drive, heading up the task force, stopping by Starbucks to get coffee for the weekly staff meeting – has suddenly become written in stone.
While none of these activities are bad in and of themselves, en masse they eat away at our precious hours, leaving us little time for the things that matter most to us and our long-term goals. But we often don’t question our involvement; we figure that once we signed up, we’re stuck.
The good news is that obligations – even ones we once said “Yes” to – are not eternal sentences. Just as you once said “Yes,” you can now say “No.” But it can sometimes be difficult figuring out what obligations are essential and which are not. That’s where this question comes in. As you go down your list of responsibilities, ask yourself:
What would happen if I didn’t do this task?
For instance, what would happen if you didn’t head the school carnival this year? Most likely, the PTA would find someone else to take it over.
What would happen if you didn’t host the family Christmas dinner that takes you three weeks to prepare for and three more to recover from? Most likely, the family would find another place to congregate.
What would happen if you didn’t post that extra video every week on your blog? Most likely, the world would keep turning. Or, if it is really integral to the success of your business, you’d get so many demands for the return of the weekly video that it would soon become clear you need to add that item back onto your to-do list.
There are, in actuality, very few items on our calendars that are essential. Either someone else would step in to take our place, or somehow the job would get done, or we’d all survive without coffee at the next staff meeting.
Of course, there are some tasks and obligations that are essential, ones where you are, in a word, irreplaceable. Find those activities and concentrate there. Gracefully back out of the rest, or pass the task on to someone else, or quietly stop doing it and see if anyone notices.
Chances are, you know where you’re needed.
Five Questions to Ask Yourself #5: Will this matter five days from now? Five weeks? Five years?
There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men.
When we’re in the midst of our life, it can be tough to get perspective on what’s happening. Little things naturally seem big, big ones seem huge, and things that have the potential to truly change our world from the inside out sometimes get overlooked because they’re disguised as not-big things. It’s tricky to make decisions in the moment when we don’t have a clear view of our lives.
Emotions cloud our judgment, too. We get scared, anxious, overwhelmed, and tired, and looking at a minor inconvenience is like looking at a fun-house mirror; everything’s distorted and off-kilter. It can be easy to lose perspective and overreact – or underreact. That’s when this question (actually, this series of questions) comes in handy:
Will this matter five days from now? Five weeks? Five years?
This question is an automatic game-changer. Suddenly, the parking ticket, the overdue report, or the missed meeting doesn’t seem so tragic. Sure, if you had your druthers, you’d have arrived on time, skipped the $40 parking fine, and met your deadline. But five days from now, the parking ticket will be forgotten, in five weeks, your boss won’t remember you missed your due date, and in five years, no one will remember whether you were at that meeting or not.
Just as these questions can help put irksome occurrences in their proper place, they can also help you hone in on what’s really important. Skipping your daughter’s last baseball game might not seem that big a deal to you, but will she still be brokenhearted next week? If so, maybe it’s worth leaving work early to make the opening pitch.
What’s interesting is that something that isn’t important now may very well be so five years from now. Exercise, for example, builds up interest over time; one missed workout is no big deal, but over five years, those missed minutes at the gym add up. That’s why this question is so powerful. It levels the playing field to make important things appear more important, while stripping the not-so-important things of their power. With the emotion removed, you can step away from the fun-house mirror and see things as they really are, and then make your decisions accordingly.