Questions Can Give Us The Insight We Need To Move Forward.
Do you ever get stuck? Do you ever have times when you’re working hard, doing all the right things and still you can’t seem to make progress? If you’re an entrepreneur, a creative or you’re simply trying to branch out into new areas then I’m sure you’ve experienced that feeling — “Frustrated” does not come close to describing it.
In a recent article I wrote about the activity trap, which is essentially our default way of dealing with our fear of failure. In our pursuit of success we often end up getting so busy we are too busy to succeed. Conclusion? It’s only the right kind of action that’s going to move us forward.
Similarly, the right kind of question is needed when we find ourselves in a place where we are simply stuck. If you want to get unstuck and at the same timegain some clarity then you need a good answer. So ask a good question.
Lost in translation
Recently I’ve been working on a lot of different projects and, being a creative sort, things had got a little out of hand. It seemed like the harder I tried to pull things together into some kind of grand plan, the more things seemed to slip through my fingers.
I’ve had to take a step back. I’ve had to re-prioritize, and I’ve had to let some things go. And throughout the process I’m learning to ask the right questions and see what I’m doing in a greater context.
Questions get me thinking. Questions are empowering. If they are the right questions. Here’s how important it is to ask the right question…
Recently my coach has been helping me get back on track with my planning and prioritizing, and in a message he asked me this:
“How can you have more at-bats?”
It’s a great question, now that I understand what it means! But being English I had no idea what an at-bat was. I re-read it a few times. Was this some kind of abbreviation? I decided to Google “At-bat”.
Oh, right! It’s a baseball term. We don’t have baseball in England, didn’t you know that? But I get it now. A baseball player wants time at bat — that’s where the magic happens.
Once I’d worked out what he meant and was able to rework the question, I was then able to start getting some answers.
But it made me realize a simple truth — any old question just will not do.
It has to be THE question, a question that is pertinent to you at the time when it needs to be. And it’s my hope that one of these questions that follows is the right one for you.
The Wrong Questions…
But first, here are some wrong questions. Questions that really are not helpful at all and can only lead you deeper into the quagmire of stuckness. Avoid these questions at all costs. If you find yourself asking these then don’t be too hard on yourself — just stop, change direction and never go back!
Why am I feeling stuck? — On the surface this might seem like a good place to start, but it’s really not because this is too-big a question. How long do you have to find the answer? You may as well be asking “what is the meaning of life?” because it’s that pointless. You could easily end up in downward spiral of trying to figure out why you feel this way, why it’s all hopeless and why it’s better to give up
What’s wrong with me? — If you decide to ask this question what you’re really saying is “there must be something wrong with me.” And then you’re starting down the path of self-analysis. What I realized from 8 years of questions is this — people are complicated. We are disorganised, or hyper-focused, or can’t concentrate, or self-conscious, or shy, or lack confidence, or fear failure. And people succeed despite these things. Yes, work on your weaknesses as you move forward, play to your strengths too, but don’t wait around for your personality to change overnight.
Why is life so darn hard? — If you are going to ask this question, be ready with a big piece of paper. The reality is that none of us are exempt, there are no guarantees, and nobody gets a re-run. Inside this question is an underlying belief that you probably deserve what you’re getting, that the universe has it in for you, or you’re attracting the wrong kind of energy. Don’t go there!
The Stupid Questions
I wasn’t sure about including stupid questions, but at the risk of offending a few good people I will briefly take a light-hearted look at a some well-worn fallback questions we all ask ourselves from time to time when we let our guard down. Yes, I’m as guilty as the next guy.
How can I stay positive and push through? — Hold on! Brace yourself for a little negativity — you can’t be positive all the time. And you can’t always push through. A positive approach to life can work wonders, but forcing yourself to be positive is not going to get you answers and it’s certainly not going to give you insight into how to actually make progress.
If you’re hitting a brick wall the best thing to do is stop and take stock of the situation.
How can I motivate myself? — Again, this is a search for a quick fix to mask over the problem. Motivation seems like a great idea — get motivated and you’re on a roll, striding forward over your problems. Except that the real underlying issue is still there, all you’ve done is temporarily found a way to navigate round it. Once your motivation starts to ebb, and it’s sure to eventually, that’s when the elephant re-appears in the room. And you don’t want to be clearing up after an elephant!
“man standing inside airport looking at LED flight schedule bulletin board” by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash
The Right Questions
There is actually only one question to ask, but there are many ways of asking it. If these variations of the question don’t quite do it for you, try reframing them to mean something more personal to you and your present circumstances.
All these questions are aimed at going below the surface answers to the heart of the matter.
What is it that I really love doing at the moment? — It probably won’t take you very long to answer this question if it means something to you. You already know what it is you love to do, and from time to time you even do it. Of course, you often feel like you should be doing something else, something more productive or more profitable in the long term. But you often find yourself playing with the idea of doing this thing, whatever it is, for real. If only you could follow that passion and make money at it…
Where is the flow and rhythm in my life? — If you are a little more arty or creative you probably see flow and rhythm as a natural part of your day. And even if you are feeling stuck at present, when you start to look for the flow you will probably not have to look hard — it’s there, under the surface. There are sure to be one or two elements of your life that are still moving well, that have a rhythm that never stops, but you may not be aware of them because they are so much a part of you.
Where is the stress and tension in my life? — This is a little like turning “flow and rhythm” on its head, or seeing it from the other side. If there is stress and/or tension in your life it can easily build up into a blockage, a real barrier to forward progress.
I understand that some people love to live in the hustle, set high goals and put in 18 hour days, but if all it’s doing is getting you down then it could be time to review things. I made a resolution a few years ago to avoid the activities that brought stress, they obviously were not doing me any favours. Remember — activity does not always mean results.
What is trying to get my attention? — This could be both in the negative sense as well as the positive. I had an interesting experience just this week when I was out with my camera taking photos of the sunrise. I had grabbed my camera bag as I jumped in the car to run the kids to school, and I wanted to take 20 minutes out at the start of my day to get some new pics. At the beach I set up my camera and decided to shoot some video. As soon as I did so, the battery indicator started flashing. Still, I kept filming, just a few minutes more. And a few minutes more. Running the battery flat. Click. The video stopped and “Change Battery Pack” was displayed on the screen.
It got me thinking — am I running on empty? Am I so intent on getting things done that I don’t see the warning signs? Is it time to change that battery — meaning that I need to rely less on my internal motivation and drive and more on the external sources of rest, relaxation, peace and mediation/prayer/mindfulness?
Somewhere inside the process of asking the question is an answer that’s going to get you unstuck. Hidden inside your deepest desires is the key to unlocking your dreams and breaking free of the chains that bind you to the normal, everyday life you know you are not made for.
Remember that for a question to be effective it has to mean something to you. Don’t just take my questions. Rework them so they make you really think and search for an answer at a deeper level.
Be someone who asks questions. A good question can give you a good answer. And a good answer can lead to breakthrough. As I turn 50 I’m more and more convinced that through questioning our lives at a deep level we begin an inner transformation process that leads to growth and change at the very core of our being.
Finally, keep in mind that the answer might not always be one we’re comfortable with. We may know deep down that this is what I really want to do but the road ahead looks uncertain. I have to remind myself again and again that the life I want does not exist inside my comfort zone.