Stop asking yourself questions that keep you stuck
This post first appeared on Tinybuddha.com.
“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” ~Dennis Waitley
We often see success stories about people who have achieved something big. They inspire us and on some level show us that it is possible to achieve our goals.
However, they rarely help us deal with what goes on in the middle, the point in between starting something new, when we’re full of energy and excitement, and actually succeeding.
That middle part is generally not pretty. How do you tackle that middle bit?
Let’s say you’ve taken that first step toward a big dream of yours. You’ve created your own blog, signed up for that course, or announced your intention to start singing professionally, write a book, or start a business.
You’re so enthusiastic about the project, and you smile when you think about the future.
Then suddenly a question or two pops up in your head, stopping you dead in your tracks. Freezing you, sucking away all that enthusiasm and energy you started with.
“Am I good enough?”
“Can I really make this work?”
“Am I too old for this?”
“Do I have enough experience?”
“Do I know what I’m letting myself in for here?”
“What if I fail?”
“Am I making a fool of myself?”
If you are doing something that takes you out of your comfort zone, chances are you have heard a version of these questions in your head.
These questions are nothing but our mind’s strategy to keep us stuck, to stop us from taking risks, to help us avoid danger.
It’s a remnant of a mind that has yet to catch up with the super-fast changes our lives have gone through in the last 100,000 years. The same strategy that would have kept us in our caves all those years ago now stops us from doing what we’d love to.
The problem is that when we’re busy dwelling on these questions, we’re wasting our mind’s energy. We’re not engaging it to think creatively, or to spot opportunities or to help us overcome the challenges we face along the way.
We’re focusing south when we really want to go north. So what do we do about it?
1. The most important thing is to be aware of these questions when they come up.
Chances are you won’t start by hearing the question but instead you will feel a sudden sinking sensation, a loss of hope or of energy. You might start thinking that the whole idea is stupid or silly or not worth the effort. In short, your state will change. With practice you can become aware of when that changing state happens.
2. Once you become aware of this change, take a moment to explore what you were thinking.
This is when you are likely to discover that you were making a statement or asking a question that is taking your focus south, instead of north.
3. Ask yourself: “Is this question or statement helping me move forward?”
4. If the answer is no, follow up with “What question can I replace it with that will help me move forward?”
Here’s an example of how this strategy has helped me in my life.
Twelve years ago I was working as a Business Psychologist with the BBC. As my experience grew I was asked to start running some training courses for different departments in the organization.
I remember quaking with fear at the idea. I had countless sleepless nights, serious palpitations, and bouts of anxiety. I was incredibly scared of standing in front of a crowd. It felt awful, but I knew this was something I really wanted to do, so I persevered.
With time I realized that the questions I was asking myself were taking me south. Questions like “Am I good enough?” “Who wants to listen to me?” “What if I forget what I’m meant to say?”
They were just unhelpful. I worked hard to become more aware of them, and eventually I changed them. I started asking myself “How can I make this interesting?” “How do I keep my audience engaged?” “How much practice do I need to do to feel confident about the material?”
As my questions changed, my feelings changed, as did my performance. The major reason was that now I was focusing north, which was where I wanted to go.
Today, I spend most of my week training groups and I also train other trainers. If someone had told me I would be doing this 12 years ago, I would have laughed.
This strategy has had a major impact on my life and on any projects I work on. It is one of the key tools I use to help myself and others stay motivated and moving forward. I hope it has the same effect on you.
What questions are taking you south? And what will you change them to, to start heading north?