I think I first heard it said by Tony Robbins, but everybody and their cousin has said it in their self-development/success book, so it could have been anybody.
John Maxwell, Brian Tracy, Jack Canfield, Bob the blogger, they’ve all said it. What is it?
If you want better answers, ask better questions.
It’s always sounded good to me, at least on paper, but it never really helped with what questions I should be asking. Of course I want “the answers,” but the only questions that come to mind are,
“Did Lebron drop another triple double last night?”
“Did Brexit really just happen?”
Sure enough, the answers came to me. Yes & Yes.
But I have finally come across some powerful questions that have been percolating in my mind all year. I’m still working out the answers, but the power behind them is more important to our individual lives than the NBA and global politics.
We’ll go through them together, and then it’s essential that you break off on your own. Actually take the time to sit down with a pen and pad, and write out your own answers.
1) What is my definition of success?
“The best way to predict your future is to create it”- Abe Lincoln
The other night, I was sitting out with Jade and Kelsey, and Jade told a story of one of his first job offers out of school.
He just finished medical school. He was 30-years old. He was offered a position to both manage a gym and practice medicine in Seattle. The salary would be $80,000/year.
A lot of us in our twenties, my friends and myself included, would take that job without blinking. “At least until we figure out what it is we actually want to do.”
$80,000 would take the stress off. We can proudly tell our friends and family we’re employed, and we don’t have to move back in with mom.
Jade passed on the job, drove back to his parents home on the east coast, and started a fitness company of his own by training his mom and her friend outside in Winston-Salem, NC.
A decade later he owns a million dollar company and employs yours truly.
When we do what’s convenient in the moment, we’ll be dissatisfied now. If we face what is inconvenient now, we will be satisfied later.
One of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “begin with the end in mind.”
When we know where it is we’re trying to get to, the what-to-do’s become much easier.
When it’s all said and done, and life begins to wind down, what is it that you want to have done and accomplished? Who do you want by your side? What legacy do you want to leave?
Don’t glaze over this shit because you’ve read it 100 times. The answer to this question will guide you when you’re deciding whether or not to accept the job offer to manage the gym, or continue dating Margie.
What is your definition of success?
2) What are my priorities?
“Success doesn’t come to you… You go to it” ~Marva Collins
Now that we understand what we want in our life, we can look at what is important verses what is urgent (Yep, Covey back at it with the habits).
My favorite interview is with Will Smith where he says,
“If you get your priorities straight, it’s really simple. [For example] either your family is first or your job is first. Just decide ahead of time. If you decide that your family is first, and you’re sitting at the Oscars and your daughter has a fever, and [even if] it’s 90 seconds before your award, you don’t have to make a decision of what you’re going to do, you already made the decision ahead of time… passion and emotion in the moment is always going to give you the wrong answer, so do the math ahead of time so it’s not an issue in the moment.”
Whereas our success definition guides our life, our priorities guide our day. We are going to be confronted everday with chocies between the urgent and the important. Between Important Thing A and Important Thing B. Between friends and work. Between love and health.
When we know what is most important to us before hand, the decision in the moment is easy. If getting a six pack is really your number one priority, then when it comes to seeing your cat in the hospital or hiting the weights, the choice is already made. Sorry Frodo.
Decide what’s most important in your life, and WRITE THAT SHIT DOWN. So when you’re faced with tough decisions, you’ve already decided ahead of time that your daughter is more important than the Oscars. You won’t get caught up in the emotions of the moment, and you’ll make the right choice.
3) Who am I at my best? How do I behave?
“The hardest challenge is to be yourself in a world where everyone is trying to make you somebody else” – E.E. Cummings
Yes, it’s a two for one special, but the second question is really just to understand the first. Are there moments where you’re calm, cool, collected? Are you the life of the party? Are you dominating Halo tournaments? Are you hitting 3-pointers in guys’ faces?
Think of moments in the past where you can truly say, “I’m THE (wo)man at that.”
When we think about our finest hours, there are clues into who we need to be in the world.
For me, I feel strongest and most confident when I’m at a party with a bunch of friends and family members. The more the merrier. When I think about those moments some common themes come up – I am making people laugh. I am deeply in the moment; completely out of my own head. I feel confident. I’m articulate, excited, and projecting energy and confidence.
Once we can identify what it is that makes us feel confident and powerful, we can begin practicing those behaviors even when we don’t necessarily feel like it. The more we practice, the better we get. The better we get, the more often we get to truly be that person we are so proud of.
4) What are my values? Am I living them?
“Unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything” – Rev. Peter Marshall, U.S. Senate Chaplain
Author and Navy SEAL badass, Mark Divine, writes a funny little story about his commanding officer asking,
“What do you stand for?”
When he gave the answer he thought his superior wanted to hear, his officer lost it. He yelled out,
“I didn’t ask for your vanilla values, son! What are your rock-bottom beliefs, that stand beyond which you won’t be pushed? Don’t just tell me what your family or society thinks you should believe in!”
For the 3 people who actually answered the last question, you’ll be able to identify your values. Who are you at your best? The actions you take “at your best” are likely your values. You can see mine reflected in my answer above: fun/humor, connection, and presence.
If you feel at your best with video games, it could be mastery.
If you feel like “the one” when you’re painting, you could value you presence, or seeing the beauty in things.
This, along with your success definition are the most important questions to answer. Your values are your guiding principles. They tell you how to act when your willower is weak and you are succumbing to the emotions of the moment.
Here are three questions that can really help you dig deep and find your own values; not what your family or society says our values should be. Not your vanilla values, son!
They come from Be Excellent at Anything by Tony Schwartz, and have been extremely helpful to me.
- Think about people in your life that you admire – which specific qualities come to mind?
- Imagine somebody closest to you telling others about you – what would you hope that they say?
- What are behaviors in others that you cannot stand? Write down the opposite of those.
Helpful, right? But remember, just because you write it down doesn’t mean anything. We have to practice actually living these things. If your value is kindness, then you can’t be covering Barbara’s lawn with toilet paper. If your value is courage, you can’t just sit in the house all day. We have to practice until what we say we value matches up with what we actually do.
Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why are you on the path you’re on? Why are you eating kale everyday when you hate kale? It’s essential that we ask ourselves why we do what we do.
For us to feel fulfilled, happy, and motivated in life, the answers to these ‘Why?’ questions need to have some intrinsic value, not strictly extrinsic. Money, fame, and your parents are typically extrinsic motivators. They are short-lived, and not deeply satisfying.
Because it’s fun, provides personal meaning, or makes your toes tingle are all intrinsic motivators.
By asking “why,” you can start to learn a lot about yourself. You can learn what motivates you, what makes you happy, and what your hopes, dreams and vision are.
Not only that, in my man Charles Duhigg’s new book, Smarter Faster Better, he recommends we ask ourselves “Why?” so we can attach personal meaning to tedious tasks. Why am I going to this job? Because it’s important to have money to go out with my friends on the weekend. That leads to “work is important to my social life.”
Why am I exercising? So I can live a long life or look good for the ladies. That leads “I love exercising because I love the ladies.”
You get the idea..
Ask yourself why more. Why is this happening? Why are they doing that? Why can’t you help but watch Friends at night?
When we begin to ask ourselves better questions, we get better answers. Those answers can act as our compass on the drive to success, happiness, or just a moment of clarity. That’s why I emphasized writing your answers down. It provides clarity and insight that we don’t otherwise see.
So sit down, and answer these questions. You may be surprised by what you learn when you ask better questions