The questions we ask, the way we ask them, and how often we ask them make a huge difference in our experience of life.
As anyone who has been around kids knows – there are ways to ask choice questions that give them a sense of control and you exactly the outcome you want.
There’s a big difference in the type of response and attitude you’ll receive when you ask “Are you going to brush your teeth now?” or tell “You need to brush your teeth now”, then when you ask “Are you going to brush your teeth or put on your pyjamas now?”
It’s a forced choice, but it still feels like a choice, and this freedom (where it doesn’t feel like someone is telling us what to do) can make a world of difference on someone’s attitude and their desire to follow through.
But did you know you can apply the same technique with yourself?
When I started my routine of working out everyday in Costa Rica, I started to begrudge it as soon as I woke up. And when I asked myself “Are you going to work out today?” the answer I always had was “uggh! I don’t want to.” And the only thing that got me to follow through were those evil “should” notions.
The truth is we don’t like being told what to do at any age, even if its us doing the telling. By using question tricks – forced choice- we get the results we want and the sense of freedom we crave.
So I started changing my question. Instead of asking “Am I going to workout?”, I started asking “Which exercises am I going to do?”. It gave me a sense of choice and permission to “be a rebel” by avoiding the ones that I didn’t want to do that day. It turned out to make a big difference in my attitude toward my workouts, and it lead to me getting more done. Yes, there were days I “just” did floor work exercises, but even they were done with more effort and intention because I felt like I was “skipping out on the other exercises” so I was giving my all to what I decided to do.
It’s another lesson in avoiding the black and white. By not clumping it all together I was able to see all the pieces and have more wiggle room. This kind of forced question is choosing between two (or more) good options. It allows us to be flexible with how we meet our value/goal, but secures that we are meeting it. To relate this back to kids, it is the technique you are using when you ask “Are you going to wear your red pyjamas or your blue pyjamas?”. For someone with a health goal it could be, “Are you going to go for a walk or ride your bike?”. Either choice leads to the end goal – of getting healthy or getting to bed. We get clear on why what we are asking is important (that we do some type of exercise/that we get dressed for bed) and we let the choice lie in how we reach that end.
Another thing I did was play with the question of timing. Much like the pyjamas or brushing teeth question, the order doesn’t really matter to us – as long as they both get done. So every morning I give myself the choice of working out before or after breakfast.
It’s funny to think that these small changes can make a difference, and funnier yet that we can play these games on ourselves and they still work. But they do, I swear.
Another question game we play involves the subconscious questions we forget to ask when times are good.
For example; it’s easy to notice when a child’s behaviour is unpleasant or you don’t like how they are acting. And it’s easy to comment on it too.
What we often forget is to notice when the behaviour is pleasant and we do like how they are acting. And we forget to comment on it too.
We also do this with ourselves.
I woke up at 2am last week in a full fledged panic attack. I remember sitting up, throwing the blanket off, flipping the light on, and then panicking. My heart was racing and pounding out of my chest, I was sweating profusely, crying, and my whole body was shaking.
Panic attacks are no fun, and waking up to them is even less fun – and much scarier. Not only because the experience itself is scary, but the possibility of it happening again makes it very hard not to dread going to sleep.
The next day I found myself judging my behaviour of panicking, self doubt, and obsessive thinking. I was focused on my unpleasant/unhelpful behaviour and feelings that happened the previous night. I found myself getting very anxious throughout the day, anticipating night time and worrying about a repeat attack. Not just worrying – expecting.
And you know what happens with an expectation like that? It happens again. It’s an expectation-fulfilling prophecy. And I really didn’t want to get into that loop.
So I decided to coach myself and take some action to try to create a better outcome.
I realized that my fixation on both the event and my response (that of panicking) was reinforcing beliefs that 1. I’m a panicker and therefore 2. I will just continue to panic.
Though my mind was getting really apprehensive of going to sleep, I realized that sitting here in the moment, I was actually calm (the only thing that wasn’t calm was my thoughts of what I expected later).
So I decided to keep asking myself “Are you calm now?”
Usually I only ask this when the answer is distressing (not that I consciously ask it, but the feedback I take gives me the answer). Much like with kids, we don’t usually ask ourselves “Are they being good now?”, but it’s noticeable that we are “asking” it when the answer is no.
When I started asking the question regularly, and noticing all the times I was calm, it changed my perception of how I’m doing and even more so – what I’m capable of.
By addressing when I’m calm as well as panicky, it gives me many more opportunities to have helpful thoughts. When you are paying attention to how often you are calm it’s harder to hold a belief about the fact that you “only panic”.
When you only ask yourself the question when you’re struggling – you limit your mind’s idea of what you can do, what you can handle, and the ways you can be.
Bringing my attention to all the times I feel calm not only helped me recognize the moments (and how often) I felt calm – – it also enhanced my view of how capable I am of being calm.
For more impact I gave myself a lot of credit for being calm that day. In theory I don’t believe we should be judging our emotional states or feelings (or taking credit for them), but for the time being it was helpful to give myself positive reinforcement to counter the negative feedback I was putting out there about my time of panicking.
When it comes to behaviours and actions (not feelings and thoughts) we certainly can use this positive reinforcement strategy to help us even more. This could like “catching kids being good” and remarking on what you like about how they are acting/behaving. In terms of using it with yourself, this could look like bringing your attention to all the times you DO take care of yourself (if your unhelpful story is that you aren’t able to take care of yourself). You could do this by asking yourself “Am I taking care of myself now?” And if the answer is YES, say “Awesome job me, look at you kicking ass at taking care of you!”
The types and frequency of questions we ask ourselves can make a massive difference in how we view ourselves and how successful we are at attaining our goals. So figure out which questions you need to ask more often, and which you need to alter.
Play question games with yourself – I bet you’ll be surprised at how much you win when you’re rigging the game.