When we can't find the answers, asking ourselves questions is the best way to get unstuck. The right kinds of questions can help you remove distractions, conquer procrastination and move quickly and confidently forward.
In last week’s article, I shared 5 questions you can ask yourself to stay on track, tame negative emotions that are derailing your progress, and take focused, productive actions to reach your goals. There, I explained why asking ourselves certain kinds of questions can help us move the ball forward with whatever it is we are trying to accomplish.
Once you've used the questions I posed last week to remove emotional distractions and stay focused on your goals, this week’s questions will help you quickly overcome procrastination, resist temptations that take you off course, and identify the most productive way to reach your goals.
1. If I were to accomplish X, how would I go about it?
The final question in last week’s article was “What would happen if I did X instead?” Whenever you feel stuck, the best thing you can do is first to identify a specific action that might move you forward and then ask yourself what would happen if you did that instead of what you are doing now?
You’re not telling yourself you must do that thing, but gently asking what would happen if you did. By asking in this open-ended way, you bypass internal resistance.
Asking this next question of how you would go about it is the next logical step and can give you an even broader view of how best to move forward. Instead of identifying one specific action, you are now looking at the big picture of how you might accomplish your goal.
We often have stretch goals that would make a huge difference in our lives if we were to accomplish them. But something is getting in the way. Lack of money. Lack of time. A feeling that we are not up to the task. So we give up.
Instead, ask yourself how you could go about it if you were actually to accomplish the goal. You are not at this point telling yourself you must accomplish it. Rather, you are keeping an open-minded perspective and casually wondering to yourself how you might go about it if you were to go about it.
Instead of “I’d love to travel to Europe, but I don’t have the money and could never take the time off work,” ask yourself “But if I actually were to travel to Europe, what are some ways I might come up with the money and find the time?” Each time you find yourself saying, “But that won’t work because of X,” patiently reorient yourself and ask “Yes, but if I were to accomplish this, how else might I go about it?”
You can try this not only with vacation plans, but getting a degree, finding a new job, launching a business, learning a language, taking up a musical instrument or any goal that is meaningful to you. If you don’t come up with answers right away, you can circle back to this exercise a few times until you do.
Another variation is to ask yourself how X would go about this. X can be a friend you admire, a famous historical figure past or present, or anyone you see as an effective problem solver. By asking how they would solve your issue, you can look at the challenge in a more detached and less emotional way, which usually yields innovative solutions.
2. Could I wait a minute? What would happen if I waited a minute?
This is an ideal question whenever you’re are tempted and don't want to be. You’ve rationalized to yourself why it’s ok to grab that desert that will demolish your diet, or jump on social media instead of writing that report, or anything else you know deep down is not in your best interests.
Ask yourself what would happen if you waited just a minute. More likely than not, a minute later, you’ll be on to something else and will have forgotten about whatever was tempting you. And if not, you can ask yourself what would happen if you waited for one more minute.
3. Could I do X for just one minute?
This is the reverse of the previous question. Find one specific action you can take. By committing to it for only a minute, you will minimize internal resistance. This not only is an excellent way to avoid a temptation (could I eat salad for just one minute instead of the desert?), but is also ideal for conquering procrastination.
We typically avoid doing those tasks we need to do because they seem overwhelming, or there is some aspect of the task about which we are fearful. If you tell yourself you must spend an hour on the task you don’t want to do, you’ll avoid it. But one minute? Anyone can commit to one minute. Try it for just a minute. Then another minute. Pretty soon you’ll find that you’re well on your way to finishing whatever it is you’ve been avoiding for weeks.
Yes, this is a mental trick. You know that one minute spent on the task probably won’t make much difference. That’s not the point. The point is to get started, which is the procrastinator’s biggest obstacle.
One minute will get you started. Most likely, once you’ve started, you’ll continue. But even if you don’t, you will be practicing getting started. You can try later for one more minute. Eventually, it will be easy to start and you’ll wonder why you put off whatever it is for so long.
4. What is the smallest and easiest next step I could take toward this?
A variation of the “one minute” question is to identify the smallest and easiest next step you can take toward your goal. If you encounter internal resistance, then make the task smaller and smaller until the resistance is gone, until it feels silly not to make such a small effort. Then identify the next small task, and the next. This question will quickly move you away from distraction and procrastination and instead toward sure and steady progress.
5. What is the worst thing that is likely to happen? Can I live with it?
If you find yourself getting distracted because you are avoiding a task, a difficult meeting, working on an important goal, ask yourself what is the worst that is likely to happen? Typically, the worst-case scenario isn’t so terrible. Often, the consequences are less severe than continuing to avoid whatever you are avoiding.
Once you know the worst-case scenario, you can also imagine the good that might come out it. And specifically identifying a worst-case scenario, you will feel more empowered to address the situation head-on than when you were inhibited by some unnamed, unknown fear.