Last week I posted the first two questions you should be asking yourself. You can read them here.
Question #3 To Ask Yourself: What is blocking me right now?
Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers. Voltaire
Knowing what you need to do and doing it are two very different things, just as having a map for running a marathon and actually making it to the finish line are miles (26.2 miles, to be exact) apart.
The gap between knowing and doing can be the result of many things:
- Skill. You know what to do, but you don’t know HOW to do it. For instance, you know the next step in your business is to create a website opt-in form so people can easily join your mailing list, but you have no idea how to do that. You’ve got a SKILL problem.
- Mindset. You know what to do and how to do it, but you don’t think you can. You’re stuck because you lack confidence in yourself, or there’s some other mental block. You’ve got a MINDSET problem.
- Emotion. You know what to do and how to do it, and you even know you can do it, but you don’t want to do it. You avoid making the phone call for fear you’ll be rejected, or you don’t tackle your taxes because you’re afraid you’ll owe money. You’ve got an EMOTION problem.
The only way to get past your obstacle is by identifying its source, and the only way to identify the source is by asking yourself:
What is blocking me right now?
When you ask yourself this question, you need to go past the obvious. What may seem like a skill issue (“I don’t know how to create an opt-in form”) may actually be a mindset or emotion issue (“I’m afraid of technology” or “I don’t think this will work even if I do create it”). Be relentless in asking yourself “What is blocking me?” over and over until you get at the root of your true issue.
Once you’ve identified the problem, you can figure out a way to address it. If it truly is a skill issue, you can learn how or hire someone else to do it for you. If it’s a mindset or emotion issue, you can work with a coach or other trusted person to help you blow past those blocks.
The question may seem simple, but the results are huge.
Question #4 To Ask Yourself: What would happen if I didn’t do this task?
Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. Rainer Maria Rilke
Once something makes it onto our task list or into our calendar, it’s nearly impossible to remove it. What seemed like a good idea at the time – posting an extra video every week on your blog, running the school book drive, heading up the task force, stopping by Starbucks to get coffee for the weekly staff meeting – has suddenly become written in stone.
While none of these activities are bad in and of themselves, en masse they eat away at our precious hours, leaving us little time for the things that matter most to us and our long-term goals. But we often don’t question our involvement; we figure that once we signed up, we’re stuck.
The good news is that obligations – even ones we once said “Yes” to – are not life sentences. Just as you once said “Yes,” you can now say “No.” But it can sometimes be difficult figuring out which obligations are essential and which are not. That’s where this question comes in. As you go down your list of responsibilities, ask yourself:
What would happen if I didn’t do this task?
For instance, what would happen if you didn’t head the school carnival this year? Most likely, the PTA would find someone else to take it over.
What would happen if you didn’t host the family Thanksgiving dinner that takes you three weeks to prepare for and three more to recover from? Most likely, the family would find another place to congregate.
What would happen if you didn’t post that extra video every week on your blog? Most likely, the world would keep turning. Or, if it is really integral to the success of your business, you’d get so many demands for the return of the weekly video that it would soon become clear you need to add that item back onto your to-do list.
There are, in actuality, very few items on our calendars that are essential. Either someone else would step in to take our place, or somehow the job would get done, or we’d all survive without coffee at the next staff meeting.
Of course, there are some tasks and obligations that are essential, ones where you are, in a word, irreplaceable. Find those activities and concentrate there. Gracefully back out of the rest, or pass the task on to someone else, or quietly stop doing it and see if anyone notices.
Chances are, you know where you’re needed.
Question #5 To Ask Yourself: Will this matter five days from now? Five weeks? Five years?
There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men. John Locke
When we’re in the midst of our life, it can be tough to get perspective on what’s happening. Little things naturally seem big, big ones seem huge, and things that have the potential to truly change our world from the inside out sometimes get overlooked because they’re disguised as not-big things. It’s tricky to make decisions in the moment when we don’t have a clear view of our lives.
Emotions cloud our judgment, too. We get scared, anxious, overwhelmed, and tired, and looking at a minor inconvenience is like looking at a fun-house mirror; everything’s distorted and off-kilter. It can be easy to lose perspective and overreact – or underreact. That’s when this question (actually, this series of questions) comes in handy:
Will this matter five days from now? Five weeks? Five years?
This question is an automatic game-changer. Suddenly, the parking ticket, the overdue report, or the missed meeting doesn’t seem so tragic. Sure, if you had your druthers, you’d have arrived on time, skipped the $40 parking fine, and met your deadline. But five days from now, the parking ticket will be forgotten, in five weeks, your boss won’t remember you missed your due date, and in five years, no one will remember being at the meeting.
Just as these questions can help put irksome occurrences in their proper place, they can also help you hone in on what’s really important. Skipping your daughter’s last baseball game might not seem that big a deal to you, but will she still be brokenhearted next week? If so, maybe it’s worth leaving work early to make the opening pitch.
What’s interesting is that something that isn’t important now may very well be so five years from now. Exercise, for example, builds up interest over time; one missed workout is no big deal, but over five years, those missed minutes at the gym add up. That’s why this question is so powerful. It levels the playing field to make important things appear more important, while stripping the not-so-important things of their power. With the emotion removed, you can step away from the fun-house mirror and see things as they really are, and then make your decisions accordingly.