The Most Powerful Way to Talk to Yourself

There are many different possible ways to talk to yourself. One way is to reassure yourself. For example, before a party you might be feeling a little nervous so you tell yourself, "It's going to be fine. It'll turn out okay."

Another way to talk to yourself is to give yourself advice or instruction. For example, "At the party, focus on drawing people out and getting them to talk about themselves."

Another possible way to talk to yourself is to put yourself down. "I look like hell. I'm a loser."

Or you could ask yourself a question. On your way to the party, you could ask yourself, "What can I do tonight that would make it genuinely fun?"

Of all the possible ways to talk to yourself, asking yourself a question is the most powerful. Questions direct your mind and set trains of thought into motion. That's what makes them so powerful. Questions are generative. They generate thought. And because they are so powerful it really makes a difference to pay attention to the questions you ask yourself and to ask yourself good questions.

Asking yourself a bad question before a party, for instance, can create excessive anxiety and a negative experience. For example, "What if I can't think of anything to say? What if I embarrass myself? What if I'm a loser for the rest of my life and I never get married and live alone and shunned by the world?" The what-if questions are creating a chain of anxious thoughts and images that produce feelings of anxiety. With thoughts like these running through your mind, you arrive at the party feeling nervous and withdrawn. You can't think of anything pleasant to say (because your own anxious thoughts are occupying your mind) and you embarrass yourself with your own awkwardness. Keep this up and your dire predictions of a lonely life could come true — not because you are stupid or ugly or have character flaw, but merely because you never paid attention to the questions you asked yourself, and you never tried to ask yourself high-quality questions.

What makes a good question? That's the obvious next question, isn't it? What makes a question a good question? The answer is simple. A high-quality question has a good result. It focuses your attention on something that makes you effective. It directs your mind to something that helps you successfully handle the situation. A question is good if it leads to a good result.

Bad question: What if they don't like me?
Good question: What is something I could do right now that would make me more likable?

Bad question: What if I fail to accomplish my goal?
Good question: What's the most important thing I could do to make sure I accomplish my goal?

A high-quality question is one that produces an end-result you desire. Check in on the questions you ask yourself (you'll have to pay attention because your thoughts are happening automatically much of the time) and then ask this question: "What is the result of asking myself that question?"

If the result isn't good, ask yourself, "What result do I want?" And when you decide on a result, ask yourself, "What question can I ponder that would help me achieve that result?" Don't settle for the first thing that pops into your head! Think about it. Make a list. Force yourself to come up with ten good possible questions.

Then choose the best question — the one that will produce the best result — and practice asking yourself that question. Literally practice. Ask that question many times. Get used to asking it. Make it familiar and comfortable and automatic.

There are certain times when it would help to ask yourself that question. Practice asking that question at those times.

For example, when Katie is preparing for an interview, she doesn't want to obsess about her automatic questions, "What if they don't want me?" and "What if I make a fool of myself in the interview?" She is fully aware that those questions don't put her in the best frame of mind to have a successful interview.

She decides that a good question to ponder is, "How can I help these people?" That will put her in just the right attitude for an interview. That's a question that will produce a good result. So while she is getting dressed for the interview, she asks herself that question. She ponders it. When her mind wanders, she comes back to that question. And in the car, on the way to the interview, she thinks about it some more, trying to think of ways she can help her future employers. Whenever her mind drifts to her worries, she asks herself, "Yes, but how can I help these people?" And even walking into the interview, she is wondering how she can help them.

What do you think would be the difference between Katie sitting down for an interview wondering, "What if they don't want me?" versus sitting down wondering, "How can I help these people?" What kind of difference would she have in attitude? In her demeanor? In her level of stress hormones? In her focus — outward focus versus inward focus? I think you can see it would be a large and visibly obvious difference. The second question would make her more effective in the interview. The second question is more likely to lead to a good result.

Asking yourself a good question is a very powerful tool. What great things do you think it can help you achieve? Good question.

This article was excerpted from the book, Principles For Personal Growth by Adam Khan. Buy it now here.

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