As a journalist, I’ve spent a lot of time learning the art and skill of asking questions.
When you’re trying to find the truth, dig into an idea or you’re on a fact-finding mission, the questions you ask are the most important thing you have going for you.
The wrong questions – or poor questions – lead you to dead ends.
The right questions – and the follow up questions to those – lead you to new information and closer to answers.
When you’re juggling all the things, struggling with balance and feeling overwhelmed, tired or unsure, you can tend to get stuck in a repetitive circle in your head – your thoughts go round and round as you try to find answers to having more time and less to do, but you keep being led back to the same place: you don’t know, the answer is no, or you feel stuck.
When you want to make a change in order to make life a little easier – less stressed and more expansive – but the change feels too big, too scary or too different, then again, you can stay stuck in a thought pattern that never seems to take you to the place where there is a way to make it happen.
So ruminating, staying stuck, putting it off and delaying the future – just not knowing what to do – is where we land, and stay.
One way to break this cycle is to start asking questions – or better questions.
When I’m stuck in my head, ruminating or worried about something, I have a few really good questions that I ask myself. I’ll also sometimes journal on them.
Here are some of my favourite questions you can ask yourself so you can move forward.
Questions to ask when you’re stressed or stuck
Is it true?
This is the number one question I use when my inner talk is being unkind or has taken offence to something – is it true? It’s also the question I ask my kids to answer when someone has said something that’s upset them, or if they’re catastrophising about exam results or some other fear is stalking them. When your internal chatter is telling you that you’re no good at something, that someone doesn’t like you, that you’re a failure, your kids/partner don’t care about you – or any other random nasty message – just stop and ask: Is it true? Not is it possible. Not is it probable. But is it true?
Do I actually know this to be true?
And if your inner voice answers that first question with a yes, then ask this – is it actually true? Do you know this? Did they say it to your face? Did it actually happen? Do you know it for certain?
Deal in facts only.
Does it really matter?
This question has stopped me ranting at the kids more times than I could count. The amount of energy you can waste worrying about minor things is truly extraordinary. Being caught up in daily drama, daily inconveniences, or perceived slights causes stress, anxiety and general unhappiness, and honestly – does the thing you’re worried about really matter? Is it more important that you force the kids to clean their room, or that you enjoy your evening with them? Is it more important you set the record straight, or move on in peace? Will the issue still be an issue next week, next year? Will life go on if you don’t worry about it? Does it really matter if you say no to that thing?
Is it a life or death thing – I mean, really, does it really matter as much as your energy and peace do?
What’s my first instinct?
When I have a big decision to make and I’m going around in circles, I ask this question. It’s about dialling in to your intuition – or instinct. That first split second feeling or thought or idea that you have when the issue you’re grappling with comes up. It’s the feeling or thought before your brain takes over and starts reasoning, and then confusing you.
It’s not necessarily easy to identify, but it’s a damn good question to ask anyway.
Is it fear talking?
Following on from that, is this one – are your thoughts coming from a place of fear? If it’s not instinct, then it’s likely fear – your negatively-biased brain trying to keep you safe. If I haven’t quite picked up the instinct, then I consider if it’s fear that’s keeping my thoughts – and therefore me – stuck.
What’s the worst that could happen?
This is one of my favourites, because I always like to know my worst case scenario. It’s a control issue thing obviously – if I know what the likely worst case is, it can give me courage to not worry so much and move forward or make the change. The worst that could happen is often not as bad as your thoughts would have you believe.
What would I do if the worst happened?
And following on from that, you ask this – if the worst did happen, what would I do? Again, it just gives a little certainty around the unknown. It helps you work through your fears and identify all the choices, options and opportunities you could take if your worst fear was realised. And mostly I find the answer is: I’d be OK.
What’s the best that could happen?
This is well worth asking if you do go through the worst case scenarios – because when you think of all the good that might happen, rather than the disasters, you change your energy, mindset and approach. If you do make the changes, have a go, move on, what is the BEST that could happen? Your brain might automatically drum up all the disasters that could befell you, but you can force it to look at the happy endings as well, and it’s a much more inspiring, fun and comforting picture.
What’s most important to me?
Finally, this is often the last question I ask myself when I have a decision or choice I’m finding hard to make. I come back to my highest values at that time. What’s most important to us can change – different priorities take on a higher importance depending on our circumstances, the time in our life and what’s happening around us. Asking yourself what’s the top priority right now, in that moment, can be like a north star when it comes to making decisions and ultimately, living a life that your most happy with.