We’re often told that asking the right questions is critical to our success, but an equally larger (or bigger) factor can often be asking the wrong questions – or else the right questions at the wrong times. These are questions that seem to have merit but actually derail your focus, motivation, and productivity.
If you feel like you’re struggling to find answers in your life, then one easy place to start is by eliminating these 3 questions:
1. “How Do I…?”
Many years ago, a young speaker was working as an intern for his mentor. He wanted to be as successful as his mentor, so he worked his tail off, trying to build up his skills and abilities as a speaker. At least once a month, he would ask his mentor this question: “How do I become as great a speaker as you are?”
Every single time, his mentor would give him the same reply: “You’re not ready.” This continued for a few years – much to the frustration of the young speaker. Then one day, the young speaker was fed up and told his mentor,“I’m coming for you. I’m going to be better than you are.” At this moment, his mentor replied: “Now you’re ready.”
The point of this short parable is that asking “how” to do anything is often a way of avoiding true commitment. Obviously, there is a time and place for learning how to do something, but the first step is to commit to the outcome – even before you know how you’re going to do it.
For example, if you find yourself constantly asking how to grow your business, then chances are that you’re not actually doing enough. After all, when you’re doing everything you can to reach a goal, your most common question will be a retrospective one – why an experiment did or didn’t work. Commitment is the first step. Once you’re committed to doing anything – from building a business to getting in shape – you will always figure out a way to get it done.
“If you are not willing to risk the usual you will have to settle for the ordinary.” – Jim Rohn
2. “Is This My Passion?”
Surely, you should want to find what you’re passionate about, right? After all, that’s one of the common suggestions for being happier and more successful. The thing is, passion and fulfillment typically come AFTER the hard work that leads to success. In his book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” Cal Newport illustrates this through a bunch of research and also this now well-known story…
In 1975, Steve Jobs co-founded Apple. However, at the time, Jobs was passionate primarily about spiritual retreats and meditation, not at all about computers or business. Steve Jobs co-founded Apple because a great opportunity came along at the time to sell assembled hobby computers, and Jobs wanted the extra income.
Now, of course, Jobs went on to love what he did, and in his famous Stanford commencement speech, he emphasized loving what you do. But like so many others, he grew to love what he did because over time and with diligence he became great at it, was recognized for that greatness, and was afforded the opportunity to change and improve the lives of others.
None of this is to say that you should spend your life doing things you hate, but please don’t hold off on doing something just because you’re not sure if it’s the thing that you’re most passionate about. Get started, become great at whatever it is you do, and success, happiness, and even passion will follow.
3. “Am I the Right Person to Do This?”
Sure, we all have some innate skills and characteristics. Some of you might not have the physical characteristics to lead a basketball team to a championship or have the training and talent to be a world-champion chess player.
However, apart from a fairly narrow range of circumstances, this is one of the most limiting questions you can ask. In effect, you’re using your past to limit your future. The truth is that none of us are “perfect” for any task, business, or project, but if you’re committed to making it happen, then you’re absolutely the right person.
I was an attorney for many years before my wife and I started a food manufacturing company, 2 magazines, and a nutrition company. I promise that my time in law school didn’t prepare me for any of that.
Likewise (but much more poignantly), John D. Rockefeller had no business becoming an oil magnate or one of the richest people in history. Born to a father who sold elixirs as a traveling salesman, he became a bookkeeper at the age of 16 and decided to start a business at the age of 20. From there, he went on to dominate the oil industry.
You might not yet believe that you have it in you to be the next great entrepreneur, writer, celebrity, or politician. That’s OK. Belief comes with experience and success, which all starts by never asking this question in the first place.
“You can do anything if you have enthusiasm.” – Henry Ford
As much as anything else, letting go of these questions is all about getting out of your own way and getting the ball rolling. All 3 of these questions are common forms of resistance that can stop or stall your progress, even though they seem like reasonable questions to ask yourself.
There are always more things to know and learn, and there will always be more questions to ask. Nonetheless, the wrong questions will take you on long detours off the path to success.
Your turn. What questions have stalled your progress, and what better questions have you replaced them with?