Practice of the Week
Focus on Better Questions
Focus on Better Questions
adapted from Jonathan Robinson, Find Happiness Now
Questions are a quick and powerful way to change your focus -- and what you focus on grows. Our emotional state is largely determined by what we think about. If we subconsciously think throughout the day, "What else is wrong in my life?" then we'll likely feel anxious a lot of the time. However, if we focus on the question, "What can I feel grateful for?" then it's easy to feel a whole lot better.
Asking questions to change your focus is a time-tested technique. We already do it, and it has an immense impact on how we feel. Unfortunately, usually we use this method to make ourselves feel angry, depressed, or anxious. We think of things like, "What else do I have to do today?" or "Why is that person such a jerk?" Like a good computer, our brain attempts to answer whatever question we feed it. Out of the millions of things it could think about, our mind chooses just a few things to focus on. How does it know what to let into consciousness, and what to ignore? Our brain chooses what to perceive based on the subconscious (or conscious) questions we ask ourselves. If you ask a negative question, you'll likely feel morose. If you ask a positive one, you'll focus on different thoughts and likely end up feeling good.
Over many years of trial and error, I have found there are four specific questions that are effective in quickly changing how a person feels. They are:
- What small successes have I had recently?
- What could I feel grateful for?
- Who do I love and/or who loves me?
- What do I appreciate about myself?
For example, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, you may choose to ask yourself, "What small successes have I had recently?" As you think of several answers you'll notice your thoughts will begin to move in a different direction. By focusing and visualizing one or more successes, you can begin to tune into the feelings of confidence and achievement. In just a couple of minutes you can transform your experience and feel immensely better.
When you answer any of the four questions, the important thing is to think of specific instances when you felt what the question is asking you about. They need not be big, dramatic examples -- they only need to be times that were emotionally meaningful to you. For instance, when asking yourself, "What could I feel grateful for?" you could feel thankful for literally hundreds of things. You could feel gratitude for being healthy, for having food when much of the world goes hungry, for friends, or even for the use of your phone. By focusing on how fortunate you are, you cultivate gratitude as a habit.
The question, "Who do I love and who loves me?" can be a wonderful way to dive into your heart and experience the grace of love. By remembering a specific time you felt loved by someone, or a particular time you felt in love with someone, it's possible to tune into the warmth within your heart. With practice, you can take "mini love breaks" throughout the day that open your heart with love in just a minute of meditation.
The final question, "What do I appreciate about myself?" can be a good antidote to feelings of self-dislike or unworthiness. The simple fact that you have read this far shows that you're interested in bettering yourself. You probably have a lot of little things about yourself which are likable. By thinking of some of them, you'll feel better. For some people it's hard to see what is good and lovable about themselves. If you have a hard time with this question, you might try asking yourself, "What good things would my friends say about me?" As you focus on what you (or others) see as your positive traits, you'll feel more confident, lovable, and have genuine compassion for yourself.
The hardest thing about this technique is remembering to use it. Yet if you give it a really good try, you'll see that it works wonders. Being able to quickly go from feeling overwhelmed to feeling confident, or feeling anxious to being grateful is one of the most important skills a person could learn. To a large extent, your ability to act effectively in the world is based on how good you feel. As you gain more control over your thoughts and emotions by asking yourself these four questions, you'll not only feel better -- but you'll also be better able to contribute to others.
How do you quickly change how you feel? By asking yourself the right questions!
Each day this week, incorporate into your journal entry an answer to one of the four key questions.
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For list of all weekly practices: "Practice of the Week Index"