If you pay close attention, you’re probably asking yourself hundreds of questions each day.
A lot of them will focus on things you want to attain in life - Money, status, connectedness, joy, safety or time.
Some of the questions we ask ourselves will be small and inconsequential and others will be significantly bigger. If you look closely, the smaller ones will actually be manifestations of a central dominant question. While they change throughout our lifetime as priorities come and go, there will always be at least one dominant question in our minds that we keep asking at any given time.
Dominant questions like:
How can I make more money?
What will my friends and family think about this?
How can I be less busy?
What is going to happen if I do this thing I’m thinking about doing?
How can I get this thing that will make me happy?
How can I be more likable?
The first and most important thing to ask yourself is “What is my dominant question right now?”. Once you consciously know what your dominant question is, you can observe it in the light of day and see if it’s useful and how it’s likely to make you act. The question may well be useful and you continue to ask it. Equally though, you may realise that you’ve had the same dominant question for years and it’s not actually that relevant anymore.
Cast your mind back to your teenage years, odds are you were probably a bit different to how you are now. At some point, for every teenager, their dominant question will be “how can I get people to like me?” so that I fit in and make more friends. While this is an immature way to ask the question, it’s a useful question at the time. By continually asking it and finding ways to answer it, we develop important social skills. This question is somewhat useful at the time and most people grow out of it. Some don’t though. They carry this now-irrelevant question with them far into adulthood and sabotage themselves by doing so. They put themselves second, they people please at their own cost and they can come off as being needy, like a teenager. They are continually afflicted by these issues, and probably don’t know why.
Once you know what your question is, you can manipulate it and frame it and use it to your advantage. Suddenly, by identifying your question, it helps you answer the question “Why do I act the way I do?”. At this point, you can choose if you want to keep this dominant question the way it is, modify it, or replace it with another question altogether. The choice is yours.
To better understand, imagine two brothers, Bill & Bob. Both have had the same upbringing and both own small businesses. They both have young families. On the surface, they have very similar lives.
Their dominant questions are very different though:
Bill’s question is “How can I make more money?”
Bob’s question is “How can I spend more time with my family?”
Immediately, it’s easy to see the different ways that they’re likely to act in almost any work and family scenario.
Once you understand what your dominant question is, the next most important element is the way that you ask yourself the question.
Let’s revisit Bill & Bob. This time, they have the same question effectively, but ask it in different ways:
Bill’s question is still “How can I make more money?”
Bob’s question is “How can I maximise the amount of money I make in the same time I already spend?”
In this case, Bill’s question is about more. More can never be fully satisfied. As long as this is his dominant question, he’s likely to be continually longing and striving for more. He’ll be likely to keep taking on new work and more work, even when he doesn’t have time for it. Granted, he’s likely to make more money, but to what end? If he’s happy currently with enough money, is more money likely to make him happier? Probably not, and especially if it’s at the cost of his time with family and friends and reduced sleep.
Bob on the other hand also wants to make more money, but has a question which sees him able to keep the rest of his life in balance. While he’s actively wanting to make more money, he isn’t willing to do it at the cost of time with his family and friends and sleep. Instead of looking for more from outside, he’s likely to look at ways to act more effectively and efficiently.
Bill is likely to try and continually acquire - More work, customers, sales, product offerings.
Bob is likely to try and continually optimise - He’s more likely to seek efficiencies and effectiveness, to make the most of the opportunities he already has. If he sees a promising new opportunity with a great client, he knows he’ll need to give up his worst client to fit them in - replacing the one who always wants the cheapest price, fastest delivery and never pays on time with a high margin, low effort, golden goose. All because he asked the right question of himself.
What is your dominant question?
Is it relevant and is it serving you?
Are you asking it in the most effective way?
Thank you for taking the time to read and for investing in better thinking.
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Until then, Onward & upward, Jake