For Self-Motivation, Ask Yourself These Questions

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”  Voltaire — French writer, playwright, philosopher

How does one acquire the motivation to improve? This is a timeless question that many people struggle with, from losing weight to enhancing their relationships to engaging in activities that grow their business. It’s easy to wish for a better body, a closer friendship or a bigger clientele, but it’s quite another thing to make the continuous effort required over the long haul to make it happen in reality. You know the script: You set a New Year’s resolution to get to the health club three times a week, but on that first snowy Saturday in January you pull the covers over your head and sleep in. Self-improvement always begins with a happy thought but the execution is typically lacking.

A fine book on a unique approach to self-motivation is from Marshall Goldsmith, who coaches some of the world’s top CEO’s. In Triggers, he suggests you ask yourself six empowering questions at the end every day:

Did I do my best to be happy?

Did I do my best to find meaning?

Did I do my best to be fully engaged?

Did I do my best to build positive relationships?

Did I do my best to set clear goals?

Did I do my best to make progress toward goal achievement?

Notice the key phrase in each of these questions is, “Did I do my best?” Rather than just asking yourself if you engaged in a certain activity, this implies you gave your best effort. Because the level of your effort dictates the level of satisfaction you’ll derive when working on improving yourself in any area.

The concept of best effort is supported by Stanford University Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck. In her book Mindset, she says that high achievers have a “growth mindset, “ believing their abilities are developed through dedication and hard work. Brains and talent are merely the starting point — over-praising these qualities is actually detrimental, allowing one to rest on their laurels and shy away from ego-threatening challenges. The growth mindset creates a love of learning and a resilience that is required for great accomplishment. All successful people display these qualities.

More validation for doing one’s best can be found in Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code. Coyle shares the science of how the brain expands when making the effort to master difficulties, whether mental or physical, via “better practice” — deliberately doing key exercises that have been identified as essential for improvement. Simply put, our brain is similar to a muscle that grows in relation to the effort given. We get better by applying the following formula: Sustained effort via better practice = results = satisfaction = willingness to try again, a virtuous cycle for success.

Rather than limiting yourself to only six questions, Goldsmith suggests you make up your own empowering questions. The idea is to ask them at the end of each day to evaluate your progress on any worthy goal. Looking at all areas of your life, here are some examples:

Empowering Questions for Your Career  Did I do my best today to …

  • Help my clients, no matter how big or small? Make them feel important, hear their concerns, assist them with any challenge they face whether it was related to my business or not?
  • Learn something new that will make me more effective on the job? Read a career-related book or professional journal, listen to a podcast, attend a seminar?
  • Network with other professionals to provide them with useful contacts? “Give first” to help them build their business?
  • Clarify expectations for my team, offer guidance to help them with their tasks, give praise when earned, provide constructive feedback to improve their performance? Make our workplace an upbeat, engaged, fun environment?
  • Reach out to prospects who may not be initially interested in talking to me instead of finding a million others things to do to avoid picking up the phone? Make the dials despite my inherent “call reluctance” and not worry whether they said yes or no?

Empowering Questions for Your Health  Did I do my best to …

  • Eat healthy, highly nutritious foods? Keep junk food to a minimum? Avoid eating after 7 pm?
  • Work out vigorously for 30 minutes? Improve my golf game? Stretch before and after exercising?
  • Get to bed on time? Sleep at least 6 hours? Take a 10-minute “power nap” to recharge my battery during the day?

Empowering Questions for Your Relationships Did I do my best to …

  • Make sure my spouse felt listened to about his/her day? Hear him/her out instead of trying to “fix” a situation?
  • Spend significant time with each of my kids? Laugh with them and love them?
  • Contact distant friends to catch up on their lives? Make plans for a get-together?

Empowering Questions for Your Spiritual Development  Did I do my best to …

  • Meditate? Pray? Do yoga? Tai chi?
  • Read inspiring material? Listen to a motivational audio program?
  • Take time to smell the roses? Express appreciation? Be grateful, forgiving, generous?

Scoring yourself daily on such questions over time is a useful way to monitor your progress. Goldsmith suggests you rate yourself on a scale of 1 – 10 (with 10 being high) on your effort in each area. Even if you just answer yes or no, over the course of a month it will become clear to you if you’re improving — seeing progress will feed your self-motivation. Conversely, if you’re scoring low or answering no most days, you can decide to drop a goal because you realize it’s not important. Structuring your days based upon the activities you’re scoring will create an empowering environment that enables goal achievement, confidence, even happiness.

Rest assured, no one scores perfectly every day, including yours truly. Once in a while I make it OK to bust out and indulge myself. For example, I generally have a healthy diet, often vegetarian, featuring whole grains, legumes, nuts and plenty of fruits and veggies. But during a recent heat wave I ate huge bowls of ice cream three days in a row. I live by, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” (My six-days-a-week workouts continued during that binge, so no major health harm was done.)

When you monitor doing your best every day with empowering questions, you’ll become aware of how far you’ve come and how far you need to go in any area you’d like to improve. In the long run, it’s all about the effort – make the right effort and the desired outcome sooner or later will appear.

So the question is, will you do your best today? That’s where the motivational rubber meets the road of results.

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