Just yesterday, I was leashing up the pack for our afternoon beach walk when Evinrude (one of our cats) approached meowing.
I reminded him that our attempt at training him to walk on a leash had failed when, after three months of near-daily trials, he refused to do anything but flail wildly about at the end of the tether; thus, he would not be accompanying us to the shore.
Which reminded me of little Fiona—the latest addition to my fur family—an adventuresome and sassy 7-month old tri-colored torti. “I’ve got to start walking her on the leash while she’s still young,” I insisted aloud, as the minions looked on inquisitively.
Alas, this unproductive conversation with myself ended right there, as it had numerous times since Fiona’s arrival from the pound a couple of months ago.
Have you ever told yourself you gotta or should do something? Maybe, “I should start exercising,” or, “I gotta stop snapping at my wife,” or, “I have to start eating better.”
And then what happened?
Did you start or stop whatever it was? Did your behavior change for the better? If you’re like most people (myself included, apparently), probably not. In fact, chastising yourself or making empty promises only serves to give you some relief from the guilt of aberrant behavior, making it even less likely that you’ll amend your actions (because uncomfortable emotions like guilt motivate us to change).
The Art of the Question
Questions are great tools for change because they get your mind out of autopilot and into problem-solving mode.
What if you could turn those dead end proclamations into action with some strategic questions?
For instance, let’s take this statement: I have GOT to lose some weight. There’s nothing in that statement for your gray matter to work with. A great question to start with might be: What can I do to support myself in losing weight? Now, that highly evolved neocortex of yours has something to play with! Maybe, after a few seconds of computing, it spits out, well, go on a diet.
Ok, next question: what kind of diet?
Well, I’ve been thinking about that Forks Over Knives video. Maybe I’ll try that. Yea, that’s what I’ll do.
Ok, what’s the next step I need to take in order to try out plant-based eating?
The question process would continue in this manner until you have reached a concrete action that needs completion before you can proceed. For instance, maybe you need to do some research online and generate a food plan.
Ultimately, the questions you ask should generate action, not just thoughts.
Let’s Try Another
I’ve got to quit plucking candy kisses from my supervisor’s desk. This will be the last one!
Ahem...what action can I take right now to support myself in that decision? After all, I’ve said that before and it hasn’t stuck yet.
You may have learned by now that the strength of your determination in this moment has absolutely nothing to do with your determination tomorrow—or even five minutes from now. That’s why action-oriented questions can be so powerful.
Of course, in the above scenario, you’re at work where nonwork-related action is frowned upon. But just for practice, see if you can generate at least two actions you could take to support yourself in keeping your hands out of the candy jar. Think of them now before you continue reading.
Ok, what’d you come up with?
Here’s what I got. You could email yourself a reminder to explore this recurrent issue when you get home. Or you could harness the force of social pressure by making a public proclamation about your intention.
Back to Fiona
Now that I’ve happily dispensed some advice, maybe I’ll try it out on myself. I should really start walking Fiona on the leash while she’s still young and impressionable.
That’s a good idea. What can I do right now to make sure that happens?
Ok, gotta go make room in my schedule for a 15-minute cat walk!