How to lead a happier life – Milestone #2: Ask better questions, think better thoughts

Boy, what a summer it has been! Within the month of July, it has been one adventure after another, covering 17 different cities and towns in 3 different countries with 3 of the dearest people in my life. A priceless experience of stepping out of an invisible cage and savouring life; an experience which has left deep imprints and is creating ripple effects toward my quest of finding the answer to the big question of ‘how to live’.

As I recounted those adventures to my friends, they listened wide-eyed, as if the stories had swept them off their feet and wiped the air out of their breaths. One exclaimed his surprise at how I found beauty and awe within the highly uncomfortable circumstances; many others would have drowned themselves in complaints. He brought up a very crucial factor of the level of our happiness – our thoughts and focus.

We all talk to ourselves through our thoughts, every single moment; the scientists found it to be at an approximate rate of 60,000 times a day. Many of these thoughts come in the form of questions. What should I wear… I wonder what they think of me… Should I have done that instead… Why does this always happen to me… I’m not good enough… etc. What many don’t realise is this: those questions and thoughts have got you here; if you want to get to a better place, then you have to ask better questions and think better thoughts. What got you here won’t get you there.

As a practice, let’s take three questions or thoughts that are frequent residents in our minds and explore better alternatives to them.

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EXAMPLE 1

Why is this (always) happening to me?

Asking so implies that you have no control and power over something that is being done to you, and it is likely that the answer to that question would lead to more unhappiness.

Alternative A – If you seek to understand and learn from the situation

How have I been responsible for this happening? / What can I learn from this?

We all contribute to the events that happen in our lives, even if we are unaware of it. Asking this question helps you focus on what you can control and influence, and leaves you better equipped to deal with a similar situation in future.

Alternative B – If you seek to get unstuck from the situation and move forward

What needs to be done now?

This moves you away from a state of being victimised to an empowered state that is solution-driven.

EXAMPLE 2:

Am I good enough?

This is a yes-no question riding on the train of Doubt.

It includes all other permutations of the same question, e.g. I’m not smart enough… I don’t have enough credentials or experience… I’m too fat… I’m too thin… I’m too young… I’m too old… etc.

Alternative A – If you seek to improve something about yourself

How can I…?

The question of being good enough is an incomplete one; the complete sentence will include the context, e.g.

  • I’m too young to take on this role –> how can I play this role well?
  • I’m not good enough for him (or her) –> how can I be a better person and partner?

Alternative B – If you seek to have an honest evaluation of yourself

What are my strengths? What are the areas I need to work on?

EXAMPLE 3:

He (or she) is so lucky to be living the life he loves

Very often, we look at others with envy as we see them having something that we wish for ourselves. This envy comes with a sense of separation, that ‘he is he and I am I’ and that he is the only privileged one for whom the door of happiness and success has opened for. Everyone has a story, and it is easy for observers to just see the success and miss the struggles that are tied to it.

Alternative A

What can I learn or model from him?

This is the power of leverage! As they say, success leaves traces. If there is something about his life that resonates with you, ask him how he did it. Instead of having your own thoughts churning inside your head, talk to him.

People seldom ask, and asking is in fact one of the most powerful missing link.

Alternative B

What kind of life do I want to create or design?

Bring your focus away from envying others to clarifying what is your unique life and aligning your actions with that vision. Use your energy wisely.

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Our mind is a brilliant thing. It can conjure up all kinds of questions and answers. It has no limitations and can take us to our wildest imaginations, just like a free-spirited wild horse. The flipside of this is that this horse is untamed and can bring us over the cliff edges just as it can take us to the most amazing pastures. What it needs is a skilful master, and that’s you.

Start off by being an observer of your thoughts, emotions, actions and habits. Notice what you are thinking, feeling, doing, and the patterns that run your life. You will soon find that you are able to catch yourself asking un-resourceful questions or thinking disempowering thoughts. Once you are able to do that, you are ready for the next step – replacing them with better alternatives.

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