Active Questions

“You are what your deep driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.”

~ The Upanishads

Socrates claimed, “The unexamined life is not worth living”, and psychologists today mostly agree, as it seems the unexamined life, and a lack of self-awareness, has been linked to lower happiness, higher anxiety, more emotional instability, and compromised performance. According to Dr Les Parrott, co-founder of eHarmony, “Self-awareness is at the pinnacle of psychological health”.

Professor Marshall Goldsmith, in conjunction with Duke University, conducted a study to find out if people could positively affect the quality of their lives by evaluating themselves on a daily basis. Over 4,500 participants took part and asked themselves the following questions:

  1. Did I do my best to be happy?
  2. Did I do my best to find meaning in life?
  3. Did I do my best to be fully engaged?
  4. Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
  5. Did I do my best to set clear goals?
  6. Did I do my best to make progress toward goal achievement?

After just two weeks, the results showed that:

  • 34% of people said they improved in all six areas
  • 67% said they improved in four out of the six areas
  • 91% said they got better in at least one area
  • Nobody said they got worse

The experiment was a resounding success and since then tens of thousands of people have improved their lives using the simple process of answering just 6 simple questions. However, it’s important to distinguish the difference between Professor Goldmith’s ‘Active Questions’, and the standard ‘Passive Question’. Changing the passive “Did I…” to the active “Did I do my best to…” makes you more responsible for the outcome of the habit or goal.

“Answering Active Questions doesn’t just ‘kind of’ work or ‘maybe work’ for some people. It works.”

~ Professor Goldsmith

It isn’t just our emotions and mental well-being that can be directly affected by asking questions. The same process and principles work for other questions you can ask on a regular basis related to weight loss:

  • Did I do my best to enjoy healthy eating?
  • Did I do my best to find new enjoyable exercises?
  • Did I do my best to learn and understand what I need to do to improve my health?
  • Did I do my best to feel happy about my weight loss progress?
  • Did I do my best to feel confident that I can lose weight?

Answering the questions daily is a good start, but you can increase the frequency of how often you answer your Active Questions to reach your desired outcome quicker. In this case, you would change the structure of the question to something like this:

  • Did I do my best to be happy since I last scored myself?
  • Did I do my best to find meaning in life since I last scored myself?
  • Did I do my best to be fully engaged since I last scored myself?
  • Did I do my best to build positive relationships since I last scored myself?
  • Did I do my best to set goals since I last scored myself?
  • Did I do my best to make progress towards my goals since I last scored myself?

Research studies by the American Heart Association found that people who asked themselves what they weigh six or seven times a week were more likely to lose weight compared to people who checked their weight only once per week.

Instructions

The objective of this exercise is to create a list of questions that you ask yourself regularly so you start to become aware of where your thoughts are directed. In time you will find you begin to gently nudge your mind into an alternative way of thinking and the Expectation for reaching your optimum weight will increase whilst your Impulsiveness diminishes.

Google Forms is a great free, online tool to use to record your answers and provides plenty of response options to questions, such as linear scale, detailed answer, drop-down or simple yes/no checkboxes. You can find instructions on how to set up a Google Form to record your daily questions at the end of this guide.

Begin with Professor Goldsmiths 6 Daily Questions and score yourself every day for at least 4 weeks. As you work through the exercises in this guide, other questions will come to mind and you can add them to the Google Form. There are a variety of questions you can ask about your life on a regular basis, and you can even use the form as a diary or journal, the benefits of which we will cover in another chapter.

Here are some examples that you might like to start with:

  • How happy have I been since I last scored myself?
  • How confident have I been since I last scored myself?
  • How motivated have I been since I last scored myself?
  • Did I go to the gym today?
  • Did I do 1 press up today?
  • Did I fast until 11am today?
  • Did I eat any sugar today?
  • How many energy drinks did I consume today?
  • How much do I weigh?
  • To do list
  • What did I just eat or drink?
  • Journal entry

You may have to play around with the question structure so that it suits you and you may also need to change the type of answer that you give. For instance, after a few weeks of answering a question you may decide it is better to change it from a ‘yes/no’ answer to a ‘linear scale’.

It’s also important to remember that you don’t judge the results of your scores and then shoot the messenger. The results are not a judgement on you in any way and you should not get upset with the information they provide. It’s simply data for you to assess if what you are doing in your life is working, to track and evaluate your progress, and make calculated and informed decisions. It is feedback and nothing more.

“Ask, and it will be given you;”

~ Matthew 7:7