Want better performance? Ask yourself better questions!

An Olympians Perspective

This week I started coaching an amazing athlete currently preparing for the 2012 Olympic Games.  His performance to date has been steadily improving, but with less than 130 days to go before the Games, he noticed a growing sense of anxiety starting to develop in him. 


After discussing what was underneath this emotionally, he was able to distill it down to a single thought or question, “Will I be able to live up to the expectations of everyone around me?” 

Or more succinctly, “Will I be enough”.

Can you relate? 

One of our greatest assets as human beings can also be our greatest liability at times – Our ability to ask ourselves questions, and create meaning.   We are never without our thoughts – even when we are asleep. But how often do we think about the quality of our thinking?

Asking Questions and Effective Thinking

Effective thinking – managing the mental and emotional dimensions of our energy – is a process driven largely by how well we ask and answer questions. Let’s face it, most of us ask ourselves lousy questions from time to time that cripple our performance.  Questions can unintentionally turn our focus away from what we want and towards more of what we are trying to avoid.  And since we ask and answer questions every day, our questions wield great power over our performance and results.

Bottom line: questions drive performance and results

Asking Questions and Great Leadership

The difference between an average leader and an extraordinary one is often their ability to ask themselves good questions first. The right questions lead to the heart of what is most important moment by moment, and lead to more effective decision making.

Below are some examples of personal questions we often ask ourselves.  One form of questions is weak or disempowering.  The other form is strong or empowering.  As you read through them, ask yourself this – which form of question do you tend to ask yourself most often?

When facing unfamiliar social situations:

Weaker: How can I avoid looking like an idiot? What should I talk about? How can I keep from being too nervous or shy? Why did I get myself into this situation?  How can I get out of going?

Stronger: How could this opportunity stretch me? What can I do to make others feel more comfortable?  What questions could I ask others to get a conversation started?  What do others at this event to have in common with me?

When feeling anxious or pessimistic:

Weaker: Why do I feel so down? Why can’t I be happy? How come I never get any time to myself?

Stronger: What can I do to energize myself right now? Who can I connect to about this? What can I read or listen to that would inspire me? Are these emotions trying to tell me something?  What core value of mine am I neglecting right now or feel is being trampled on?

When your energy starts to drop mid-afternoon:

Weaker: Have I done enough that I can justify quitting for the day? Is this a good time to stop? Can I finish this tomorrow?

Stronger: What does my body need right now to recharge? When was the last time I did some strategic movement?  What one task is most important to complete before I leave today?

Strong questions are empowering.  They keep you focused on solutions, on what you can control. When you focus on what you can do, you avoid falling into analysis paralysis.

Want better performance? Ask better questions!

Strong questions focus on what you value, and your sense of purpose – the reason you do what you do beyond mere survival.

Ultimately the way out of any potentially negative situation is changing the way we frame it. Weak questions lead us in circles. Powerful thinking leads to action.


Asking Powerful Questions: Your Challenge this Month!

When you find your emotional energy starting to shift into “survival mode”, pay attention to the quality of the questions you are asking yourself. Are you asking strong or weak questions? What is the one question that could begin to shift your energy in the other direction again?

Share your thoughts below

What’s one question you could ask yourself when your motivation starts to slip?  What’s one question you ask yourself when you start to feel anxious about a challenging conversation you need to have with someone?

Russell Hunter


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