Asking ourselves can be tricky. Sometimes we know the answer – what we want for dinner, what goes on the meeting agenda, whether to stop at the gym on the way home (this is a time we may know the answer but wish it were different…)
Other times, the answers don’t come as readily. It could be that the stakes are high, big emotions are in the way, or that the answer conflicts with another value or priority. In those cases, we may know the answer but not be ready to acknowledge it, even to ourselves.
Of course we can always be content with not knowing — unless we want to live and lead authentically. The first step in authentic leadership is to know our true instincts. Only then can we make an informed decision about if, and how, to act on them.
Even with a commitment to authenticity, the answers may not come easily. If you’re asking big hard questions, the true answers can be scary. Our brains are wired to protect against scary. We can avoid those mental trip wires by creating a sense of distance between the questioner (you) and the respondent (secretly also you).
Here, with apologies to the Talking Heads (and to anyone who’s young enough not to get the reference), are three simple ways You May Ask Yourself…
- “If you knew the answer, what would it be?” I’m routinely amazed at how simple this is and how well it works. By shutting down some levels of mental resistance, this question frees you to just say what you know. My daughter was learning state capitals and got stuck on North Carolina, which we had been practicing for three days. So when she said “I don’t know,” I said “If you knew the answer, what would it be?” “Raleigh,” she blurted, looking a little surprised at herself. (credit to consulting guru Peter Block, via strategic planning whiz Liz O’Connor for this one.)
- Interview yourself. This is similar to journaling, but adds a degree of distance that makes it safer to say what’s true. First, get clear on the question you want to ask. For example, “are there options I’m not seeing in this situation?” or “what do I really want to say to that person?” (Remember, this is just to get the information so you can decide how to proceed. It doesn’t mean you are going to actually do or say these things.) Once you have the question, here are two options: in your journal, write the question. Then switch pen colors and/or the hand you write with to write the answer. On a walk or in the shower or wherever you do your best thinking, imagine you’re talking to someone else and let your response flow naturally. When you’re answering someone else’s question, the hesitations and minimization and doubt can fall away, leaving you with the full unadulterated beauty of what you know to be true.
- Meet your inner mentor. This is a guided meditation that helps you visualize your best self, 20 years in the future. During the meditation, and anytime afterwards, you can go to her/him for guidance. One client was facing a choice about a project that didn’t feel right, but also felt hard to turn down. She checked in with her inner mentor — a calm, confident women living in a light-filled beach house. Her inner mentor smiled patiently and told her “you don’t have to jump at everything. There are better projects coming your way soon.” This allowed the client to say “no thank you” with clarity and confidence, making room for projects that truly energized her. (more detail on this one in Tara Mohr’s book Playing Big – you can find audio versions of the visualization by Googling “inner mentor.”)
There you go! Have fun asking yourself, and let me know what you find out.