For this blog, I decided to step back and ask myself a bigger question,
“If I could only have one blog entry on motivation,
what is the one thing I would want to pass on to others?”
So this is it—this, I think, is about the best that I have. I think that everyone should have a short list of 5-10 powerful questions they can ask themselves every day. They don’t need to ask all of them every day, but they should choose at least one every morning.
Here’s the thing—they can’t be just any questions because all questions are not created equal. In my experience, the most motivating questions tend to be appreciative inquiry questions; that is, they trigger possibility, optimism, and energy. Really good appreciative inquiry questions don’t ignore difficulty, but they focus on the possibility on the other side. Life is possibility to live into, not a problem to be solved. They talk about difficulties, but focus on what you can draw upon within yourself to navigate through the situation.
Here are the ten questions on my list:
- What did I do well yesterday?
- What is my purpose today? What purpose is trying to find me?
- What are the strengths I can leverage?
- What are the weaknesses I need to compensate for and how will I do this today?
- What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?
- What truth am I blurring?
- What I’d really like to say is….
- What I’m scared to say is….
- What would be really freeing to say is…
I don’t ask all of the questions every day, but choose one or two each morning. I also pull the list up when I’m feeling scattered or need some focus in my life. They seem to cut through the chatter and noise. They ground me.
To create your own list of provocative questions, one thing I would suggest is that you read people who know how to ask a really good question, one that cuts to the very heart of your identity and leaves you excited to live that truth. Two books that do that for me are The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (1992) and The Answer to How is Yes by Peter Block (2002). I’m sure there are others.
There are five criteria that will be helpful as you think about your list provocative questions. Look for questions that:
- Focus on possibility: If the answers could be fully actualized, would you want them?
- Are grounded: Does the question elicit examples from the past that make the ideal future as a real possibility?
- Focus on the affirmative: Is the question stated in affirmative and bold terms?
- Are provocative: Does it stretch, challenge, or interrupt the status quo?
- Focus learning and growth: Doe it focus on how you are changing and development over time? Does it stimulate insight and learning?
Below is a list of questions that I have collected over the years from various sources. Some will be powerful catalysts for you; others won’t. Look for the 5-7 questions that are most powerful for you. These will be the questions that excite you and put you at the edge of yourself at exactly the same time. You’re likely to say to yourself, “Okay, if I’m honest with myself, here is the real truth that actually is a little painful to admit. So, how come I also feel more energy?” One word of caution, as you are putting together your list, make sure you ignore any questions you think should be on your list; only include the ones you want on your list.
- What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?
- What crossroads am I at right now?
- If I was smarter than I am, what would I do?
- What unsolicited offers of help or unexpected opportunities may be presenting themselves to me right now that I am discounting or missing?
- What is so worthwhile, that it is worth doing poorly today?
- What do I love about my life? What do I hate about my life?
- What advice would my “older and wiser self” give me right now?
- If God was too good to be true, what would He say to me right now?
- If there was no risk of failure, what would I try?
- If I could change anything about my life right now, where would I start?
- If my life were a book, what would be the theme? What are the lessons I would weave into the story to pass on to others?
- What is one thing that I would have liked to have accomplished in my life by now?
- What are ten things I am tired of tolerating?
- Interview 3 friends; ask them, “What am I good at (especially the things that you think I don’t seem to admit to myself)?” Now what would happen if you accepted these as strengths?
- What are 25 things that I am grateful for today?
- In 20 years, what would be one of the most powerful things I could say about the next two decades looking back over them? What will I want to remember about today?
- What is something that I need to “let go” or stop doing?
- How do I sabotage myself and my plans?
- What is the core factor that gives vitality to my life – the one thing without which it would not be the same?
- What gifts and dreams are below the surface in my life that just might blossom into something extraordinary if I allowed myself to be more vulnerable?
- If I received no compliments or acknowledgements of appreciation from people today, where would I find my value?
- What if, instead of trying to find my purpose, I thought about letting my purpose find me? What purpose is trying to find me in my life right now?
- What question, if I knew the answer, would set me free? (from Block, 2002)
Feel free to use the comments section to include some of your own questions and/or any book recommendations you might have!
 Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D., & Stavros, J. M. (2008). Appreciative inquiry handbook: For leaders of change (2nd Edition). Brunswick, OH : Crown Custom Publishing, Inc. ; San Francisco, CA : BK, Berrett-Koehler.
 Some of these are my criteria but also see Watkins, J. M., & Mohr, B. J. (2001). Appreciative inquiry: Change at the speed of imagination. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer. See p. 141.