Hartung – Life@Work: The questions we ask ourselves

Editor’s note: Ask your Life@Work questions here. This column is designed to answer readers questions about challenging issues they face in their work lives. Submit questions to Jessica@workthatmatters.com

A friend of mine asks, “Am I expecting too much?” and “Can’t it be easier?”

Of course, he doesn’t expect me to give an answer. Yet most of us can identify with wanting more ease when things have been hard. So let’s take a closer look at the intersection of personal and professional development where this question arises. We may wonder if we can have fulfillment at work and be paid well?  Or if we can maintain our careers and still have time for the family life of our dreams?

These aspirations are worth exploring, but asking the question “Am I expecting too much?” doesn’t reveal much useful data, even if you did know the answer.  So, first we can focus on asking ourselves better questions.

Upgrade the questions you ask yourself

Reframing the questions you ask yourself focuses the mind in ways that are useful. Our mind just can’t help but spend time on the questions we ask it. In fact, our conscious awareness actively works on the question while the brilliance of our unconscious mind explores alternatives in the background. If you ask an unanswerable question, such as “Am I expecting too much?” you may find yourself spinning your wheels and thinking unproductively instead of gaining traction with new ideas and answers.

The example questions encourage productive ideas from your conscious and unconscious mind.

  • What is really important right now?
  • What does a good outcome look like?
  • What do I intend to do?
  • In what ways are my actions inconsistent with my vision?
  • What can I change?
  • How can I be of service?
  • How do I know I’m on track?

It is an act of personal leadership to ask yourself good quality questions.

Draw on strengths

When you need to dig deep, drawing on your strengths can support what you are working on. Finding new ways to utilize your strengths solves many types of issues.

Since you already have significant strengths, but may not always be using them, let’s look at how you can most easily identify them and call on them in the moment. It’s like inventorying “What do I already have to work with?”

Noticing your strengths is easiest when you are actually using them and can see them in action. For instance, think of a time when you were on a call, and you just nailed a response or provided some valuable insight. Notice what strengths you were using.  Perhaps your careful preparation really paid off, or was it your attention to detail?  Maybe you were flexing a particular marketing or communication muscle?  

Make note of what strengths you see in yourself. The goal is to get you to know and use your strengths, and build them more over time.  

This strength-identifying thought experiment can be done any time, as long as you have a spot to capture information about your superpowers. With a notepad at your desk or an app on your device you can capture a strength of yours when you notice you are using it or could apply it.  You can refer back to these strengths when you are problem solving or wanting to bring forth your best.

Consciously using your strengths is a smart strategy at any time, and a relevant thought experiment to imagine how you could apply them in new and innovative ways, especially in these unexpected times.  This is a bootstrap move to uplift you to strategic thinking any time you’re in the thick of it. 

So while we still don’t know if my friend was expecting too much, it doesn’t matter.  By leveraging your strengths, you can enjoy your work more as well as the results you create.

Jessica Hartung is author of The Conscious Professional: Transform Your Life at Work, and founder of Integrated Work, a Boulder leadership development company. More at consciousprofessional.com.