At first I thought asking yourself what you should be asking yourself was redundant. It isn't. Without this question, you wouldn't ask any others, so it gets top billing. It creates an alert, thoughtful mind state, ideal for ferreting out the information you most need in every situation. Ask it frequently.
This very moment is, always, the only moment in which you can make changes. Knowing which changes are best for you comes, always, from assessing what you feel. Ask yourself many times every day if you like what you're doing. If the answer is no, start noticing what you'd prefer. Thus begins the revolution.
These two words, considered sincerely, can radically reconfigure the landscape of your mind. Worry rarely leads to positive action; it's just painful, useless fear about hypothetical events, which scuttles happiness rather than ensuring it. Some psychologists say that by focusing on gratitude, we can shut down the part of the brain that worries. It actually works!
Feel free to switch out the words in brackets: You may like TV more than exercise, or bad boys more than nice guys, or burglary more than reading. Whatever the particulars, every woman has something she likes more than the somethings she's supposed to like. But forcing "virtues"—trying to like people more than cupcakes—drives us to vices that offer false freedom from oppression. Stop trying to like the things you don't like, and many vices will disappear on their own.
Your existence is already a factor in world history—now, what sort of factor do you want it to be? Maybe you know you're here to create worldwide prosperity, a beautiful family, or one really excellent bagel. If your impressions are more vague, keep asking this question. Eventually you'll glimpse clearer outlines of your destiny. Live by design, not by accident.
In small ways or large, your life will change the world—and in small ways or large, the world will change you. What experiences do you want to have during your brief sojourn here? Make a list. Make a vision board. Make a promise. This won't control your future, but it will shape it.
Again, it doesn't have to be vegans; the brackets are for you to fill in. Substitute the virtue squad that makes you feel worst about yourself, the one you'll never have the discipline to join, whether it's ultra-marathoners or mothers who never raise their voices. Whatever group you're asking about, the answer to this question is no.
As I often say, my mind is a two-bit whore—by which I mean that my self-justifying brain, like any self-justifying brain, will happily absorb beliefs based on biases, ego gratification, magical thinking or just plain error. The body knows better. It's a wise, capable creature. It recoils from what's bad for us, and leans into what's good. Let it.
I believe this question was originally posed by Lao Tzu, who also wrote, "To become learned, each day add something. To become enlightened, each day drop something." Face it: You'd be better off without some of your relationships, many of your possessions, and most of your thoughts. Chuck your chic-chick junk, chic chick. Enlightenment awaits.
Adults tend to put this question to children in a homicidal-sounding snarl, which is probably why as you grew up, your laughter rate dropped from 400 times a day (for toddlers) to the grown-up daily average of 15. Regain your youth by laughing at every possible situation. Then, please, tell us what's funny—about everyday life, about human nature, even about pain and fear. We'll pay you anything.
This might well be the most powerful question on our list—as Socrates believed, we gain our first measure of intelligence when we first admit our own ignorance. Your ego wants you to avoid noticing where you may have bad information or unworkable ideas. But you'll gain far more capability and respect by asking where you're wrong than by insisting you're right.
I once read a story about a world where people sold memories the way we can sell plasma. The protagonist was an addict who'd pawned many memories for drugs but had sworn never to sell his memory of falling in love. His addiction won. Afterward he was unaware of his loss, lacking the memory he'd sold. But for the reader, the trade-off was ghastly to contemplate. Every time you choose social acceptance over your heart's desires, or financial gain over ethics, or your comfort zone over the adventure you were born to experience, you're making a similar deal. Don't.
I felt profoundly liberated when this issue was raised on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update." Not everyone does yoga, but SNL reminded me that everyone dreads committing some sort of gaffe. Substitute your greatest shame-fear: crying at work, belching in church, throwing up on the prime minister of Japan. Then know you aren't alone. Everyone worries about such faux pas, and many have committed them (well, maybe not the throwing up on PMs). Accepting this is a bold step toward mental health and a just society.
Some psychologists believe that no one is born with any particular talent and that all skill is gained through practice. Studies have shown that masters are simply people who've practiced a skill intensely for 10,000 hours or more. That requires loving—not liking, loving—what you do. If you really want to excel, go where you're passionate enough to practice.
To maximize time spent practicing your passions, minimize everything else. These days you can find machines or human helpers to assist with almost anything. Author Timothy Ferriss "batches" job tasks into his famous "four-hour workweek." My client Cindy has an e-mail ghostwriter. Another client, Angela, hired an assistant in the Philippines who flawlessly tracks her schedule and her investments. Get creative with available resources to find more time in your life and life in your time.
Ask this question just to remind yourself of the answer: You can't. Life is inherently uncertain. The way to cope with that reality is not to control and avoid your way into a rigid little demi-life, but to develop courage. Doing what you long to do, despite fear, will accomplish this.
If everyone kept all the rules, we'd still be practicing cherished traditions like child marriage, slavery and public hangings. The way humans become humane is by assessing from the heart, rather than the rule book, where the justice of a situation lies. Sometimes you have to break the rules around you to keep the rules within you.
We can get so obsessed with acquiring fabulous lives that we forget to live. When my clients ask themselves this question, they almost always discover that their "perfect life" pastimes are already available. Sharing joy with loved ones, spending time in nature, finding inner peace, writing your novel, plotting revenge—you can do all these things right now. Begin!
Your situation may endanger your life and limbs, but only your thoughts can endanger your happiness. Telling yourself a miserable mental story about your circumstances creates suffering. Telling yourself a more positive and grateful story, studies show, increases happiness. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, choose thoughts that knit your heart together, rather than tear it apart.
It's been several seconds since you asked this. Ask it again. Not to make yourself petulant or frustrated—just to see if it's possible to choose anything, and I mean any little thing, that would make your present experience more delightful. Thus continues the revolution.