We all have a large circle of things that are outside our control, and a smaller circle of things that are inside our control. I believe we should be aware of the large circle, but that we should focus on the small circle – what we can control.
To illustrate, let me share a story from the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, where the author Stephen Covey talks about a strategy seminar he held for a struggling business:
“I was working with a group of people in the home-improvement industry. A heavy recession was taking a toll on their business, and they were discouraged as we began the seminar.
The first day, we talked about: “What’s happening to us?” The basic answer was that they were laying off their friends just to survive. The group finished their first day even more discouraged.
On the second day, we talked about: “What’s going to happen in the future?” They concluded things were going to get worse before they improved. They were more depressed than ever.
On the third day, we focused on the proactive question: “What is our response?”. In the morning, we brainstormed ways of managing better and cutting costs. In the afternoon, we talked about how to increase our market share.
By concentrating on a few doable things, everyone was able to wrap up the meeting with a new spirit of excitement and hope, eager to get back to work. We all had faced reality, and discovered we had the power to choose a positive response.”
Lesson: Focus your questions on what you can do to improve the situation. Have 25% of your questions be about the larger circle, so that you understand what is happening around you. But then focus the rest 75% of your questions on what you can do about it.
Some proactive questions to add to your vocabulary:
What is my goal?
What do I need?
What can I do?
What are my options?
What are my unique strengths?
What can I learn from this?
What if I…?
If we focus more on such proactive questions when faced with challenges, I believe we can avoid digging ourselves further down into the hole, and instead see the best way to climb out of it.