Simplify Your Life By Asking Better Questions

“If the truth was complicated, everyone would understand it.” Walt Whitman

Brian PennieSep 13 · 5 min read

Photo by Saketh Garuda on Unsplash

Tim Ferriss is a highly successful author, podcaster, entrepreneur and investor. He has written five #1 New York Times bestselling books, and the success of his podcast, which recently exceeded to over 300 million downloads, has seen him named “the Oprah of audio” due to its influence.

In 2017, however, as he turned 40, several of his close friends died in quick succession. It was a harsh reminder that time is a non-renewable resource, and life’s big questions started bubbling to the surface.

“Were my goals my own, or simply what I thought I should want?”

“How much of life have I missed through underplanning or overplanning?”

“How can I be kinder to myself?”

Overwhelmed by the gravity of his personal interrogation, he asked himself one more question…

“What would this look like if it were easy?”

By journaling on this question, one idea jumped out from the page…

“What if I had a tribe of mentors to help me answer these questions?”

What followed was his most recent book Tribe of Mentors, where Tim reached out to his dream list of interviewees and asked them the very questions he was struggling with himself.

The result of this book is a deconstruction of the tools, routines and tactics from 130 of the world’s top performers. This book is a masterpiece on the secrets of success and happiness. If life is getting you down right now, the chances are you will find a solution in there.


Information Overload

When I sat down to write this article over a month ago, I wanted to tell readers about a tool I came across from that very book. It’s a journaling technique I use when life gets busy.

I wanted the introduction to shine, so I began writing about fancy concepts such as cognitive biases, memory capacity, decision-making, information overload, and even neuroscience.

The words were spewing out of me…

I was on a roll…

It was going to be brilliant.

I excitedly read back over it when I finished. To say it was not good is an understatement. It was crap. When I read back over it, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It was a complicated mess, and it was giving me a headache.

Then it hit me…

I was struggling to implement the very technique I was writing about. I was overloaded with information and trying to solve the problem in my head.

But solving complex problems doesn’t work like that. If you want to get answers, you need a technique. And if you want to get to the heart of something, you need to get specific.


Reflective Writing

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” — Henry David Thoreau

A powerful tool for getting to the core of a problem is reflective writing. You simply put a heading at the top of the page and write anything that comes to mind. It is very important that you give yourself time, a minimum of 10–15 mins. Then just let it flow.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense at first. The idea is to create links that might connect to something you’re missing.

Now here’s the critical piece…

If you’re trying to push a project forward, and you write ‘project goals’ at the top of the page, that’s far too vague.

Use something specific: “What can I subtract from the current project that will help me to accomplish things quicker?”

Subtractions work great and specific questions provide cues to get to the heart of an issue.

I once used this method to make an important career choice. I wasn’t sure whether I should focus on my new self-development business, or continue with my studies.

So I asked myself two questions:

“What is it about research that makes me come alive?”

“Why do I want to pursue my business so quickly?”

Notice the specificity of the words in bold. This is what guided my answers.

I won’t go into the details, but I found that both options were interconnected. It made sense to do both, so I did. More importantly, however, I made an informed decision, and my mind was clear.


Thinking Clearly

I also use this method to clarify my thinking and track my life progress.

Here are five questions I ask myself on a regular basis:

“What excites you, what are you passionate about?”

“What new things are you learning right now?”

“What have you done in the last two weeks that is potentially a waste of time?”

“What is your number one goal? Where do you want to go in life?”

“Have you failed at anything recently, are you pushing hard enough?”

I had a remarkable insight when I first used this method, which is why I hold it so dear. Three years ago, I asked myself the first question: “What excites you, what are you passionate about?”

Source: Entry from my journaling diary

I scribbled down anything that excited me… meditation, language, mental health, helping people, skiing, making connections, public speaking, research.

But there was something missing, something big.

I sat with it for a while, scribbled some more, sat with it for a while, and scribbled some more. Then it came to me. I was shocked.

For the previous three years, I couldn’t shut up about a book I wanted to write. But the busyness of life had clouded my mind. I had not thought about it for months. I’m not saying that it was gone forever, but if I had forgotten something that important, what else might I be missing?

What’s more, when I wrote the words ‘my book’ on the page, it was connected to everything else I was passionate about. Writing is now my greatest passion and the focus of my future career.

Would this be the case if I had never used this tool? I’ll never know for sure.


All You Need To Know

Modern life is frantic. There are so many moving parts. If you want to get to the heart of something, there is nothing better than sitting down with a pen and paper.

But if you want to go deep, it’s all about the questions. Vague questions give you vague answers, so you need to get specific. This is the power of reflective writing. You’ll also be able to think, talk, and express yourself better.

Henry Ford was right: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

So maybe it’s time to get specific and find out what that is.


Liked this article? Check out brianpennie.com for similar stories, and get the FREE program I developed to make remarkable changes in my recovery from 15 years of chronic heroin addiction.

WRITTEN BY

Brian Pennie

Change is possible. I write to show that. Recovered addict | Speaker | Writer | PhD candidate. http://www.brianpennie.com

Neuroscience Says Your Brain Is Wired to Procrastinate

Here’s how you can finally quit procrastinating. Without having to think about not procrastinating.

By Jeff HadenContributing editor, Inc.@jeff_haden

GETTY IMAGES

Everyone procrastinates. Everyone, at least once in a while, puts off something important. Everyone, some of the time, avoids doing the things they really want or need to do.

And everyone who procrastinates can’t stand the fact they procrastinate (except maybe Adam Grant, who actually taught himself to procrastinate.)

Procrastinating, like many human behaviors, doesn’t make sense. Why would anyone find ways — passively or actively — to avoid starting the tasks they feel will make a huge difference in their professional or personal lives?

Because we’re human: We’re built that way.

The Science of Procrastination

The limbic system was one of the first the part of your brain that helps control behavioral and emotional responses. (It’s what Seth Godin calls your “lizard brain.”)

In evolutionary terms, many scientists think the limbic system is older than other parts of the brain, playing a key role in survival adaptation. (Deciding between iOS or Android is irrelevant unless you have the whole fight or flight thing down.)

Which means your limbic system’s only focus is now. Hungry? Eat. Scared? Run away. Anxious? Take a step back.

About to do something hard or difficult? Put it off. Even if your neocortex has decided that doing something hard or difficult will be really good for you. 

The neocortex is the “newer” part of human brains that deals with higher-order brain functions like cognition, spatial reasoning, language… and making decisions that affect your future. 

Which is why you put off firing an underperforming employee; while your neocortex realizes he’s dragging the rest of your team down, your limbic system hates the thought of confrontation. (Because firing someone, no matter how deserved, always sucks.)

Or why you put off crafting your pitch deck. Or making cold calls. Or exercising. Or countless other things that you know — at a higher level — will pay off down the road… but seem too hard, or daunting, or painful for your limbic system to allow.

That’s why you procrastinate: Not because you’re lazy, not because you lack willpower, not because you don’t have what it takes… but because your limbic system and your neocortex are engaged in a constant battle — one that the limbic system, because it’s a core (and sometimes almost automatic) function, often wins.

How to Stop Procrastinating

Unless you find ways to take your limbic system out of the equation. Or fool your limbic system into thinking it’s winning.

The key is to align future outcomes with present outcomes — to make something you know is good for you in the long run also feel good in the short term.

How?

1. Shift the focus from the future to the present.

You know exercise will someday be good for you. But right now, in the moment? Exercise kinda sucks.

Unless you make it more fun. Or find ways to trigger the “now” portion of your brain.

If you hate running, find a form of cardio you do like. (Even if it’s less effective, that’s okay: Regularly doing something that is 80 percent as effective is better than never doing something that is 100 percent effective.) Or find a workout partner. Or save your favorite music or podcast or that audiobook you’ve been dying to listen to for your workout. 

2. Change your goal.

Say you want to make 500 sales calls this year. That’s a lot of sales calls: A lot of hearing no, of getting doors shut in your face, of being rejected… your limbic system hates the idea of making 500 sales calls. 

But making 4 sales calls a day? And checking off each call, or at the very least each day’s worth of calls on your calendar? That’s a “now” thing: That can make you feel satisfied and fulfilled now. Your limbic system loves that.

If you want, call it the Seinfeld Method. Early on, Seinfeld decided the way to become a better comedian was to write better jokes. Which meant writing jokes every day. So he got a large calendar, hung it on the wall, and every day he wrote a new joke, he put a red X over that date.

As Seinfeld told Brad Isaac

After a few days, you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt.

Your only job is to not break the chain.

Not breaking the chain feels good. Not breaking the chain is a now thing. Since your limbic system loves now things, turn long-term goals into short-term tasks you can accomplish.

That’s why so many people find themselves walking around their living rooms while they watch TV at night — they’re trying to finish off their 10,000 steps. Not because it will make them healthier someday, but because they love checking off that task today.

3. Avoid your limbic system altogether.

Decisions are willpower killers, which is why your limbic system loves decisions — especially decisions that involve future outcomes. 

But if you pack your lunch the night before you won’t have to make a decision about what to eat. If you automatically withdraw money from every paycheck for savings, you won’t have to make a decision about transferring money to your investment account. If you turn off alerts for a couple of hours, you won’t have to make a decision about whether to peek at a new text or email.

If there are recurring tasks you often put off, find ways to automate them. Then your limbic system won’t ever get involved. And the things you want to do will always get done.

4. Adopt the 5-Minute Rule.

Say you’ve been putting off pulling together a proposal for a potential client. 

Do what Instagram founder Kevin Systrom does and make a deal with yourself. “If you don’t want to do something,” Systrom says, “make a deal with yourself to do at least five minutes of it. After five minutes, you’ll end up doing the whole thing.”

That’s all you have to do. Commit to only doing five minutes. Just five minutes. Your limbic system hates the idea of five hours. But five minutes? No problem.

And once you get started, something magical will happen. You realize that what you were afraid of starting isn’t so scary after all. The endorphins kick in. Your mental muscles warm up. 

Think about a time you’ve put off a task, finally gotten started, and then once into it thought, “I don’t know why I kept putting this off. It’s going really well. It isn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be.”

Your limbic system loves that feeling.

When you’re struggling to get started, don’t think about all the work involved. Just commit to putting in five good minutes. That will quiet your limbic system.

Then, once you get started… it’s all downhill from there

BLACKPOOL TRAGEDY PODCAST 1983 – Police Officers lost at sea.

At 1.48pm on Wednesday the 5th January 1983 the police control room at Blackpool broadcast a radio message that was to change the lives of many and would result in the loss of four human beings.

Holiday maker Alistair Anthony was walking his Jack Russell dog along the lower walk when it went into the sea. He attempted a rescue but was washed away into a sea that has been described by many as some of the worst conditions they have ever seen.

Blackpool police officers were quickly on the scene and attempted a rescue assisted by members of the public. That rescue failed.

Every year since a memorial has been held and a tribute has been erected.

It is a story of tragedy but within it are acts of bravery and compassion that are breathtaking yet never officially recognised.

PC Gordon Connelly

PC Angela Bradley

PC Colin Morrison

Mr Alistair Anthony

MAY THEY REST IN PEACE