Are you asking the right questions?

coaching mindset Aug 19, 2015

We’ve all been there. You come out of an interview, a meeting, a phone call – something you really wanted to go well– and it sucked. You feel lousy. You feel like nothing will ever make up for how horrible it went, and you believe it was all your fault.

What do you do, after a setback like that?

That feeling was no stranger to me during my years of auditions in L.A. and here in New York. (Heck, it’s still not a stranger to me. It’s part of life.) I remember one particularly horrible audition—I just bombed it—and after, I walked out onto the street, wanting to curl up in a hole. My brain was spinning in a loop of “Why can’t I do this?” “Why does this happen to me?” “Why am I not good/pretty/talented/exceptional enough?”

And you know what? My brain had no problem giving me the answers. Everything I asked it, it answered; it provided me with more reasons for why I sucked. I was positive I was a loser. I should just pack my bags and go home now.

Later that day, I was going to see my friend Joseph McClendon, and I thought he’d be the perfect person to give me some sympathy. Nope. Instead, he told me it was my fault I was feeling so awful. I was bringing this lousy feeling on myself. Not because I’d bombed the audition, but because I was handling it so poorly.

He said, “You’re asking terrible questions.”


“See, your brain will answer whatever you ask it,” he told me. “So ask better questions.”

This was not the pity-fest I’d been hoping for.

“’Why’ questions are usually not a good approach,” he went on, unconcerned with my attitude. “They tend to be more destructive than anything.” Instead, he told me, try these:

How can I be better? How can I make this work? What can I do to make the outcome better next time?

I admit, I resisted at first. It was hard to switch gears. But once I gave in, I found out – pretty quickly – it works.

Try it next time you’re in a slump or a setback. Your brain is extraordinary—it really WILL come up with answers to the questions you ask it. So the trick is to ask it questions whose answers will serve you.

I see famous athletes do this all the time. After they miss a shot or lose a game, a reporter will often stick a microphone in their face and try to ask them a “Why” question. But the best athletes tend to shift the focus to the positive. Serena Williams does this constantly. No matter what the question, she’d turn it and say, “Well, I did THIS well, and next I’ll do THAT better.”

Which brings me to another important aspect – celebrating what you DID do well. You have to congratulate yourself for what you did right – no matter how small it is! Even if you just walked in the room and said “hello” well. Train your brain to celebrate that. That starts to wire your nervous system to want to do it again.

So, after a meeting, or a game, or an audition – whatever – use this approach. Look at what you want to improve, but instead of framing it as “Why do I suck?” ask “How can I do it better?”

This does a few things: first, it presupposes that there will be a next time, as opposed to thinking “That was my one chance and I screwed it up.”  Second, it helps you visualize the next time – every time you visualize, you’re training yourself for the real event. Third, it starts to establish the habit of thinking strategically and planning ahead. You’re learning from your experiences, good and bad.

Joseph helped me realize that I was what he lovingly calls an accomplished “self-beater” I was. Before he showed me the power of those questions, I had no idea how destructive they could be—how much I was harming myself. Now I use questions to my advantage, every day. I’m constantly shifting my questions, so that I get the best, most useful, most enlightening answers. And I always get them.

Try it – and let me know how it goes below! What other questions can you ask yourself, that will help you improve the next time?

Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash


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