How the wrong question can make you feel like giving up.

It was Boxing Day 2020, and I was doing pilates in my living room. I was ready to work off the Baileys, biscuits and brie and feeling very proud of myself for “showing up to the mat” as my yoga instructor used to say. The warm-up went okay, the bridges were doable, but I hit a wall when we got to the planks. I just couldn’t hold the plank. I managed about 3 (very breathless) counts on wobbly arms before I crashed to my knees. I was only 15 minutes in, and I was ready to give up. What the hell?! On Christmas Eve I was killing it, and now, 48 hours later I could barely lift my head, nevermind do a plank.

“Why am I struggling so much today?” I asked myself. The instructor had by now moved onto side planks (really, really?!) and I was giving it a go, but just turning onto my side was an effort. “What is wrong with me today? Why is this so difficult?” I asked myself. I started listing the things I had eaten on Christmas day to explain the reason for the lethargy. Then I thought it might be a hormonal thing. Or maybe it was because I waited too long in the day to start exercising. All of these thoughts made me feel guilty, sorry for myself and I wasn’t showing myself any love – gone was the pride I felt for showing up to the mat – and I felt less and less motivated by the minute. I was spiralling downward and getting very close to giving up.

Change the question

Suddenly I remembered the talk I had given to The Business Support Network on Stress Management, where I explained the ABC instant stress relief technique. The “A” stands for becoming Aware of the stress, “B” is using your Body and Breath to reduce the symptoms of stress, and the “C” stands for Change the question/focus. (The technique is great for relieving stress. You can listen to my talk for free here. I mention the ABC technique at 12 minutes in.)

To get through the pilates class, I needed to change the questions I were asking myself.

Photo by Pixabay on

The brain loves answering questions. It’s what it does. So when you ask a disempowering question, you are going to start listing all the observations that are making you feel disempowered (and low, unmotivated and doubting yourself).

The solution is therefore to ask an empowering question so that you find the answers that will allow you to take back control.

In my post-Christmas pilates crisis, that meant I had to stop asking “Why is this workout so hard?” and instead ask “What can I do to get through this workout?”

With that one question, I took back control and stopped focusing on the past, all at once.

Just as my brain had shown me why I was struggling, it now started to show me the solution: take a break. Pause the video, rest a few seconds, press play again and keep going. It’s that easy.

When you change the question you ask yourself, you also change where you look for the answers.

While I was struggling, and focussing on the struggle, it was difficult for me to realise that the solution was as easy as taking a break. I thought I had to power through without stopping as I had done two days ago. But that was impossible because this time I had copious amounts of cheese in my system, so the challenge was different. I had to adapt, but not give up!

The formula for empowering questions

As long as the question contains the words “How” or “What” and “I”, it will generate enpowering answers for you. Questions that contain “Why” or “When” are going to generate disempowering answers.

Disempowering questions When you try to find answers to disempowering questions…Empowering question
When will I be able to afford my own place / find a new job / get married?You list future situations that has to be different. Doing that is making you tense because your are trying to predict the future whilst standing in a place of lack.What can I do to afford my own place / find a new job / get married?
Why can’t I afford my own place / get a new job / get married?You list the things that are stopping you from having these things. Doing this makes you focus on the problem.How could I improve my chances of getting my own place / finding a new job / getting married?
Why haven’t I heard back from the bank about the mortgage?You list worst case scenarios and reasons for failure, possibly even pretending to read the mind of the mortgage approver. How can I take my mind off the mortgage?
When will I be able to see my friends again?You list future situations that has to be different. Doing that is making you tense because your are trying to predict the future whilst standing in a place of lack.In what ways could I reach out to them now?
Why is this so hard?You focus on what you think you did wrong before this moment, which will reduce self-confidence and motivation in the present moment.What can I do to get through this?

Life provides us with every-day situations where we can learn to take back our power. On Boxing Day 2020 I was bloated, panting, groaning and sweaty on my livingroom floor; but I learned the lesson.

Look out for those opportunities to rephrase the questions you ask yourself. The more you notice them in the small ordinary moments, the easier it will be to do the same when greater challenges come your way.