Amidst the chaos of our days, it’s not uncommon for things to be constantly bothering us in the backs of our heads while not getting the attention that they need to be rectified. These are nagging things and thoughts that we can’t kick and typically we do our best to bottle up and file away. If we’re not careful, these will eat away at us and rob us of our mental clarity.
After all, with constant impulse seemingly everywhere in our days, we simply don’t spend time deeply thinking. Our time is always being spent for us. At the very least we have push notifications and calendar reminders constantly fighting for our attention, preventing us from accessing the deep parts of our brains. This derails us from being fully focused and present throughout whatever the task before us is.
We must make the time to think though. Finding the time to take care of ourselves mentally is a key to keeping ourselves free and allowing ourselves to pour our maximum into our days, our families, and our lives. Without it, we’ll be in a constant state of stress and confusion, and never able to reach our full potential because of those loose ends holding us back.
Because of that, I schedule several times a day on my calendar simply to think. My phone and computer will be nowhere near me. For many that’s a bridge too far, but this requires a very deliberate and intentional approach, otherwise, we’re doomed to fail. Many I talk to think that putting the phone or computer is a sacrifice. Not so. This is an investment whose dividend will be me being at my best.
This can be dangerous though. Anytime we spend time thinking, if we don’t approach it properly, we risk going down a rabbit whole and exacerbating whatever it is that is dragging us down. One negative thought feeds on another, and suddenly we’re in a place far worse than where we started. Because of that, we need some structure for how we approach the deepest parts of our minds. Luckily, that structure found me inadvertently.
Recently, a friend shared a simple framework that they use to calm their mind and keep themselves moving forward. Oddly enough, this is actually something they use in their marriage (just like relationships at work, marriages require deliberate leadership too) but it struck me how incredibly valuable this can be for leaders in a business setting.
This framework consists of three questions that are walked through sequentially:
1. What’s bothering you?
2. What do you wish would happen?
3. What are you going to do about it?
Let’s work through these questions piece by piece, because while they’re simple to understand, answering them can actually be quite difficult.
What’s bothering you?
Quite often we will impulsively answer this question with surface things, that while annoying, are actually more likely symptoms of a deeper concern. For instance, I meet with a lot of people that say things like “I hate my job” or “my co-worker is a jerk” or “I’m too busy, I’m drowning.” Yes, those are all concerns, but they aren’t the root cause. Taking the “I hate my job” instance, we need to go deeper. Why do you hate your job? Is it because you’re not in the industry that you wanted to be? Are you feeling like you’re potential is unmet? Are you part of a work environment that’s toxic and you feel you can’t improve it? All of those things (and plenty more) are possible reasons for this. The key is that you spend time finding the root cause of what is actually bothering you.
What do you wish would happen?
Once – and only once – we’ve taken the time to figure out what’s bothering us can we start to plan the future. What do we want it to look like? What is our desired state? We’ve got to have a clear and detailed understanding of that so that we can match the present state with the future state. That, of course, leads to the third question that will connect the two.
What are you going to do about it?
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. We’ve said it plenty of times before. The cure for anxiety is action. In this case, that action needs to be the map that takes us from the now to the future of our choosing. Sadly, I meet with plenty of people who spend their days performing actions that don’t necessarily line up with where they want to be in the future. Let’s make sure that we don’t fall into the trap of continuing doing the wrong things, or blindly doing things, only to see them never lead to where we want them.
This whole series is pretty straightforward. I spend about 5 minutes a few times a day working through these questions in my head. And yes, my wife and I have successfully incorporated these in our marriage as well. This simple, but intentional, act has made a profound impact in multiple facets of my life and I know it will for you too.