5 Questions That Will Change Your Life

If I could offer you free of charge 5 questions guaranteed to improve the quality of your life, make you happier, less likely to get into arguments, more likely to reach your goals and be more popular with other people, would you be interested in hearing them?

Of course you would, who wouldn’t? After all, they’re free and it doesn’t get much cheaper than that.

Well actually there is a slight catch. Yes they’re free and yes they’ll do all I claim and more, but only if you commit to embedding them so deeply into your neurology by constant and conscious repetition that they become second nature.

Then and only then, will they allow you to make the kind of quantum shift in your life that has your friends thinking your body has been invaded by a very clever, charismatic and slightly easier to get along with space alien.

1. What Else Can This Mean?

As a human being you have developed your own way of looking at things. You see the world through a filter or lens built up and fine-tuned on your beliefs and values. As such you only ever see your own reality, never reality itself.

It’s taken you years to build up your own filter and because of that you’ll often try and hang on to it for grim death, sometimes in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.

It’s not that you’re an unreasonable person because everybody is the same to a greater or lesser degree. Every single person has their own filter and has their own difficulties accepting that they are one of over 6 billion realities.

You can separate yourself from your automatic repetitive way of thinking though by asking yourself with a genuine sense of curiosity, one simple question.

“What else can this mean?”

That one question forces you to look for alternate ways of viewing things.

Your partner being late for a date may mean he hates you and doesn’t respect you, or it may mean he got stuck in traffic. That headache you’ve had for 2 days may be a tumor the size of a grapefruit, or it may mean you’ve been overdoing the caffeine.  That abuse that your boss just hurled at you may mean you’re a worthless piece of garbage, or it may mean his wife has just left him and he’s taking it out on you.

Often we don’t know what the reality of the situation is. Think of how many times in your life what seemed like a terrible event turned out to be a huge blessing in the fullness of time. What if we treated everything (within reason) like that and kept asking, “What else can this mean?” “What else can this mean?” “What else can this mean?” until we find an answer that makes us feel good?

Some people say that’s not realistic. I say what’s realism and if you can set your own, why on earth wouldn’t you want to?

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”  ~ Albert Einstein

2. Who Can Help Me?

In terms of setting and achieving goals, too many people get wrapped up in the “How can I do this?” mode of thinking. That can be useful and I know many people have reached their goals by purely taking that approach.

However, there is an easier and quicker way and that’s to ask yourself, “Who can help me?”

Whatever it is you want to do, it’s almost certain that somebody has done it before (or at least something very similar). Find out how they accomplished it and model them. Speak to them if possible and learn from their successes and their mistakes. If there is no option to speak directly (always tricky with dead people), read up on them and talk to people that may have known them.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel just remember, the quickest route to success is to follow a beaten path.

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” ~ Douglas Adams

3. What Am I Grateful For?

Try and stifle that eye roll and yawn for just one moment. I know the whole attitude of gratitude thing has become more clichéd than a drunken Oscar winners acceptance speech, but there is a reason for that. It’s because it’s incredibly, awesomely, stunningly (insert over the top adjective of your choice here) powerful.

I once requested a client’s wife to ask her husband at least 10 times a day the question “What are you grateful for?” He was to reply with a different answer every time. “How long should we do it for” she asked me. “For at least 40 years” I replied.

I was being a bit glib, but not that much because there was a serious message behind what I was saying. If you can’t think of 10 new things each day to be grateful for you’re not looking hard enough because they’re out there.

The act of searching our minds for things that we’re grateful for is a brilliant state changer. It will improve your mood, make you feel more resourceful and stop any thoughts of self-pity that can lead toward developing a victim mindset creeping in

“He who does not thank for little will not thank for much.”  ~ Estonian Proverb

4. What’s My End Game?

Would you set off in your car with no idea where you were going, why you were going there or when you were likely to get back?

I suppose you may do that once in a while for a bit of spontaneity, but it’s not something many people this side of sane do on a regular basis.

Yet we often get drawn into situations with absolutely no idea of what we want to achieve. For example, have you ever been in an argument intent on proving the other person wrong? Did it ever pan out like you hoped it would? Did they thank you afterwards for making them look like a complete idiot? Did they go on to compliment you on your dazzling intellect, rapier like wit and mention how lucky they were to know you? I suspect not.

I have been a soccer for fan for almost 40 years. In that time I have seen hundreds, if not thousands of games either live or on TV. More times than I care to remember I have seen players surround a referee after a penalty kick has been awarded. They jostle, intimidate and harass in an attempt to get him to change his mind.

The really weird thing is that I have NEVER seen a referee do a volte-face. Never heard of one saying, “Thanks for pointing out that I have the visual acuity of a mole guys. Now I think about it I think you may be right and the ball was out of play before the tackle. Let me change my mind and award a goal kick instead”

Yet even bearing that in mind, the protests go on.  If each one of those players asked themselves what their end game was (to get the penalty overruled) and then realized they would never achieve it, they might save some breath and get on with the game. On the other hand, these are soccer players we’re talking about and not chess grandmasters, so may be not.

Next time you find yourself about to get involved in a disagreement, ask yourself “What’s my end game?” You’ll probably realize it isn’t to spend 2 hours quarrelling about who invited the in-laws round for dinner, resulting in you saying lots of things you don’t really mean, the net result of which is you spending a night on the couch.

“If you wouldn’t write it and sign it, don’t say it.”  ~ Earl Wilson

5. What Can I Learn From This?

In my experience one of the things that separates the super-successful from the rest of us mere mortals, is the ability of the former group to learn from their mistakes. In fact I’d go further than that and say it’s not just to learn from them, but also to embrace them.

They see a failure as feedback. They know that it’s impossible to be really successful without failing a lot, so they want to fail and fail fast.

Think of any negative situation you have been in recently that didn’t go your way. Now ask yourself “What can I learn from it?”

In any situations there will be something that you can learn and if you can take those lessons forward and avoid replicating them in the future then you have extracted a positive from a negative.

Never leave the scene of a ‘failure’ without taking a positive from it and the good news is, they are always in there if you look hard enough.

“You always pass failure on your way to success.”  ~Mickey Rooney


This article was written by Professional Life Coach Tim Brownson. Tim is owner of A Daring Adventure and if you’re so inclined you can read more of his ramblings at ‘The Discomfort Zone’.

Image by Sir Mervs.

79 Responses to 5 Questions That Will Change Your Life

  1. Shanel Yang says:

    All great tips, Tim! And a diary/journal is the perfect place to answer all these questions (and any other important questions and also to record important thoughts, events, etc.). Most successful people throughout history, including many current famous folks, kept them to organize their thoughts, goals, and lives. See “10 Reasons to Keep a Diary” at

  2. That was a damn good post! Though I must confess that it conforms to my own personal world view so perhaps I’m guilty of point 1. It was also entertaining to read. Well done and thank you!


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  4. Jennifer says:

    I love how you use the power of questions to help people see things different. Giving people information on how to change is great, but providing them with the tools like these questions is fabulous. There’s really not much more I could add to it.

  5. melissa says:

    #1 What Else Can This Mean has saved my sanity on more than one occasion. When tragedy strikes it can put your emotions into a tailspin. By searching for some kind of silver lining in even the worst situation you are taking control of that tailspin. Just that action of stopping to try to put meaning to something horrific can be a huge step towards not only surviving, but thriving beyond the event.

  6. These are a few of the most important questions. I would say “what am I not seeing” and “what can I learn from this” are vitally important.

  7. Great Post! #2 is my favorite. Why try to re-invent the wheel? Learn from those that have already suceeded and then develop it to your own unique style!

  8. Skip says:

    Stumbled here. Good article. About the referee though, sometimes you argue not to get that call reversed, but to get the next one called in your favor. It’s gamesmanship and if you look at the best players/coaches in all sports, they do it and it works.

  9. Tim Brownson says:

    Thanks a lot for the feedback everybody, much appreciated!

    @ Skip, you just burst my bubble 😉

  10. colin syme says:

    Very good post,as a proud old Scot who has worked most of the above out for myself,(its called “wisdom with age”)–and learning! l am always aware of the final wish of Robert Burns when he wrote, “O wad some power the giftie gie us, to see oorsels as ithers see us! If you somehow get that right, then you’v cracked it!

  11. Ari Koinuma says:

    Wow! That was a spectacular post. I wish I wrote this, Tim. Very profound, and indeed life-changing. Wow.

    I can’t disagree with any of them, though I may rephrase “What’s My End Game?” to something like “What Am I Trying to Get out of This?” Or slightly different spin: Why Am I Doing This?

    A lot of times we do things and we think we know why — until we stop and ask that question and really be honest about it.


  12. fenster voom says:

    Denying your initial reaction is a wise choice; we are wrong all the time. But it may be true that you’re just trying to make the most sense out of something that makes no sense in the first place. Namely most human to human interaction and our reactions to the mess of interacting factors we know as “life”.

    Like you say “what else could this mean?” Where does that question get to end?

    We’re all banging our heads against the ceiling of our own perception.

  13. I like #1 – that change in perspective can make all the difference. In general, trying to empathize is a really great way of improving your experience of life. It’s all about realizing that we don’t have a monopoly on the truth or the ‘way things are.’ There is always another way of seeing. Good job!

  14. Ali says:

    I like these questions so much that I’ve printed them out and put them on my noticeboard (which is on the way in front of my desk).

    Next time something’s not going quite how I’d planned during the day, I’ll take a good look at these questions — I have a feeling they’re going to make me a whole lot less stressed and grumpy!

    Thanks for the great article, Tim :-)

  15. Evelyn Lim says:

    I like the question on “what am I grateful for”. Mostly, our minds are trained to look at the negative side of the things. We are more inclined to complain about our have-nots than to be happy over what we already have. Asking this question can help anyone make a profound energy shift!

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  17. I’ve heard someone say that it’s not the right answers that you seek it’s the right questions that you need to ask to become successful. That’s what this post is all about.

    What am I grateful for? Is one question I don’t ask myself enough. I need to take the time to appreciate my wonderful life. I’m grateful for my ability to notice little details, such as the movement (flexibility) that I noticed in a horses ankle today. A perfect running machine?

    What are you grateful for Tim? Do you have one thing that you are grateful for every day?

  18. I like to ask: “What’s the worst that can happen?”
    Usually it’s not that bad – or just unlikely (ie. plane crash) – so it is a good way to stop yourself from letting fear holding you back.

  19. DanGTD says:

    An old proverb says, “He that cannot ask cannot live”. If you want answers you have to ask questions.

    And it’s true, the answers to the questions above can increase your quality of life.

  20. Excellent article. Can’t add to it, can only say I find it worthwhile.

  21. Alex Fayle says:


    Fantastic article and it comes at just the right time. Now I just need to remember to integrate them into my life – especially the asking for help part!


  22. I took the bait on your catchy title with hopes of finding the one question that no one seems to ask (at least not any bloggers):

    “Who am I?”

    I will say that your list comes close to asking this question and perhaps it is implied, but without seeking self-acquaintance, I find that your list of questions, although seemingly quite useful, are only well-intentioned short-term treatments of symptoms but not a cure for the “disease,” which is the lack of self-knowledge…

    “Every one rushes elsewhere and into the future, because no one wants to face one’s own inner self.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

  23. Tim Brownson says:

    @ Financial Philosopher – That’s a great point bud, although I’m not completely sure I agree. I’ll tell you for why. My experience is that when people ask themselves that question, it can actually throw them into self-doubt, confusion and eventually make them feel worse about themselves because they can’t seem to get to the answer.

    Does that mean it isn’t a great question and very valuable? Absolutely not, but I don’t think it’s necessarily right for everybody and the timing has to be right too imho.

    Again, thanks to everybody else for commenting, it’s much appreciated.

  24. Tim Brownson says:

    @ KArl – What am I grateful for? Wow, how about everything. Seriously, my life is brilliant and I could name 1,000 things.

    Primarily though it would be my wife, my family and friends, my dogs and doing a job I love.

  25. Tim,

    I wouldn’t expect you to agree with me, which arguably makes for more interesting conversation and perhaps a sharper perspective than when everyone agrees! As you imply, however, I believe we agree more than not…

    Let’s take this dialectic a bit farther…

    Your reply, “it can actually throw them into self-doubt, confusion and eventually make them feel worse about themselves because they can’t seem to get to the answer,” begs for more discusssion…

    Would you say that self-confidence is greater than self-doubt? If that confidence comes as a result of self-knowledge, I would absolutely agree. Without self-knowledge, I would absolutely disagree.

    I would argue that self-confidence can, in extreme cases, lead to over-confidence or even complacency, which can be just as damaging as inertia, which is an extreme result of self-doubt.

    To remove the equally damaging potentialities of both self-confidence and self-doubt, self-acquaintance once again returns to the answer. And the question, once again, is “Who am I?”

    I would rather be doubtful and know my self than confident and not know my self. After all, being doubtful can actually be a companion of confidence, not its antithesis.

    If I am confident WITHOUT knowledge of my self, this confidence is born by ignorance…

    If I am doubtful WITH knowledge of my self, this doubt is born by awareness…

    Wisdom is awareness of ignorance and ignorance is removed by self-knowledge.

    Perhaps we are leading to a case for balance, which, of course, is a different post!

    Thanks for provoking thought…

    “There is no conversation more boring than the one where everybody agrees.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

    “The fool doth think he is wise but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” ~ Shakespeare

    Kent @ The Financial Philosopher

  26. Candace says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing all that wonderful information.

  27. Mike Sporer says:

    These questions have the same idea as “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I like the way you put this together. Great post!

  28. RaAr says:

    Good post & nice questions that realy makes us to feel differently when we are at stress. Question 1 & 2 are amazing realy it changes our view towards the thing, 3 & 5 we heared from many & we normally uses but 4th one not clear or I may not understand clearly. I practiced some of it & realy it works. Remebering daily 10 new great thing we had its realy very difficult. I found many good post on this site & very usefull for self improvement. Most of times our mind thinks negative towards the things so this is good approach toward positive thinking.

  29. Tim the first question is oustanding. In decison-making there are always more than two options to select from and in perspective there are also multiple meanings.

  30. web says:

    Great life changing questions!!!

  31. Earl says:

    uh, he addressed both of your “questions” in his post (i think).

  32. Earl says:

    Nevermind. Sorry. I misinterpreted your comment.

  33. artchick says:

    Hi Tim. Here’s my big suggestion of the day: Have many more conversations with Kent, The Financial Philosopher. He sounds quite bright, extremely thoughtful and nicely provocative without being a pushover or wimpy suck-up type. You guys can just print your email trails here. That would be extraordinarily entertaining and enlightening for your readers. Just don’t forget to figure out the End Game!

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  35. Alan says:

    1. What else can this mean? Don’t most of us do this, more or less unconsciously, most of the time?
    3. What am I grateful for? A good idea, may improve one’s outlook on life and lead to greater spirituality, which could be a life change in and of itself.
    4. What’s my end game? & 5. What can I learn from this? Both very practical. But I think both are instinctive (like question 1) and shouldn’t change many person’s lives.
    2. Who can help me? I’m not sure this is life-changing in a positive way. Self reliance is a positive trait; dependency on others not so much. The first question should be, how can I solve this myself?

  36. angela says:

    Regarding question 1, the notion that we can find another positive answer (eventually) to a bad event is one I have heard many times over. Some things that happen are so horrible that they can never be overcome or justified by a subsequent positive event. Having lost 2 children in 2 separate events 4 years apart, there is nothing that would make up for their loss – their inability to have a life, a family, grow old and die at a normal age. We are glad that we can at least function, and a little stronger each year, and try to be compassionate and helpful towards others.

  37. Heidfeld says:

    Asside from the 5 simple questions themselves, Tim you got something completely wrong. It is a common mistake though, so don’t worry too much. Allow me to explain.

    You use a classic analogy/argument regarding the soccer players and the referee. I have heard this before, many times and in many contexts. Needless to say, this reasoning is only used by people who really don’t understand soccer and what is going on. Again, allow me to explain.

    I am not just a fan of soccer, but also a player of the game. Although, an astute fan (perhaps one that asks “What else can this mean?”) could understand this as well.

    You see, the players argue with the referee for a reason, and it does, in fact, accomplish something. Without getting into too much detail, this resistance offered by the players does have an effect on future decisions made by the referee. Either consciously or sub-consciously, his next decision will take into account the previous protest of the players.

    And no, the argument that it only makes the ref mad at you and more likely to rule against you is not logical.

    Anyway, I just thought I should point that out to you. I agree that most people don’t bother to ask what the end game is (I see it at work on a daily basis), but perhaps you can use a better example to illustrate your point.

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  39. Barbara N says:

    Good questions but I think an even more life-changing question than Who can help me? is Who can I help? If you want your life to change fundamentally and supply the qualities Mr. Brownson speaks of, understanding the importance of selfless service is essential. It goes along with understanding the life-changing practice of gratitude, suggested in Number 3. Perhaps Mr. Brownson himself could use a little coaching to help dig deeper himself into the sources of happiness, fulfillment and a truly transformed life.

  40. Tim Brownson says:

    Let me quickly clear up something.

    When I was talking about the question ‘Who can help me’ It is purely in relation to reaching goals.

    We ALL need help from other people, whether we like it or not.I am happy to ask for help as much as I am happy to offer it. My point with this is not to become completely dependent on others at all and it’s not to become selfish either.

    The point is, that if people are happy to help you and it can save you time, money and aggravation, why wouldn’t you ask?

    I spoke to many coaches before I decided to become a coach. I suppose could have gone it alone and made lots of mistakes just to prove I am independent. I’d have also proved I’m foolish too imho.

    The real selfishness creeps in when people help you out and you hang on to that knowledge and don’t pay it forward. That is a different matter altogether and some people will always be inclined to do that. Such is life.

    @ Artchick – You know that’s not a bad idea. I kept meaning to come back and follow up, but the comments would take so long that I’d never get anything written for my own blog. I do have a great respect for Kent’s point of view though.

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  42. mundu says:

    Yay@ Now thats deep! This guy must be a philosopher…I mean he goes as far as bending our perceptions to the ceilings of out imaginations!

  43. mundu says:

    Woah there! Financial philosopher…. am amazed at your philosophical understandings and deductions! Truly great!! I hate to say it, but cant recall when I last saw a reply to an article that actually is as insightful as the article itself. First you eed to quit calling yourself financial philos – that title is very lowly for your intellect. You rank up there wqith the likes of socrates and homer. Good job in that narrative!

  44. Julian says:

    Wow, a forum with intelligent and civil comments! There is hope for us yet.

  45. Tim Brownson says:

    @ Heidfeld – Yeh I know mate, it was an analogy. I played with enough morons that really couldn’t think past the next pint never mind using psychology like that to know that plenty players DO think they can get a decision reversed. I’ve also known plenty of amateur referees to be even more stubborn next time to prove a point that they wont be intimidated.

    As somebody that played from kids leagues through to local amateur leagues and had a season ticket at Derby (my argument breaks down a tad there) for 25 years and has attended close to 1,000 live games and visited 70+ of the professional grounds in England, I do know a little about the game.

    I’m sure there are better analogies, but it will do until I think of one 😉

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  47. Sue says:

    Your explanation of question #1 – what else can this mean? – reminds me of Byron Katie’s ‘The Work’ process. By asking ourselves four simple questions and doing the turn-around, we’re able to separate the meaning we’ve attached to a situation. This allows us to go from feeling bad or thinking reality should be different to finding peace about the situation. The process is on her site

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  49. Great post and great comments. I think that the main thing is to be open to seeing that there are many ways of seeing things. When we get stuck in the way was have always looked at things, we diminish our ability to make changes in our lives. What’s the Einstein quote? “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” If we aren’t willing to try to find new ways of looking at the circumstances of our lives and the problems we face we probably will continue to create more of the same.

  50. Interesting and provocative questions. Years ago I was given a Zen koan or trick question by a friend and teacher who said that achieving the correct response to the koan could lead to enlightenment. The Koan/question was, Who is the teacher?

    This was a good question to explore, and over the years I came up with a few answers, which in the end turned out not to be true. For many years it was, I am the teacher. I think now that it may be, life is the teacher. But of course you have to know this to be true yourself.

    And of course I am in agreement with the person who said, the truly life-changing question is, who can I help? And further, how can I best help others?

    I believe the answer to the latter has inspired people to go into meditation retreats for great lengths of time and some even to drop out of political races.

  51. B. Walker says:

    The question “what is the end-game” caught my attention–but for me, answering that question in the wider context has the most value. It is certainly helpful situationally, as well!

    My only answer to the ‘ultimate end game’ question is something I’ve been thinking about lately–the importance of kindness. Perhaps this also applies situationally.

  52. lisa logan says:

    Oh, comeon–who are these people responding with high accolades for a mediocre at best article??? Friends of the author? These responses have to be fake–the article itself was nothing wonderful at all…a waste of time

  53. artchick says:

    In reading Lisa Logan’s comments, I am really just wondering: “What else can this mean?” My response wasn’t fake, Lisa…I don’t personally know the author from Adam and have never previously read any of his work. Obviously, you were enthralled enough to read all the way down to the bottom (46 comments long).Your snide, critical tone is most engaging! Clearly, you are way too judgemental for your own good. My condolences to your family and so-called “friends” if this is what you dish out on a daily basis.

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  55. Helga Matzko says:

    I agree with the five questions. They certainly are essential and helpful to create a woprthwhile life. I applaud you for your thoroughness.

    I would add a question that would certainly include all of the five others and that are more foundational and holistic. “Who am I in the context of my environment”? We tend to forget that who we are is how we are, pliable, and constantly changing or struggling to become.

  56. Tim Brownson says:

    @ Lisa – LMAO, you came here to say THAT! Good for you girl!

    Of course you’re very astute in saying what you did because there is shockingly 1 person that I have spoken to twice on the phone that commented. I also have to confess that I do ‘know’ about 8 or so more through cyber space and seeing them on various blogs.

    Well done on uncovering the malicious scam we were perpetrating. I feel really foolish now.

    @ artchick – Thanks for the support.

    @ Helga – Very interesting take.

  57. This is an outstanding post. I am linking to it on my blog, Employee Rights Wisconsin. Your advice squarely applies to employment disputes (amongst myriad other life situations), and states important things that a quarreling employee and employer should pause to reflect about.

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  60. Prem Rao says:

    Great questions.

    I would also add ” What’s the price I am willing to pay?”. Very often people know the outcomes they desire- they can even visualize them but are not certain of just how much time/effort and change they need to bring about in themselves to reach that outcome.

    The question about the price they are willing to pay highlights the fact that life isn’t a bed of roses.Merely knowing what you want, won’t get you there-without your paying the necessary “price”.

    Would you agree?

  61. axel g says:

    Gratitude makes for peace of mind and happiness…

    Nice site +_+

  62. Hello sir,
    I am Basishali Chakraborty & I am very emotional person.
    I like your artical. My problem is that iam always love
    with some illusion person,who he is not living in earth or who he is not real. But Iam emotionally attch with them. I am always feel that they are living for reseason is that iam thinking toomuch & ia always depressed.

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  67. Bruce Larson says:

    I love the questions, too. I have reformulated Question 4 as: What do I really want?

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  69. melai says:

    it was a very good tips..I was enlighten… i hope I can use those tips and apply it to my daily life..

  70. Craig says:

    Nice and thanks for 5 really powerful questions. My personal favorite is “What would it look like if…?” It lets the person enter a fantasy world while based in their current reality. It’s a nice way help them start looking to a future that they usually dream of and allow them to see that parts of it or all of it are not that far off.
    I liked what you wrote about “What’s my end game?” Reminds me of a quote “It’s not what you are doing, but why?” And that’s not always clear.

  71. Amber says:

    You have got to be one of the funniest life couches I have encountered. Granted I have one encountered a few but you are on top buddy. Thanks for making me laugh while teaching a few important lessons.

  72. Amber says:

    lol coach not couch. See you had me laughing so hard I could not spell write or maybe thats jsut me.

  73. apoorva says:

    excellent article

  74. Jennifer Wenzel says:

    I should have known this was Tim’s work!  Even before I’d read half the article, I was copying it to send the text to myself in an email so that I could file it away for reference at least a couple of times a year (yep, I keep an email folder for “notes to self”).  He is amazing.  One of the most naturally-gifted coaches (at least by all appearances) that I’ve ever encountered!

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  77. Paul Ricken says:

    My five questions, times are changing…..
    What are you?
    What do you really love to do?
    What are you able to do forever being fulfilled all the time?
    What do you want to give to the world for free?
    What would you be and do if you were not afraid?

    Curious about your answers. Let’s hear it.

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