When you encounter a problem or frustrating situation, what questions do you ask yourself?
I used to ask the following:
- Why am I so unlucky?
- Who can I blame?
- Why am I so stupid?
- How do I make sure I don’t look bad?
- Why is life so unfair?
I now realize that these aren’t useful questions. These questions caused me to focus on factors that were beyond my control. What’s more, they made me avoid taking responsibility for my choices and my life.
I ended up feeling confused and helpless. Not a good outcome.
As I became wiser, I started asking myself just one question.
I believe this is the key question that leads to success: What is one thing I can do right now to improve the situation?
I definitely don’t claim to be the most successful person, but I can say for certain that this question has enabled me to take plenty of productive action.
Allow me to analyze the individual words and phrases that make up the question, to explain why it’s so potent:
“… one thing…”
The question doesn’t ask you what 10 or 50 things you can do. That would be overwhelming. It asks you what one thing you can do, so you’ll feel more in control.
You might be faced with a complicated situation, but focusing on “one thing” makes it manageable.
When you ask this question, you’ll no longer feel powerless. You’re turning your attention to what you can do, instead of what other people ought to do.
This forces you to adopt an active approach. You won’t wallow in self-pity. Instead, you’ll take responsibility for what you can do to make the situation better.
“… right now…”
You’ll feel empowered to take action immediately. The phrase “right now” reminds you that you don’t need to wait for perfect conditions before you do something. Even if it’s only a tiny action, you can do something right away to address the issue.
“… improve the situation?”
If you’re dealing with a complex problem, you won’t be able to solve it today. It may take you weeks, or even months. So you shouldn’t try to tackle the entire problem at once.
Even if you can only improve the situation by 1% today, that’s completely fine. The important thing is that you’re making progress. This will encourage you to stay motivated, because you can see that you’re making headway.
Examples of How to Use This Question to Build a Better Life
You’re probably wondering how to use this question in your daily life. Here are three examples:
Example #1: You have a boring math teacher
You might be tempted to complain to your friends about how horribly uninteresting your math lessons are. You might dread the thought of going to math class and doing your math homework. You might even claim that your boring teacher is the reason behind your less-than-stellar math grades.
But what if you asked yourself, “What is one thing I can do right now to improve the situation?”
You’ll realize that there are plenty of possibilities. You could talk to your teacher after class and tell him what you appreciate about his lessons, and go on to suggest what he could do to make the lessons more engaging. Or you could find online resources to help you learn the information, or you could form a study group.
Example #2: You had a nasty argument with your friend
Your natural response would be to find fault with your friend, and to list all the reasons why she’s being unreasonable. You might even begin thinking about all her personality traits that annoy you.
All this would cause you to become angry and bitter, but it wouldn’t help the situation.
Ask yourself, “What is one thing I can do right now to improve the situation?”
You’ll recognize that you had a part to play in the argument too. The “one thing” could be to apologize to your friend for losing your cool. If that’s too hard to do, you could write her a short letter or email to explain how you feel and to say sorry.
Example #3: You think you’re underpaid
You might feel like talking to your colleagues about your frustrations, and criticize the company for not valuing its employees. You might lament that your hard work isn’t appreciated.
This would result in you becoming upset and unmotivated.
Is there an alternative? You bet. All you need to do is ask yourself, “What is one thing I can do right now to improve the situation?”
The “one thing” could be as easy as searching the Internet for articles on how to successfully ask for a raise. In fact, I just Googled “how to ask for a raise” and found a long list of useful articles!
The bottom line
It sounds clichéd, but it’s true: Questions have the potential to transform your life. If you ask the right questions, you’ll be headed down the path of success and fulfillment.
So every time you’re confronted with a challenge or obstacle, ask yourself, “What is one thing I can do right now to improve the situation?”
I’m sure you’ll come up with an excellent answer.
Daniel Wong is a learning and teen expert, and is the author of “The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success.” He specializes in empowering teenagers to become both happy and successful, and he shows parents how they can help too.
You can download his FREE 35-page e-book, “16 Keys to Motivating Your Teenager.”