The Questions You Ask Yourself
An enduring theme in psychology and mental health is the concept of the internal self narrative. Brene Brown has shed a light on the stories we habitually tell ourselves, particularly unhelpful stories that perpetuate shame. Some examples of unhelpful stories are "I'm just an anxious person, I'll never be as bold as other people" or "if people knew the real me, they would reject me." These stories, often implicit and below conscious awareness, have a lot of power and influence in our lives.
In the mental health field, we know that cultivating healthier beliefs helps people to feel happier and more at peace. Even in somatic approaches to therapy, we still work with beliefs and stories. The difference is that we look at how the body holds these stories more deeply than the mind can fully access. Folks who have experienced trauma, for example, may find that their body holds a belief such as "I'm not safe" or "no one can be trusted." Tremendous healing happens when we can release those old stories and allow new ones to take root.
Something I've been reflecting on lately is how in addition to the stories we habitually tell ourselves, there are also questions that we habitually ask ourselves. And these questions have a lot of power to shape our lives, our moods, and our relationships.
I recently took a week off of work to recharge and take care of myself. My partner and I spent the week in Wisconsin, immersed in nature with no WiFi. One of my goals for the week was to really focus on what I felt like doing in any given moment, without pressure to be productive or make plans. My intention going into the week was, "if I feel like painting, I'll paint. If I feel like taking a walk, I'll take a walk. If I feel like staring at Lake Michigan for hours, I'll stare at Lake Michigan for hours."
I soon realized this was REALLY hard for me. With so much unscheduled free time, I found it incredibly difficult to ask myself "what do I want to do right now?" It occurred to me that I had become so used to asking myself "what should I be doing right now?" that the question of "what do I want to do right now?" felt completely strange and wrong.
That said a lot to me about how I've been living my life. The more I've sat with it, I find that the question of what I should be doing makes me feel pressured and frantic. It makes me feel like there's always something I should be doing that I'm not doing. It sucks creativity, ease, and peace right out of me.
So, I spent the week intentionally coming back to the question of "what do I want to do right now?" I did what I could to really live and breathe that one question. And what happened was incredibly nourishing. I slowed down, I felt so much more in touch with my creativity and flow. It didn't change overnight- of course the old question continued to show up (and still does), but I'm working on noticing it and letting this new questions take root in me.
Since I returned from that vacation, I've been listening for this theme with my clients. I've found that it seems we all have old, habitual questions that we ask ourselves. Some of them help us to move in the direction we want our lives to go in, some of them hold us back. They all come from somewhere, so we need to honor and validate their origins even as we work to cultivate new questions.
What questions do you ask yourself? What do those questions stir up for you (mentally, emotionally, somatically)?
Below are some examples of questions people might ask themselves. Notice if any sound familiar to you, and which ones you'd like to ask yourself more often.
What should I be doing right now?
What do I want to do right now?
What do I need from myself right now?
What will people think of me?
What did I do wrong?
What's guiding me right now?
Is anyone mad at me?
Is everyone happy?
What if I fail?
Am I doing it right?
What's most important right now?
What will make people like me?
What's the safest choice?
What's the quickest choice?
What's the easiest choice?
What does my body need?
What does my heart need?
When will it all go wrong?
When will the other shoe drop?
What is this teaching me?
Is this right for me?
How can I make myself smaller?
How can I avoid being seen?
How can I make sure I'm seen?
How is this going to hurt me?
Why is this happening to me?
What's the point?
What are all my options?
Who can I trust?
What's the most logical thing to do?
Did I get everything done?
How can I make this work?