One time, Will Smith was working on a film set in Toronto. It was the middle of winter and they were shooting night scenes, so the actors and crew worked 6pm to 6am. Brrr!
During breaks, Smith could have huddled in his trailer, complaining about the bitter cold. Instead, he ran around making jokes and delivering hot chocolate to crew members. He acted on a question that he later explained is constantly on his mind: “How can I make this experience more magical?“
Working in the cold sucks, but the job had to be done. Rather than complain about it, and rather than just endure it, Smith set out to make the experience better (or “more magical”) for everyone else.
That question—How can I make this experience more magical?—is an example of a dominant question. It’s a question that guides your decision-making process. We all have dominant questions, whether we’re consciously aware of them or not.
Do you know your dominant questions?
In my case, I spend a lot of time having conversations with myself or otherwise being lost in thought. After hearing the anecdote about Will Smith, I started thinking about my dominant questions.
It turns out they’re pretty easy to categorize as positive or negative. Let’s start with the negative ones:
- Why am I continuing to struggle?
- Why can’t I get my act together?
- Why is [this thing I’m doing] not working as well as I’d like?
- Why is my perceived social status lower than I think it should be?
The problem with these questions should be obvious: they reflect a sense of frustration, fixation on ego, and low self-worth.
By contrast, here are the positive ones:
- How can I make the best use of this day?
- How would I like to feel today?
- What can I do to be helpful?
- What should I do next?
My favorite is the first: How can I make the best use of this day? It reminds me of Did Today Matter?, another question I ask myself, typically in the evening as I wind down.
Asking this question has less built-in ego attachment while still allowing me to be myself without judgment.
The question “How can I make the best use of this day?” incorporates the limitations and constraints that any particular day comes with. It suggests that I consider a wide range of possibilities, along with the limitations and constraints, and come up with the best possible answer.
What can I do today? How am I able to use the time I have right now to the best of my ability—ignoring (as much as possible) the myriad of problems that are beyond my influence?
When I find myself feeling sad or discouraged, I try to think more about this question.
Do you know your dominant questions? What would you like them to be?
*I first heard the story about Will Smith in the audio version of Limitless, a book by Jim Kwik.
Chris Guillebeau is the New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness of Pursuit, The $100 Startup, and other books. During a lifetime of self-employment, he visited every country in the world (193 in total) before his 35th birthday. Every summer in Portland, Oregon he hosts the World Domination Summit, a gathering of creative, remarkable people. His new book, Born for This, will help you find the work you were meant to do. Connect with Chris on Twitter, on his blog, or at your choice of worldwide airline lounge.
Image courtesy of Olya Kobruseva.