One of the things I learned from Tony Robbins (yes, another Robbins post…) is that we all ask ourselves a question. It is a question we ask all the time. We ask it so often, that we don’t even realize we are asking it. Tony calls it our Primary Question. I have come to believe that this question shapes our destiny more than anything else we do. This is because our destiny, our future, is shaped by the decisions we make each day. If you want to reach the mountain, then if each step you take moves you a little closer, one day you will reach it.
So it is with our Primary Question. If there is a question we ask ourselves constantly, in every situation, then one of two things will happen: We will either develop an awesome skill set for answering that question, or we will do something that takes us closer to the answer. Failing either of those, the nature of a Primary Question is that we will be unhappy. Really unhappy.
My Question used to be, how can I fix it? And this was a great question for learning how everything works, how things can be repaired, and it made my life, my happiness, about fixing things. So in my earlier career as a software engineer, I was an excellent diagnostician. I could always figure out why something was not behaving correctly. And I was well rewarded for this skill set, and fixing things made me happy.
It had its drawbacks, of course, because I looked for what was broken in everything. I could walk in a room and in one minute I knew where each burned out light bulb was located, where every misaligned air vent was, … you get the picture. I didn’t notice too much about people, but lots about the room, the furniture, etc. So someone would ask me, “did you see that guy with the…” and I had to answer no, was he the guy sitting by the lamp with the hole in the shade?
My wife’s Question has been, and is, “How can I help?” and, she is one of the most giving people I have ever met (you would have to be, to put up with me!) Her Question has served her very well.
How can you tell if you have identified your Question? First, it resonates with you. It feels right. Ask yourself, what happens if I can’t fulfill my Question? For me, if there was something broken, and I couldn’t fix it, I was profoundly sad. It was a failing. It was as if my life was almost meaningless. I failed. Yes, the feeling is this strong, if you really figure out your Question. I’ve had similar discussions with many, many people, and they all agree that this is the strength of their Primary Question.
So if it is this powerful, of course it can shape your destiny!
One of the things I enjoy about learning from Robbins is that he provides actionable information. Most people (me included) get teaching from reading, or from going to church, or other means. My church experiences have been that the preachers tell us what we need to be doing (ie. Love God, Love People, repent, be forgiving, …) but they rarely provide actionable information on how to do these things. Today at church there was a little flyer on the seats, and one of the things we were supposed to do, was to be loving. That’s a great idea, but how do I do that? How do I remember to do that? How do I, in the moment of being cut off in traffic by a hot dog on a motorcycle, decide to be loving or kind, or give the benefit of the doubt?
Another thing we are supposed to do, and I regularly pray for this, is to allow God to guide us in our lives so that His plans are our plans, so that we do what he has ordained for our lives. This is hard, at least for me, because I was never a good listener, even to other people, how am I supposed to hear what He is telling me, when it isn’t like he sends emails or texts me…. How do I make it so each step I take brings me closer to that mountain, or those mountains?
It’s the Primary Question. Robbins teaches us how to remove or reduce to obscurity our current Question, and how to design a new Question that will serve us better, and be a better guide to the destiny we want. At one of his events, after discovering our Questions, we go through a process to scramble the old one, and another to start the process of embedding the new one in our psyche.
I have had several Questions in my life now, and only the first one and the most recent one have really stuck. The first, “How can I fix it?” was there from before I was conscious, I think, and the need it served was for love. I knew that if I could fix things, people would see value in that and would love me for it. (I still don’t get that internet meme about “If you ask a man to fix something he will eventually do it, there is no need to remind him every 6 months…”) So my new question would have to honor this idea somehow. I also really desire to have a guided life, and as I look back at where I have been and what happened in my life, I know I have been guided in many ways, but I want that to be stronger – I want to serve God’s purpose in the best way I can. Maybe lots of us think about this, and say it, but how do we really do it? I work in Real Estate and do some related coaching, and while I do these things, what is it that I need to do so that I know I am guided in my path?
At a recent Robbins event, we (the event leadership) stood in the crowd to be available to help people who were struggling or needing help. My “fixing it” mentality never really ran to people, so I would hang out and try to look for people in distress that needed something, but unless someone had been beating me with a large stick so I could see what was happening, I usually didn’t get it. Then, at this event, this other leadership person said casually, “During the process I was out in the crowd and I just asked God to show me the people who needed my help the most…”
This was a revealing moment for me, and helped me in writing my new Question. This person automatically was assuming that God was with her, that she was guided, and that she would get an immediate answer; and indeed, she is relatively new but has impacted more people, in her short time, than I have in the years I have been serving with the organization.
So what’s my new question? Combining all this stuff, I ask myself, now, every day, in almost every moment, “How can I experience even more love and divine guidance in this moment?”
This is a much, much more powerful Question than “How can I fix it?” and it has already caused some changes in my life. I’m not constantly looking for things to fix (though I do still like doing that), and I’m not constantly searching for what I am supposed to be doing – because I am confident that I am _already_ guided and I’m just looking to tune that up a little. Similarly, I don’t have to fix things because I know I am loved, and am just looking for more. My old Question presumed that everything was broken, and that I needed to fix everything. My new one presumes that I am loved and guided. It is liberating.
Further, I know that one way to experience more love is to give it – to love more, myself. And indeed, this change has impacted my life already, in small everyday ways. I’m reminded of what a famous sage recently said:
“…believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.”
This directly impacted me recently, when I was waiting to check out at a grocery store, the lines were long, and it seemed like ours was particularly slow. I initially started to look for the problem, the root cause of the slowness, because, you know, I had to “fix” it. And then something strange happened. As we got up to the checker, I added a snickers bar to the pile of items we were buying, and after paying, gave it to the checker. At this point my wife was looking at me like I had grown an extra head, and I had to stop and ask myself why I had done that. It wasn’t in character for me, in any way. And – it was clearly my new Primary Question at work. How cool is that!
So what’s your Primary Question? A business partner who attended the event once, told me his Question was “Why Live?” another person’s was “What else do I need to know?” Yet another, “Is this going to be fun?”
These people’s lives were pretty good reflections of their Questions – once you see their Question, you know how they are likely to act, or what they are likely to be thinking about, in a given situation. The “Why Live” person really had no compelling future and made some drastic changes in his life. I don’t know what his new Question is, but I know it is far more empowering. My friend who wants to know “What else” they need to know, is brutally competent, and does her job better than just about anyone. No surprise. The person who wanted to have fun – She would bail on commitments as soon as they weren’t fun anymore.
Our Primary Questions are powerful, and shape our Destiny. How do you want your destiny shaped?