Advice from Steven Bartlett’s “The Diary of a CEO”.
“I hope nobody is listening but, if you are, then please keep this to yourself”. This is how Steven Bartlett starts every episode of his podcast, “The Diary of a CEO”.
I listened, but I don’t want to keep it to myself. And I shouldn’t anyway, because what he shares has helped me improve my life over the years, and it can help improve yours too.
But why should we care about what some guy has to say? Because Steven Bartlett is not just some guy. At 27, he recently stepped out from the CEO position of Social Chain, the company he built from his bedroom in Manchester at just 22. Last year, Social Chain went public, reaching a valuation of $200 million. Steven is a widely recognized speaker, having given presentations in dozens of countries around the world. All while trying to figure out his life, like every single one of us, and sharing his insights with the public.
In one of the latest episodes of his podcast, he shared 7 questions he asks himself regularly. These are not necessarily business-related questions but cues to reflect in all areas of our lives. Some you should ask every day, others you can use whenever you are facing a big life decision. Below are the questions Steven asks himself. I have only one question for you: do you dare to ask them too?
1. Which part of this situation can I control?
We all face situations of conflict, stress, and chaos on a regular basis. Most of us have the tendency to immediately start fixing everything, but what most of us fail to do is to stop for a minute and ask ourselves this question.
“Usually, there are only 3 or 4 things I can control in any situation”, says Steven, “and if I know what those things are, I can invest my energy in those, which gives me the best chance to getting out of the situation”.
Bartlett also points out that, by doing this, you liberate yourself. When you realize that most things are out of your control, you stop worrying about them. Worry doesn’t change anything, and if that is all you can do, you might as well let go of it.
2. What am I avoiding right now?
Steven dares you to try and ask yourself this every day. As he explains, for him, “understanding what I am avoiding, helps me overcome it”.
As Nir Eyal points out, “We are creatures that seek to avoid discomfort”. Thus, there is almost always a reason for us to put something off or procrastinating while trying to get something done.
“If I am conscious about that thing and the psychological discomfort that is making me avoid it, it helps me overcome it”, says Bartlett.
3. What would my idols think about this decision?
This is something Steven asks himself whenever he is facing a big life choice.
We admire our idols because of their values. So, double-checking our decisions in light of what we think they would do can help shine a light on what is the right choice for us. This tends to be an easier question to ask than “What is the right thing to do?”
“We all understand the values and principles that our idols live by. But when we are facing a big decision, sometimes we relapse to our own innate fear-driven decision-making mechanisms. And we lose sight of how our idols, the people we want to be like, would make that decision,” says Steven.
4. What would future me think?
As Bartlett points out, “Future you is going to pay the price for the decisions you make today” And, normally, our future selves are quite selfish: they want to be healthy, wealthy, and successful. So, they would certainly frown upon our daily decisions that do not align with the goal of reaching that future better version of ourselves.
Your present self might want to devour a whole pizza for dinner. But your future self would appreciate it if you were more mindful of your health and chose the vegetables instead. You can use your own future version to judge your present actions, like a guiding light.
5. If I am saying yes to this, what am I saying no to?
Steve Jobs said it better when he said “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are”.
You can’t do everything and be everything, life is about prioritization. We all have limited time to spend, and our lives end up being a direct consequence of all the little decisions we make on a daily basis. If you are doing something, you are not doing something else. Choosing is excluding.
You should have your values and priorities set, just so when you make any decision, you realize its consequences. And if saying yes to something, means saying no to something else, it is up to you to analyze if you really want that “no” as a consequence of your “yes”.
6. Does this align with my values?
We all do things every day that don’t align with our values. We eat junk food, we stay on the sofa instead of working out, we procrastinate instead of studying. Yet, our values are those of health and work ethics. Then, why do we act this way?
Often, the answer is simple: we do it because we don’t stop to ask ourselves this simple question — “does this align with my values?”. And the other thing we don’t do is to make a distinction between our short-term and long-term values. We all want pleasure as quickly as we can get it and, many times, the future seems too far away to impact any of our present decisions. But life is a series of decisions. You start building your future self today.
7. What is the worse that will happen if I attempt this?
As Steven says, “this is a bit cliché”, but clichés have a reason to be. This question is cliché because it is extremely empowering. It reduces your worst fears to nothing because, almost every time, the answer is so simple: nothing too bad. And even if something bad happens, what is the long-term impact of it on your life?
Not trying because you are afraid to fail is like shooting yourself in the foot before you start walking. It doesn’t make any sense.
“What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, what if you fly?” — Erin Hanson
As Steve mentions in the podcast, in life, questions are more important than answers. You don’t need to know the answer to everything, you never will, no matter how hard you try. But asking the right questions is a life-changing skill. The right question asked at the right time gives you the necessary perspective to navigate life. It makes you think about the issues from different points of view, it allows you to get deeper into the root of the problem.
Next time that you feel lost or overwhelmed, don’t rush to fix the problem and finding the answers for it. Pause. Ask yourself the right questions. You will be one step closer to achieving clarity.
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