The Power of a Single Question

Anyone who knows me knows I love my spirit cards, and I pulled one last Monday that was a true game-changer. I asked for guidance on what I was dealing with that week, and the card I pulled was the Phoenix. The Phoenix card is all about transformation, about freedom from suffering and past pain.

“The essence of the Phoenix is with us when we realize we have been suffering too long and something must change. We take a stand and decide to live consciously instead of being driven by the unconscious mind and its long list of fears and aversions…”

The card felt very apt, so I pulled out my journal and asked myself a simple question:

What would it look like to not be driven by my unconscious mind this week?

What came to me immediately was it would look like opening a google doc that day and getting started immediately on my group coaching project, rather than leaving it to the end of the week like I usually would, and feeling stressed and guilty all week as a result.

Because that’s the thing about procrastination, one of my most stubborn and long-standing habits. Putting things off doesn’t mean putting the stress of them off. When I know there’s something I need to be doing that I’m delaying on, the weight of that thing hangs over me day after day until I’m finally forced by a firm deadline to get it done.

Putting things off gives them extra weight, and each time I put that thing off further, the psychic weight only grows. Despite knowing all of this, and kicking myself each time for doing the same thing, over and over again, procrastination has long been a habit of mine.

So last Monday morning, looking ahead to my week, I made a commitment to live consciously instead.

I never intend to procrastinate. Consciously, I tell myself that I’ll get started on Monday or Tuesday and I even block out hours in my calendar to gradually tackle projects over the course of a week. But then I just don’t do it.

I get sidetracked by the voice in my head that says I just don’t feel like it today. The voice that says I don’t even know where to get started, so what’s the use? The voice that says you have all week, no need to force yourself to get started now, or wouldn’t it feel so much better to just deal with your emails instead?

It’s gotten to the point that I almost don’t even believe myself in those moments I’m hopefully putting things in the calendar, history having shown countless times that I’ll just blow past those calendar blocks and prioritize doing whatever else feels easier in the moment. Even though I intend to get started on something, my unconscious pattern is to put off anything that requires deep work.

I’m using habitual and unconscious synonymously here, because they amount to the same thing. Our unconscious mind is really just a series of habitual patterns of thought, ways of seeing and ways of thinking that have hardened into automatic patterns. Unconscious thoughts tend to lead to unconscious behaviours, which is exactly what procrastination has been for me, an unconscious habit born out of a very old fear:

What if it’s too hard and I can’t do it?

That unconscious fear and the patterns of behaviour I’ve developed around it have been leading me to act against my own best interests for much of my life.

But asking myself what it would look like to not be ruled by my unconscious unlocked something for me. It made me realize exactly what was going on. It helped me to see that despite all of my best intentions, when it came to working on bigger projects, doing work that challenged me, I was still allowing my unconscious mind to take over.

My unconscious mind wants me to delay on things, even when my conscious mind knows I’d be better off getting started. My unconscious mind is more comfortable feeling guilty and anxious day after day than it is getting over the hump of starting something daunting and instead feeling a sense of pride and progress each day.

And that’s exactly what I felt each day last week. Monday night I felt proud of getting started on the project, just opening the doc and getting some initial thoughts down. Tuesday I felt proud that I’d spent just 30 minutes on it, but that I felt connected to the project now, that I was in the flow of figuring it out. Wednesday I spent only an hour on it, but now I felt myself on a bit of a roll, and I knew when I came back to it the next day, I’d be able to harness that momentum.

Then Thursday I was too busy. I had a bunch of clients that day and just didn’t have extra time to devote to the project. But I wasn’t in a panic because I knew I’d already laid some good groundwork. And Friday morning when I woke up, instead of feeling dread and a sense of impending doom like I usually would, I took a nice long walk, had a coffee sitting by the ocean, and planned out my work in a relaxed way. It still took me four hours of solid work on Friday, and I still finished later than I’d hoped to, but boy did I feel differently throughout the entire process.

And that’s what it really comes down to for me, realizing that I want to feel differently than I’m (unconsciously) used to feeling. I want to feel productive at the end of my days, and relaxed and calm when I’m working on something important. And there’s no one else in the world who can give that to me, regardless of how flexible external deadlines may be. I have to create that reality myself, and I have to do it consciously.

So, with that theme in mind, I have a question for you:

What’s one habit of yours that, if changed, would make you feel a lot better day to day?

Put differently:

What’s one area of your life where your unconscious mind is sabotaging your best interests?

If either of those questions speak to you, I hope you choose to answer them for yourself. Sometimes the right question in the right moment can change everything.

Here’s to powerful questions,