You’ve heard people say that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” And there’s a lot of truth in that statement. But it doesn’t go far enough.
English author and philosopher Aldous Huxley said it so much better. He wrote, “Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too.”
In other words, most people mean well. They really do want to do better and achieve more in their professional and personal lives. BUT their good intentions are never enough. You’ve got to DO something to turn your intentions into outcomes … or you’ll always be on the road to hellish outcomes.
Fortunately, there is a way to turn your intentions into outcomes. It involves asking yourself six questions every day. And this daily questioning invariably moves you from thinking about something to doing something about it.
I learned the process from my colleague and fellow coach Marshall Goldsmith and then modified it to fit myself and my clients. Thank you, Marshall.
Before I give you the six questions, let me add a little context to the process.
First, why six questions? In his research involving more than 2500 people, Goldsmith discovered that the people who reported the highest levels of satisfaction in life invariably held themselves accountable by asking themselves these six questions. It kept them on track and moving forward.
Second, you will notice that each question begins with the words, “Did I do my best to…” That’s important. When you ask yourself “Did I do my best to…”, it’s almost impossible to blame someone else for your failure. No one is and no one can be responsible for doing your best but you!
Here they are.
► 1. Did I do my best to set clear goals?
This is a biggie. Without clear goals, you may stay busy, but you may not have much to show for it.
And without clear goals, it’s all too easy to confuse activity with accomplishment.
So set clear goals for your day, your interactions, your personal life, professional life, relationships or anything else that is important to you.
► 2. Did I do my best to make progress toward goal achievement?
This could be a simple “yes” or “no” answer. You either made some progress or you didn’t. It’s a time for honesty and not excuses.
As you record your answers to this and all six questions every day, you’ll see some trends that will be very enlightening. You may see some trends that you can celebrate, that say you’re going in the right direction. And you may see some trends that give you a good kick in the butt, that tell you to stop talking about your good intentions and start taking some appropriate actions.
Many people find my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program to be one of the best goal-setting and goal-achieving experiences of their lives. Bob Wernimont from Syngenta writes,
“For many years I’ve heard that you need to write down your goals and say affirmations, but I didn’t know how to do it. So I never did it … until I came to the ‘Journey.’ Using the practices you taught us, my confidence, listening, conversing, motivation, energy, enthusiasm have all improved dramatically. The practices remind me of my goals and push me toward the accomplishment of those goals. It really is quite awesome!”
► 3. Did I do my best to be happy?
When I ask people what they want out of life, almost everyone tells me, “I just want to be happy.” That’s fine. But you may need to take a moment and figure out what happiness means to you. After all, if you can’t define it, you may never find it.
The neat thing about this question is that it puts the responsibility for your happiness on your shoulders. It’s not somebody else’s job to make you happy and it’s not dependent on certain things happening in your life.
It doesn’t mean that you like everything that happens in your day. And it doesn’t mean that everything that happens in your day is good. But you did your best to be happy ANYWAY.
That means if you weren’t happy today, someone screwed up. Guess who? That would be you.
When you ask yourself this question on a daily basis, something wonderful will happen in your life. Instead of forgetting all your blessings, instead of getting caught up in all the stresses coming your way, you’ll get a daily reminder of how important happiness is, that you get to choose, and you end up with more gratitude.
► 4. Did I do my best to find meaning?
The Bible says that “Without vision, you perish.”
Psychologist Viktor Frankl, a Nazi concentration camp survivor, says, “If you know your ‘why,’ any ‘how’ is possible.” In other words, when you find real meaning in living, you can get through anything.
Indeed, if you don’t find meaning in your life, work, and relationships every day, in some way, you’ll trend downwards towards depression, discouragement, and demotivation. You’ll move into cynicism, bitterness, or negativity.
By asking yourself this question every day, you’ll find more meaning in your work, your relationships, routines, spirituality, and many other things.
► 5. Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
Nothing adds more joy to life than good, healthy, positive relationships, on and off the job. And nothing sucks more life out of you than bad relationships.
But positive relationships don’t just happen magically or automatically. Positive relationships are built.
So ask yourself every day if you’re doing your best to build positive relationships with your friends, family members, coworkers, customers, and anyone else that is important to you.
► 6. Did I do my best to be fully engaged?
The happiest people with the most satisfying lives, careers, and relationships are those who are fully engaged with whatever they are doing. They don’t live their lives on autopilot. They really listen to others, tuning into what people are saying and not saying, rather than daydream or think of their next response. They give their best to each endeavor rather than do just enough to get by.
► ADDITIONAL TIPS TO MAKE THE SIX QUESTIONS WORK FOR YOU
Those six questions are great for starters. Then…
Add some of your own questions. Challenge yourself every day by answering questions that represent behaviors that are important to you. If, for example, you want to become a better leader, a more loving partner, or whatever, then you need to ask yourself what you are doing to move more in that direction … today and every day.
Write out the questions you need to ask yourself. You can put them on an Excel spreadsheet, on a word doc you create on your phone, a yellow legal pad, or whatever method works for you. But WRITE THEM DOWN. That alone will keep what is most important to you in the forefront of your mind.
Decide on how you’re going to score your answers. You can decide to write out questions where you simply answer “yes” or “no.” Or you can phrase your questions in such a way that you rate yourself from 1 to 5. Pick whatever works for you.
Choose a time to ask yourself your questions. You can ask yourself these questions at the end of your day as you reflect on the day that has just passed. Or you can ask yourself these questions each morning as you reflect back on the day before.
Get a reality check. These daily questions work wonders because they force you to confront how you actually live your values every day. You either believe something is important or you don’t. If you believe it, you can put it on your list of questions and chances are you will follow through and do it. If you really don’t want to do something, you can face reality and quit kidding yourself.
I’ve come to believe that the single largest pool of untapped natural resources in this world is human good intentions that are never translated into actions. Use this six-question process and you will turn your good intentions into good deeds.