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Is This Useful?

Lately I’ve been asking myself this question quite often:

Is this useful?

(and by that I mean to me and possibly others)

Actually, I’m probably asking myself that question 5-15 times a day.

Why? Well, I think it’s a good way to cut through bad habits and social conditioning that is caught in me. It’s also a good way to question my beliefs and behaviour.

By asking this question I become more conscious of the thoughts that are flowing through my mind in this moment. And I find the method useful to refocus and shift from what I don’t want to what I actually want and to keep my thoughts on those things.

It’s like I stop for a moment in a stream or loop of thoughts and just observe. And then I can release the thought or emotion. And then I can shift to what is really useful for me and start moving again.

Often I can shift perspective and view the thoughts in a more positive way after having just having asked the question.

Or I just start thinking about something else that is more useful.

If that doesn’t work – and I return back to the same non-useful thoughts/feelings again after a few minutes – then I often just observe and accept the feeling until in evaporates.

The problem here, I think, is that I am latching on to the feeling and won’t let it go. How? Well, actually it´s because I’m resisting it. If I allow the feeling and just observe it for a while it vanishes. Using allowing or surrendering to let go of emotions and thoughts has been described a lot before in this blog, for instance at number 4 in this article.

It’s not like asking this question works 100% of the time but I find that it is often effective.

Stuck in a moment you can’t get out of
Asking the question repeatedly is a good little trick to shifting your thinking into a more positive and useful way on a more consistent basis. Also, I think it could be useful if you are taking The Positivity Challenge.

Some not so very useful thoughts and emotions I have found and redirected from are:

- Being in a negative mood where much is viewed through an unhappy lens.

- Whining.

- Being envious or comparing myself to others.

- Feeling stressed.

- Feeling frustrated.

- Feeling like not doing anything and taking no action to get somewhere.

- Getting stuck in a thought loop where I over and over regret or feel negative about something that has already happened.

I’m sure there are more thoughts and feelings that I have forgotten. And others that I experience more seldom but others might feel more often.

A couple of days ago I consumed a bit of Tim Ferriss thoughts (he’s the author of the hyped 4-Hour Workweek). To keep your productivity up and keep your focus on the most important things Tim recommends something similar to my question.

He suggests that you ask yourself something three times a day, by for instance setting reminders at your computer at 9:00, 1:00, 5:00. Those reminders will pop up and ask you: am I being productive, busy or doing a crutch activity?

If the answer is just being busy or doing a crutch activity (an activity you do just to avoid doing something that feels overwhelming and probably is what you actually should be doing) then you realise it when asked the question. And can shift your focus back to doing the really productive tasks.

When doing different tasks during the day I use my question and ask: Is this useful? Sometimes it’s not. And so I start doing something more useful instead. Often if it’s an activity that I do several times a day – checking emails, RSS-feeds etc. – I have found that it’s not so useful to do it too many times because it creates a disruptive and procrastinating habit. I have minimized the times I do such activities each day or week by the method described in One Simple Tip to Remove Bad Habits.

Some ways to determine if for instance a task is useful to put time and energy into is to apply The Pareto Principle or these 3 ways to find out if something is worth doing.

I’m not sure where this will lead me yet. When you start asking yourself this question you may be surprised at the amount of things you do and thoughts you have that isn’t that useful (or pretty much just plain useless compared to suitable replacements).

At the moment asking it certainly seems to decrease negative and not so useful thoughts from popping up in my head. And it is a good way to make a quick shift into more positive and useful thoughts and emotions.

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  • Gretchen Rubin May 8, 2007, 3:16 pm

    In this vein, I often ask myself, “Is this helping?” Say my daugther is sulking, and I’m starting to snap at her. Asking “Is this helping?” reminds me to figure out how to fix the situation, instead of just responding thoughtlessly.

    Great post! lots of good ideas.

  • Henrik Edberg May 8, 2007, 4:12 pm

    Thanks, Gretchen. That´s a great question and a way of thinking too.

  • Alexandra May 9, 2007, 10:46 am

    Dear henrik,

    thanks for sharing with us what you find useful. Indeed questions are a very useful tool which creates a more resourceful state.

    This being said, I’d like to make a suggestion to you and that is to change your why question into a how question for instance, or as Marilee Adams says change a judging question into a learning question.

    “Why questions” are interesting when you want to find out what drives you but they can become disempowering when you are stressed, envious …. what you should focus on in those moments is what can I learn? how can I make this better? what can I do differently next time?

    Tony Robbins focuses a lot on the way we talk to ourselves, the questions we ask ourselves and the primary question that leads most of our lives.

    I wrote a post on that recently (http://alexandrakarlovic.typepad.com/blog/2007/05/did_you_ask_you.html) and read this morning on lifehack how to boost your creativity. Interstingly enough questions were one of the tools!

    Do you think you might find this useful?

    And thanks for your blog and the zillion of interesting info.

    Have a great day !

    Alex

  • Lorraine Cohen May 9, 2007, 6:18 pm

    Great post and comments!

    It’s so important to consciously catch ourselves from all the details and life situations that cause us to get lost in our thoughts and feelings. I practice being present daily and ask myself similar questions –

    Is this moving me towards what I desire?
    Does this make me feel good?/Is this good for me?

    From the other posts, framing the questions similarly really brings you back into your body and being present. That’s where we are the most powerfull – when we are deliberately creating and attracting what we want.

    Was this useful?

    Warmly,
    Lorraine

    Check out my blog: http://www.powerfull-living.biz/blog

  • Dylan Jones May 10, 2007, 11:21 pm

    Great post.