The Ultimate Question to Free Up Space in Your Mind
I recently had the opportunity to attend a Jenny Shih Live Workshop event. It was the grand finale of a 15-week online business building program (Make It Work Online) I have just completed. The workshop was in Corvallis, Oregon and so I made it a road trip. This way, I could travel the Pacific Northwest coastline following the event.
If it wasn’t enough that the program itself was life-changing, this event was even more so. The event helped me integrate the entire 15-week experience in a way that I needed more than I even knew I needed it.
I was very much looking forward to a long drive there. If you have ever been through a powerful retreat or coursework experience, you might understand how it takes some time to disconnect from it, breathe, and allow for the full comprehension to kind of ‘sink in.’
Okay…. so what about the question?
Fair enough. I used a catchy title to draw your attention in, for sure. The question is one of the best questions I have ever been able to fully integrate as a habitual personal reflection tool that saves my ass multiple times a day. And I desperately want to share it with you.
I cannot recall when exactly the question “What am I making this mean?” came into my sphere of awareness, but I remember at first thinking that it felt like an awkwardly spoken question. “What am I making this mean?” or “What are you making that mean?” just kind of rolled off the tongue strangely. And I thought about it. There are other ways that sound better to speak it, but I’ve found that they don’t hold as much personal asking power for some reason.
There is something very present and in-the-moment about how this question sounds in the mind. If you are one who talks to yourself aloud (which I am), you will see what I mean. This is the kind of language we tend to use when we talk to ourselves and so I suspect, that’s why it’s so powerful. And the mind cannot help but answer a question when it hears one.
This brilliant question just kept showing up
While I was in the program, I really wanted to integrate several questions as part of my habitual self-questioning repertoire. As a coach, it is my passion and personal responsibility to coach myself as a daily practice. Understanding the value of a good coaching experience, I always try to be exactly that powerful coach for myself.
This was one of the brilliant questions that kept coming up during the coaching program. I was always amazed by my answers to the question, as I could clearly see my limiting beliefs and bullshit-story-making rise to the surface.
Surprisingly enough, even with lots of personal awareness, we miss patterns of thinking until we verbalize or write them out. This is why coaching is such an invaluable tool. A good coach asks powerful questions and holds sacred space so all the ‘stuff’ can come up and out without reservation.
So often we had no idea that what just came out was even in there! And when we journal, it is so much more effective to write from a prompt question than to just start writing from nothing at all.
The question finally landed at the workshop
I was nervous going into the event. For me, nervousness can come with some self-doubt or insecurities. Whenever those aspects are present, my worst thoughts and Ideas easily surface in my crazy brain. (Does that sound familiar to you at all?)
I found myself making stories about what ‘this’ or ‘that’ from someone else might have meant. Before I knew it, in my mind to some degree, no one liked me. It is laughable now, and it was even laughable at the moment because I knew some crazy thinking was going on under the surface.
The magic question kept coming up in coaching sessions and discussions. Somewhere in that space of the workshop, it landed home as my go-to. Like – it plugged in as the new pathway whenever I got triggered by a baseless thought.
As an example, if an unsupportive thought came up based on someone else’s action or comment, I began to automatically ask the question, “What did I just make that mean?”
In the process of storytelling what I just made that mean, I inevitably laughed at myself. I quickly realized that I had no basis for anything my brain had just created.
My brain was filling in the blanks of someone else’s intent through my filtered reality rather than just leaving it as an unknown. The human brain doesn’t like unknowns. It wants answers, it wants a story – a reason why. So the brain fills in the story where it cannot possibly do so. And we sadly accept that as truth, often without ever questioning it.
The lady at the rest stop
Following the workshop, I left for the coast. Somewhere along the way, I stopped at a rest stop. A woman was sitting with a sign about why she had become homeless, living in her van.
She had lost her son (he looked from the picture to be about 20). From a quick scan of her sign, I gathered that since losing her son, her life just kind of fell apart. I was empathetic to this since I know several grieving mothers. And yet, I found myself uncomfortable and averting eye contact with her as I was closing in on my way to the bathroom.
I was disappointed in myself for my uncomfortable reaction. Avoiding those who are suffering a personal loss is not my norm. I checked in with myself around what was at the root of this discomfort for me and decided I would meet her and just ask about her son. I know that most Mothers want to talk about their late children.
When I returned to where she sat, she was engaged in conversation with a man. As I walked past my missed opportunity, I heard her say something to the man about ‘see that woman that just walked by.…’ Then I couldn’t quite hear the rest.
I knew she was talking about me. And I wondered what she said. Since my brain just had to know, it created a story. I imagined she was judging me because I didn’t look her in the eyes when I passed earlier … Oh boy. It was so clear to me what was happening, and I asked myself the best question ever: “What am I making that mean?”
What was I making what I heard mean?
I realized as I began verbalizing the answer, I had no idea for sure if she was even talking about me, for starters. There were plenty of other people around. Also, how do I know it was bad? And, above all else, what she thinks or says about me is really none of my business anyways.
By this time I was laughing at myself and recognizing the silliness in all of this because I could never really know any of the answers. I also felt such gratitude for the question that allowed me to truly let that shit go and move on. What a blessing in my day!
The moment when it fully anchored in
That moment really hooked it in. From that point on, this question naturally comes up whenever there is a need to test out the validity of my thoughts. My mind gets the freedom to not become tied up in baseless, predictive, crap thinking.
Whenever a story-making thought arises, this question helps me to evaluate the reality or non-reality of my thinking. It allows me to notice the different kinds of pressures I place on myself because the stories I create are all a reflection of that.
It is all me. It’s always been me. I am the source of my own suffering and I can choose to let that shit go to free myself from wasted thinking and storytelling about things I don’t even need to know about.
There are a couple of ways to use this question in everyday life
The moment an unconfirmed story arises in your mind, ask the question: “What am I making this mean?” When you practice this awareness enough over and over, it will eventually root in as a new habit. That is what this story is all about.
Another way is to journal about it. Write the question at the top of the page and then start writing. See what comes up and out. Allow yourself to open up and get it all out so you can see the physical form of your thoughts on paper and question the validity.
New habits take diligent practice. The catch and replacement must be repeated over and over again to create the new habit pathway in the brain.
Anything I have ever made into a habitual thought pattern has taken time and patience to create the new neuropathway. I was quite frustrated by the amount of time I had practiced integrating this new response pathway when it suddenly clicked in and became my new habit.
Something is only ready when it’s ready. We cannot force fruit to ripen any faster because we want it to. It is most kind to laugh a little whenever we catch ourselves slipping into old patterns while we are trying to create new ones.
Until next week, Brandy xxx