Menu
Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!

One Question That Could Change Your Life for the Better

New Day

“If it’s still in your mind, it is worth taking the risk.” ~ Paulo Coelho

I felt stuck. Why could I never achieve anything? Why could I never do anything tangible?

Everyone else seemed to have no problem. You see, my friends could both work hard and grow themselves at the same time.

Not me.

I felt stuck.

Every day when I came home after work I was just exhausted. I had no energy whatsoever to study my Chinese Mandarin (a long-term project of mine) or to go for a jog in the nearby forest. All my energy had been put into a job I didn’t even enjoy that much.

I just knew I could get more out of life. What I really wanted was to spend time on my own projects—to do what I love the most. Well, to me, the only way I could shift my reality was to basically to change priorities—to put life before work.

But how? How does one do that?

In practice, the only tangible solution I could see was to wake up early in the morning. Really, really early. That way I would be able to pour all my fresh energy into what is most important to me.

But I can’t do that. It’s crazy, right? That would change my entire way of living. It simply doesn’t fit the rest of the world.

So I decided it was crazy and went on with my life. Until one day when speaking to a colleague. We came upon the topic and after a while he asked me…

“What would happen if you did?”

I was silent.

“Yeah, what would really happen if I did?” I thought.

And he continued on the same path and said: “What wouldn’t happen if you did?”

I was silent again. I was thinking.

I could actually only see positive things happening from making this change in my life. Previously, I hadn’t even had the courage to really get out of the box of the problem and see what choices I had.

This question expanded my view of the world and literally changed my life. I was not so stuck anymore. And I realized that I had been so focused on the problem that I had been unable to see anything else.

I guess you can relate to those few moments in life when we finally are able to see something for what it really is. It doesn’t have to happen through a big life-changing question. Sometimes a simple question is enough.

So with focus on solving my problem I gave it a try, waking up early in the morning. And you see, when I do something, I like to do it big. So I set my goal to rise at 4:00 every morning.

That would give more than three hours of doing whatever I want with a fresh mind and relaxed body. Hopefully.

Now, I don’t want you to think that it’s that easy to basically “change time zone” and become an early riser, but with the right mindset anyone is able to.

For me, it was the question that made it all possible. The question that changed my life.

I think the main reason this question helped me was because I was brutally honest with myself. There are so many things that actually would (or at least could) happen if I did. At the same time, I realized that none of this would happen unless I went for it.

For example, I would be able to…

  • Finally start that website of my own.
  • Keep a daily exercise routine without anything getting in my way.
  • Prepare romantic breakfasts for my fiancée, at least once in a while ;-)
  • De-stress my entire life by having a few things “under my belt” when work starts already
  • Take a big leap forward in my Chinese studies

And most important of all, I would be able to…

  • Set the direction of my own life, instead of being just lead down the road life takes me.

And before I tell you if all this really happened, let’s dig into that questions a little bit more.

The Question Explained

I have discovered that this question I mentioned above can actually be part of a bigger pattern. You see, there are four alternatives to this question:

  • What would happen if you did?
  • What would happen if you didn’t?
  • What wouldn’t happen if you did?
  • What wouldn’t happen if you didn’t?

I like to imagine these questions laid out like four quadrants in a matrix. Usually, we are all stuck in the quadrant “What would happen if you didn’t?”—focusing on the problem at hand.

What all the other three questions help us to do is to move ourselves away from there and into the other quadrants. You might be able to find that these new quadrants lead to new perspectives and new insights.

Isn’t that powerful?

I mean, if you can think of a problem or troublesome situation you have in your life, then you will be able come out much stronger on the other side after running it through these questions. You can, can you not?

I have at least realized that by asking myself open and strong questions I can open up my life to more and more possibilities. Asking the questions is just the beginning, but often times getting momentum is the biggest challenge we face.

So I urge everyone to ask yourself this question as soon as you find yourself stuck. It helped me in one situation and continues to expand my view of the world every day.

So Does It Really Work?

It’s not a magic question. But for the purpose of giving me new alternatives of how to live my life, it sure worked well. You see, those things I mentioned before that would happen if I did, that was just the top of the ice berg.

In fact, I wrote down three full pages, hand written, about how my life could change. And that has been my main source of motivation ever since.

I can understand if you feel that becoming an early riser is not a really serious life change and that I didn’t have a really tough problem to begin with. If that’s the case, then I encourage you to use this question on ever bigger problems.

Use it to make real life changes.

At least I put my life before work nowadays and I feel that I achieve something for me, every single day. That was what the question helped me to do.

I am now an early riser, speak pretty darn well Chinese, have set up several websites, and am able to take those morning runs almost every day.

You see, this question literally changed my life.

Photo by Ewen Roberts

Avatar of Matthew McEwan

About Matthew McEwan

Matthew M. McEwan is the creator and author of Early-Riser.com. His blog is loaded with tips, tricks and strategies for how to wake up early, sleep well, and have an awesome morning. He also recently launched another pretty cool site: 80Words.com – Where change happens fast.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • http://www.barefootbeginnings.net/ Tina Williamson

    I just loved this article, I’ve been having a week filled with doubts and this just inspired me to keep going.
    I love the question in particular what would happen if you did, I’ve been pondering that one, it’s so simple yet so complex at the same time.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Tina

  • Mart

    At the end of the article, I think you meant “literally” :p. Anywho, this is a really good article and great advice. We all use excuses for not working toward our dreams and you provided a realistic solution that pretty much anyone can try! I’m going to try it for my music projects. It’s an awesome idea to wake up fresh in the morning and use my energy for my passion, instead of being all drained by my corporate job. I can already see the benefits of doing that… I mean, if first thing in the morning you work on your personal projects, go to work and then, come back home and continue working on your goals, you won’t have the impression that you’ve wasted your day working for someone else!
    Good job!
    Mart

  • http://asmalladjustment.com/ Christopher Frawley

    this is a great piece. it’s like we’re the bug in the jar and don’t notice that the lid is off. it reminds me of the quote “what would you do if you knew that you couldn’t fail?” thanks for stating it so well !!

  • RandyH

    This is nothing short of absolute brilliance! Thanks for the advice Matt!

  • KJK

    This makes me want to weep with relief at the revelation, and I am not one to weep. It’s been a long month at work, and I find limited motivation for anything personally fulfilling after work is done. Time to start writing down all that can be done in the wee hours of the morning.

  • lilsony

    Thank you so much for posting this wonderful article! Now I am going to write out these four questions and answer each one. They are simple but really powerful!

  • Liz

    Love this! Thank you!

  • Razwana

    Matthew! McEwan! Absolutely love the sentiments in your post. How grim does life look when you consider how things will be if you don’t do the thing you want to do?

    I adore the quote at the start, and it’s a thought that has been ruling me…erm…thoughts lately. IF I keep coming round to the same idea, then it is time to start.

    And start I shall!

    I’m away to check out your sites now…

  • Sherry

    Funny – at first, I thought you were going to write about how to quit your job and still have an income.
    But seriously – I do the same thing – I get up 2 1/2 – 3 hours early every day so I can take my time, play guitar, or whatever I want to do. I usually am better at doing things I want to do in the morning rather than when I get home from work.
    Loved the article.
    Sherry

  • Lindsay Jo

    I read this article this morning and it has been swirling in my head all day. This is completely genius. What I love is the slight shift in perspective. I usually complain “Ugh, I have to wake up early if I want to go running.” But like you, I’m so tired after a long day of work that I don’t get around to the stuff that I do just for ME. But reframing the solution to “I’m going to wake up really early tomorrow, and maybe every day, so that the freshest, best part of my day, is reserved for the activities that are most important to ME, the things that deserve the best part of me, as opposed to the brain-dead cranky version of me.” This is brilliant! mind=blown :) Thank you for this!

  • http://www.sparkletonic.com/ Liz E. Lehman (@ Sparkletonic)

    Well, that was humbling yet inspiring. I’ll never be the 4am type, but couldn’t I just get a little bit more devoted; get up a little bit earlier? What would happen if I did? ; )

  • Matthew M. McEwan

    I’m happy you understand me :-) even though English is not my first language actually.

    Yeah, as you say, it does makes a lot of sense in theory to use the morning energy fully, but I have to say that it can be damn hard in reality. It’s all about having the determination to build a habit. It would be really cool if you tried it for you music projects, let me know how your first day goes =) I’ll be glad to help out if you find yourself struggling.

  • Matthew M. McEwan

    That’s the spirit ;-) I think something awesome could happen…

    So what’s your answer?

  • Matthew M. McEwan

    Lindsay, your words brighten my day! And you truly got the main point of the post.

    And the next step is to really make the morning to what it can be. I believe it’s important to develop a habit in order to not feel like we were just hit by a truck when the alarm goes off… Then we can become energetic instantly when waking up and you can run faster than ever =)

    So Lindsay, what activity makes you so inspired you would have the courage to wake up extra early?

  • Matthew M. McEwan

    I love your energy! :-) It’s a powerful quote indeed! We all have things we think about doing for way too long before taking any form of action.

    As my friend said the other week:
    “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

    And then he went off on a spontaneous vacation…

  • http://www.towardcontent.com/ Jonathan Wilson

    Good advice and something I have been practicing for a while – getting up earlier. Morning is the best time for any creative endeavor. I find myself fresh, alert, and ready for the work I am passionate about (writing, exercising, meditating, etc.).

    Those are great questions. Often by taking the time to answer questions like these I have found that the real issue was really just some undefined fear, rather than a valid reason.

  • Lena

    Great article. It make me realize that I need to start making small sacrifice such as waking up earlier. I have been trying to learn another language but I always tell myself maybe next week I’ll have the energy or gap in my schedule. Thank you- the idea is pure genius, just what I needed to hear. I’ll stop making excuses to get up earlier.

  • Mary

    Thanks, Matthew! I had just had a self-pity session in which I lamented the fact that, lately, I haven’t been able to enjoy one of the things I love most – riding horses. I’ve been working longer hours and my kids have needed extra help with school lately and I can’t even sit down until about 10 pm. Then I clicked on the Tiny Buddha in my email inbox and was blessed with your piece. What a great reframing and approach. I have an amazing friend who is a world-class physician scientist, a fantastic friend and an incredible mother of 3 brilliant children. She always says, “You can always MAKE time for the things that are most important to you.” Your piece was just the reminder I needed. I will be rising at 4 am to head to the barn for a very early am horsback ride! Many thanks!

  • Matthew M. McEwan

    Yeah, you said it really well. It usually stems from an emotional reason, so when we instead try to understand the logic behind, the entire limitation collapses and we can move forward :-)

  • Matthew M. McEwan

    That’s the spirit, it’s not about sacrificing, it’s about finding your own reason to do something. And when you have something that you really really want, then waking up early is not a big challenge anymore.

  • Matthew M. McEwan

    That’s awesome to hear !

    A small reminder is all that is needed sometimes. Enjoy your ride =)

  • growthguided

    Taking that leap of faith is huge!
    What a great message Matt!

    Let me know if you want to write a post for GrowthGuided!

  • http://www.onestoppersonaldevelopment.com/ Chim Aaron

    Excellent tip. Questions like this really do bring a sense of clarity and urgency. I think the underlying theme here is finding a way to do what you have to do instead of making excuses. Excuses may feel good, but they don’t get you anywhere and they only perpetuate your frustration with your present condition. Only you can do what you need to do, so you’ve got to find a way, somehow, to take action towards that goal, that dream, that’s in your heart.

  • Joseph Dabon

    I agree. Sometimes we have to discharge some baggage that weigh us down to give room for others. – http://withinyouisyoursuccess.com/

  • Matthew M. McEwan

    I would love that ! :-) You have a really cool site! Please get in touch with me over email, you can find it here: http://www.early-riser.com/about-me.html

  • Matthew M. McEwan

    Thanks for reading, your words make me smile!

  • http://www.breakingthehabitofme.com/ Breaking The Habit Of Me

    Great post, Matthew.

    It is amazing how powerful some simple questions can be. We get so caught up in our story sometimes that we don’t look at the choices we actually have. It is then a matter of doing what matters most. But, we have to ask ourselves the question first.

    Thanks
    Keith

  • Jones

    I have been through a major career change that has seen me move from a (horrid) corporate environment to moving out of the city temporarily, whilst I build a creative career, but lately I have been feeling rather down and demotivated- I’m quite isolated at the moment and have found myself getting up late in the morning. I keep wanting to get up early to start on a positive note and this article has really helped give me that extra drive. I think tomorrow morning I will get up at a good time and get my trainers on and start the day fresh, thanks!

  • Josh Emmanuel

    congrats!

    Being an early riser is a HUGE accomplishment. There was a prolific writer Anthony Trollope who produced an astonishing amount of material, and attributed it all towards early hours.

    He got up at 530AM, wrote for 3 hrs, and then headed to his full time job.

    Sounds like you’re on a great path!

  • Member48

    I hate mornings…always have…and waking up 2 minutes before I have to has always been a source of great anger for me. I too was far too exhausted after an Energy sucking job to get to the gym. All I wanted to do was come home and sleep. A few months ago…I’m not certain what it was…not being able to sleep from the stresses of work?…I went to the gym before work. Seriously?! This is not who I am. Now I set my alarm for when I HAVE to get up for work…and I generally wake up an hr earlier. I really believe it’s my body’s way of telling me that it needs something more. It wants the gym. It wants me to care for it