Stop Asking Yourself Questions That Keep You Stuck


“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” ~Dennis Waitley

We often see success stories about people who have achieved something big. They inspire us and on some level show us that it is possible to achieve our goals.

However, they rarely help us deal with what goes on in the middle, the point in between starting something new, when we’re full of energy and excitement, and actually succeeding.

That middle part is generally not pretty. How do you tackle that middle bit?

Let’s say you’ve taken that first step toward a big dream of yours. You’ve created your own blog, signed up for that course, or announced your intention to start singing professionally, write a book, or start a business.

You’re so enthusiastic about the project, and you smile when you think about the future.

Then suddenly a question or two pops up in your head, stopping you dead in your tracks. Freezing you, sucking away all that enthusiasm and energy you started with.

“Am I good enough?”

“Can I really make this work?”

“Am I too old for this?”

“Do I have enough experience?”

“Do I know what I’m letting myself in for here?”

“What if I fail?”

“Am I making a fool of myself?”

Sound familiar?

If you are doing something that takes you out of your comfort zone, chances are you have heard a version of these questions in your head.

These questions are nothing but our mind’s strategy to keep us stuck where we are, to stop us from taking risks, to help us avoid danger.

It’s a remnant of a mind that has yet to catch up with the super-fast changes our lives have gone through in the last 100,000 years. The same strategy would have kept us in our caves all those years ago now stops us from doing what we’d love to.

The problem is that when we’re busy dwelling on these questions, we’re wasting our mind’s energy. We’re not engaging it to think creatively, or to spot opportunities or to help us overcome the challenges we face along the way.

We’re focusing south when we really want to go north. So what do we do about it?

1. The most important thing is to be aware of these questions when they come up.

Chances are you won’t start by hearing the question but instead you will feel a sudden sinking sensation, a loss of hope or of energy. You might start thinking that the whole idea is stupid or silly or not worth the effort. In short, your state will change. With practice you can become aware of when that changing state happens.

2. Once you become aware of this change, take a moment to explore what you were thinking.

This is when you are likely to discover that you were making a statement or asking a question that is taking your focus south, instead of north.

3. Ask yourself: “Is this question or statement helping me move forward?”

4. If the answer is no, follow up with “What question can I replace it with that will help me move forward?”

Here’s an example of how this strategy has helped me in my life.

Twelve years ago I was working as a Business Psychologist with the BBC. As my experience grew I was asked to start running some training courses for different departments in the organization.

I remember quaking with fear at the idea. I had countless sleepless nights, serious palpitations, and bouts of anxiety. I was incredibly scared of standing in front of a crowd. It felt awful, but I knew this was something I really wanted to do, so I persevered.

With time I realized that the questions I was asking myself were taking me south. Questions like “Am I good enough?” “Who wants to listen to me?” “What if I forget what I’m meant to say?”

They were just unhelpful. I worked hard to become more aware of them, and eventually I changed them. I started asking myself “How can I make this interesting?” “How do I keep my audience engaged?” “How much practice do I need to do to feel confident about the material?”

As my questions changed, my feelings changed, as did my performance. The major reason was that now I was focusing north, which was where I wanted to go.

Today, I spend most of my week training groups and I also train other trainers. If someone had told me I would be doing this 12 years ago, I would have laughed.

This strategy has had a major impact on my life and on any projects I work on. It is one of the key tools I use to help others keep motivated and moving forward. I hope it has the same effect on you.

What questions are taking you south? And what will you change them to, to start heading north?

Photo by Zigg-E

About Karen Sargent

Karen is the resident psychologist and dream catcher at Her mission is to help bright, irreverent women in their 30’s make their big dreams happen. For a free copy of her book ‘The Art of Making BIG Dreams Happen’ you can visit her site here.

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  • Barbara

    I always find the middle the hardest part of anything, at the beginning I am all enthusiasm and when I see the end I sight I can power one, but the middle is where all my doubts creep in. I loved your question “Is this helping me to move forward” and am going to ask myself this next time doubts creep in.

  • Karen Sargent

    Hiya Barbara. I’m so glad you found the question useful. That middle bit is SO tough and you described the challenge so eloquently. The initial enthusiasm has stopped pushing us forward and the end is not yet in sight to pull us towards. One way I deal with this is by breaking up any project into mini-projects so that there’s always an end in sight.

  • Diana

    The question that always stops me is if my dream will last forever… And after that, comes the ‘money questions’, I know I’m good doing what I want, but leave my work always scares me a lot 🙁

  • samdamico

    I find observing my questions helpful. Are they functional or ego based questions?

    Ex. Can I do this? = ego based—How do I do this is? = functional

    Ego based questions are not helpful.

  • Karen Sargent

    Hiya Diana. I think you’ve voiced 2 concerns that many people have. The first is – is this the ‘right’ dream to have? Will I achieve it and be satisfied forever? I wonder though, does a dream have to be guaranteed to last forever to be worth pursuing? What if it makes you happy for a year or two? What if it opens up new doors you could not even imagine had you not followed that dream?
    Leaving the security of work is a fear that keeps many people stuck in unhappy jobs. When I left work to set up my own business I had many sleepless nights. At the same time, I had a few plans in place to give me some reassurance that I would be ok. I work with many women who have started small businesses on the side without leaving work and then quit when they reached a point where they could sustain themselves, others have quit work to go travelling and discovered new ways of earning an income. Everyone’s situation is different and I hope that you can find a way to follow your heart and beat that fear.

  • Karen Sargent

    Absolutely Sam. I love the distinction

  • Great post. I see these questions as a form of self dialogue. Whenever I find myself in self dialogue I stop it. It usually is negative and destructive as you pointed out above.

    I get most mileage out of saying to myself, “It is what it is, what next?” That way I accept the present state and begin to move forward.

  • growthguided

    I think a shift really has to occur away from negative anticipation to positive anticipation. Having the right question asked does get you going, but it is the minor hiccups during the day that some times lead to spiring negative thinking that can de-rail us!

    Thank you for the great post!

  • Karen – Thanks for this article. I especially appreciate your focus on the “middle” part of the success process. This is where so many of us–me included–get bogged down. It’s that ‘no-man’s-land’ between excitement (stage 1) and expert (stage 3).

    These tips are so helpful. One of the things I do that’s similar is to 1) recognize that everything in my head is a story (about someone or something) and 2) ask “Is this true?” or “Is this helpful?” (Which I think is similar to your suggestion to question where these detrimental questions are taking us.

    Thanks so much for your advice and practical insights.

  • Self-knowledge is so important to trudging through the depths of doubt. What works for me is to write them out, identify them, think about them, and — if they’re true — I may come up with a plan to squash them.

  • aiwa1

    how to make a decision and be focus on that constantly?

  • Another powerful antidote to negative self-talk is finding people who are always successful in the way you want to be, then striving to be in their company. Nothing counters doubt better than seeing people who are successful in ways that eradicate that doubt.

  • RT

    Karen I really loved your empowering article. Especially when I am feeling stuck in asking myself the question, “Is this question or statement helping me move forward”?
    So true! Just by thinking about this question it has made me aware of my thinking and the position I’m feeling now.
    And the one that proceeds “If not,What question can I replace it with that will help me move forward”. Actually empowers me to take control and make changes to GET MOVING FORWARD. Thank you it’s really great!!