“Nothing shapes our journey through life so much as the questions we ask.” ~Greg Levoy
“My Way” by Frank Sinatra has been a bit of a soundtrack to my life. When it comes to my career path, I have opted more often than not for the alternative routes—studying and working abroad, setting up social projects, and being my own boss. This is something my friends still laugh at today, since my sole goal after graduation was to move back to my hometown, get a job, and never leave!
However, it turns out that it wasn’t a soundtrack that I was marching my life to; it was a question. And I wasn’t, in fact, living things my way. Instead, I was desperately trying to live things the right way, marching to the unconscious primary question of “How can I get it right?”
What’s more, it was this question that was holding me back from the purpose-driven vision that I had for my life.
Even though my logical mind knew that all roads lead to Rome, my unconscious mind was repeatedly looking for the right way. So it made me jump ship on a present plan and take up the newest right path whenever I caught a whiff of potential failure. Opening my eyes to the primary question that was driving my every move was, quite literally, a life-changer.
What is a primary question and why might it be holding you back?
A primary question is a largely unconscious question that we ask ourselves many times a day. It’s one particular question that essentially shapes who we are, how we act, and what we expect to get out of life. It is unique to you, based on your life circumstances and experiences.
Your primary question usually shows up in the areas of life you value most, and it goes hand-in-hand with your fears. This is because your primary question’s main aim is to keep you safe. By continually trying to get it right I was essentially avoiding failure, my biggest purpose-related fear, at all costs.
The majority of us are not even aware of our primary question, but once you discover it, it can transform your life, changing how you react and what you decide and liberating you from a sabotaging pattern that has held you back from the things you most desire.
What is your primary question?
Your primary question is behind the stress and struggles in the areas of life that you really value, be it purpose, family, career, or health. So, thinking of an important area of life that you’re experiencing struggles in, what could be the question underlying it all?
You’re looking for the question that, if you don’t find the answer to it, will lead to suffering, loss, shame, or the breakdown of relationships. Your question will most likely be related to needing approval, love, certainty, or significance and fearing the loss or lack of these.
Some examples of primary questions are:
- How can I make it better?
- How can I succeed?
- How can I get people to like me?
- How can I be safe?
- How can I protect myself?
- How can I improve?
- How can I achieve more?
- How can I get it right?
- How can I guarantee it?
Creating Your New, Empowering Primary Question
The good news is that after you discover your primary question, you can change it. Now, if you’re anything like me, you might start feeling the need to get it right (my primary question, ha!). You’re concerned that if you don’t choose the perfect new primary question, then it won’t work.
Worry not, as the key here isn’t to find the perfect words, but to find some empowering words to help you snap out of your old question in times of stress.
The best place to start is with gratitude. An empowering primary question becomes an antidote when it helps your mind focus on appreciating the life you have now, as well as how you can add more to what you already have.
Here is the empowering primary question that I now use: How can I appreciate this moment and share even more of the amazing person I am?
Once you have your chosen words, it’s time to train your brain. By consistently and consciously asking yourself the new question every time you’re in a challenging situation, it will become your automatic question to ask in critical times of stress.
Now, when I’m triggered by parts of my purpose-related path, instead of jumping ship on my present idea or drowning in the fear of potential failure, I center myself on what’s right now and not what needs to be right. And now that I don’t have to find the right way to Rome, I can finally do it my way.