5 Questions That Will Transform Your Life, From A Psychologist
The performance review. The peer review. The relationship check-in. We are no strangers to reviews in our work and, sometimes, love lives. But how about extending that to yourself?
I've read a few tongue-in-cheek memes that go somewhere along the lines of how 2023 is upon us while we are still processing 2020.
The truth is, life will always throw us curveballs, neutral and even boring moments, and plenty of great episodes. It is during these times that we change. Those of us who consciously seek to grow through such times, and have clear directions on how we'd like to harness what's happened to us, tend to make meaning and grow. But if left unexamined, we tend to calcify into smaller versions of ourselves—where our bad habits and mindsets that no longer serve us become more deeply ingrained.
In my book This Is What Matters, I write about a review you can do for your own life, as you reflect on your journey thus far. Whether you do it at the end of the year, or the beginning of the year, or anytime really doesn't matter. The point is to carve out 10 minutes and do it.
The Five Questions.
Scrawl your most instinctive thoughts in response to each question. Consider also (1) what's going right, and (2) what could be different.
Do I like who I see?
The person who stares back at you in the mirror or in photographs tells you a lot about who you are now. Your physical body provides data about your overall health and how you are spending your time. How you feel inside also impacts the way you look, even if this is not evident to someone else observing. For instance, your smile may look strained if you're not feeling at peace, or you could see your eyes look exhausted if you've been feeling frazzled lately.
Do I like my life?
When you look at how you live your everyday life—as well as your breaks such as weekends, festivities, and vacations—how satisfied are you? You can consider the different areas of your life, the roles you play, and how you live. For most people, their jobs, relationships, resources, and energy levels will influence the answer to this question.
Do I like who I am?
Do you like your personality—the facets of you that make up who you are? You may have heard of the Enneagram or MBTI, or you can think in terms of The Big Five, which is the most researched-backed personality test in psychology. The Big Five looks at how open (vs. closed), conscientious (vs. lazy), extroverted (vs. introverted), agreeable (vs. disagreeable), and neurotic (vs. emotionally stable) you are.
Who you are is also defined by the choices you make, especially those you keep repeating, and the values by which you live your life—do they belong to you or someone else?
Do I own my past?
To be human is to have downs in our lives and bouts of bad luck. With that comes the inevitable baggage of trauma and mental health struggles. How easy is it for you to acknowledge these chapters in your life story?
As well, can you see these episodes as part of life or momentary periods of bad fortune rather than ascribe permanence to them and crane your neck out for the next bad thing that will happen?
Are you able to acknowledge the role you've played in creating the positive outcomes in your life instead of merely attributing it to luck?
So, when you consider your life's journey to date, what are you able to acknowledge, and what do you prefer to suppress?
Do I like who I am becoming?
Every choice you make and every action you take shapes your future. As Taoist philosophy wisely goes, good luck is often just a matter of preparation. If you generally eat healthy foods and sleep enough, you are more likely to have better physical health than your peers, especially as you age. The same principle holds for what you do and don't do in your day-to-day life, across your career, relationships, and mental fitness. To that end, I invite you to consider the person you are growing into, based on what you do now.
What to do next.
Answer each of The Five Questions, and then review your answers overall. Consider:
- What have you realized most about yourself?
- What is the one thing you are most grateful for?
- What's the one thing that most urgently needs to change?
And of course, reflections don't bear any fruit unless we take action. Consider:
- What change would you like?
- What stands in the way?
- What is the first step you can take to start the ball rolling?
There is a Diana Ross song that plays in my head whenever I take stock of my life. It goes, "Do you know where you're going to, do you like the things that life's been showing you, what are you looking for?"
The science is clear that self-love and self-compassion benefit us. But the truth is, not everyone buys into that. Some people feel that self-love sounds needlessly pompous and narcissistic; others fear compassion makes them lose their keen, sharp, ambitious edge.
But whether or not you want to practice self-love and/or self-compassion, everyone benefits from having an overview of what they are willing to accept about their lives and themselves. This is also an exercise in gratitude and, more importantly, an exercise in courage.
Looking deep within can be scary; the epiphanies can feel overwhelming when you're confronted with them, and it feels like there's nowhere to hide.
But done in a way that allows you to take action, and reflect on your strengths, trust yourself that you are on the right track to building a life that matters.
Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, is a psychologist and executive coach currently living in Singapore. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from University College London and her master's in philosophy from University of Cambridge. Her first book This Is What Matters was published by Simon & Schuster in May 2022, which guides you to transform crisis to strength, or design an #EverydayAmazing life.
She has been featured in Elle, Forbes, and Business Insider and has previously worked with Olympians, business professionals, and individuals seeking to master their psychological capital. She works globally in English and Mandarin-Chinese via Skype and Facetime, blending cutting-edge neuroscience, psychology, and ancient wisdom.