You’ve Been Asking Yourself the Wrong Questions

woman-687560_640John O’Leary was a typical kid growing up in St. Louis, Missouri. But his life took a dramatic turn one day in 1987 when he accidentally triggered an explosion while playing with fire. Just nine years old, burns covered his entire body. He was rushed to the hospital where doctors gave him less than a one percent chance of making it through the night. He survived, only to endure months of pain and multiple surgeries, including the amputation of his fingers. Today O’Leary is a successful businessman, husband and, father.

I recently listened to an interview with O’Leary in which he shared insights into his ordeal and the mental shift he had to make in order to adjust to a new way of life. In particular, I was stuck by a series of questions he posed – questions that we all ask ourselves when faced with significant change or adversity.

Why me? According to O’Leary, the first question we ask when confronted with unwelcome change is “Why me?” We place ourselves into the role of a victim and look for reasons to distance ourselves from what’s happening. By adopting the victim mentality, we place responsibility for what’s happening on to someone else and we give ourselves permission to disengage.

Who cares? The second question we ask is “Who cares?” Because we feel alone and out of control, it’s easy to feel as if no one else is concerned about our feelings. “No one asked for my opinion. No one checked with me to see if this was a good idea.” When we perceive change as something that’s happening to us, we give ourselves permission to resist.

What’s the point? The third question, O’Leary says, is “What’s the point?” When we’re not the driving force behind change, it can be difficult to identify a reason. If we don’t agree with the change, and feel like we have no control over it, we give ourselves permission to not act.

O’Leary stated that he went through all of these questions multiple times during his period of recovery. Over time, he began to realize that he was asking himself the wrong questions. The secret to successfully navigating change is to ask yourself the right questions. So he started to train his mind to focus on a different line of thinking.

Why me? Why have I been given this opportunity? What is it that makes me particularly suited to excel in this environment and at this time? What unique talents and skills do I possess that set me up for success where others tend to fail?

Who cares? Who is depending on me right now? Who needs me to be successful in order to better their situation? Who else is out there struggling and looking for someone to show them the way? Who is looking to me for leadership and inspiration?

What’s the point? What’s the end game here? What larger purpose is being served by my journey through this trial? How will the greater good be served by my engagement and involvement?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written about different aspects of navigating change. We can categorize the need for change. We can understand why accepting change is so difficult. We can even alter our approach to guiding others through the process of change. But as O’Leary learned, the biggest thing we can do to make significant change easier is start with our own attitude toward it.

Sometimes change is difficult; sometimes it’s painful. Occasionally, change is absolutely excruciating. I think that the toughest change to manage is the shift that has to occur in our own heads. Once we change the way we think, there’s nothing we can’t overcome.


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