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Choosing the questions

"What do you plan to do with one wild and precious life?"

The quote from poet Mary Oliver resonates loudly some days. It's akin to another favorite quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, "Do one thing every day that scares you."

Both are having their moments of shouting through the chatter these days.

And both are opening doors to opportunities and windows to insights. They are inspiring a flood of positive imagery and feelings of peace -- things which at first don't feel very natural. Worst case scenarios and anxiety are my traditional emotional M.O. along with nagging questions of "what if" that give voice to doubt and fear.

The exercise of writing down the "what ifs" can be productive, especially if you turn the tables on the what ifs. Because in my experience anyway, when you actually start writing down the what ifs and thinking them through, they sound, well, quite ridiculous. The thoughts just don't feel good. They no longer fit to who I am or what I'm about.

The traditional "what ifs" are exposed as frauds.

And wouldn't it be scary (thank you Mrs. Roosevelt) to think big, grande, positive what ifs instead?

The forum on the website GOTRIbal has become one my favorite surfing sites and one of the threads is from a woman doing her first half Ironman in September. She is nervous about making the swim cutoff.

I can relate. I also have my first half Ironman next month and doubts about hitting cutoff times fester in that negative part of my mind.

While getting great advice on what she can do in the coming weeks to improve her swim time, there's another important piece.

We can think, "What if I don't make the swim cutoff?" Or, we can think, "What if I win my age group?"

Are either of us likely to win our age group?

Um, no.

But that's not the point.

There is great power in the types of questions we ask -- the ones we ask ourselves, the ones we ask other people, even the rhetorical ones.

A friend gave me a copy of the book QBQ! The Question Behind the Question by John G. Miller. The book focuses on personal responsibility and believes in asking questions that start with "what" or "how" instead of "why." It's similar to the performance edge for athletes discussed by sports psychologist Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter (see this archived blog post for more info) where she encourages athletes to ask questions that lead to positive actions -- What can I learn from this? How can I use this situation to my advantage? -- instead of why questions which lead to negative responses and, more often than not, self pity.

And so it doesn't matter for me and my GOTRIbal friend what actually transpires during our half Ironman swim.

It's all in how we choose to frame it. What questions we choose to ask ourselves. What comfort zones we're willing to step out of and former limits we're willing to expand. What perspective we want to stand in. Because my worst day -- whether it's in triathlon, at work or in my personal relationships -- may be the ideal day for someone else.

By doing something each day that scares us, that pushes us a bit out of comfort zone, we're able to grow and expand and learn and laugh and smile. The outcome no longer matters.

What matters instead is what you choose.

And so, what is you choose to do with your one wild and precious life?

--- Amy Moritz
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