≡ Menu

Three Questions and The Best Advice I Ever Heard

rikki tikki tavi kiplingI’m quite leery of the self-help industry, both because of its lack of substance and its numbing sameness. Most books I’ve read that promise to revolutionize the way I live and think  that could be filed under…

  • feel better
  • be better
  • look better
  • smile more
  • etc

…say the same thing. Someone proclaims themselves an expert, draws a circle, puts a word like “courage” in it, and suddenly they’re giving seminars while pointing at that circle with a laser pointer. The bookshelves in the stores overflow with “new” self improvement books every year. I would never try to steer anyone away from something that is working for them and helping them achieve their goals, but I’m unsettled by the sight of a friend’s bookshelf that is 90% books on how to cope with life and start working on a dream. If someone’s self improvement collection grows every month, I have to wonder how well it’s working.

About a year ago I heard the best advice I have ever been given. I don’t think I’ll ever crack open another self help book. The advice comprised three questions. The idea that if you can answer these questions honestly, and that you have goals, you will make progress.

1. What should I stop doing?

2. What should I start doing?

3. What should I keep doing?

I’ve been looking at these three questions for quite a while, and I’ve yet to raise another meaningful question, in terms of my own goals and progress, that isn’t contained within them. It’s all I need, without the upsells, without the empty promises, without shelling out $10,000 for a two day seminar to learn how to be me or awaken the inner whatever.

Actually, I just read Rikki Tikki Tavi again. It’s great, if you haven’t read it. Maybe I should start charging for an hour of “Stir up your inner cobra-killing mongoose” coaching. What would a fair price be? I want to buy myself an island, so it’s going to have to be pretty steep.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Matt January 27, 2011, 11:01 am

    I would pay you 250 $, but I’d want to see you wrestle either a cobra or a mongoose.

  • Jesse S January 27, 2011, 1:42 pm

    Ahhh, refreshing, elegant, wonderful simplicity. Usually what works the best! Rikki Tikki Tavi, The Jungle Book, and Captains Courageous are personal favorites…

    I love these three questions and the way that you frame them. Good show!

  • Pauline January 27, 2011, 2:30 pm

    Great questions, Josh! These are as pertinent for two of us in our 70’s as for you younger folk. Ah, simplicity, indeed.

  • David Cain January 27, 2011, 4:39 pm


    I actually did a more convoluted version of this last night during my weekly review, but this is so much clearer.

  • cinderkeys January 27, 2011, 11:43 pm

    How do you think you should find any of those answers if you don’t know them already?

  • Gustavo January 28, 2011, 11:43 am

    Looking for an island? I’ve got some nice down here. How much would you be willing to pay?

    Good three questions. They can be applied to other things as well: your diet, your reading selection, your dating process…

    Actually, applying those questions is more radical than it looks. People like to insist doing what have not worked in the past.

  • hoongyee January 28, 2011, 7:57 pm

    A rabbi told me today that we are unwilling to be born into this life and unwilling to leave this life, two events that bookend our lives that are beyond our control. I wonder if that is why we are so driven by goals we can grasp as our own during our brief time on this earth.

    Sometimes simply living is a goal well met.

  • Robby G January 29, 2011, 7:31 pm

    Oh my God, RIkKI TIkKI TAVI haha I remember reading that in grade 4! What a story, my friend, what… a… story! 🙂 Thanks for reminding me of it. Cheers!

  • Asatar Bair | University of the Heart January 31, 2011, 4:05 pm

    Though the answers are always within, sometimes they can be hard to see, because we are too close to ourselves, and lack the necessary perspective. Sometimes we cannot see our potential, and fixate too much on our flaws. I know what you mean about self-help books, but if someone finds them inspiring, it’s not a bad thing.