The Daily Questions Ritual that Helps You Become Better at Anything

Every morning, Marshall Goldsmith, the world’s number one executive coach, gets a call from the same women. She sits pretty quiet – she’s there to listen as Goldsmith reads off a list of 32 questions and she answers with either a yes or no or a number between 1 to 10.

In the evening, Goldsmith pays an associate to call him and ask a series of questions that force him to recap whether he has been true to his behavioral goals through the day’s events.

The beauty with this process is that it ensures accountability.

Goldsmith says there’s one overarching role: no negative feedback. No matter what the other person has done, don’t say anything that might produce guilt. Rather, for the ones that were responded with affirmatives, make positive feedback to reinforce success.

Goldsmith offered some guidelines for anyone who wants to create their own daily questions ritual:

  1. Start with an Excel spreadsheet and write down a series of important questions (you can have more or fewer than 32) about your experiences with friends, family, and coworkers.
  2. Choose a partner you can trust and give him/her your series of questions.
  3. Then create seven boxes across, one for every day of the week. Every question is either answered with yes/no or a number.
  4. At the end of the week, create a report card.

“In my years of answering daily questions,” Goldsmith writes, “I have never yet had a perfect day.”

The goal, it seems, is making progress toward your goals, as opposed to ticking off every last one, and realizing that there will always be areas where you can improve.

You might also want to pose some questions tailored to your current concerns. For example, Goldsmith begins with six ‘active questions’ that have been proven (in my research involving over 2,500 people) to lead to higher satisfaction with life.  You will note that each question begins with, “Did I do my best to…”

  • Set clear goals?
  • Make progress toward goal achievement?
  • Be happy?
  • Find meaning?
  • Build positive relationships?
  • Be fully engaged?

It’s easy to slip when we set out to change our behavior. The daily questions force you to be accountable to yourself.

The reminders can be posed by a friend, family member or colleague, in person or by phone or e-mail. The wording is essential. If the constant “Did I do my best?” intro seems needlessly repetitive and wordy, don’t edit. Continue with it. The good thing about beginning these questions with “Did I do my best to…” is that it is very difficult to blame someone else for my failure. No one can be responsible for “Did I do my best to…” but you! If he wasn’t happy and work didn’t go so well, he could easily point his finger on some factor external to himself. Now, the question isn’t how well he performed, but how much he tried – how much effort he put into it on an objective scale. This injects a greater sense of personal ownership.

“If I scored low on trying to be happy I had only myself to blame. We may not hit our goals every time, but there is no excuse for not trying,” he notes in his book Triggers, written with literary agents UK offers like Mark Reiter.

Here are the 16 other questions that executive coach Marshall Goldsmith answers every day, after the six basic ones he recommends for everyone. On a one-to-10 scale, did I do my best to:

  • Learn something new?
  • Develop new material?
  • Preserve all client relationships?
  • Be grateful for what you have?
  • Avoid angry or destructive comments about others?
  • Forgive yourself and others for perceived mistakes?
  • Avoid trying to prove you’re right when it’s not worth it?
  • Not waste energy on what you cannot change?
  • Exercise?
  • Meditate?
  • Get a good night’s sleep?
  • Have a healthy diet?
  • Say or do something nice for Lydia [his wife]?
  • Say or do something nice for Bryan [his son]?
  • Say or do something nice for Kelly [his daughter]?
  • Say or do something nice for Reid [his son-in-law]?

Watch for yourself: Marshall Goldsmith shares his daily questions ritual that has helped him to get better at almost anything.