Daily Questions App Review (Based On Marshall Goldsmith)
Daily questions is a personal habit-forming strategy outlined in Marshall Goldsmith’s book Triggers. Here’s a review of an app designed to help you use this strategy.
Marshall Goldsmith is something of a rock star in the coaching and personal development world, with a long list of impressive former clients and accolades from the business press. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when his book Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts turned out to be one best business-oriented self-help books I’ve ever read.
It’s not a genre I usually enjoy. Too often these kinds of books are full of clichés (learn from your mistakes), myths (all it takes is bravery and hard work) or borderline magical thinking (the perfect vision or strategy will inspire your colleagues and bring you success).
Triggers is a different book for many reasons, some of which I’ve already written about.
Perhaps the biggest difference is the way Goldsmith talks about self-reflection. Rather than measuring our actions solely in terms of results (i.e. whether we succeed or fail), he suggests we think about our efforts (i.e. whether we tried or not).
“Adding the words ‘did I do my best?’ added the element of trying into the equation. It injected personal ownership and responsibility…”
“…If I scored low on trying to be happy, I only had myself to blame. We may or may not hit our goals every time, but there’s no excuse for not trying. Anyone can try.”
Daily Questions as a Way to Get Past Shame and Guilt
Too often, we frame our self-reflections in terms of shame and guilt. For example, if I’m watching my weight, then the question “Did I eat cake?”, when I did and shouldn’t have, will likely produce the kind of negative feelings that could well send me on a shame spiral towards more cake. But the question “Did I try not to eat cake?” is quite different. It focusses me on the process, on why there was cake lying around in the first place, and I can start thinking about what I could have done differently.
Instead of trying to change by wishing for more willpower (magical thinking), we should focus on changing the process that challenged our willpower (having cake lying around or buying too much cake so there are many tempting cake leftovers).
Change the process, change the outcome.
Focussing on the final result alone, especially when we fail, just invites shame. I ate the cake, I suck, end of story. Time for more cake.
But, in changing the process, asking ourselves whether we did try to change the process, is different. Buying less cake in the first place or not eating cake alone might work better than trying to muster up the willpower to stare down that extra piece of cake sitting on the table.
Scoring Your Efforts
Daily Questions is a simple idea. Take a small number of behaviours you want to improve and ask yourself, every day, how much you tried. Then track the results. Goldsmith says he originally started with 6 and now tracks 22. Some are big (like “set clear goals”, “find meaning” or “be happy”), while some are simple, like specifying the people he wants to say something nice to every day.
By being accountable for your efforts, you can focus on improving the way you live, rather than just feeling guilty about not meeting your goals every day.
The questions should be active not passive. Goldsmith says too often we ask ourselves passive questions, like “Was it a good day?” It’s easy to answer passive questions with complaints about the environment, laying the blame for our failure elsewhere and often on things we cannot control. Active questions focus on what we can control. “Did I try to make it a good day?” is a much more searching path to self-examination.
At the beginning of any process of change, whether it is giving up sugar, trying to get back to a daily bike-riding habit or making a little more time to help the kids with their homework, we are apt to fail just as much as we succeed.
To help you along, there’s a little app, Daily Questions, which, as the name implies, lets you ask yourself some questions and lets you assign your efforts a score out of ten. There’s even an option to trigger a notification at a set time each day, to remind you to answer the questions.
Assigning a number to your efforts, rather than noting your feelings, makes the process quicker and makes tracking your efforts easier over time.
My Daily Questions
An official app is suggested on Goldsmith’s site, but I couldn’t bring myself to install something called “Impact Yourself Daily” on my iPhone. So I opted for something that sounded less like a medical emergency, the more humbly named
Daily Q’s app (this app seems to no longer be available).
It’s easy to set up your own questions and score them every day. Here are the questions I’m using right now and why I chose them:
Did I try to have a calm breakfast?
A relaxed start to the day sets the tone for everything else and a calm breakfast is the most important marker for me of a good morning routine.
Did I try to transition well to the first task?
Most days, my first task is the same. I sit down to write for a few hours. Since I work from home, the transition from the morning routine to the first task is full of temptations that can lure me away and waste time. But a smooth transition means I get to the first task earlier, which means I can greet the mid-morning feeling good, with a few hundred words put away, and then I’m ready for the rest of the day.
Did I try to look good?
I tend to get very anxious about the way I look, and my thoughts are often far more negative than the reality. A simple check reminds me I probably look better than I feel. It also means I need to worry about this only once and I’m not depleting my mental energy by thinking about it during the day and diverting my attention to how I look instead of whatever I should be thinking about at the time.
Did I try to manage my afternoon energy?
In recent years, I’ve had to face the effects of mental depletion and the cost of not ending the day well. I’ve been learning to be more strategic about how I manage my afternoons and being able to sense when I’m feeling rundown. This doesn’t just matter for my work, but also affects how emotionally available I am to my family.
Did I try to meditate twice today?
For many years, I have been in the habit of meditating before going to sleep. Increasingly, I’m meditating at other moments during the day, even if it’s about something small, like this mindfulness exercise.
Did I try to spend time outdoors?
Specifically, this is about non-commuting time, so walking down the street to catch a taxi doesn’t count. This is active rather than passive time, where I choose to be outdoors rather than indoors.
Did I try to follow my night routine?
Tracking my sleep is increasingly showing a correlation between how well I follow my night routine (getting off my devices, turning down the lights, cooling the bedroom down, etc.) and the quality of my sleep.
The app is simple and really serves only one purpose. However, as a way to implement this process, it’s pretty close to perfect. I would’ve liked an option, maybe, for other colour schemes or a dark background, since I mainly use it at night. But really, it’s something you should use only for seconds every day, so it’s just fine as it is.
And most importantly of all, the insights, and the evidence are very helpful.
UPDATE:I’ve stopped using the app for habit tracking and now track habits in a paper journal. You can read a little bit about this in the essay Habit Tracking Today.