There is a question that we can ask ourselves that can bring clarity to decision making, keep us on track with our goals, help to reduce misery and regret and also increase our moment-to-moment happiness. What is this magical phrase? If you guessed ‘I love you’ well, sorry, it’s not those three little words. It’s not ‘I forgive you’ either, even though that phrase is pretty powerful too. Alright, I better kill the suspense: the magic words are ‘Is This Helpful?’
How this phrase helps
The benefit of asking the question ‘Is this helpful?’ in certain situations is immediately apparent. If you’re in a situation where you find yourself getting frustrated at something out of your control or worrying about something that can’t be changed, then these words by themselves can be enough to snap yourself out of it. Bringing awareness to emotional reactions by asking ‘Is this helpful?’ can work to lessen the intensity of the situation by allowing you to see that the way we’re reacting is making a bad situation worse.
‘Is this helpful?’ is also really useful if you get caught up in negative thinking, particularly if the negative thought is your reality right now. Consider the phrase ‘I’m lonely.’ This might be literally true, and when you’re sitting by yourself on the couch at night it can be hard to escape that fact. But even if it is true, is it helpful to think that way? Does thinking ‘I’m lonely’ lead to you making a call to a friend? If yes, then it’s been a helpful thought. But if thinking ‘I’m lonely’ sets off a session of remembering all the past hurts done to you, and all the nights you’ve spent on the couch alone, then it’s not helpful to you at all, even though it’s true right now.
The third way to use the phrase ‘Is this helpful?’ is to apply it in situations where actions and decisions are required. To use the phrase most effectively, you will need to know what your current goal/s are, or know what it is that matters to you in life (aka your values, e.g. family, a connection with nature, hedonism, whatever it is). Once you have these in mind, each time you have a decision to make (and that includes decisions as to how to spend and prioritise our time each day, what activities we prioritise, how we speak to other people), you can consider each course of action and ask ‘Is this helpful?’ in relation to your current goals/ values.
For example, if evening rolls around and you need to choose between exercising and spending time with your partner, what do you do? Consider each action in terms of your goals/ values. If physical health is your priority, your partner may miss out, and if you’re working on having a better relationship right now, then your fitness might suffer. But knowing what’s important to you, and then asking the question as to which option is helping you achieve what matters to you most right now, will help you make a decision that brings you closer to the life you want and to the person you want to be. This ultimately reduces regrets and in the short term, will improve your happiness.
How to Remember
The hardest part about these three magic words is remembering to use them. The best way is to set a timer on your phone called ‘Is this helpful?’. When it goes off, you can stop what you’re doing and consider the question. Then reset the timer for another (different) interval. Over time, you’ll get better at catching yourself when you’re doing/ thinking something unhelpful without needing the reminder (and you might even find yourself asking the question every time your phone goes off!).
The other stumbling point with using this technique is if you’re not clear on what your current goals or values are in life. If that’s the case, it’s much harder to decide if what you’re doing is helpful or not, because there’s no context for the question. Values, in particular, are something that can give meaning and purpose to our lives but which many people struggle to identify for themselves. If you need help clarifying what matters to you, I am currently producing an e-course on how to find and live your values. You can sign up to the wait list now to ensure your early bird discount when the course goes live. Just email email@example.com with ‘find my values’ in the subject line and I’ll add you to the waitlist (This is nothing spammy - no emails other than ones related to the course will be sent to you).
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.