The 3 Questions of Mo Gawdat

Some time ago I got hooked on The Diary of a CEO YouTube channel where I watched video after video after video. One day I came across one that made a huge impact on me. It was an interview with Mo Gawdat. I think I watched that interview three times!

He had a lot of interesting things to say about happiness and I thought a couple of them had the potential to be life-changing. My favorite one is actionable and based on logic.

Any number of events can occur during your day that, when taken at face value, might not affect your mood at all. But when you attempt to apply meaning to those events or imagine the intentions of people behind those events, you are essentially creating stories that more often than not are negative and will bring your mood way down. These stories may not even be based on truth. He listed three simple questions to ask yourself whenever you get upset or catch yourself brooding over such stories in your head. I have not gotten very good asking the questions yet – I keep forgetting the 3rd question!

I’ve spent a lot of time feeling down this morning because I’ve been telling myself more of these stories so I thought a post was in order. (Since writing helps me process things…)

Mo Gawdat says that when we feel a drop in mood, we should stop and ask ourselves three poignant questions. These questions are to be applied to whatever topic or theme is filling your head in the moment.

The 3 questions of Mo Gawdat:
1. Is what I’m thinking true? Not true? Drop it.
2. If it is true, can I do something about it? Act.
3. If there’s nothing I can do about it, can I accept it (not surrender) and start to do something to make my life better, despite/because of its presence?

He gives a pretty good example in the video/podcast but I’ll use a different example that might be closer to what’s brought me down today.

I had a conversation with my daughters months ago that, for some reason, was front & center in my thoughts when I woke up this morning. Within the first hour of my morning, I had already envisioned and played out a mental skit where I end up abandoned by my family and living out my last days decrepit and alone. I became agitated and started snapping at my son as I was getting him ready for school. My mood was going downhill fast and it wasn’t even 9am yet.

I’ve become really good at identifying my foul moods, tho, and catching myself before I “pay it forward” making everyone’s lives miserable around me. I learned this early in life thanks to having monthly hormonal periods where I didn’t control it. I never liked how it felt and every now and again someone would turn the tables and force me to see how I was acting. I learned early when I feel like that that I was best served to keep my mouth shut, internalize my mood shift, and put effort into controlling my tone when keeping my mouth shut was not an option. So while I’m not perfect at it, I know I can contain it to a very high degree.

I have a wild imagination. If I was a novelist, I could probably write best sellers with the fabrications I come up with in my head. When my daughters were very young, I had so many intrusive thoughts of all the tragic ways they could meet their end that I often stayed at home rather than live a normal life. I was afraid these things might come true. The scenarios played out like movies in my head and they could be terrifying. These intrusive thoughts were at their worst around the mid 2000’s when I became clinically depressed for the first time. Today, with my 8-year old, it still happens but not like it did back then.

Anyway! The point is my mind is really good at injecting these thoughts and images into my head and I have no control over that. The thoughts just come in technicolor complete with a preface and a sequel. So I think it’s important for me to have something like these 3 questions perfected to combat them.

Perspective is everything. And I’ve had a lot of shifts in perspective change everything in a matter of seconds. It’s amazing when it happens and I think being able to weaponize these three questions against those intrusive stories could be life-changing.

Story: “I will be forgotten by my children and live out the end of my days decrepit and alone.”
Question 1: “Is what I’m being told true? Not true?”
Answer 1: “It’s not true today, maybe in the future?”

Question 2: “If it is true? Respond, what can I do about it? Act.”
Answer 2: “There a LOT I can do to avoid being forgotten and dying decrepit and alone.”

So Act is the answer? Let’s see…

Another thing I think I’m good at is looking at all the tools available to me and creating something that will work for the job at hand. I mean this in a literal and figurative way sense. Btw, I have a lot of faults, but sometimes it’s good to focus on your strengths. So if it seems like I’m patting myself on the back for being good at something anything, you bet your ass I’m patting myself on the back!

Another thing I have heard said by various authors which strongly rings true for me, is that you should keep your eye on what you want to have happen, not on what you want to avoid happening. Because the brain is stupid, right? It really is! For example, if you think “don’t gain weight, don’t gain weight” chances are you will gain weight. It’s better to think “stay slim, stay slim”. Rough example, but it works.

So should I focus on NOT dying decrepit and alone? Or should I flip that on its head?

I think I know the answer! Having something to take action on – all by itself – is enough to reverse that terrible feeling I woke up with this morning!

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