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How Asking “Is This Helpful?” Could Transform Your Life

In a recent appointment with my therapist, he discussed how he had transformed from a mean, nasty person into a helpful, productive one. Although he was helpful in coming up with ideas for handling various situations and triggers for my anxiety, perhaps the most helpful bit of wisdom that he shared was a tip that he applied to his own life. Prior to sharing his tip, he discussed the fact that at one point in his life, he hated the world, was a pretty mean dude, and nobody really liked him.

At the time he struggled with anxiety of his own, was unsure about his future, and was somewhat of a drag to family and friends. Things became so bad for him that at one point, he decided that if he was going to actually live, he needed to make some changes. Since he didn’t know what to change and/or what would help, he decided to start asking himself the question, “Is this helpful?” for nearly every activity that he engaged in.

Asking the Question: “Is This Helpful?”

When my therapist first started questioning “Is this helpful?” – it wasn’t really very targeted. In fact, he was doing it for every aspect of his life. He did this simply to ingrain the habit of questioning every activity he was doing. In other words, he would question the food he was eating by asking, “Is this helpful?” He would question his reactions to stressors and how he was coping with things by asking, “Is this helpful?”

After repeatedly asking the question “Is this helpful?” excessively, it became ingrained as a part of his psychology. Now for most important areas of his life and/or handling important situations, he always reflects upon that one simple question. Despite the fact that this tip he shared hasn’t impacted my personal behavior to a significant extent, I think it will be very useful to use in the handling of future situations.

How asking “Is this helpful?” could transform your life.

I don’t know what type of problem you have, your current situation, or what you’re dealing with, but chances are if you’re visiting this website, you have some sort of mental health condition. Even if you have perfect mental health, maybe you don’t have very good physical health or you struggle in certain stressful situations. In any regard, asking yourself the three simple words, “Is this helpful?” can be utilized in any scenario.

Let’s say you are overweight and a plate full of your favorite junk food is sitting directly in front of you. Naturally, your impulse would be to dig in and start downing all of the unhealthy food. You may regret eating all of it after -the-fact, but in the moment, you cannot control your natural instinct to want to eat the food. If you stop and ask, “Is this helpful?” you may consciously realize that it isn’t helpful and stop yourself before you engage in a behavior that you’ll regret.

Scenarios to ask “Is this helpful?”

There are a variety of situations in which asking this simple question is beneficial. Situations to ask yourself this question include: arguments, biohacks, treatments, habits, etc.

  • Arguments: If you are in an argument, it is often difficult to control how you respond. By training yourself to rhetorically ask, “Is this helpful?” you will have more control over how you respond. Many people say things out of anger that they do not mean and come to later regret. To prevent this from occurring, asking yourself whether something is helpful can be majorly beneficial.
  • Biohacking: If you are attempting to “biohack” any aspect of your life, it is important to always measure the results. With this practice, you are constantly evaluating whether something is actually helpful to you on an individual basis, rather than blindly following the status quo of treatments. (Read: Biohacking your mental health).
  • Friendships: Do you have any friends that seem to be more of a drag than actual friends? Have you asked yourself whether being in certain friendships is helpful? If you are involved in toxic relationships, take a step back and ask yourself, “Is this helpful?” It will help bring your emotions about the relationship into conscious awareness.
  • Habits: Many people aren’t able to control their habits simply because they are not consciously aware of them. Prior to engaging in unhealthy habits, people often don’t ask themselves whether the habit is helpful – they simply do the particular habit. If they were to ask themselves, “Is this helpful” prior to the behavior
  • Occupational settings: Is your current job helpful for you financially and your mental health? If you are currently working a job that isn’t paying enough, you’ll probably find something else. However, many people fail to evaluate the toll that their job is taking on their mental health. Asking yourself whether your job is helping your mental health is often necessary, especially if it is contributing to a majority of your stress.
  • Relationships: There are many scenarios in relationships that lead to drama and fighting. Although you may not be able to control the cause of various disputes, you can learn to control your reaction. By asking yourself this question, you verify that your responses in certain situations are conscious.
  • Therapy: If you are enrolled in therapy, you should be frequently ask yourself whether it is helpful. Just because it is supposed to be helpful doesn’t mean that it helps everyone. Additionally a certain type of therapy may not be as effective as another and/or you may need a new therapist.
  • Treatments: Individuals that are currently taking psychiatric drugs or other treatments for various conditions will constantly want to ask whether they are helpful. You should be asking whether they are helpful throughout your treatment. Unfortunately many people are taking medications that don’t really work or antidepressants that stopped working. It is because people don’t really reflect on whether certain treatments are actually helping.

Benefits of Asking: “Is this helpful?”

There are some obvious benefits from asking this question in various scenarios. The most obvious benefit is that it helps you control your reaction in various situations by putting things in perspective.

  • Bigger picture: Asking this question allows people to see the bigger picture. For example, if you are in an argument and are about to punch someone and start a fight, but prior to doing this you ask yourself, “Is this helpful?” – you may see that the fight may not be a good choice. From a bigger picture perspective, you may realize that it could lead to an arrest, jail time, a lawsuit, more enemies, etc.
  • Conscious awareness: Asking the question also brings your instinctual emotions into conscious awareness. Let’s say you are in an argument with a spouse and are enraged. By asking, “Is this helpful?” you essentially take a step back and realize that smashing a picture or getting revenge maybe something you regret later. It also brings other behaviors into conscious awareness such as eating unhealthy foods. In other words, if you see a bag of candy at the store, yet you know eating candy is what’s making you gain weight, asking the question, “Is this helpful?” – helps you control your response to seeing that candy. It gets the prefrontal, evolved part of your brain involved in the decision making process and you will likely pass on the purchase of buying candy.
  • Individualized: It also helps you get an individualized perspective on everything. For one person, a certain behavior may be helpful, yet for another, that same behavior may be unhelpful. An example would be eating a healthier diet. For some people, eating healthier foods may improve their mental and physical health. For others, regardless of the food they eat, they will still have good mental performance and physical health.
  • Treatments: It is always smart to evaluate treatments by asking yourself whether it is helpful. Most people never take the time to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and weigh whether their medications are providing more benefit than drawbacks (e.g. side effects). If a drug or therapy isn’t working (or making you feel worse), why stay on it? Most people stay on it blindly without considering the fact that these treatments aren’t always helpful.
  • Universally applicable: You can ask yourself this question for any area of your life. In most cases, by asking the question, you will be better able to control certain, detrimental behavioral impulses. As was already mentioned, this question can be used to reflect mental health treatments, arguments with a spouse, or to improve your diet.

Have you ever tried asking yourself, “Is it helpful?”

Many people have tried asking themselves this question or something similar and have found it to be beneficial. It brings unconscious, instinctual reactions to our conscious awareness and helps us realize if a certain response, behavior, or habit is providing some sort of benefit. If it isn’t providing any benefit, it can be discarded and/or replaced with something more useful. At some point, you may even ask yourself whether asking yourself, “Is it helpful?” is actually helpful.

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