One Question to Cut Through Overwhelm
Talking Big Ideas.
I’m excited to have Sheng Huang write a guest column for us today.
Sheng is the founder of Mind Map Nation and a true productivity guru. I describe Sheng as a world-class listener, organizer, and problem solver. He’s already had a tremendous impact on the Ewing School by designing and building us customized Notion CRM and project management system. And he’s personally helped me organize my thoughts and life.
Google recently made headlines with a huge round of layoffs followed by a reorganization that sent shockwaves through the company. One of my clients was particularly affected.
Despite not being among those laid off, the stress of the situation was so overwhelming that she couldn’t muster a smile the whole week. She felt paralyzed, unable to process the situation. All she could do was take a day off, stay home, and binge eat.
In our coaching session, I could tell that her mind was stuck, replaying a few thoughts: “this is the WORST, what if it happens to me, I’m screwed”. To break the cycle, I helped her reestablish her sense of security: “Did you get laid off?” When she answered “no”, I encouraged her to shift her perspective by asking, “Why do you think this is the BEST time to be at Google and in your position?”
Suddenly, we were in the realm of possibility: the fact that she wasn’t laid off after two major cuts is a testament to her enduring value at the company. Fewer people in the organization mean more opportunities for promotion when things improve.If she were let go, her generous severance package could kick off the digital nomad lifestyle enjoyed by other laid off tech workers, and she would finally have the opportunity for self-discovery.
This single wording flip changed everything.
Instead of “why is now a bad time,” ask: “why is now a good time?”
The Power of Inverting Questions
This question inversion technique can counteract our natural tendency to focus on the negative aspects of problems.
Another of my clients working for the US subsidiary of a Chinese tech giant was grappling with the decision to move to China in order to fulfill a life-long dream.
The backdrop, however, was far from ideal: geopolitical strife, economic downturn, and a mass exodus of expats from the country. With layoffs happening left and right in other tech firms, he could have been grateful for his secure position.
Yet, his mind was teeming with a million reasons why right now was a bad time to take the leap. Despite his heart deeply yearning for the shift.
So I challenged him: “Why is now the BEST time to go to China?” and mapped out his responses.
Through this exercise, he realized that his domain expertise and appetite for change matched the nature of the rapidly evolving China-US AI industry. Asia as an environment would bring out his best self. Combining the two insights together made it a no-brainer for him to move there.
Suddenly, his perspective shifted.
He realized that China was brimming with AI potential, and the ongoing competition with the US could make his business experience in both worlds highly sought after. The exodus of expats actually thinned his competition. Finally, this move could push him out of his comfort zone, propelling his personal growth to the next level.
This single inverted question kicked off a line of thought that made his decision not only reasonable, but certain.
With this supercharged mindset, he approached his boss outlining his contributions and demands to the company, ready to leave if they didn’t send him to Shenzhen within three months. Because his energy was resolute going into the meeting and his case was solid, his company took him seriously and they obliged.
The reality is that he had this leverage all along, but it wasn’t until his mindset aligned with his intentions and actions that the floodgates of results finally opened.
As of this writing, he’s moved out of San Francisco and is Shenzhen-bound, stopping by Hawaii, Japan, and Taiwan for leisure. While architecting from his hotel room the biggest partnership deal of his life with the potential of bridging AI collaboration between nations.
Needless to say, he’s feeling more free, fulfilled, empowered than ever – in other words, more his true self. A simple reframing exercise catapulted him on a new life trajectory.
Questions Direct Our Lives
The questions we ask ourselves direct our minds, which in turn influences our behavior and outcomes.
It’s crucial to ask empowering questions, not those that weaken us or add to our stress. Otherwise, our performance suffers, and we end up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
Once my client made up his mind to go, the million “why not” reasons no longer mattered. He became resourceful, finding creative ways to overcome those very challenges. Instead of being paralyzed by doubt, fear, and uncertainty, he found freedom, clarity, and empowerment simply by flipping one question around.
I’m applying this principle myself.
There are countless reasons why I shouldn’t be launching a new coaching program right now: I’m in the midst of moving from San Francisco to Houston, supporting my wife Olivia and her family in the aftermath of her dad’s passing, grappling with the rise of AI and automation, facing an uncertain economic climate, and simultaneously running three businesses.
But it’s also the BEST time to do it because it proves that my system works – that I’m able to do all this despite the challenges.
Uncertainty and setbacks are facts of life. Yet the facts don’t matter for the committed. We just get more resourceful. If we want something badly enough, we will make it work. Rather than asking life to spare us from pain and uncertainty, we could ask for the strength, courage, and wisdom to overcome them. In the end, we thrive because of our obstacles.
So if you’re going through a tough time or been sitting on the fence on something, then I challenge you ask the same question: Why is now the best time?
Write or map it out.
Send it to me. I’d love to know what you’re working on.
I highly recommend checking out Sheng’s mind mapping technique as a tool for organizing your thoughts and getting clarity on how to move forward.
Sheng’s new Hustle Launchpad is an eight-week bootcamp to launch your passion project. Book a call with him to learn more and see if it’s a good fit for you.