Avoiding Panic Attacks: 13 Questions I Ask Myself Before Saying Yes To Anything

I like to joke that I have adult ADD. I’ve never been diagnosed or sought treatment, but there are times I notice my mind and attention drifting many different directions when they should be focused on one.

If I ever cut my arm off, I’ll probably bleed to death on my way to the hospital because the squirrel I just saw definitely wanted me to see where it buried some nuts in the neighbor’s yard.

I can make jokes about my difficulty with focus, but the truth is it really gets in the way. Or, at least, it used to.

I was the guy who had 12 different projects at any given time. My many interests, along with my inability to focus, lead to a haphazard lifestyle. I was always juggling a dozen balls. Except I wasn’t. 10 of them were  on the floor, and the other two were being closely held so they wouldn’t end up there as well.

Worse, the stress of it all was overwhelming. If you were a distant friend, you might have thought all the stuff I was up to was interesting, but the people close to me had a different experience. I was short-tempered, always on edge, and constantly worried.

It came to a head a few years ago when I had a series of small but debilitating panic attacks. I’d get worked up, flooded with stress, and then shut down. There were days I felt so helpless I couldn’t leave the house or even think about working. This is no way to live!

After this episode, I was finally fed up and determined to change.

I set my entire life aside for a few weeks and constructed a set of rules for myself and the projects I’d work on. I made an outline of everything I was doing, then made a list of the projects that could stay and the ones that had to go.

I told myself, “No more than 3 projects at a time! If you want to start a new one, you have to give up an old one.”

Finally, I made a list of questions I forced myself to answer every time a new idea or opportunity came my way. If I was happy with my answers, I’d seriously consider starting the project and giving something else up. If not, I knew this new, shiny object was not for me.

Whatever the case, I promised to never let myself go back to the way things were before. And, wow, am I glad I made this change.

This little system I created for myself out of sheer desperation has changed my life. For the first time, I felt like I had the space to actually enjoy the things I was doing rather than feel under the gun to keep everything afloat. And the projects that stayed flourished because I had the mental space to think creatively and the time to actually apply the ideas.

Side note: Your head full of creative ideas will get you nowhere until you actually execute them. Nobody likes the idea guy.

No, it’s not a perfect system; I still end up with too much on my plate sometimes and have to correct. Yes, I still get distracted; it hasn’t changed who I am. It’s only changed how I make decisions.

But changing how I make decisions has made all the difference.

I want to share these questions that have helped me add order and, more importantly, deeper meaning to my life and the projects and dreams I pursue.

Asking them is a habit for me now. I hope you’ll make them a habit as well.

13 Questions I Ask Myself Before Starting Any Project

These are the 13 questions I ask myself before saying yes to anything or anyone, including myself.

If it feels like too many questions, don’t answer the ones that aren’t applicable to you. If you think I’m missing something, add whatever you like (and share your addition in the comments).

As with anything, take the bits that work for you, and leave the rest. Good luck with your radical plans!

  1. Is this truly meaningful to me? What a cliché right? Don’t skip it! This better be a yes. There are all kinds of things we think we should be doing but, truth is, life’s far too short to waste on things that don’t feel good.
  2. What will success look like? Set the bar and envision what it will look and feel like when you succeed. Without this, you’ll work forever and never know if you’ve made progress. Very frustrating.
  3. What’s the best that could happen? Beyond just succeeding, what would it look like if the absolute best case scenario happened? Keep that in the front of your mind and you’ll see more opportunities to make it happen.
  4. What if I fail? If you’re taking on a risk worthy of your time, it’s possible you could fail. What’ll happen if the plan doesn’t work out? Is your life over or is it just a setback? What kind of loss can you accept, and what would make you quit early?
  5. How will this affect others? No one lives in a bubble. The choices you make can and will affect people you care about. Does your idea help and empower people?
  6. How long will this take to do? If it’s worth doing, it’ll probably take a while. How much time are you willing to put in to see it through?
  7. What can get me there faster? Just because it’s supposed to take a long time doesn’t mean it has to. Are there any shortcuts you can take along the way? What tools or resources could speed up your progress?
  8. What are the major roadblocks? No matter how smooth things seem to be going, something ugly will eventually get in the way. Mentally prepare for that now with a pre-mortem. What’s the roadblock likely to be, and what can you do to maneuver around it?
  9. What’s my strategy? No smart sailor would hoist her sails for a journey across the sea and leave the navigation maps on the dock. I’m a fan of the ready, fire, aim approach, but you do have to eventually aim. Better sooner than later; there are icebergs ahead.
  10. Who can I partner with? The saying, “two heads are better than one,” is definitely not always true, but sometimes it is. Does it make sense to look for help? You’ll find more success leveraging your strengths and finding someone else to deal with your weaknesses than spending a lot of time trying to fix them.
  11. Who will I need to avoid? Unfortunately, this question is just as important as the last. When you decide to take on a big risk, people you thought you knew will change. Some will be your biggest supporters and others will quietly sabotage your self-esteem. That second group has to go. Side note: If everyone likes your idea, it probably isn’t very good.
  12. Has anyone else tried this before? If it’s been done before, you’ll have to do it better. Do you have a plan to do it better? If it’s never been done before, why not? How will you convince people they should care when you do it?
  13. Is it worth it? Now that you’ve answered the other questions, what does your gut say? Rate from 1-5 how excited you are about it, and compare to the other things you’re already doing. Where does it stand now?

What questions do you ask yourself before taking a risk on a new idea?