A Little-Known Motivational Tool You've (Probably) Never Heard Of

It was February 1954 in northern Ohio. Early sun down, around 5 o’clock.

He was 10 years old.

He’d just finished the six-mile walk from home to school. He’d changed his clothes and was on a walk through the fields hear his house.

While he was walking, he heard an airplane overhead. “I was just watching [the plane] and all the sudden there was this ‘BANG!’” It shook him to the core.

Then, a question immediately came into his mind: “I wonder how far I can go.”

That little boy was Dan Sullivan—one of the top entrepreneur coaches in the world, and the founder of Strategic Coach, an organization that’s helped over 18,000 entrepreneurs.

“To this day, my whole life has been about this question: ‘How far can I go?’

“And whenever I get to one level of success I say, ‘Ok, now how far can I go?’ I’m 63 years older, and I’m still living inside that question. For me, there is no aging. There isn’t an answer to the question. There’s a constant answering the question.”

Dan didn’t realize it at the time, but at 10 years old he started using a powerful motivational technique: Interrogative Self Talk.

If you want to pump yourself up or get through tough times, research shows that interrogative self talk is much more effective affirmative statements.

Here’s author Dan Pink’s great illustration from a recent interview

“Let's say I'm going on a sales call and I say to myself, ‘Dan, you've got this. You can do this. You're awesome.’ That's better than doing nothing. There's no question about it. That positive, affirmative self-talk is better than going neutral. That's very, very clear.

“But it's not as good as going in and saying, ‘Dan, can you do this? And if so, how?’

“When you ask a question, questions provoke an active response. So, your brain has to respond. If I say, ‘Can you do this?’ My brain goes, ‘Yeah, I can do this. I've done this kind of thing before. Yeah, I can do this.  I'm totally prepared. I know this client's business inside and out. I've got to make sure that I mention these two key points.’”

That’s all interrogative self-talk is—asking yourself a question in times of hardship, before making a decision, or on the verge of quitting.

How far can I go?

Can you do this? If so, how?

Is this where you stop?

Will I quit?

Can we do it? (Thanks Bob The Builder!)


This simple question, “How far can I go?” has so impacted Dan Sullivan’s life, that it’s changed the way he thinks about the duration of his life.

“Thirty years ago—1987—one afternoon I was just thinking about how long people live.

“I got this idea that people talk themselves into dying. They hear statistics, that the average male is going to die at 78 years old. Some part of their brain puts “78” in and then every other system in their body starts gearing itself to start failing at 78.”

(It was spooky to hear Sullivan say this because I often say that we live as long as we want to. And there’s research to prop up that idea too.)

“I said, ‘Everybody’s got a number. What number do I want?’ Well I certainly don’t want 78. I said, ‘You know what I’d like to do? I’d like to live a complete century—from the first year of a century to the last year of a century. Year 1 to year 100 of a century.

“It was a foolish thought. It was so foolish that I didn’t tell anybody for about 5 years that I was actually doing this. But after about 5 years of thinking I was going to live to 156, I started noticing that almost everything in my life changed because I had a number: 156. Which oddly, is twice 78.”

Isn’t it incredible how such a small tool as asking yourself a question can inspire one to live to 156 years old?

Such is the power of a small little tool applied over decades.

Now, let’s look at you.

What’s a specific situation where you can leverage the power of interrogative self-talk?

(For me, that’s finishing and launching the book I’ve been writing for 4 years over the next few months—Don’t worry I’ll keep you in the loop in the coming months! :)

What question will you ask yourself in that situation?

(I’ll ask myself, “Is this where you stop?”)

Rinse, and repeat.

PS: What’s your number? (Mine is 109.)