21 inspiring questions to ask yourself

13 February 2024

The better you know yourself, the better you can manage your life. Coach Tjarko Tadema uses 21 questions to help you reflect and grow personally, professionally and socially.

Tjarko is married, 41, and the father of three daughters (3, 5 and 7). He always tries to develop himself and live life to the fullest. He is a project consultant at TriFinance, and in his role as a mentor and coach, he helps colleagues and clients with their personal development.

21 inspiring questions

1. What characterizes you?
If you know your traits or flaws, you can use them to your advantage or take action if they get in your way. So: what do you excel at, what do colleagues appreciate in you? But also: which trap do you fall into every time?

2. What has been the defining moment in your life so far?
This moment says something about who you are. And about what drives you. And that, in turn, says something about your motivation, attitudes, preferences and values. Was it the birth of your first child, the death of your father, or the promotion you worked so hard for?

3. How would others describe you in three words?
It’s good to be aware – or to ask! – how you come across to friends, colleagues or team members. It can boost your confidence or encourage you to develop certain skills.

4. What advice would you give your younger self?
Anyone thinking about this will reflect on what they’ve done over the years, and possibly would have liked to have done things differently. But why is advice to yourself like this relevant? Because it can still be effective. The advice ‘don't be afraid to make mistakes’, for example, can help you to be resilient when things go wrong. After all, you already know that you learn and grow from your mistakes.

5. What mark would you give your life now? (And what can you do to increase it by 1) If not, why?
Instead of immediately aiming for a perfect 10 – unless you’re already a 9, of course – the smart thing to do is to set small goals. That makes the extra point doable. Step by step, in other words.

6. Do you know someone – in business or your personal life – who has already achieved what you’re trying to do? How could they help you?
You don’t always have to invent the wheel. It’s a sign of strength to ask for help, tips or tricks from the person already doing what you want to achieve. You may have to make yourself vulnerable. Tricky? Maybe. Powerful? For sure!

7. What do you want to do differently today?
If you resolve to separate your waste today, you’ll see results tomorrow already. If you resolve to walk for half an hour every day, it will take time to see results. But it starts today. And so you make a difference every day. Many productive leaders ask themselves: what do I want to achieve today? They make that their priority, treat the rest as a little less important and get that day’s goal done. But keep it small; nothing big or complicated, then it stays achievable. And celebrate your successes (again, that’s allowed!).

8. If there were no limits, what would you prefer to do?
We often feel constrained in what we can and can’t do. And that’s logical, because we all have responsibilities, such as putting food on the table or keeping the family going. But it can help to think: if I could do it ‘all’, professionally and in my private life, what would that be? In other words: recognize what energizes you. Because those who do what they love usually do it well. Success then follows ‘naturally’. See if it’s possible – even if only partially – to do what you would most like to do.

9. Do you have great respect for a particular person? And why?
Some people command respect. Maybe your grandfather who was in the Resistance or the cleaner who works hard but always smiles. Whoever you have in mind says something about your values and what is important to you in life.

10. What would you like to be praised for?
There are probably things that make you proud. Which ones, and why? The fact that you value something about yourself and hope that others see it that way says something about your values and also about how you see others.

11. How do you maintain a good energy balance in your life?
You live, you work and you relax – hopefully in the right proportions. What that costs and produces in energy can vary from day to day. But recharging is important either way. Some do it by exercising, others by going to the cinema or soaking for an hour in the bath. Think about this balance and how you recharge.

12. What fear or thought prevents you from growing? Whether it is fear of public speaking or the thought that everyone is more successful than you, each one of us struggles with certain beliefs. No big deal unless it gets in the way of your business or personal life. Sometimes it’s difficult to change this yourself. If this is the case, don’t hesitate to ask for help. A mentor or coach can help you look at a fear or thought differently, so you gain or regain control.

13. Who did you make or feel a connection with today?
Humans are social beings. Some are more like-minded than others, but most of us benefit from social contact. Think about who you felt connected to today. And about how that contact was enriching for you.

14. Which animal would you – or would you like to – compare yourself to and why?
An industrious ant? A strong lion? The animal you choose says something about how you see yourself or who you want to be. It’s a fun question to ask each other over a work lunch or at dinner.

15. What do you still most want to do with your life?
No one wants to regret not having done something when they’re 90. But you don’t know when your life will end. Do you still want to go skydiving? Or make amends with a family member? It takes mental strength, but you can gain a lot if you start planning now.

16. You can take one thing with you to a desert island. What or who?It’s an impossible question, of course, but a question nonetheless. The answer reflects how you are in life. Practical: a box of matches, a boat or a machete? Or more personal: your partner, your diary? Take your pick! And why this choice?

17. What would you do if you could go back in time?
The possibilities are endless. You might want to unleash your inner hero by stopping Putin from coming to power (and how?). Or you could be socially responsible and make people in the Middle Ages aware of the importance of a vegetarian diet. Or maybe you want to have a conversation with your late father, to say what you never got around to saying.

18. What day in your life would you like to live again and why?
The dichotomy here is interesting. Do you pick a wonderful day that is worth repeating? Or do you pick a day that went horribly wrong, so you can rewrite history. And why is that? Out of guilt, an inability to accept the outcome, because of hindsight? Maybe you can use this knowledge in the future.

19. What is your wish or dream? To grow old in good health? To go on a round-the-world trip? And what can you do to make it happen – or get as close to it as possible? You might decide to exercise more to stay healthy. Or save an amount each month to pay for the round-the-world trip. Not all dreams are illusory!

20. Does a motto from your childhood still influence your behavior or way of working?
‘You have to be prepared to get your hands dirty.’ In other words, don’t posture, get stuck in. ‘You have to get everything out of it.’ So, don’t waste your life, always get the best out of it. You hear all kinds of messages during your upbringing. As an adult, you can needlessly continue this behavior without it making you happy. Unconsciously, you continue doing what you used to do or what was expected of you. By examining which behaviors you maintain out of loyalty and which hold you back, you can address persistent themes that could be blocking your progress. Have you been given a motto? Consider whether it helps or hinders you

21. How do you protect your boundaries?
Could you do a quick report on our meeting?’ ‘Come for dinner this weekend, we haven’t seen each other for ages.’ It could be a question from the boss or just a warm invitation from a friend. But sometimes such a request doesn’t work for you. Because of lack of time, limited energy, or simply because you don’t feel like it. Are you aware of your own needs and choices? Do you listen to your own feelings or do you act on what others expect of you? If you do what someone else wants out of loyalty, it can be to your own detriment.