1: Dr. Daniel Friedland knew he had made a mistake. A big mistake.
He awoke “with the painfully familiar sense of depression,” Danny recalls in Leading Well from Within: A Neuroscience and Mindfulness-Based Framework for Conscious Leadership. “I believed I’d made a terrible decision.”
Danny was a leading expert on evidence-based medicine (EBM), which had become the “gold standard by which all healthcare decisions are made,” he writes. He was the author of one of the first textbooks on the topic and had spent the last ten years training tens of thousands of healthcare providers on EBM across the United States.
Yet, Danny was convinced he was on the wrong path. He’d lost his way. Rather than pursue his passion of helping others navigate stress and lead more meaningful lives, upon graduation from medical school, he felt pressured to pursue something “more academic.” Now he “felt increasingly restless and disconnected from the heart of healing and my source of inspiration and sense of purpose,” he recounts.
2: Feeling the need to get out of the house, he took his four-year-old son Dylan for a walk on the trail down to Torrey Pines Beach. “I choked back the tears, afraid he’d turn around and see me so sad,” he remembers.
“What’s wrong with me?” reverberated through him. Not only was he convinced he was pursuing the wrong career, but he was “ashamed my despair had been keeping me from connecting with little Dyl, further compounding my stress and self-doubt.”
Then something miraculous happened.
“Another question popped into my mind, one that I had never asked before,” Danny reflects: “How can I find my way home?”
Danny felt a radical shift. “The tension in my body instantly released. I felt a sense of clarity and stillness that I don’t think I would ever have found with years of therapy or drugs,” Danny writes. “Something had suddenly flipped my mind to a new way of thinking and had entirely changed the way I was viewing my situation.”
“I was in total awe of what had just happened,” he recalls.
3: What had occurred here?
Danny writes: “All I did was ask a better question. Instead of asking, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I asked the question, ‘How can I find my way home?'”
The types of questions we ask set the direction of our life. When we ask questions like “Why me?” or “Who’s to blame?” or “What’s wrong with me?” we fuel the reactive, fight-or-flight parts of the brain, which trigger a “victim or judgmental mentality,” Danny explains.
Questions like these can put us on a downward spiral. Our “internal voice—one of the most intimate aspects of [our] being—may continue to chatter about ‘all the bad things that could happen’; ‘the regrets of [our] past’; ‘what’s wrong with [me]’; and ‘what’s wrong with others,'” he observes.
In contrast, we can learn to ask questions that drive our creative mindset: “What is the desired outcome?” or “How can I learn from this experience?” or, in Danny’s case, “How can I find my way home?” This type of internal inquiry engages our Pre-Frontal Cortex, which taps into our capacity for innovation, connection, and growth.
“For me, asking questions in my mind is a humbling experience,” Danny reflects. “It’s my way of opening myself to a growth mindset, acknowledging what I don’t know, and appreciating how much I have to learn. I then feel gratitude, and often awe, at the answers that arrive.”
In time, Danny would become a best-selling author, speaker, and executive coach. This journey began with a simple question.
Reflection: Under stress, do I tend to ask myself reactive or creative questions?
Action: Journal about when I experienced a recent stressful experience. What specific questions did I ask myself?