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Shift from fixating on the negative to meaningful progress with these 4 simple questions

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I was driving back from a training where I tried something new, and I kept fixating on the thing that went wrong. For over an hour, it was eating away at me. And the more I thought about it, the worse I felt.

I convinced myself I was a failure. That I was terrible at my job. I wondered if I should just give up. I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide from the world. Everything else felt completely heavy and impossible.

I had felt this way before. It was a familiar feeling. And I knew there was another way to handle it.

I turned to a blank page in my journal and created the Q.

The Q is a tool I developed years ago with a friend and colleague, Nelia Harper. It's a simple, yet visually powerful, process for reflecting on a challenge, a project, or a given time period. I've used it personally and with teams to great effect.

As I completed the Q about the training, my energy and feelings shifted. There was a lot more that went well than went wrong. But until I captured everything on paper in a way that was quick and easy to reference, my mind could only see the negative.

This is a common experience. Researchers call this Negativity bias. It is a part of our shared humanity. Negativity bias happens when "things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one's psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things."

Recognizing this tendency is a helpful first step. When I experience Negativity bias, I tend to ruminate. Such hurtful perpetual thoughts are tall tale signs I need to recalibrate. I've tried going for a walk or calling a friend. And sometimes those efforts help.

But when I'm really mired in negativity, I need to see the evidence myself. This is one of those instances where my journal becomes the field notes of my life. By writing down my reflections, I see my reality more clearly.

Creating the Q is simple. Just turn to a blank page in your journal and draw four quadrants. Within each quadrant you'll write one of the following questions:

  1. What's working?

  2. What's not working?

  3. What's missing, the presence of which would make a difference?

  4. What specific actions can I take?

Of course, you could just write each question in a list. But it is much more visually powerful when you use the quadrants. That's because the vast majority of the time, more things worked than didn't and that's visibly obvious when each question is in it's own quadrant. In addition, it's quick and easy to reference actionable takeaways, ensuring that you live and learn from the experience.

Do you intend to journal more but keep putting it off? Do you feel stuck in your journaling practice and want to get more out of it? Check out a Journal Jam and experience a profound shift with just 20 minutes of journaling.

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Really like the practical prompts here to help us process the experience. I'm definitely a "what can I do to fix this?" person.


I really like this format and especially the question of "what actions can I take?" as so often when we focus on the negative it only strengthens the sense of lack of control and shame. As always, thanks for the useful and practical tips!

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