Home All Focus + Humility + Questions = Momentum©

Focus + Humility + Questions = Momentum©

written by David J. Pollay 2 October 2008

David J. Pollay, MAPP '06, is a co-founder of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). David has an Economics degree from Yale University and has held leadership positions at Yahoo!, MasterCard, Global Payments and AIESEC. He is an Executive Coach who specializes in business relationships. He is also an author and keynote speaker known for his best-selling books, The Law of the Garbage Truck (how to navigate negativity) and The 3 Promises (how to create personal fulfillment every day). David's articles are here. For permission to reprint David's articles, please contact him.

Focus + Humility + Questions = Momentum©

Let me check something out with you.  Pretend for a moment that your friend, child, spouse, employee, or your boss said to you: “I would like to learn from you.  It would mean a lot to me if you would help me.”  How would you feel?  My bet is that you would feel great:  We all like to believe that we have something to offer the people we care about.

People want to help us when we are humble enough to ask for help.

Asking a question

Asking a question

We demonstrate our curiosity when we seek assistance.  We telegraph to the world that we are on a search for new ways to do, see, and experience things.  Psychologist Todd Kashdan of George Mason University wrote a chapter about the character strength of curiosity in Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson’s book Character Strengths and Virtues.  In it Kashdan reviewed research that showed when people demonstrate curiosity, they learn more, are more engaged at work, and perform better academically.  Curiosity leads to better performance. So, this week, let’s ask for help.  Here’s our plan:

  1. Think of two important areas in your life in which you could use some ideas, help, or input.
  2. Write down a few questions you could ask people about these two critical areas.
  3. Then identify three people you could approach to ask your questions.  Choose a friend, a family member, and a colleague.
  4. Finally, ask your questions.  But first tell them why you appreciate them (i.e., their perspective, ideas, expertise, or their knowledge of you), and ask them if they would be willing to share their thoughts with you about something important to you.  When they say “yes” – and they always will – then pose your questions to them.
  5. Listen with humility.  Write down their answers.  And thank them for their insights and their time.

What will happen? 

First, you will be amazed at how much people will appreciate your reaching out to them:  You will have shown respect and interest in them, and for that they will be grateful – even if they do not express it immediately.  You will have deepened your relationship with them. 

Second, you will be happy to have received help from people you care about and admire.  And very importantly, you will have learned something valuable about an area of your life that matters deeply to you. 

Your focus on what’s important to you, plus your humility, plus your questions will lead to increased momentum in your life.

Have a great week, and let me know how it goes!




Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification.. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. New York: William Morrow. (Added later>

Swirling a mystery courtesy of qThomasBower

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Chris 2 October 2008 - 10:16 am

I love this activity! I am so excited to use it. I have been doing a lot of writing lately for applications to law school. It has been a long time since I have written in the style of a “personal statement.” It has required a lot of focus, plenty of humility, and now that I’m sending it out for review from my peers, lots of questions!

Thanks for reminding me of the value of getting everyone’s input.

Susan McKay 2 October 2008 - 3:49 pm

I liked your post 🙂


Jeff 3 October 2008 - 5:06 pm


You are the American Dalai Lama. Do you prefer David Lama or Dalai Pollay?

David J. Pollay 3 October 2008 - 10:02 pm

Hi Jeff,

You are fuel for the soul.

Have a great weekend!

Best to you,

David J. Pollay 3 October 2008 - 10:03 pm


Thanks Susan! I appreciate your post!

Best to you,

David J. Pollay 3 October 2008 - 10:04 pm

Hi Chris,

Congrats on your plans for law school! And your approach to your personal statement is great. You’ll be so happy with the result of your effort. And best wishes with your applications!

Best to you,


Kirsten Cronlund 4 October 2008 - 7:12 am


Thanks for this very concrete task. I love it!

I’m about to begin the Masters in Positive Organizational Design program at Case Western Reserve University and one of the books on my reading list is Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn by Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzker. I am enthralled with this book for several reasons, but the relationship I see between it and your article is the idea that relationships and reality are transformed when one person observes another with appreciation for what they have to offer and what their strengths are. It’s a way of going through life, and when you adopt this way of thinking then doors to possibility swing open – partly because you don’t need to create everything yourself (impossible) and also because of the collaborative effect that this appreciative approach engenders.

Thanks for a great article,

Louis Alloro 4 October 2008 - 4:00 pm

I agree with Kirsten’s sentiments. I love how you make this very actionable.

Question, though: How do we bridge the gap with the people in our lives who might feel threatened by an appreciative approach? For some, this “way of being” is so absent from their lives that when we take the positive road, they can’t handle it. Would love your thoughts on this . . .


David J. Pollay 8 October 2008 - 10:57 am

Hi Kirsten,

Thanks for the great post. You make a great connection to Appreciative Inquiry (AI). I also view the power of AI beginning with the individual. As you say, when individuals see the strengths in others and amplify them, it opens the door of possibility (as you said) wider to the whole company.

And congrats on your graduate school plans! Thanks also for sharing your enthusiasm for another good book.

Best to you,


David J. Pollay 8 October 2008 - 10:58 am

Hi Louis,

You ask an important question. On an organizational level, my experience is that you have to help people achieve individual breakthroughs before you can achieve consistent company-wide breakthroughs. In my corporate seminars I try to surprise people with their own “ah ha!” moments before I expect them to see the special opportunities in the organization.

On an individual level, I’m a big believer in naming the strengths we see in others, and pointing out their good work when we see it (as it is happening or shortly thereafter). And to your point Louis, we have to deliver our feedback in a way that will be accepted by the intended recipients. We can be positive in our appreciation of someone without making them uncomfortable. Our language can be simple and direct. We just need to be concise and specific (What did they do? How did it surpass our standard? And what impact did the action have?).

Thanks Louis for your good question and thoughtful post.

Best to you,



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