11 questions that can change your entire life

Well friend, it’s that time of year again when everybody is posting on social media and sending out email newsletters about making resolutions for 2023. While I believe those that share the latest tips, tricks, and life hacks about how to make resolutions have the best intentions, I also believe their strategies are severely lacking. I say that because 92% of people fail to achieve their New Year’s Resolutions (usually by the end of January).

How depressing is that???

92% of people start the year with hopes and dreams for making this a better year only to get trapped on the hamster wheel of “life getting in the way” before they ever develop any real momentum towards lasting change. They then crawl towards the finish line in December, spend the final week of the year as an extension of their couches, then repeat the cycle all over again come January.


If you were wondering, allow me to definitively clarify for you:


Rather than starting 2023 with Instagram-worthy platitudes or toxic positivity about making 2023 your best year ever!!!!, I’d instead like to start the new year with one of the strategies I teach my Optimizer students that helps them create meaningful and lasting change in their lives.


Reflection (aka the REVIEW process) – the ‘R’ in GO FAR – is one of the key strategies I teach my students so they can design the more balanced, more productive, and more fulfilling lives they deserve.

While it’s nearly impossible to distill all of the knowledge and wisdom that I’ve gained from 20+ years of personal development, hundreds of podcast conversations, and five years of training for American Ninja Warrior into a single newsletter, I’ve done my best today to share with you what I believe are the 11 foundational mindsets that when applied consistently will allow you to unlock the optimized version of you.

If you’re interested in reflecting on the below, I’ve consolidated all 11 questions into the bottom of the email as well.

The 11 Foundational Mindsets of Self-Optimization

If you want to change your reality, you must begin by changing your perception of reality. Success ultimately comes down to mindset and belief. As Henry Ford famously stated:

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.” – Henry Ford

If you’re ready to see your world through a different lens, here are 11 foundational mindsets that I live my life by as well as 11 questions you can ask yourself and reflect on what’s already working in your life versus where you could use some guidance and support.

1. Stop waiting for better answers and start asking better questions.

The biggest realization I’ve had in 20 years of my quest for self-optimization is the following: The quality of our lives is dictated by the quality of our questions.

I spent a good portion of my life asking “What will it take to survive?” rather than asking better questions that would allow me to work towards my true potential. Once I started asking “What am I capable of?” and moreover once I stopped asking “Can I…?” and starting asking “How can I…?” the game changed.

Here is one simple yet profound question to start the reflection process:

Q: If you weren’t afraid of failing, what would you truly want to do with your life?

2. Stop playing your life like a game of checkers. Start playing it like a game of chess.

Once you start asking yourself better questions, not only do you get better answers, but you also get more complicated ones. But we don’t like complicated. Life moves so quickly and has so many distractions that our default mode is often to make the easy choices over the hard ones. Nobody has the time to play a game of chess and strategize seven moves ahead, especially if that means painful sacrifices along the way. Chess requires time and patience (ughhhhh). We want the shiny object, and we want it now! So instead most people play a game of checkers and make the easier choices to avoid discomfort.

Easy choices make your life harder. Hard choices make your life easier.

Yeah, read that again if you need to. Then ask yourself…

Q: Where in your life are you playing a game of checkers where you should be playing a game of chess?

3. Do things right before doing them fast.

We’ve all heard it before. FAST. CHEAP. GOOD. PICK TWO.

“Good” is never a negotiable part of the equation for me (and frankly I won’t deliver anything short of what I believe is “great”). My focus is always on quality before I worry about quantity. However, as the bestselling author of “The Laws of Creativity” Joey Cafone would add, “quantity begets quality” because the creative process requires constant iteration and output before we even reach a true state of quality.

Ultimately if my choice is to rush something simply for the satisfaction of calling it done or allowing something to take longer because I value the quality of my work, I will always choose right before I choose fast. Because “right” is the better chess move.

Q: What would you have to change in your life if you focused on doing things right before doing them fast?

4. Don’t pursue perfect at the expense of progress.

Ultimately the process of self-optimization is not about the relentless pursuit of perfection, it’s about the relentless pursuit of progression. In order to avoid the trap of never delivering anything until it’s absolutely “perfect,” at a certain point we also have to be willing to let go. Moreover, we also have to get over ourselves and realize the time will never come when we can consider ourselves “ready.”

The goal is never perfection, the goal is simply to be 1% better tomorrow than we are today.

Q: Where in your life do you find yourself sacrificing progress at the expense of working towards perfection?

5. Fail often to succeed faster.

But hold on a second…if we stop pursuing perfection at the expense of progress, doesn’t that increase the likelihood that we might fail? YES!!!!!!!!

Whenever someone asks me my secret to success (side note: This person would get a much better answer if they asked a better question), I always tell them I am successful at everything I do because my mindset is to fail faster than everyone else. It’s that simple. I choose to fail as quickly as I can, because the more often I fail, the better I get.

Be willing to fail fast. Be willing to fail often. Just make sure that with every failure you are also failing forwards (see the previous mindset about getting 1% better every day).

Q: What would you be willing to try if you viewed failure as progress?

6. Alleviate your fears by embracing your fears.

Once you make the decision to embrace failure, everything changes. That life of comfort you embraced for so long becomes a thing of the past. Now every day is full of nothing but fear!

When I began my ninja journey I was TERRIFIED of heights, climbing ropes, swinging through the air, and all of the other craziness that comes with ninja and Spartan training. But by slowly exposing myself to uncomfortable yet manageable amounts of fear (known as ‘exposure therapy’) I learned various techniques to embrace my fears. Then as soon as something that used to be scary wasn’t scary anymore, I made it scarier again.

You are never going to completely eliminate your fears, but you can learn how to face them. No matter if your fears are acute (snakes, heights, spiders), or if your fears are more psychological (imposter syndrome, anyone?) I guarantee your fears will not magically disappear. The only way to alleviate whatever fears you are avoiding is to face them.

Don’t “fake it” until you make it. FACE IT until you make it.

Q: What fear in your life is it time to face?

7. Give before taking (and always lead with value).

If you want to succeed, you need to start by helping other people succeed first.

When you choose to pursue life-changing goals and embrace your full potential, you’re gonna need help. A lot of help. (ask me how I know this) And asking for help from others is scary and uncomfortable. But rather than making it all about you, focus on providing value to others first. While it may seem counterintuitive, when you approach all of the relationships in your life with the mindset of giving rather than taking first, you will begin living your life from a place of abundance rather than scarcity. And that will open doors you never imagined possible, not to mention creating genuine relationships rather than superficial transactions.

Q: Where have you been taking in the past where you can now give first?

8. Ask for forgiveness instead of waiting for permission.

No matter who you want to become or what you want to achieve, if you wait for permission from others to get started, you’ll never begin. You can either choose your path, or you can let others choose it for you.

I’m not saying you should consistently take actions that require forgiveness and live a life driven by chaos or impulsivity. But if you have a thought that others might disagree with, or you need to openly share feelings that might lead to an argument (or even offend someone), or you want to pursue an idea that could ruffle some feathers or cut through some red tape, nothing in your life will change if you always ask for permission before taking any action.

Sometimes the path that leads to a better situation for everyone begins with taking the unpopular action that requires asking for forgiveness instead of waiting for permission.

Q: Where have you been waiting for permission in your life?

9. Enjoy the struggle (The journey IS the destination).

While it might seem counterintuitive, the purpose of setting difficult goals is not about achieving those goals. The purpose of setting difficult goals is that it forces you to design a totally different journey. Setting the goal of hiking to the summit of your local hiking trail creates an entirely different lifestyle than setting the goal of reaching the summit of Mt. Everest. And each goal leads to you becoming an entirely different person along the way.

The harder the goals you choose to pursue, the more difficult the path will become. And if you begrudgingly do the work just to reach the destination, you’ll ultimately be disappointed because achieving a goal is fleeting. But if you can enjoy the struggle, the side effect is you end up loving your life along the way. Because the journey IS the destination.

Q: What struggle have you been avoiding because you’re only focused on the destination?

10. Stop competing with others, and start competing with yourself. (Run your own race)

Life is not a zero sum game. Your failures are not a direct result of other people’s successes (and vice versa). Energy spent focusing on where others are relative to you – and moreover energy spent on actively trying to keep others from succeeding – is wasted energy. I believe the most effective use of our energy is to focus on what we can control.

When you run your own race, by default you end up leading by example. And when you focus on improving yourself rather than bringing others down, others want to help you succeed. And they want to run your race with you. And ultimately a rising tide lifts all boats at once (including yours).

Stop focusing on what you can’t control and start focusing on what you can control. And the only thing you can control is how you run your own race.

Q: Where in your life is it time to stop focusing on others and run your own race instead?


If I could boil down a lifetime of knowledge and wisdom into a single quote, it would be the following from none other than Mr. Miyagi himself.

“Walk on road. Walk right side, safe. Walk left side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, get squish, just like grape.” – Mr. Miyagi

Whatever path you choose, don’t kind of sort of maybe do it sometimes.

Commit 100%.

Give it everything you’ve got.

Because there’s nothing scarier than living a life filled with regrets about the things you didn’t do.

Q: What are you ready to commit to in 2023, friend?

→ Click here to message me directly with your answers

I read every message personally!

Be well.
Zack Arnold
Creator, Optimize Yourself

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”