Write down three quick answers and then look to see the clues they give as to what else you might want to do in your life; perhaps a first small step, perhaps a big leap. We all have more potential that we actually live.
"Ships in harbour are safe...but that is not what ships were built for"
This is not meant to be a "beat yourself up" type question but one that leads you, gently I hope, to a higher standard. It links well with the next question :-
Take yourself back to the views you had of yourself when you were a child. Perhaps you even speculated what sort of an adult you might be, perhaps what sort of a parent you might be. How does the reality compare? You may be pleasantly surprised about how far you have come, you may realise there are still some changes you need to make.
None of us lives forever and none of us can know when our time will come. So if there is something that needs to be said, particularly if it is loving and supportive. Then say it. NOW!
The partner, parent, child, brother, sister, towards whom you have loving feelings you have not expressed for a while...just tell them...why are you waiting?
Our experience of a situation, however difficult, is largely determined by our perception and is therefore something over which we have a degree of control.
This is a question which challenges us to find the best in everything and everybody. It can lead to quite unexpected answers.
This is a question you can ask of yourself, or others, when the first reply is "I don't know."
For example, often these questions lead to a "I don't know reply"
"Do I want to do this?"
"Am I in love?"
"Is this the right action for me?"
Asking the question "What would I say if I did know?" can sometimes reveal some deeper feelings and understanding. The worst that can happen is a reply "I still don't know"
Perspective changes experience! Problems viewed when we have slept well can feel very different from when we are tired. We have choice over how we see things and it pays to look at situations from a number of different perspectives, even if, at first, we have to play 'make believe.'
Two very different perspectives on life, both can be useful in creating the balance most of us need between the immediate and the long term.Consider this quote from Robert Fulghum:-
"Something which threatens your life is a problem, everything else is an inconvenience."
This is one for the problem times in life, when we feel the world is closing in and the future looks bleak. The truth is most things pass, most things look and feel different over time.
Look back on a problem that filled your life some time ago and see where you are in relation to it now, it may give a different perspective to your current situation.
So if you believe things may well be better in the future, why wait? Look forward to looking back.
It could be a decision you make and start acting on, a person you call or something, or someone, you let go of. It could be a book you order or a holiday you book. It could be planning a theatre trip or a social event. The important thing is to take the action now even though the benefits may not be felt for some months.
Its great to live in the here and now but its also true some things take a bit of long term planning, getting the mixture right is one of the most important life skills.
So often people are reluctant to ask others for help, they use phrases like; "I don't want to take up their time" or "They already have enough to do".
The same people, if asked to help someone else use phrases such as; "I'm so pleased they asked" or "Glad I could be of assistance"
Why not treat yourself as well as you would treat others?
A fun idea. If you could summon up anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, to help you, who would it be and what help would they offer? Note what insights arise, recognise these are really your ideas and see what these new ideas might lead to.
You can have most of the things you want if you are prepared to pay the price, and usually the cost is not financial. You have the power to ask in any situation "Is this what I want for myself?" If it is not you don't have to put up with it, you just have to pay the price to change things. Sometimes the price will be too high and that is fine, at least you know you had a choice.
It's very easy to confuse important with urgent and the result can be that we spend most of our time dealing with things that are urgent and rarely get to the things that are important. Sometimes those close to us, important people, suffer because we are taken up with 'urgent' trivia.
An alternative question we could ask is:
"What would happen if I did not do this thing I think of as urgent and instead did something I consider important?
"Can I live with the consequences of this decision"?
The first question is about clarity, both for ourselves and for others. Once we are clear on what we want, our chances of getting it are greatly increased and yet sometimes it is so hard to be specific.
We are usually more clear on what we don't want or find we just want to feel differently about something or somebody. It is good to recognise this is about our internal state and that therefore it makes more sense to seek internal change than to look outside for things to be different. (see Stories No 16)
The second question is a great one to ask others. It makes no suggestions, offers no solutions but simply states our willingness to be there and be of assistance. It is not an offer to be made lightly and sometimes the fact that we offered is enough in itself.
It's worth writing a list of what you have achieved, of what there is in your life that makes you proud. If you can't think of anything it's because you're not looking hard enough. Read the list out every morning for a week, it may just change how you see life.
Sometimes it's very difficult to say no to the requests others make of us. We can be driven by a wish to help and can feel guilty if we turn someone down. At those times this is a good question to ask about ourselves. If you say "NO" to this request what will that allow you to do that is of greater value? That's the bigger "YES" and it can change turning something down into a positive action.
Here is an interesting exercise. Write down five good times in your life (or less bad times for those of you who don't yet view life in positive terms) and look to see what, if anything, they have in common. Whatever shows up you might consider trying to get more of in the future.
And could choose one, but only one, of the following:-
a) To have a secure income allowing you to live in comfort for the rest of your life.
b) To have an extra seven years of healthy living on top of your natural life span.
c) To have invented something significant but without personal reward or credit.
Which would you choose and what does the choice say about you?
When you spring clean your home you go through old clothes you don't need, possessions you have no plans to use and either give or throw them away. It can be a satisfying process although it's surprisingly difficult to let go of what we know we don't need.
How about doing the same elsewhere? What grudges or resentments could you let go of, what ideas that no longer serve you, what thought patterns you no longer have use for? Try throwing them away as well.
You may have to do it more than once because they have a habit of returning but it's worth the effort. You end up, as in the physical world, with space for things that serve you better.
It's a fascinating idea, that we are all born with a purpose, something we are put here to do. Even if that's not how you see the world you could spend a few minutes asking yourself what that purpose could be if there was one.
This statement then becomes a very important one.
"Don't die with the music still in you"
Asking questions can be the answer to many issues but they need to be the right questions. There's a big difference between:-
How can this be solved? and How can this be lived with?
Why did this happen to me? and What can I do about this?
Does my life have a meaning? and What meaning can I give to my life?
Why do people hurt me? and How can I be less affected by others?
This can be seen as a pointless exercise or as the start of an interesting exploration.
Go back to early childhood and imagine your life if circumstances had been different.
You may find:-
How the difficult times shaped who you are and that you don't wish to change them.
Areas of you life not fully expressed and realise you can do something about that.
Feelings that have trapped you which you could choose now to release.
Who knows what may turn up? There is only one way to find out!
Our imagination is a wonderful gift and with it we can summon anyone we want to help us.
It takes a little practice to get fluent at this, here is what to do:-
Sit quietly for a few minutes and then create a picture of yourself in a favorite location.
Imagine being joined by the person from whom you want help and advice.
Tell them, quietly in your mind, what your situation is and ask for their thoughts.
Then sit still until your imagination lets them speak and listen to what they have to say.
They can be real or fictional, experts or friends, family or famous, even from another planet.
It's OK to have fun with this.
Here is a simple answer:-
"The purpose of my life is to enjoy the experience of being alive."
If that's not definite enough then try below.
Write down your three best qualities, eg intelligence, compassion, determination.
Write down your three best skills, eg organisation, writing, typing.
Write down three ways you want the world to be, eg loving, friendly, peaceful.
Now write the following:-
"The purpose of my life is to use my (three qualities) and my (three skills), to help create a world which is (three ways)."
You may want to refine your purpose and add detail but you do have a starting point on what you want your life to be about.
Well, almost anyone, its a hazard of being human. People who think badly of themselves inside often try to boost their fragile egos by trying to put others down. It's good to remember when it happens, that it says far more about the person doing it than it does about you.
There's a difference between being put down and feeling put down, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt,
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent"
If this does not resonate with you then skip to another item.
The answer is simple, no one owes you anything, not friendship, not love, not respect, not happiness, and you don't owe them anything either.
When someone does something for you or when you do something for someone else, it's because that's a choice each of you has made, the reasons may be complicated but ultimately we all act in ways that serve us.
When you realise this you can start becoming free from expectations and free from resentments.
Everyone talks to themselves, if we do it out loud and in company we get strange looks but in the quiet of our mind no one knows what we say.
What sort of things do you say to yourself, critical or encouraging? What voice tone do you use, soft or harsh?
Now how do you talk to children, possibly your own?
If the way you talk to yourself is harder and more critical than the way you talk to children then you need to change your habits because inside each one of us is a child, often a frightened one, that hears our own voice more than any other.
Everyone will have their own answer, about being a good partner, parent, employee, boss, artist, contributing to society, etc, we all have our dreams.
Here is one tombstone inscription you might consider, whatever it is you want to have achieved before you die:-
Best Before....followed by your date of death.
Since our time here is limited it's worth having a "Life's too short" list of things and people we can best do without.
Here are some thought starters:-
Life's too short to do things that don't make you feel good.
Life's too short to be in places you don't feel comfortable in.
Life's too short to be with people whose company you don't enjoy.
Why not use these ideas to draw up a list of things and people you really don't have time for, and then act on it.
Goal setting does not work for everyone, some people just want life to take them where it will and enjoy the journey.
For others it can be helpful to have an idea of where they want to go before they set out.
Once you know what you want in your life you can ask a further question about everything you do:-
Does this activity move me towards or away from my life's objectives?
My guess is you are kind to them, offer to help them when you can, give them support when they are troubled, celebrate good news with them, forgive them when they are less than perfect, enjoy their company.
Now, how do you treat yourself? The same, worse, better?
Most people, if they are honest, will admit they treat themselves worse than they treat their friends, particularly when it comes to forgiveness.
Why not start to treat yourself as well as you treat those you love?
There are some problems in life you just have to take action on, things you can't live with or things that will get worse if you leave them.
There are also times when solutions take more time and energy than accepting and living with the problem. The world is never going to be perfect. It's good to make a distinction so we can get on and enjoy the experience of being alive.
The original word which we translate as sin is an archery term, it means to miss the centre of the target, to miss the mark. The correct response to a sin would not be to ask for forgiveness, not be self critical but to stand up and take another shot.
When you watch a baby learning to walk you don't criticise when they fall down, you don't see that as failure just as a process by which the skill is acquired. I do wonder why we are not as gentle with ourselves. We are all still learning and encouragement works better than condemnation.
Suppose some of your problems are teachers in disguise and that until you have learned the lesson you will have to go on taking the test.
It's not true of every problem but when the same issue keeps coming up, often in different disguises, the chances are you need to learn something. Understanding the lesson may turn out to be a part of the solution.
There is, but unfortunately it's death. There are ways to keep our bodies in shape, our attitudes flexible, our minds sharp, but time just keeps passing while we do all that.
Much as we might wish it could be otherwise than get older we might reflect that it's better than the alternative. Our job is to experience the moment, it's all we have.
It can be of great help to look at the past, particularly the important events of our childhood, and to arrive at an understanding of how we got to be the person we have become.
But if we stop there our journey is incomplete. The purpose of looking back is not to understand but to change and this requires action here and now. We may need the understanding to make the plan but without taking action it's like buying a train ticket and staying on the platform.
We have probably all had the experience of promising something in the heat of the moment. New Year resolutions are a good example, but that's not commitment.
Here's a good definition:-
"Commitment is still doing something long after the emotion which caused you to start has faded."
Probably not if you're watching a film or a sporting event. The information would spoil the enjoyment which depends on the uncertainty, on not knowing in advance what happens next.
And yet when it comes to life some people take great steps to avoid uncertainty, to avoid surprises. This may mean they don't have to deal with unexpected disappointment but it also means they miss out on unexpected joy. Life is uncertain, lets enjoy the fact that we can't know the future. Life will always be short, however long you live.
There is a tendency among counsellors and therapists to ask about the situations their clients present "Lets look at what's really going on here."
That seems to me both to devalue the clients experience and to create a power imbalance. I am far more keen to accept and honour the experience of clients just as they describe it. If, in the course of the exploration, an additional understanding arises that's great and can be of great help. It does not however negate the original description, just adds to it.
It's great to have clear objectives, here are some criteria they probably should meet.
a) They should be stated in the positive; "I want to get fit", rather than "I want to stop being so lazy."
b) They should be measurable; I want to weigh 130lbs, rather than I want to lose some weight.
c) They should be time limited; I want to have this a month from today, rather than I want this some time soon.
d) They should be within your control; I want to react positively rather than I want my partner to stop being critical.
Some things you can and should fight; for example social injustice.
Some things you can and should flee; for example an on going physically abusive relationship.
Some things you have to let flow and stop trying to speed up or slow down the river.
It's so easy to blame others, parents, partners, big business, unions, government, but the result of this blame is that they are the ones in charge of your life.
However powerless you may feel it seems best to act as if you are in charge, at least it increases your chances of getting what you want.
Mozart was a great composer, in the view of many people the greatest there ever was. He seemed to have a gift direct from God, music just flowed through him, he wrote things as a child that were the envy of adults, he was feted, surrounded by admirers, the world was at his feet.
He died almost alone, ignored and penniless. If no one rescued Mozart, who will rescue you?
If the whole world followed you, would you be pleased where you took it? Neale Donald Walsch
We usually need make a lot of assumptions in order to feel upset about something. It seems as if there is a part of human nature which is programed to take things personally but it's not our best guide to what is going on. We assume other people have the same reasons for acting as we think we would have if we acted in the same way.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when challenging the assumptions on the basis of which we react is this "It's hardly ever about you" So here's a question to ask when someone or something pushes your buttons, "If I assume it's not about me then what could it be about?" The answers could save you a lot of suffering.
Here is one of my favourite counselling questions and I invite you to ask it of yourself and write your answers down.
"What would someone have to know about you to understand you in a way most people don't?"
We all want to be understood and yet we all want to avoid feeling vulnerable and there's a conflict here. To be fully understood we have to let ourselves be vulnerable because if no one knows you no one can understand you.
So, first answer this question for yourself and then decided how much you are prepared to let those close to you know. You don't have to reveal all at once but it would be good for you to know what "all" is and make a start.
The answer, more often than most of us think is this, "You do!"
We live in a world of easily available 'experts' who offer advice on almost every problem. Much of what they have to offer is positive and of help but that does not mean that it will work for you.
You are unique and that means that while you can benefit from the views and insights of others the final decision as to what works for you is yours. Don't give away your power. Here are some thoughts on this issue:-
"If someone throws you a ball, you don't have to catch it." (Richard Carlson.)
"Vote with your feet, it's best to avoid people and situations you know drive you crazy." (Stuart Wilde.)
"If you want the world to be kinder then be more kind." Dan Millman
In the long term few people are going to remember what you did, even less people will remember what you said. Everyone will remember how you made them feel.
So in a world of plans and objectives, in a world of financial and business achievements, in a world of competitive education, in whatever world you inhabit, just notice first how people feel when they are with you, that's your real legacy.
Many 'people of courage' say the same thing, it's not the heroic act, the risk of life in an emergency, that defines true courage, although lets not discount that. True courage involves the day to day facing of difficult problems and still getting on with life despite often feeling despairing.
So each time you keep going despite your feelings you belong to the ranks of the true heroes.
"Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear." (Ambrose Redmoon)
We all like to take big steps, move fast towards where we want to be, it's exhilarating and exciting. However sometimes the way we feel will not support any major advancement but that does not mean we cannot make any progress. Perhaps the smallest action is all you can manage today but it's still worth doing.
A 15 minute walk or a good stretch to further a fitness goal.
Not buying something you can do without to support a financial goal.
An offer to help despite not feeling like it so realise a relationship goal.
Leaving something on a plate to move towards a weight goal.
Personal freedom is not important to some people but for those to whom it has a high priority this is a good question to ask, particularly about relationships and possessions.
Most things do both, e.g. a vehicle gives freedom but also demands financial resources and maintenance, so perhaps the true question is "Does this give more than it demands?"
It's particularly relevant when looking at the relationships is your life, either existing or proposed. Make a list of say five people in your life and ask if the balance works for
Our relationships with others so easily become complicated as their history and emotions and ours collide and combine.
Asking yourself this question can give important insights into what is going on.
As in all things the head and the heart work best together, the answers you get may help them to do that.
Here are a few examples:-
A person makes you laugh at their jokes, you enjoy their charisma, their strength, and yet after they are gone you feel depleted, tired, perhaps you have a headache. These are important warning signs and you may decide to back off from this relationship to protect your own energy.
Someone you spend time with is rather quiet, not the life and soul of the party, but after they leave you feel rather content with life and find yourself smiling at something the two of you shared. You might want to reach out and explore the possibilities of this relationship.
If you spend time with someone decisive and sure of themselves, you laugh at their jokes, enjoy their charisma but, afterwards, you feel diminished, these are important warning signs, you may decide to back away from this relationship to protect your own energy.
If you spend time with someone decisive and sure of themselves, you laugh at their jokes, enjoy their charisma and, afterwards you feel good about yourself, you could well decide to spend more time with that person.
If you spend time with someone sad and down and you end up feeling the same way, watch out. Unconsciously they may be using your energy to boost themselves rather than engaging with you.
If you spend time with someone sad and down and you end up feeling you have helped and made a difference then it's a positive experience worth repeating. The chances are this person will end up feeling supported and be willing to change.
Here is another way of asking the same question. "Which way is the energy flowing?"
Elsewhere on this site is the quote from Albert Einstein, "Everything in life should be a simple as possible, but not more simple".
But he also said "For every problem there is a solution which is simple, obvious, and wrong" so this is not an easy area and not every simple solution is correct.
Here are three elements that could be important when you need to solve a problem.
1. Resonance. Something that, on considered reflection, just seems right, it is in harmony with your feelings and values.
2. Elegance. A solution that appears to flow, no part of it feels forced or uncomfortable.
3. Simplicity. A feeling that there is both nothing missing and that nothing there that is not required.
If a solution meets two or three of these criteria it's almost certainly worth taking further.
If it meets none of them it's probably time to keep creating alternatives.
It's interesting how often there is a difference between what we think we stand for and how we act in our everyday life.
People often claim qualities such as honesty, loyalty and reliability as priorities in their lives and then choose not to notice they don't always stick to these qualities in everyday situations.
People often claim their first priority as their partner, their children or their friends and yet, if they looked, they would realise how they spent their time did not reflect this..
And of course this might not apply to you, but it's still worth spend a few minutes looking at your answers to the question.
This is not one to think about too much, just decide what number best sums up the last twelve months.
The ask yourself three more questions:-
1. What will have to change for me to chose a higher figure in a years time?
2. What decisions do I need to make right now to support this process
3. What action do I need to take today to start moving in that direction?
It's almost certain you will arrive at a point twleve months from now.
How you will feel on the journey and on your arrival is up to you.
What was your reaction when you read this question?
If there was a start of recognition then what comes next was written for you, if not then pass on to another item.
Here are some predictions:-
You feel you always have to cope, either because of childhood experiences or current demands on you, unlike some other people, you don't have a choice.
Behind that there is probably a fear that if you don't keep on coping a part of your world will collapse, things will go wrong and become chaotic.
But consider this:-
Just because you have to cope with everything most of the time does not mean you have to cope with everything all of the time.
If you've always been someone who dealt with things, that part of you will still be there after you take a short break.
You taking some "time out" may allow others to become more capable and result in them feeling better about themselves.
If the above made sense to you:-
Tell those close to you that, just sometimes, you're not waving but drowning. Trust them to take over for a while.
This is a question for parents and those with responsibility for people younger than themselves. Bringing up children can be one of the most difficult, and rewarding, challenges in life and we make it that much more difficult when we have expectations that don't match the realities of our children's lives.
Societies, peer pressure, consumerism all change so much and so quickly and so the lives of the next generation are often very different from ours both socially and financially.
What is much more likely to be shared are the feelings we have at a particular life stage and that's when it's worth asking this question. If you are in doubt about the answers and your parents are still alive, then check with them, they will enjoy reminding you.
When you find the tantrums of your five year old so trying ask how your parents felt when you were five.
When you get confused by the withdrawal of your child when he or she reaches puberty remind yourself of how willing you were to talk to your Mum and Dad when your body was changing.
When you feel ignored by your fifteen year old it's worth reflecting on how you treated your parents when you were fifteen. How sensitive were you to their feelings?
The experience of being human does not seem to change that much over the generations.
Every attempt to change and control someone else means you surrender a little of your freedom. Since in practice you don't have control over the responses of others you are allowing your life to be controlled by them.
Of course if you are involved in bringing up children you will know that this loss of freedom is inevitable, it goes with the territory of being a parent. But it's interesting how we still give away our power when we are in an adult to adult situation, for some reason we believe people should be different from how they are and invest time and energy in trying to bring this about.
How much time do you invest in believing the world should change to meet your expectations of it?
Sometimes it's best to accept what is and if it doesn't support you move on to what does.
We live in a world that encourages us to seek external solutions to internal problems. So when we feel bad inside we turn to food, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, money, tears, children, arguments etc, etc. Ultimately internal problems need internal solutions, which is mostly what this website is about, changing attitudes, better decisions.
The external sources don't give permanent relief but they can help us to pass the time and sometimes destroy our lives.
On the other hand sometimes there are external problems which need external solutions. If your water pipe springs a leak don't spend time thinking about it. If you're in a violent or vindictive relationship with little prospect of change, while it might be interesting to think about how you got to be where you are the first answer is external, make specific plans to get out.
So the answer to this question is your best indicator as to where the action is needed.
I'm not a fan of bumper sticker philosophy, I don't take to easy solutions and I find it annoying when problems are dismissed with a catch phrase like "The longest journey starts with the first step". What's even more annoying with this one is that it's true, it's simplistic, it doesn't tell a full story but however you look at it it's accurate and even insightful.
Whatever it is you want to achieve, relationship success, financial success, health objectives etc you won't get there until you start to take action, you can't plough a field by turning it over in your mind. Now your first action might well be planning and preparation, changing your attitude, making a decision, but until it's expressed in the outside world it won't feel real.
So. here's a challenge to take any objective you have today and right now take the first step towards its achievement. It may be a short journey or a long one but it's unlikely to become easier if you delay starting.