It’s not about having all the answers – it’s about asking the right questions.
The saying “She who teaches others, teaches herself” is very true, not only because constant repetition helps impress facts indelibly on the mind, but also because the process of teaching itself gives greater insight into the subject taught. Selfishly, this is sometimes the reason Marc and I take on new coaching clients and write new personal development articles, even when our schedules are full. The strategies we teach help us grow too.
One of the strategies we teach over and over again is self-inquiry – which is basically the art of asking ourselves the right questions. Why is this strategy so important? Because the questions we ask ourselves become thoughts. Thoughts then become words. Words become actions. Actions become character. And character changes everything.
Truth be told, when times get tough and big problems arise, as they inevitably will, it is the strength of our character that sees us through.
And since our character is directly influenced by what we say to (and ask of) ourselves on a daily basis, I want you to think about how you’ve been speaking to yourself lately. Have you been using the empowering, encouraging words you would speak to a friend? Or the belittling remarks you would shout to an enemy if you had no heart? Or the negative remarks about life you might utter if you had no faith?
All day long you speak silently to yourself, and a part of you believes every word. Which is why it’s important to stay mindful when problems arise, and meditate on these questions:
- What could you be positive and happy about right now, if you really wanted to? – Your greatest weapon against stress and negativity is your ability to choose one thought over another. Happiness escapes from those who refuse to see the good in what they have. When life gives you every reason to be negative, think positive.
- What’s one problem you’re thankful you don’t have right now? – Smile, not because life has been easy, perfect, or exactly as you had anticipated, but because you choose to be happy and thankful for all the good things you do have, and all the problems you know you don’t have. (Read Man’s Search for Meaning.)
- What do you need to stop thinking and saying to yourself? – Stop discrediting yourself for everything you aren’t, and start giving yourself credit for everything you ARE. We have to learn to be our own best friends, because sometimes we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies.
- What are you holding on to that you need to let go of? – One of the hardest lessons in life is letting go – whether it’s guilt, anger, love or loss. Change is never easy – you fight to hold on and you fight to let go. But oftentimes letting go is the healthiest path forward. It clears out toxic thoughts from the past. You’ve got to emotionally free yourself from the things that once meant a lot to you, so you can move beyond the past and the pain it brings you. Again, it takes hard work to let go and refocus your thoughts, but it’s worth every bit of effort you can muster.
- Will you blame others and deny responsibility? Or will you create an action plan to move forward on your own terms? – Imagine how much more effective and happy you’d be if, instead of denying, blaming, dreading and fighting against certain situations and tasks, you simply got them handled.
- How can you respond from a place of clarity and strength, rather than thoughtlessly reacting to this experience? – Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask yourself if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future. And remember that our character is often most evident in our highs and lows. Be humble at the mountaintops, be strong in the valleys, and be faithful in between. (Read The Happiness Trap.)
- How can you be of service to this person or situation, and yourself, so that everyone feels buoyed, rather than weighed down? – Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more. Thus, the best way to find yourself when times are tough is to lose yourself in the service of a cause greater than yourself.
- Are you placing lots of expectations on yourself or others? Are these expectations serving you or hurting you? – Expectations are like fine pottery – the harder you hold on to them, the more likely they are to crack. Remember this. You will find life a lot easier when you lower your expectations. Let go a little, and appreciate your life and relationships for what they are.
- Who, or what, needs your forgiveness? – Forgiveness doesn’t always lead to healed relationships and situations. Some relationships and situations aren’t meant to be. Forgive anyway, and let what’s meant to be, BE. Go ahead and set yourself free. When you hold resentment toward another entity, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and break free. (Marc and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- What do you now know better for next time? – Don’t let your fear of past events affect the outcome of your future. Live for what today has to offer, not what yesterday has taken away. There will always be obstacles, but we are confined most often by the walls we build ourselves. What we see depends on how we look at it. Forget what you’ve lost and focus on what you’ve learned.
Life is full of uncontrollable circumstances; the only thing we can control is how we choose to respond. When you really take the time to think about it, everything happening around us is neutral and meaningless up until the point that we give it meaning. And the questions we ask ourselves drive the meaning we create.
In any situation, it’s about choosing: Will I allow this to upset me? Will I choose to make this bad or good? Will I choose to stay or walk away? Will I choose to yell or whisper? Will I choose to react or take the time to respond?
Bottom line: The questions we ask ourselves drive our behavior, and our behavior is a little thing that makes a big difference. To a great extent, we create our fate every single day… and most of the ills we suffer from are directly traceable to our own (controllable) behavior.
Which of these questions/points resonated the most with you? What do you do to stay mindful and focused when problems arise in your life? Leave a comment below and share your insights.
Photo by: Sylvia Vale