It’s not about finding the right answers;
it’s about asking the right questions.
Angel and I often forget to ask the right questions. We get so caught up in what we’re doing that we lose track where we’re going. We settle into comfortable routines, instead of confronting the challenges our dreams demand. Then, eventually, we lift our heads to the realization that the environment we’ve settled into leads to the answers to someone else’s dream.
And that’s when we catch ourselves – time to take a break, regroup, and ask ourselves the scary questions we’ve been avoiding.
1. Based on my daily routines and actions, where can I expect to be in five years?
This is your life story and you are the only author. If you’re feeling like you’ve been stuck in the same setting for too long, it’s time to start writing a new chapter of your life. The plot structure is simple: Doing nothing gets you nothing. Doing the wrong things gets you the wrong things. Doing the same things gets you the same things. Your story only changes when you make changes.
If you have an idea about what you want the next chapter of your life to look like, you have to DO things that support this idea. An idea, after all, isn’t going to do anything for you until you do something productive with it. In fact, as long as that great idea is just sitting around in your head it’s probably doing far more harm than good.
Your subconscious mind knows you’re procrastinating on something that’s important to you. The necessary work that you keep postponing causes stress, anxiety, fear, and usually more procrastination – a vicious cycle that continues to worsen until you interrupt it with ACTION.
Progress in life is always measured by the fact that you’ve taken new action. If there’s no new action, you haven’t truly made any progress.
2. Are the people around me helping me or hurting me?
A big part of who you become in life has to do with who you choose to surround yourself with. And as you know, it is better to be alone than in bad company. You simply cannot expect to live a positive, fulfilling life if you surround yourself with negative people.
Distancing yourself from these people is never easy, but it’s a lot harder when they happen to be close friends or family members. As hard as it may be, it’s something you need to address. To a certain degree, luck controls who walks into your life, especially as it relates to your family and childhood friends, but you decide who you spend the majority of your time with.
If someone close to you is truly draining you, be honest about it. Be kind, but communicate your point of view. Tell them you love them, and that you want to be around them, but you need their help. Remember, most problems, big and small, within a family and close friends, start with bad communication. If this other person is draining you, and you haven’t talked about it, they may not even know.
At the end of the day, you should surround yourself with people who make you a better person and distance yourself those who don’t. (Read The How of Happiness.)
3. How have I been draining my own happiness?
In life, you become what you repeatedly think about. If your thoughts and behaviors aren’t helping you, they’re hurting you. Other people and outside events can influence you, but happiness is ultimately an inside job. You have to disconnect external influences and achievements from happiness and give yourself permission to be happy, in each moment, without the need for anything more.
This isn’t to say that you should be complacent. You can still set goals, work hard, interact with others, and grow, but you must learn to indulge joyously in the journey, not the destination.
What you need to realize is that all you ever truly have are your thoughts towards the present moment. Every moment is very similar; the details are just details. If you say something like, “If I had more than what I have now, I would be happier,” you are sadly mistaken. Because if you are not at all happy with what you have now, you will not be any happier if it were doubled. It’s just more of the same.
The bottom line is that you have everything you need to be happy or unhappy right now. It just depends on how you think about it. Will you be grateful for what you have, and find joy in it? Or will concentrate on what you don’t have, and never, ever feel like you have enough? The choice is yours to make.
4. What excuses am I making?
As George Washington once said, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”
Truth be told, if you are good at making excuses, you will never be good at anything else. No matter what the obstacles are that you see in front of you, the only thing truly standing between you and what you want is the excuse you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.
When something is a priority, it gets done. Period. And it’s not what we claim are our priorities, but how we spend our time each day that reveals the truth. You can make excuses. You can always try to wait for the perfect moment, the perfect this, the perfect that… but it won’t get you anywhere.
To get where you want to go you just have to start DOING. It makes all the difference. Making excuses takes the same amount of time as making progress. (Read The Power of Habit.)
5. What mistakes do I fear most?
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”
When you find your path, and you know what needs to be done, you must not be scared. You need to find the courage to make mistakes. Mistakes lead to disappointments and defeat in the short term, but they also teach you what you need to know in the long-term. Mistakes are the tools life uses to show you the way forward.
Someday when you look back over your life you’ll realize that nearly all of your worries and anxious fears never came to fruition – they were completely unfounded. So why not wake up and realize this right now. When you look back over the last few years, how many opportunities for joy did you destroy with needless fear about making a mistake? Although there’s nothing you can do about these lost joys, there’s plenty you can do about the ones that are still to come.
6. How have past rejections lowered my self-confidence?
NOT believing that you CAN is the biggest trap of them all. If you don’t know your own greatness is possible, you won’t bother attempting anything great. Period.
All too often we let the rejections of our past dictate every move we make thereafter. We literally do not know ourselves to be any better than what some opinionated person or narrow circumstance once told us was true. Of course, this old rejection doesn’t mean we aren’t good enough; it means the other person or circumstance failed to align with what we have to offer. It means we have more time to improve our thing – to build upon our ideas, to perfect our craft, and indulge deeper in to the work that moves us.
Don’t let old rejections take up permanent residence in your head. Kick them out on the street. Realize that you sometimes you have to try to do what you think you can’t do, so you realize that you actually CAN. And sometimes it takes more than one attempt. If ‘Plan A’ doesn’t work out, don’t fret; the alphabet has another 25 letters that would be happy to give you a chance to get it right. The wrong choices usually bring us to the right places, eventually. You just have to believe in your own potential to get there. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” and “Relationships” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
7. When did my life fall so far out of balance?
Be diligent and committed to what you’re trying to achieve, but also make sure you leave time for pleasure and exploration in other areas of your life as well. It is not enough to succeed at one specific goal or to conquer one particular area of expertise; you also have to take part in the different, beautiful dimensions of your life… while you can, while there’s still time.
Lift your head up from your work every now and then and take a long walk, hold hands with your beloved, go fishing, spend time with your friends, swim, bask in the sunlight, try something new, meditate, breathe deep, or sit quietly for a while and contemplate the goodness around you.
In other words, balance yourself – work diligently toward your goals and dreams, but don’t ignore every other aspect of your life. Keep your mind fresh, your body active and alive, and your relationships nurtured. Do so, and the things you want most in life will come more naturally.
Life is filled with unanswered questions, but it is the courage to ask enough of the right ones that ultimately leads you to an understanding of yourself and your purpose.
You can spend your life wallowing in fear by avoiding the obvious, or asking negative questions like, “Why me?” Or you can be grateful that you’ve made it this far – that you’re strong enough to breathe, walk and think for yourself – and then ask, “Where do I want to go next?”
We would love to hear your perspective. Please pick one or more of the seven questions above and leave a comment below with your answer.
Photo by: Horia Varlan