“We hear only those questions for which we are in a position to find answers.” — Friedrich Nietszche
It was the ancient Greek philosopher Plato who is credited with saying: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He realised that to live a complete life we must examine it truthfully.
If you don’t make time to examine your motives, it may catch up to you. Why? Many people are dictated by their unconscious desires instead of making conscious choices. They have a habit of reacting instead of responding to what is taking place in their lives.
I’m not suggesting they are entirely to blame, because on some level they are unaware of their behaviour. It is only when a situation does not play out as expected, that they evaluate their choices.
This is not a good recipe for living because reacting to outside events is not empowering, since you are dragged by your circumstances instead of taking life into your own hands.
Author Malcolm Collins writes in The Pragmatist’s Guide to Life: A Guide to Creating Your Own Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions why you must challenge your beliefs to realise your potential: “Challenging personal beliefs is neither easy nor fun or pleasant, but it is a necessary step toward becoming an actualized human being.”
Albeit, not all the choices you make will result in positive outcomes. Life is an earth school where you learn, develop and rise above your obstacles to discover the essence of your core self.
Over the coming paragraphs are presented six fundamental questions to ask yourself to live a life of meaning. To do this, journal your thoughts to the questions below. Ideally, you will want to revisit them often and note your response to see whether you’re improving.
This way you become your own mentor, coach and counsellor. This is a process I use when coaching clients, to help them discover their own power to navigate life, instead of looking outside themselves for answers.
The questions you put forward can be powerful to germinate compelling answers echoed through your everyday choices. Do not discount the value of formulating questions that abide by your highest intent.
“Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.” — Euripedes
Who is the person you call “I” reading this now? You might recite your past or ethnicity, or perhaps what you do for a living or whom you are married to. Sure, whilst I appreciate these things define you, what happens if your marriage dissolves or you lose your job? What is the label used to define you then?
The point is, you cannot tie yourself to your past, present or future because the past does not exist, the present is a result of your past choices and the future is uncertain. What is constant is the core essence of who you are. Who are you becoming is a question that invites you to look deeper into your life’s narrative.
The question is built on the understanding that you are constantly evolving as a human being. This is why some relationships dissolve because one partner outgrows the other. It is natural for people to grow and develop and if they are not growing together, it may be time to part ways or comprise without sacrificing their values and integrity. “Who you decide to be should be an informed decision designed to maximize your objective function,” states Malcolm Collins.
Are you happy with who you are as a person? If not, what aspects would you change and will this result in the person you want to be? These are difficult questions to answer because they require thoughtful examination.
“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” — Joseph Campbell
Do you like the person you see reflected in the mirror? When I was coaching people with their health and fitness goals, I recall working with those who had an ambivalent relationship with their appearance. It was difficult from a coaching perspective to get them to see beyond their physical appearance when they were hiring me to help them transform the way they looked.
Their first assignment was to examine their relationship with themselves. Do they like who they are? What is their self-talk? Did they experience a difficult childhood including emotional or physical abuse? It’s important to understand the past but not be tied to it. You should be mindful of your past, but not carry the events with you like a door-to-door salesman. As George Orwell wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”
Similarly, I’m drawn to Dr. Alex Lickerman’s message in The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self who states: “Another way we might be able to improve our ability to manage pain is by retelling ourselves stories of previous painful experiences from a different perspective: not with a focus on the intensity of the pain we felt but on the fact that we survived it. For if we survived a terrible episode of pain in the past, we can survive a similar episode of it in the present.”
Do you accept yourself irrespective of what took place in your past? I’ve met the gentlest of souls who experienced a tumultuous past, yet they do not define themselves by it. They see the past as a series of events that shaped their life, because every experience brings the gift of learning and growth. If you disapprove of yourself you cannot possibly like other people since every interaction stems from your relationship with yourself.
“In all my affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” — Bertrand Russell
This is my favourite question because until you clarify what you value most, you will spend your life wandering aimlessly. Sadly, many people may never discover what is important to them because they are dictated by other people’s needs.
What is of importance in your life right now? Is it: family, health, making money, fame or success, education, environmental or global issues? When you recognise what is important and pursue it, your life becomes replete with meaning since you become purposeful in how you spend your time.
The second part of the question asks: why are these things important? Is it because it gives you a sense of meaning? Does it bring value to your life? If you respond by saying: “It makes me feel good,” I would nudge you to go deeper and ask: “Why is it important you feel good about this?”
How does feeling good serve you? I realise there are many questions throughout this article that invite you to go deeper into yourself and examine your true motives. They are worth your time and effort, even if it takes an entire year to gain clarity, at least you will have lived intentionally.
“We get wise by asking questions, and even if these are not answered, we get wise, for a well-packed question carries its answer on its back as a snail carries its shell.” — James Stephens
Forgiveness is central to your way of life because if you do not forgive yourself and others, you carry resentment, guilt and blame which discolours your perception of life. Forgiveness is an act of courage, yet the act of forgiving others can be terrifying. If you approach it with an open mind and a soft heart, forgiveness will help you to find inner peace.
Every one of us has experienced unpleasant events throughout our lives. It is important to forgive yourself for being involved and release the burden and guilt that accompanies it, irrespective whether you consented or not.
Author and psychotherapist Loch Kelly explains in Shift into Freedom: The Science and Practice of Open-Hearted Awareness the need to shift your level of mind away from resentment: “It’s easier to find forgiveness and let go of resentments toward others. If you take away nothing else, remember that in difficult situations the first step is to shift your level of mind.”
I’ve written about How The Power Of Forgiveness Will Set You Free in an earlier article so I won’t go into great detail about it. Make forgiveness an important part of your life because letting go of anything that weighs you down can bring peace of mind and other health benefits.
There is no set period when you should forgive someone. I know this first hand because it took me over two decades to find the strength to forgive my father for his emotional mistreatment of me when I was growing up. It was the single biggest act of courage I undertook and it transformed my life in the years that followed. It was Martin Luther King Jr who said: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.”
“Life is an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of the question.” — Tennessee Williams
How do you know you are living to your fullest potential? I often get asked this question by audience members and coaching clients. My answer is always the same: when you are happy and grateful where you are in your life, your potential is complete for the time being. It doesn’t mean you are stagnant since potential is constantly evolving and your growth continues to expand.
Author Larry Weidel says in Serial Winner: 5 Actions to Create Your Cycle of Success that our comfort zone or cocoon it is what holds many people back from exploring their full potential: “Our cocoons have the power to influence us — unless they are challenged. It doesn’t matter where your cocoon came from or what it looks like. Until you break out of it, you’ll have a hard time fulfilling your potential. People who do break out either are forced out by the things they experience or fight their way out.”
Some people never realise their potential because they don’t venture outside their comfort zone. Potential is activated when you risk going outside the known to discover your true strength of character. To liken it to a fitness metaphor, many people don’t realise how much they can lift in the gym until they train for months and developed the strength and conditioning in those muscles.
With the right training they are capable of the same feats of strength as many strong men or women. Therefore, potential lies dormant until you engage it, or else it is nothing more than a car idling waiting to be driven at high speeds. If you are unhappy not living to your full potential, what actions can you take to move closer to the person you intend to be? They needn’t be bold risks, start small and gather momentum in order to explore your full potential.
“A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.” — Francis Bacon
Love is the core of our essence and without love we are nothing more than flesh and bones. Understandably, many people open their hearts to love through friendships and romantic relationships and are hurt through betrayal. They shut down and vow to never love again. As you know, the wall you build around you is the same wall that stops others knowing you up close.
In Just One Thing, the neuropsychologist Rick Hanson writes: “We need to love to be healthy and whole. If you bottle up your love, you bottle up your whole being. Love is like water: it needs to flow.”
Love is a risk, but a risk worth taking if you want to experience life fully. As the saying goes: “It is better to have loved and lost then never loved at all.” Whilst a cliché, there is truth to it because exposing yourself to hurt and humiliation is the greatest act of courage you will undertake.
It is like a tight rope artist who walks between two buildings. No matter how many times they have performed the act, in the back of their mind lurks the danger of falling to their death. Nevertheless, this does not minimise their chances of getting out on the tightrope because the performance itself brings joy and excitement to their life.
You must explore love in the same capacity, as though you are completely wrung out. For when it comes to the end of your life, you will regret not having opened yourself to love.
Like a sponge full of water, every ounce of love must be poured forth into the universe because the act of loving and giving of yourself is richer to your life’s experience than being a dry and whittle rose that never bloomed.
Originally published at medium.com