Three Questions to Stop Asking Yourself—the Wrong Way

(And 16 Questions That Can Change Your Life)

You know who robs me of living intentionally?

I do.

It’s true. Sometimes I am my own worst enemy.

How do I self-sabotage? I lose time. I lose it because I get stuck between two places: the past and the future.

And when I get stuck, I lose energy. Both time and energy are two things I desperately need to be able to live with full intention. And to make sure, daily, that those intentions are aligned with God’s Word.

The idea of time travel is intriguing to me. It’s not that I believe in it. I’ve just always been fascinated with storylines that involve someone going back to another century, or jumping ahead to a future time, and having to adapt. And since I have a vivid imagination, sometimes I create my own mental storylines where I’m the one traveling! Of course, in my mind it’s easy to romanticize. But I know the reality would be something altogether different. I would stick out like a sore thumb: different clothes, mannerisms, language and mentality. It would be very obvious, depending on how far back I went, or how far ahead, that I didn’t belong there.

Well guess what…we all time travel! We jump into our mental contraptions, spin the dial to determine our destination, and off our brain goes. And depending on where it goes, it asks three questions. Questions that, when asked in a certain way, hinder my ability to focus on God’s wonderful design for my life. They hinder my attempts to live with full intention.

And I’m guessing they hinder you too.

Question #1: “Why?”

Sometimes your brain travels back to the past. It goes back to your first awareness that someone didn’t actually like you. Your first encounter with a bully. Your memories of parents fighting. That boy that said he liked you but never called. It travels to all the times you didn’t fit in, were made fun of, put down. It visits every relationship with a man that went sour, every poor decision you’ve ever made, every setback or failure. And then it asks “Why?”

  • Why did that happen?
  • Why did he do that?
  • Why did I do that?
  • Why did God allow that?

Sometimes you ask because you have unresolved emotions about the past.

Sometimes the past creates uncertainty about the future. Past mistakes might generate doubt in yourself or others.

Sometimes you just have a curiosity about how things might have turned out differently.

Sometimes you ask because you just won’t let go.

When you ask “why” about something that’s already occurred, you exert a lot of mental and emotional energy on something that’s over. It is what it is.

That sounds trite. But no matter how many times you travel to the past, there’s no changing it.

However, asking “why?” does serve a purpose when it comes to understanding your current motives. In that context it challenges you to think about what your intentions are and how they’re connected to the future. For example:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • Why is this important to me?
  • Why will this matter later?

You can focus on the functions of what you do—the what and how of it. But only the why, used properly, can give you meaning and purpose.

Question #2: “What if?”

Sometimes our mental time machine takes us to the future. I do that a lot. I am, after all, an idealist. So I imagine my ideal all the time—my ideal home, career, marriage, friendships, relationship with God, etc. There are so many ways for me to mentally jump ahead to the life I want. And that’s not necessarily bad thing. It helps me to get clarity about what I want and need to be doing now.

But I’m talking about the type of future time travel that actually keeps me from living intentionally. I call it Catastrophe Land and unfortunately I visit it all too often.

It’s not a fun trip. I don’t really like going there to be honest, because I start asking things like:

  • What if they won’t like me?
  • What if I fail or it doesn’t work out?
  • What if something terrible happens?

But those questions only take you down a path of fear. You begin to imagine all the worst-case possibilities about things that haven’t actually happened. Nor are they likely to. Yet your fear can grow so enormous that it paralyzes you and keeps you from focusing on what is happening right now.

Jesus addressed this very thing with His disciples.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)

Of course, “what if?” doesn’t have to be bad. After all, what if you used it to imagine wonderful outcomes, to dream of all the future possibilities that God has in store for you? What if you used it to create energy and momentum in your life instead of doubt and inertia?

What if you actually began focusing on today instead of getting stuck in tomorrow?

Question #3: “When?”

Not a worrier? Great. But an alternate destination for the time traveler in you is to spiral off to the Unknown. This is also a tricky place because you can’t control it!

Most people I know, including me, do not like to be out of control.

Which makes the land of the Unknown difficult. It creates uncertainty and impatience. It likes to catch you up with questions like:

  • When will it get better?
  • When will it go away?
  • When will my circumstances change?
  • When will conditions be right for…?

I’m particularly bad at this one. I guess that’s because I know what I want and I know what God wants from and for me. I can visualize my future in great detail. I understand the steps needed to get me there (or most of them). I just don’t have full control over all of them and it’s frustrating. So I wonder.

When you wonder about things that you can’t control, you can start feeling frustrated and powerless. Before you know it you’ve stopped living intentionally. You’re just…waiting. Waiting for circumstances to change, others to change, life to change. Then, someday, you wake up and wonder why you’re life hasn’t turned out the way you once wanted it too. So, you climb back into your time machine and off you go, revisiting those past situations and choices that first derailed you.

It’s a vicious cycle!

But it doesn’t have to be.

Instead, ask “when” about things you can do right now. Using “when” as a time marker for your goals looks like this:

When do I need to accomplish this by?

When will I know it is accomplished?

When will I know that conditions are right for me to…?

There are no bad questions—you just need to ask them in the right way, about the right things

Questions are actually very useful, when they lead to clear answers. They can generate epiphanies and breakthroughs in many aspects of life. They can bring you clarity. The key, though, is to ask those questions about the right things. The right things are things you have 100% control over. When you focus on them, then every question becomes meaningful.

Here are some additional questions for you to reflect on and journal about.  If you do, it will promote greater self-awareness and help you to make more intentional choices.

  1. What does God expect from me?
  2. What do I expect for myself?
  3. Why do my thoughts and actions matter to God/me/others?
  4. What do I need to learn about myself/others?
  5. How am I progressing towards my goals?
  6. How will I know when I’ve reached my goals?
  7. What can I do/say/think/feel right now that will change my perspective?
  8. How can I express my thoughts/feelings without hurting others?
  9. How can I be more positive?
  10. How can I be kinder?
  11. Who are the people that support me in this life and how can I spend more time with them?
  12. What thoughts/emotions am I holding on to that keep me from being intentional?
  13. Whom do I need to forgive?
  14. What went well today and how did I contribute to it?
  15. What am I grateful for?
  16. What are the things I appreciate/love/enjoy about life?

Who you are now is less important than who you’re becoming

Ask questions. Ask lots of them. But ask them about the right things.

Time traveling to places you can’t change or control is foolish. That doesn’t mean you don’t think about the future. Not at all.

If you want to live a divinely intentional life, you have to keep your eyes on the future but your brain in the present.

The apostle Paul said it best. “…but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,” (Philippians 3:13)

So, here are a couple questions for you…

When is it a good time to start living intentionally?

And…

What are you waiting for?

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