The Case for Ask What Matters?!
Life can become almost intolerably complex and demanding. Working, earning, parenting, teaming, dealing with health issues—even playing and enjoying time with friends—can come to seem like an endless task list with little fulfillment and way too much stress. At best, we go on auto-pilot, just putting our heads down and plowing forward as best we can through each day’s demands. At worst, we feel desperate, depressed, anxious, and alone. Yikes, we’re bumming ourselves out writing this! Sadly, we’ve been there. That's what has led us to create “Ask What Matters?!”…born of our own needless suffering.
Ask What Matters?! Approach
Ask What Matters?! is a powerful antidote and preventative tool. At its heart is a set of five practices and mindset that help people engage in regular self-reflection, have open and courageous conversations, explore previously invisible options, and dare to make powerful, life-affirming choices. When you focus on Ask What Matters?! you suddenly realize how much DOESN’T matter. Choices for where to focus time/resources and where to jettison thoughts, behaviors and yes even people who weigh you down become a natural part of your daily routine. When we dare to choose to do what matters, we improve well-being, gain clarity that guides us forward, decrease stress, and become more effective.
Simple? Yes. Profound? We like to think so. Check it out for yourself.
Stop and Ask
Sounds pretty simple, eh? Just Stop and Ask how you are spending your life. How is it working for you? Is it creating suffering or joy? How is it contributing to your wellbeing? To the world around you? To live Ask What Matters?!, it helps to pause—once a day, once an hour, as often as necessary—and check in with yourself about these key questions. Too busy you say? You barely have time to go to the bathroom? Heck, do it in the bathroom! Do it while walking the dog. Do it while sitting in traffic. Once a day too much for you? Why not try once a week? Still too much? How about once a month? Once a year??? Five minutes. You can’t can’t take 5 minutes to Stop and Ask What Matters?!? Red Alert! Make the time, it’s only your life we are talking about!
Take it from Deepak Chopra, (he’s gotta be doing something right): “The world ‘out there’ won’t change until the world ‘in here’ does.” So, we at Ask What Matters?! want you to go ahead and Reach In--- do whatever it takes to get in clear, grounded alignment with your mind, body, spirit (or soul or heart or whatever you are comfortable calling it - remember, this is YOUR process, not ours). Sound a little too new age for you? It really isn’t. Consider the following:
Are you one of those people who has a busy mind full of negative self-talk based on myths or external influences that are wasting your time and energy? If so, you may want to Reach In by using some of the great self-guided tools out there to turn your mind into a trusted ally rather than a demanding judge and creator of fear. Two of our favorites are Loving What Is and The Happiness Trap. Reach In can also be as simple as eating a good meal, walking, dancing, journaling, listening to music, meditation, or prayer; you get the picture. Whatever works for you, works! It’s about calling forth your strength, you at your best—getting centered so that you can get out of your own way and face any circumstance from a place of choice.
Remember Independent Study from school? We are taught from a young age to value individualism and stoic self-reliance. The thing is, though, in our DNA, humans are pack animals. It’s why we live in societies rather than in solitary caves. By going it alone, we are going against our natural programming and creating needless suffering! So, Reach Out!
The practice of Reach Out allows you to gain immeasurably by asking for and offering help, ideas, skills, support, and encouragement. We at Ask What Matters?! implore you to be an octopus not a turtle. It can be as simple as calling a friend when you are feeling stressed. Find a mentor. Hire a coach. Get a therapist. Talk to your minster, priest, rabbi, imam/mullah, hairdresser, yogi…whomever! Join the club of your choice whether it be a garden club, bike club, theater club, book club…whatever interests you…just get out there! Consider an online community, (we’ve got one), or if it’s your thing, watch Oprah, Ellen, or Dr. Phil. Hey, you can even come to a Ask What Matters?! Workshop (okay, shameless plug). There’s something out there for everyone. The important thing is that even for the most introverted of us, Reach Out greatly expands our sense of possibility and helps build resilience to live Ask What Matters?!
In our experience living Ask What Matters?! does not happen haphazardly, but requires planning. We’re choosing every minute of every day. It’s just that usually we do it by default instead of with clear intention. It takes planning to identify what you will do, when you will do it, and the support required for you to follow through. When you don’t plan, you end up reacting to the day’s events as they occur rather than making conscious and deliberate choices that get you to where you want go.
Now don’t get all freaked out. We aren’t asking you to go out and learn Microsoft Project, (we’re not building rocket engines here). What we are strongly suggesting is that you take some time to think about what actions you will need to take to allow you to live Ask What Matters?! Hint: you may want start by planning for when you will practice Stop and Ask, Reach In, and Reach Out.
Abraham Lincoln reportedly once said, “If I had 60 minutes to cut down a tree, I would spend 40 minutes sharpening the ax and 20 minutes cutting it down.” Smart man. Take time to sharpen your Ask What Matters?! ax.
This is it! You are ready to go, so GO! WE MEAN NOW! Holding back while you wait for the perfect moment, the perfect words, or the perfect outfit will not work. The important thing is that you ACT. Your action needn’t be earth shattering (what we call a “Big C Change"). You don’t have to go live in an ashram (unless you want to). A “Little C Change” as small as going to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual or not checking email after dinner could help you to move you in the direction of living Ask What Matters?!
Sure, taking action comes with risks. Of course you could fail. Most of us are terrified of that. Wouldn’t you rather take imperfect action for the sake of living Ask What Matters?!, than be meandering on autopilot? This is your one and only time on earth (as far as we know). Heed the advice of the oh-so-wise Dr. Seuss: “Don’t sit in the waiting room of life.” DARE TO ACT NOW!
To make the most of the Ask What Matters?! practices, we advocate that you adopt the following 5 mindsets.
Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has. Having a hard time starting? How about starting by being grateful that you can read this text? Studies show that we can increase our well being and happiness by actively cultivating gratitude!
Okay, so how can we have a site about Ask What Matters?! without including something from Oprah. Seriously, though, she nails it with this:
“Be thankful for what you have and you'll end up having more. Concentrate on what you don't have and you will never, ever have enough.”
- Oprah Winfrey
Replace your ideas about “should” and “shouldn’t” and “have to” and “can’t” with what is really true for you. Who are you trying to please anyway? While you’re at it, stop judging yourself and others.
“It’s a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I’m looking for the truth.’ And so it goes away. Puzzling.”
- Robert M. Pirsig, author, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Look for what’s beyond the obvious. Open your mind and explore the possibilities. Enjoy the sense of childlike wonder that comes without judgment. God forbid you discover something new!
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
- Albert Einstein
It’s kind of sad that we even have to make an argument for this. For you cynics out there, there is a growing body of evidence that being kind can make a real difference to the well-being and health of individuals who practice it and receive it. That includes being kind to yourself!
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
- Dalai Lama
When did we all get so serious? Stop making everything so important and stop taking everything, yourself, and Ask What Matters?! for that matter so damned seriously. Inject humor into your daily routine and start by poking some at yourself.
"A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It's jolted by every pebble on the road."
- Henry Ward Beecher, Preacher and Abolitionist