“People often ask themselves the right questions. Where they fail is in answering the questions they ask themselves, and even there they do not fail by much…But it takes time, it takes humility, and a serious reason for searching.” – William Maxwell, Time Will Darken It, American editor, novelist, essayist (1908-2000)
We all have a lot of questions. Sometimes we fail to answer the most important ones. Why is that? Could it be that we’re afraid to face the truth? Are we in denial, hoping that by avoiding answering the question we’ll somehow escape without having to deal with the aftermath, the unpleasantness, disappointment, or even success? In truth, we each have the capacity to withstand and endure whatever the answer might be. We just don’t know it yet. But why should we answer these questions? Don’t they just answer themselves if we ignore them?
Maybe, but who wants to leave such a thing to chance when it’s so much more beneficial to take an active stance in answering them?
Consider that leaving questions we have unanswered contributes to an overall sense of uneasiness. We know we’ve skirted something, a responsibility to ourselves. That doesn’t feel good and there’s a tendency to try to cope with this not-so-good feeling by going to extremes in unhealthy ways. We may, for example, drink beyond what we intended, be tempted (and give in) to smoking a joint offered during a party or get-together with friends. We may plunge into work, compulsively shop, eat in a binge-purge pattern, or engage in multiple, indiscriminate sexual liaisons.
Granted, not everyone reacts to such an extent when trying to avoid answering self-questions, but it’s common enough that there must be something to it. Could the solution be as simple as taking the time to answer the questions we ask ourselves – even if those questions come in the form of a nagging remnant that we can’t seem to shake?
Why not give it a try? Of course, this does mean that there’ll be a little bit of anxiety over what we answer. We might not like the answer, but if we’re honest, we’ll feel somewhat comforted by that. We’ll have a leg up on what we need to do about it from there because the question is no longer at the back of our minds picking away at us every day.
It’s also important to note that self-reflection and self-questioning takes time. It isn’t something we dash off during the wait in a supermarket checkout line or in-between texts or emails. This is serious business and it affects what we do in minute and profound ways. For example, if one of the questions we ask ourselves is why am I afraid to pursue my dream, the answers may surprise us, even shock us. The answer may be multi-faceted or layered with intense emotions. We may fear that our spouse or partner will not like the changes or that we’re not sure what we’ll do when we achieve that success or even that we’ll like who we become.
But we will get a better handle on the question – and the question will no longer sear the edges of our thoughts, threatening to consume our energy and diminish our motivation to get things done. So, don’t just ask the question. Start answering them, honestly, completely and with no reservations. Then you can begin taking action to address what matters.