By Sondra Whitt
I read a little book recently whose author claimed to have come up with the best question you could ever ask yourself. It wouldn’t necessarily be the most important question you’d ever ask yourself, but this question would bring clarity to the important questions. This question is so complete that it can be applied to every decision you ever make for the rest of your life, it’s so easy to answer that many times you’ll know the answer immediately, and it will “pierce the fog of self-deception” that so often blinds us to our true selves. Asking this one question and then basing our resulting actions on its answer could have prevented our biggest regret, changing the very direction of our life. It’s a question that can be used no matter how old we are and no matter how many times we ask it every day. Andy Stanley, the author of The Best Question Ever, says that when he shares the question with adult audiences, they almost always respond with “I wish I had heard this years ago.” In other words, they could have avoided a lot of pain, heartache and regret if they had been asking this question. Because, as Stanley writes, “Some of our bad decisions simply embarrass us. Others scar us.”
Looking back at my own life, I can think of a lot of choices I’ve made and actions I’ve taken and then lived to regret them. I’ve only run into a couple of people in my life who say they have no regrets but I think they’re living in that fog of self-deception Stanley mentioned. Although it’s healthy to regretfully admit our mistakes, we sure don’t want to wallow in that regret. We just correct what we can, forgive ourselves and move on. The idea of having a question that we can ask ourselves that would prevent most of the mistakes in the first place is pretty exciting.
So what is Andy Stanley’s miracle question? “What is the wise thing to do?” When I first read that, it kind of irritated me. I thought that’s it? How is that supposed to prevent regrets, help me see my options and make the best decisions? How is that going to tell me the wise thing to do? Fortunately, Stanley expanded the question to include a few other “qualifiers” that provided more meaningful perspective. “In light of my past experience, what’s the wise thing to do?” Something that might be bad for you might not be bad for someone else. For example, it would be bad for a recovering alcoholic to go to a party at a bar because it would put him in a situation that might be too tempting for him to resist. Or there might be certain people that are unhealthy for you to be with because of the kind of behavior they trigger in you.
“In light of my current circumstances, what is the wise thing to do?” We want to be careful not to let “the pressure, fears, and circumstances of today drive us to make decisions we’ll regret tomorrow,” says Stanley. Lastly, “In light of my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?” Considering the goals I want to accomplish, the vision I have for my life, and my life’s purpose, what is the wise thing for me to do? For instance, in light of my goal for early retirement is it wise for me to buy this new house right now?
This really is a life-changing question. Think of it as you evaluate your finances, relationships, health, career, education, spiritual life, time, and so on. Look at the cumulative effects small investments, or neglects, have had on each of these. If we apply the best question ever in making our decisions regarding these areas — we can do the wise thing, the thing that will bring greater happiness now, and lead to fewer regrets in the future. So, “In light of your past experience, your present circumstances, and your future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for you to do?”