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If Not This, Then What?

Asking the right question is powerful. Answering it honestly is a superpower. Good questions unlock doors and windows in our minds and hearts, and honest answers allow light into dark, dank, haunted places within us.

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For me, part of the magic of good questions is the challenge to think bigger and more creatively. Questions help me focus on problem-solving.

Life is all about problem-solving.

So, here are three questions. The first is from Joshua Becker on Becoming Minimalist. The others were inspired by his post:

  • If I didn’t have this thing, what would I use instead?
  • If I wasn’t doing this activity, what would I do instead?
  • If I wasn’t investing my time, energy, and power here, where would I invest them instead?

In the first questions, the thing, whatever it is, may be something you’re not using in the first place. But if you are, or you think you are, or you have, or you think you might need to sometime in the future, ask yourself if you didn’t have it, what would you use in place of it?

If I didn’t have this apple corer, what would I use instead?

A knife.

A good kitchen knife is multipurpose. An apple corer is not.

If I didn’t have a TV habit, what could I do instead?

Photo by Frank Okay on Unsplash

Spend actual face-to-face time with someone. Read a book. Take a walk. Play with pets. Exercise. Play a game. Go outside.

If I wasn’t consumed and exhausted by stress, anxiety, toxic mimics, or unhealthy relationships, what could I have energy for?

Creativity. Spirituality. Learning. Healing. Growth. Healthy connections. Rest.

I don’t suggest a ban on apple corers or TV. These questions are not weapons with which to make ourselves bad and wrong. The point is that asking the questions reminds us we are making choices and gives us a chance to consider whether or not our choices are adding value to our lives and taking us in the direction we want to go.

Do we really need a bigger kitchen to house our collection of apple corers and other gidgets and gadgets that do the work of a good knife?

Do we really need three, or six, or nine different streaming services and a steady diet of however many hours of TV a day?

If we ask and answer these questions intermittently during our day, what might we learn about which activities and objects are useful and valuable and which are not? How would our relationships look through the lens of these questions, beginning with our relationship with ourselves?

How could we engage with subtractive problem-solving?

I would rather have one multipurpose object, tool, or activity than several specialized ones. Simple is easy. Simple is clear. Simple takes less time, money, space, and energy.

Here’s the downside of good questions requiring honest answers:

We might not like the answers.

If we ask, if we answer, we may find out things we don’t want to know, which might be why we’re unconsciously busy spinning our wheels in the first place.

This is the old French story about Bluebeard. Once his young wife looked in the forbidden room and saw all his former headless brides, she couldn’t unsee it. There was no going back.

This kind of self-inquiry is a choice. We may not want to. We may not be willing to. That’s OK. Life has a way of increasing the pressure until we are forced to go in the direction of our fear and resistance. On the other hand, maybe you’re a person with no emotional, physical, or thought clutter. Maybe you have no time-wasting coping mechanisms and habits. Maybe your kitchen drawers are clean, functional, mouse free, and contain nothing but a few useful multipurpose tools you use regularly. Maybe all your relationships are perfectly healthy. Good for you! I’m jealous.

My life (and my kitchen) is messier than that. I spend too much time and energy in non-useful activities, and even more time and energy being hard on myself for it. I worry, and make up stories, and work hard to stay defended and hidden.

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If I didn’t spend time playing online solitaire in an effort to manage uncomfortable feelings or fatigue, what could I do? Write? Take a walk? Relax with a book? Dance? Journal? Talk to a friend? Scrub a floor?

It’s not that solitaire is necessarily bad. The question is, would another activity be better? A walk takes care of exercise; spending time outside; and spending undistracted time with myself or a friend, pet, or loved one. A walk is a multipurpose activity. Solitaire is not.

I need a good kitchen knife. I need to be outside and exercise.

Do I need an apple corer and online solitaire?

(Well, no. But maybe I want them. That apple corer is mine (this is called the endowment effect). I paid good money for it! Maybe I used it once. Maybe I’ll use it again one day. I deserve to relax and take a break now and then. Solitaire is better than TV or a social media habit. It doesn’t hurt anyone. I need some downtime in my day.)

I’m not here to argue with you. I want you to have what you need. I want what I need, too.

Just asking the questions!

Photo by Das Sasha on Unsplash