I commonly hear “how to” questions related to emotional and relational matters, and most times those questions leave me feeling flummoxed.   For instance, a parent may ask, “How can I keep from losing my temper every time my teenager completely ignores what I say?”  Or an employee may ask, “How am I supposed to maintain my motivation to work when my boss is such an idiot?”

The answers to questions like this can commonly seem inadequate.  “Don’t let the teen have power over your emotions,” or “Do your best work just because that is what you believe in, not because you are trying to please your boss.”  If I were to give such answers, the recipient almost always will think, “I already know that.”

If we are to successfully address the myriads of personal dilemmas facing us, we need to go beyond the “how to” questions.  “How to” only addresses the external aspects of who we are, but the real ability to navigate life’s problems lies in the interior.

Too many people seek truth yet do not want to make the effort to ponder how that truth is a reflection of the inner spirit.  It is presumably easier to find a Step 1-2-3 response than to grapple with the meanings of one’s choices. But without tying external behaviors to the inner person, we are only borrowing notions from others, and those notions rarely satisfy because they have not been claimed as one’s own. 

More than identifying the external answers to your questions, would you aspire to be the type of person who likes to wrestle with the why’s of your behaviors?  Yes, it is correct that you should not feed your temptations, but why would you select one behavior over another?  Yes, it is better to communicate your anger with respect rather than indignity, but why would that be so?  Yes, reliability is more desirable than chronic procrastination, but why would you want to be reliable?

Grappling with the why’s of your behaviors allows you to orient your mind to proper motives, attitudes, and guiding beliefs.  You are then mentally positioned to use your thoughts to build bridges to successful behaviors.  Those behaviors, then, would be a reflection of your true self, meaning you would be far more inclined to act with purpose.

The next time you wonder how to act as you face trying circumstances, take time to discern where your most private beliefs would lead you. For instance, most parents already know that calm firmness is better than shameful scolding when addressing a child’s insubordination.  But for the desired behavior to be consistent, that parent will need to have well conceived notions about the locus of personal stability, the purpose of constructive assertiveness, and the nature of leadership within the home.  Those ideas would not be the result of memorizing something from a parenting manual, but they would be an outpouring of serious introspection.

Likewise, the adult wondering how to beat back the temptations that rob true satisfaction need to claim ownership of concepts like humility in action, how spiritual grounding translates into lifestyle priorities, or why relationship accountability helps anchor right choices.

Most people who seek relief from personal strains already know the answers to their “how to” questions.  It is only when they truly personalize their guiding philosophies that they find the consistency they say they want.

To put it differently, do you just want to be told what to do or would you maneuver through life with an inquisitive mind?