Mental health: a strategic question to ask yourself

Where do you want to go? Without a strong wish, or a strategy, are you just wallowing in pain? Photo by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash

People come to me all the time with problems, both to do with mental health and finance.  When they do, there is one question which I tend to ask:

“What is it that you are trying to achieve?”

We then talk about the improvement in their life that the client may wish to see in the coming months.


Why do I ask that?  Because it clarifies things, and encourages a hopeful ‘meta view’ – a useful view from outside the repeated system of suffering.

Sometimes the client says:

“I want to be out of debt.”

“I want to be free from anxiety.”

This is a start, because we can then begin to look at what is locking in the current state of repeated difficulty, and then look at what to change to relieve the suffering.

Such strategic, ‘meta’ thinking is not natural.


When we humans talk about our problems to other people, we tend to express those problems from inside, in terms of what is directly paining us.  “I hurt,” we are saying, in one way or another.

Of course we need to tend to the hurt in itself.  A parent who fails to nurse their child’s wound, because they want to make the child wise, is missing something.


But if we are repeatedly in pain, and repeatedly presenting our pain to others, then it’s right to ask: “Is there a ‘golden thread’ running through all of this pain, something I could do to avoid suffering in the future?

We all have that friend who keeps experiencing the same problem, and repeatedly suffers, and yet seems immune to advice.

For example, a person might repeatedly pair up with the wrong kind of person, or repeatedly get into debt.  From the outside, we can see them do it.  We would love to reach over and help them move away from bad people and habits.  But they seem to repeat their problems.

Choosing our moment is important, but at some point, we may wish to say to that person:

“What is it that you are trying to achieve?”

It’s with that question that mental health strategy starts.


It is natural to express our problems in terms of our immediate suffering.  We are like children crying because they have hurt themselves.

Of course we should comfort each other, and nurse our immediate pain.

However, if we want to solve our problems, then we are wise to ask: “What are we trying to achieve?”

This question helps to bring focus, and raise the hope of positive change.