Many people wiser than myself have tried to create the perfect metaphor for life. Some say life is a journey. Others insist that life is a marathon. More popular versions argue that life is a highway.

My take is that life is a maze. We are all surrounded by infinite options with relatively unclear outcomes. Should I go to this school or that school? Should I take this job or that job? Should I drink decaf or caffeine free herbal tea? At an given point we could go up, down, left, right or diagonal. Sometimes these choices lead us closer to our goals and sometimes they lead us to a dead end.

Like a trained mouse searching for cheese in a maze it has already mastered, the people who succeed (by that I mean reach their goals) are more often than not the ones that have the most experience in any given maze of life.

While there is no replacement for experience, there is a shortcut.

Whenever I encounter a decision that I just can’t get past, I ask myself one simple question.

What would an older version of you tell the current version of you to do?

Wait, isn’t that just a cop out? Let me explain!

Inherently, this imaginary older version of yourself has the experience you need to complete the maze. That version of you has everything they need to make the decision. The only problem is that they don’t yet exist.

Except that they do. By asking that question, you just created them in your head.

The single most important ability that separates us from the animals is the ability to imagine.

By imagining a older version of yourself, you unlock something special. In the same way that a broken bone “knows” what to do to heal even if it has never been broken before, your mind “knows” how to handle some situations that it has never encountered before. Some call this your conscience, others call it going with your gut. Regardless of it’s name, it is there. Asking this question merely invokes it.

Let me take this from theory and apply it to real life.

Let’s say you are trying to decide which school you want to attend. One might cost a lot but provide more opportunity while another might be cheaper but not specialize in the subject you love.

What would an older version of you tell the current version of you to do?

That imaginary version of you could unbiasedly weigh the pros and cons and come up with a decision based on experience. The answer might be quiet at first, but if you listen, you will hear an answer. If you let them, your real priorities will surface. The human body is amazing like that.

Will this answer be right 100% of the time? Hell no! You won’t likely be able to use it to predict stocks or to pick the winning lottery numbers. This is similar to when your body tries to treat something it shouldn’t and you end up with allergies. The body doesn’t react correctly to absolutely every situation but it gets it right the vast majority of the time. The same is possible for your life decisions if you ask the right question.

So here is the interesting thing. If you already know with at least some accuracy the path through the maze of life, life becomes much less like a maze. In fact, it becomes a lot more like a journey, marathon or highway. That knowledge reveals the real wisdom of those life metaphors.