What is Your Life “Litmus Test”? Make Sure You Ask Yourself These Three Questions.

by | Jan 28, 2023

A definite way of deciding something.

Chemistry class is where I first heard the term “litmus test” used where it is literally a test (usually a paper strip) that determines if a solution is acidic. In politics, a litmus test is a question asked of candidates to determine if their nomination proceeded. A litmus test is a definite way of deciding something. In life, if you need to decide should or shouldn’t I do/say/spend something, a litmus test can help you make that decision.

I like to think of a litmus test as waving a red or green flag to myself to stop or proceed. For example, I have heard litmus test questions related to spending like If I don’t buy this today, will I miss not having it next week? If I make this purchase, will it bring more joy to my life? If I sleep on this decision, will I still want it tomorrow?

Decisions, Decisions…

Right now in your life, you may have various decisions you are considering. Should I work, quit, retire, work part-time/start or continue a business? Do I want to buy/sell this or that? Should I enter/stay in this relationship? Do I want to travel/move/live here or there? What should I do in my free time?

Perhaps as a starting point to making those decisions, you pause and ask yourself a series of litmus test questions. I don’t mean to oversimplify, but I believe these questions can help you remind yourself of what is important to you in life. Then those questions you might be asking yourself, are a valuable guide in finding your answer.

Three Important Questions

When I help families with financial planning, after the typical financial discussion of the current financial situation, I often ask three questions. These are meant to help each person stop to identify what they value in life. Often, we have not thought about these things ourselves let alone discussed them with anyone else.

The first question is related to money and is a good segue into the discussion. It is one that many of us may have daydreamed about, but we have not spent too much time really thinking about the future details.

How would you change your life if you won the lottery (assume it’s millions of dollars)? Thoughts about work, home, travel, “stuff” and people you know often come to mind. Those are the top-of-mind decisions. Then I press “and after that?” “And after that?” “And after that?” in order to help with longer-term thinking. It can reveal current money worries, unspoken concerns, relationship situations, personal dreams, and interest in specific causes.

The second question gets more time focused.

If you only had 5 years left to live, how would you change your life now?

We tend to begin to prioritize in answering this one. What would I stop doing or at least do less of? What would I start doing or do more of? The urgency of a time constraint reshuffles our To Do lists, creates a bucket list if we didn’t already have one, and laser focuses our intentions.

The last question feels super negative but is intended to help avoid remorse and disappointment.

If you knew you were going to die in a month, what would you most regret not having done in your life?

We may find there would still be time to do some of the things that come to mind. But other goals would take more time than available to accomplish. Or perhaps some couldn’t happen until the future, which you no longer have.

Use Your Answers

If you were to write down your answers to those three questions as words, phrases, thoughts, and ideas, I think you may find that you have created your own litmus test. When you are asking yourself should I do this or that, maybe part of the answer is “well, will it help me…” and insert your words, phrases, thoughts, and ideas from the three questions you answered. If the action you are debating does not meet the litmus test of getting you closer to accomplishing the feelings, values, ambitions, or relationships you wrote down, then is it really worth doing right now?

Identify Your Intentions

I heard this the other day in church and totally agree with it: Life is like a vapor. If you aren’t intentional, you blink and it will be gone. We can’t live intentionally if we don’t first identify our intentions. This month, I hope you take a Gawk Walk or breathe in some hot tea on the back porch or treat yourself to a few moments of your favorite way to enjoy solitude and discuss these three questions with yourself. Write down your thoughts and use that as your new litmus test, for now.

Do you have a litmus test question that has helped you in decision-making? What can you share to help others on this topic? Let’s have a discussion!


Marie Burns is a Certified Financial Planner, Speaker, and Author of the bestselling Financial Checklist books. Find Marie on Facebook or contact her at [email protected]

This article was first published at 60 and Me – a community that helps women over 60 live happy, healthy and financially secure lives.