Are you someone who likes to get a second opinion? Do you seek out advice often? And when you are given the advice, do you act on it?
Advice is an interesting thing. For some of us, what we are really looking for is vindication: someone who will recommend that we do what we are already thinking we should do. It can feel reassuring to hear someone else echo our own thoughts. For other people, they seek advice but don’t actually absorb the advice and walk away, unchanged. For others, the advice given can seem absurd: now why would I go and do that!?
The truth is, we all seek and accept advice differently. I’m sure there are many reasons for why we treat advice in a particular way, and I’m sure it would have something to do with our individual world views. But beyond this, I have a proposition; an idea on how to get advice without asking anyone else but yourself. Because, let’s be honest: even when you ask someone for advice, you’ll probably only accept it if you agree with them, right?
Here’s a way to ask yourself for advice, and to accept it.
When pondering upon your issue at hand, try to look at yourself as if you are someone else. Just imagine yourself floating outside of your own body, and looking at yourself. You are now somebody else looking at yourself, and somebody else looking at the issue. Now, ask yourself the question you would ask a dear friend. Now that you are someone else, what would your answer be? What advice would you give to yourself? You are now looking at yourself, and the issue, from the outside-in rather than from the inside-out.
Be kind, be considerate, but most importantly be completely honest (honest doesn’t mean cruel, by the way!). You are asking yourself, after all, and you are the most important person in the whole world. Don’t give out advice that will completely devastate you! Plus, there’s probably no point in coming to the best advice if you won’t act on it. So, be honest and also allow yourself to accept the advice, without judgment. Action comes after acceptance.
…OK, so I get it, this all seems a bit strange. Just a little existential, perhaps. But please, give it a try. This is what I do when I’m stuck on a decision. Although I tend to ask for advice externally, it really does help to ask myself the question – as someone else – in the first instance. Because if I’m honest with myself and imagine that the issue at hand is one that belongs to a friend rather than myself, it would be pretty easy to know what to say. Have you noticed how we humans tend to rush in to provide advice – often when not even asked?! I think that when it’s an issue that is personal, it can be difficult to see beyond your fears and see what the solutions are. So, try to look at it from another point-of-view.
I was reading an excellent book recently, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and something that Stephen Covey wrote reminded me of a lesson I learned a long time ago: there is always a third way. Too often people get stuck in the binary way of thinking: that you either have Option A or Option B. One or the other. The solution is I quit my job, or I stay. But people stuck in this way of thinking forget that there is always a third way. Covey’s book talks about this in a lot of depth, and the third way idea encompasses ideas about synergy: that where there is a collaborative relationship where all parties are values-focused and have shared goals, alternative solutions arise that are better solutions that those that can be reached in silos.
I’m a big fan of the third way idea. I carry it with me always, and I get excited when there are opportunities to think up new alternatives. Because finding the third way is a creative process – you won’t get to a third possible solution unless you’re thinking beyond the “this-or-that” typical solutions. So, try it for yourself. Step outside of yourself, give yourself the advice as if you are speaking to a friend, and be creative in that advice – look beyond yourself as a singular human and think about other possible solutions that are out there.
Well, I hope that some of this thinking is useful to you, in some way. Remember that life is creative and solutions are numerous. There will always be issues that are thirsty for solutions, and it’s nice to remember that you may be able to help yourself find the solution, by yourself.