The Best Advice Is The Kind You Keep To Yourself
Do you give good advice? Do friends and family come to you in times of crisis? How would you define good advice? Do we have to know and trust the people who change our lives? Can strangers inspire us towards drastic decisions and if they do, why? Does life tend to change randomly?
Now, while you try to wrap your head around those very deep and meaningful questions, I would like to give you a quick short cut. None of the above really matters.
People will not stop smoking because you tell them to. Your friend will not leave her self-destructive relationship because you point it out; and your chubby and depressed aunt will not lose weight, even if you suggest writing a diet plan and jogging together every Sunday. Don’t worry; it is not your fault. Even if you mean well, articulate it even better and know a lot about everything, it doesn’t matter.
Good advice is not about you. The key is not the person who gives it but the person who receives it. To explain that properly I need you to remember an important advice or inspiration you once got. A heart to heart that made you want to try harder at school, an article that significantly improved your love life or a book that determined your career choice. We all have those “eureka moments” of enlightenment. We tend to remember those moments and worship them as triggers to make hard choices, change old habits or just finally get the right amount of motivation to get things done.
Remember yours? Getting sentimental? Let me ruin that for you. That was not the moment that changed your life. That moment happened sometime before, it was probably less glamorous and subconscious. What really matters is the moment when you decide to be responsible for that change. You put yourself at the centre of the issue. As a consequence of that, you stopped only blaming others or find excuses. You stopped focusing on what you can’t change, because it is beyond your sphere of influence.
You did not necessarily think these words in your mind, or maybe you did. Maybe it took you a moment, a year or a decade to change your perspective, but you did. Then you got up and started looking for solutions with all senses sharpened. Everything else followed by coincidence. You found that book, that person, that slogan, that priest and then everything took its course. It did not matter so much what it was, your mum or a stranger, a poem or a movie. It was just there, at the right time and in the right place, with an answer. You thought it was godsend or destiny. Well it wasn’t, you were just looking for it, all by yourself.
That is exactly why you should keep good advice to yourself. Not always, but most of the time, simply because most people with problems are not really looking for solutions. They are not in that receptive state of mind and you are not always in the right time and place. As mentioned above, the process between realizing you have a problem, taking responsibility for it and looking for advice can take ages, even a lifetime.
Some people will never get there. Don’t try to shower them with your love and wisdom; they will feel patronized, get defensive or even aggressive. Not always, but most of the time.
Now you don’t have to just sit back, shut up and wait until they eventually “get there” and ask you for guidance. That can be particularly agonizing with loved ones and friends. Instead of relentless advice giving you have a few other options.
1. Enquire. Some issues, especially the heavy ones, like disorders, addictions or just very unfortunate life settings, may seem very obvious to everyone else except the person in it. That person either does not know it better or is in complete denial. You can’t help someone for whom the problem does not exist. But you can ask a few questions to understand their logic and their view. You might be in for a surprise. Maybe you will set a thought process in motion that questions that delusional logic, maybe not. If not, don’t worry you lack a decade of studies to be a trained psychiatrist.
2. Point out facts. Some people are aware of their issues, but silently accept them. Either due to growing up with it or a lack of alternatives or due to whatever excuse they keep telling themselves. These people lack a realistic vision of a better life. Picture it for them and show them that it could be a realistic choice. A good example is someone who cannot imagine living his or her life without his or her partner who actually makes it a living hell.
3. Show trust and encouragement. This applies to the complainers and wallowers, those people who do not lack awareness but have built a comfortable nest in their misery. Taking responsibility for oneself requires work, risk and commitment. People lack the confidence and courage to abandon the victim role, because they do not believe in themselves, most likely because nobody around them ever really did. You could try to change that on a small scale. We tend to excel around certain people and fail bitterly around others. No one flourishes from sarcasm.
Summing up, good advice is mainly characterized by being given at the right time to the right people. Those who actively look for instructions and inspirations will ask for it, but everyone else just wants to be seen and understood. Instead of lashing out wise words, just look, listen and try to understand.