Ever hear yourself say, as I heard a client say about a decision she and her spouse were making, “We were doing pretty well until we started talking to other people.” Ay, that'll muddle things every time. Another client choosing between two demanding jobs, as she gave me her best reckoning to date, included the statement, “All my friends think [job B] is a no-brainer.” To them, perhaps, but the more I questioned her, the more aligned she seemed to be with job A!
What's wrong with getting advice?
The right thing for you—you as you are right now, you at this point of becoming, you at this juncture, which may take you into new directions and new identity—can only come from your own inner guidance system. What you'll get from others is what they've come to at this point based on, at best, their own guidance system (which is all about them) or, at worst, their own fears, beliefs (often unquestioned), and projections.
Sometimes I invite people to try going against tendency, because it's useful for anyone to counter any set defaults they have in place. Getting really simple with this: the person who rushes around may need to slow things down, while the person who moves too slowly may need to rev it up. Most people giving advice tell you to slow down because they've needed to do that (or still need to, so they're speaking it again to you to reinforce it for themselves). Byron Katie says you should always eavesdrop on yourself when you give others advice, because it's really all for you! So what if they tell you to slow things down when you need to rev it up?
Well, this happens all the time. Helpful advisors will tell you to persevere when you need to let go and quit pushing the river; or they'll tell you to stop forcing it when you just need to hang in there a bit longer. They'll tell you to let the other come to you when it's right for you to reach out. They'll tell you to be more diplomatic when it's your moment to assert something no matter how it's received. Oh, the advice people give you when you're dating! They tell you to stay open when you need to have clear boundaries around what you will or won't have. They'll tell you to give someone a chance when you know the person is wrong for you (however adorable they may be—everyone deserves lots of chances, but not necessarily from you!).
All this wrong advice serves no one—except perhaps the one who does eavesdrop on their own advice.
How do you know when advice is bad advice?
It may seem especially hard to evaluate advice when it sounds good and comes from intelligent people or perhaps from those who really know you. As to the latter, consider that they knew who you were a moment ago, and what you're on the cusp of now is very likely to be unknown to them—especially if you can't yet articulate it. Or they may even have known you so long that their stories of you are truly antiquated and have little or no bearing on your current reality, never mind your potential.
Their advice sounds good? So does your best thinking on each side of the coin you're considering. That's why I tell people to stay away from pro-con lists—or at least use them initially just to look at the overview and sort it out a bit, but don't use them to decide. The right choice for you doesn't boil down to intelligent reasons to do or not do something. You could intelligently talk yourself in or out of most anything whether it's actually a good idea for you right now or not (now being the operative word here). So if you're going to look elsewhere for how to decide it, look away from others' smart reasoning as well.
How do you know when even good advice is the wrong advice for you?
It's so easy to tell:
Is all outer input worthless?
I'm certainly not saying there's no place for talking to others as part of a decision-making process. Just listen with a hefty dose of take-what-you-like-and-leave-the-rest. Here's how you know when someone else's perspective actually applies to you and is being spoken for your benefit:
Great input that isn't advice
At the end of coaching sessions, I almost always ask my clients, “How do you feel right now?” They almost always give answers like, much better, more clear, relieved, calm or peaceful, present, ready to go out there again. They feel better not because I gave them great advice. (It's been known to happen, but I seldom give clients a strong “do this” sort of directive.) They feel better because I've helped them come back to themselves. I've reflected back to them how they're thinking or operating unclearly, or how they've failed to get behind a choice. I've echoed what I heard them say that shows they're thinking out of fear or shame or obligation or some old concept about themselves (perhaps recently fed to them by an advisor who supposedly knows them well), and I've helped them deconstruct that thinking. They feel better because I redirected them to what they know and away from what others know. Perhaps I've shown them how they're not applying their own belief system, then we've looked at how they might do so here; or we've addressed the fear that has so far kept them from doing so. (And by addressed I don't mean cleared away: fear is tenacious, and you need to be able to keep moving in the direction you know or suspect is right for you even as fear keeps gripping until it's been along for the ride long enough to know it's okay, it's really, truly okay.)
So ask people for the kind of input you want. Ask them what kind of input they'd like from you, and offer what matches what they want. Ask them to listen with no input and play with listening to them without offering yours. Say no (if no's the right answer) when they ask, Would you like to hear my thoughts on this? End the conversation if they keep proffering thoughts you don't want. When you start to notice their words are causing agitation inside you or getting you more muddle, ask their forgiveness for engaging them and tell them you've just remembered you're seeking to make a new habit of locating and following your own inner wisdom. Or change the subject. Ask if they knew that sea otters sometimes eat so many urchins that their teeth and bones turn purple. (It's okay if they look at you funny.)
Byron Katie invites people to offer experience instead of advice, as others can benefit from your stories and apply to themselves what's actually applicable, but they may or may not benefit from your advice. I know my kids enjoy stories of my past wacky choices and their fascinating consequences much more than they enjoy any direct advice about how they should proceed or any predictions of the consequences of their current choices. I give less and less advice as I grow up in my parenting. I believe my job with my kids is to point them inward to their own guidance system. For that matter, that's also what I do with my clients and with anyone I'm in any kind of relationship with. May this writing support you to look inward, where all the right answers for you can be accessed.
Love & blessings, Jaya
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