Advice: Easier to Give to Others than to Yourself

Last week I had a discussion with a friend who’s going through some hectic times, and I was full of advice. I don’t mean I was lecturing or anything. This post isn’t about how people should just keep their opinions to themselves. I’m a firm believer in using the experiences of others to help yourself. I ask for advice frequently, and I’m always ready to offer my input to anyone looking for advice.

The thing is, it’s so much easier for me to give advice to others. Advice that seems sound and reasoned, and which I hope will help them. But when it comes time for me to work through my own problems, it’s a whole different story. I know in theory what I should be doing, but I can’t seem to actually do it. Is that making any sense at all?

It’s like with writing. I can read someone else’s work and see all the things wrong with it and make suggestions on how to improve it. That’s not very difficult for me at this point. But when I read my own work, I can’t see any ways it can be improved until after other people read it and point them out to me. I think I’m doing a great job following the same rules and guidelines I’d give other people, until it’s pointed out where I’m failing so heavily.

In life, people don’t typically have to point out where you’re failing. You figure that out on your own easily enough. The trick I see is that I can see solutions for other people, but sometimes I can’t see solutions for myself.

But even as I write that, I know it’s not true. I know what advice I’d give myself if I were to come across someone in my own situation. “You have to slog through this. It will get better. Be patient.” That sort of thing. It’s just that when I think those thoughts to myself, it doesn’t really do anything for me. It’s not like I can think to myself, “Be patient,” and then actually do it. I still worry and obsess over everything.

So when I give other people advice, is it equally worthless? I hope not, and I can think of one good reason why. Through the act of voicing our troubles and concerns and having someone other than us listen to them and offer input, we spread the load. It no longer feels like it’s one person against the world. It’s two people. Or three. Or more. And that act of spreading the load really helps me a lot, and it’s something that you can’t do on your own. In other words, sometimes it’s not so much the advice you’re giving that helps. That often ends up being the same sort of thing. Advice that could be given in all sorts of situations.

It’s the listening and acknowledging that make all the difference when you’re in the middle of trouble. (Though of course, sometimes just stepping in and actually helping solve the problems is possible as well.)

It depends, I suppose. Because there are other times when you’re not sure what the advice you’d give yourself would be, and what you really need is someone with outside perspective to waltz in and help you out. Or (even worse) the advice you think you’d give yourself is actually wrong, and if you were to follow it, you’d mess things up even more.

So I’ll amend that statement. Listening is important, and sometimes it’s all that’s necessary. But the outside perspective is vital as well. Combine the two, and friends can help friends even when there’s nothing they can do other than listen and offer input.

And that’s my deep thought for your Friday. See you on Monday!

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