Do you really need advice?

You already know. You may not want to know, but you know. Of course this isn’t true with everything. There are plenty of times when advice is genuinely needed regarding both concrete asks – how to change a tire, what’s the best restaurant in Toronto, etc. – and interpersonal relations in the face of truly confounding behaviors. Still, most of life’s challenges are action, not information problems: you understand vegetables’ health benefits yet the pull of a Dairy Queen Blizzard is too hard to resist.

So no, advice from others won’t really help contend with these emotional desires.[1] Part of the reason is that the outsider is unattached and experiencing zero cravings. This doesn’t make the outsider any smarter, just better able to access wisdom. Hence the phenomenon of I can’t even follow my own advice! Obviously. Standing between advice and execution is emotion. If you can ignore the emotion and altogether avoid action, the pipeline to “answers” is clean. This reality tends to leave the advice-receiver (AR) in a doubly uncomfortable position.

First comes the shame. This thing that seems so easy to everyone else is hard for the AR. What is wrong with me!??!?!?! How did I not see this when this person who pondered it for 10 seconds can?!?!??! FML. Plus, there’s the unfortunate fact that advice often feels like judgement.

Then enter, if one really looks at it, a realization that more than advice, the AR hopes to be understood. If nothing else, a simple acknowledgement of Damn, sorry, that sounds tough would have been nice. But no, these well-meaning advice-givers rush to pragmatic solutions unthinkingly skipping over your feelings.

And so the AR may well feel significantly worse at the end of an advice session. Nobody wants this outcome.[2] To avoid it, try asking yourself What would a wise person do? whenever you think external advice is required. Avoid jumping to implementation too quickly. Just ask yourself and listen. And then if you resist what you hear, ask yourself why you resist.[3]  The first part is relatively easy, just as it would be easy offering counsel for a friend facing your same challenge. The second part is unique to you, can only be found by your unflinching search. The second part is the reason why “good” advice will be ignored, including the advice you give yourself. And that second part may well be unpleasant, like deep awareness of an unrequited wanting. You also may come up with nothing all that tangible. If so, remember that just because an emotion is mysterious to your logical mind doesn’t make it nothing.

But wait, I still don’t feel good. So the alternative to having others make me feel bad is making myself feel bad? Well, not exactly, I hope, though I did warn at the outset of ignorance’s temptation. The point is not instant tranquility or the disappearance of problems; the point is that accepting thyself helps one be more okay with actions regardless of their outcomes. This process of acceptance can also include a preemptive forgiveness of yourself for going forward with something others may frown upon and/or may be likely to fail. By seeing clearly now[4] (instead of after), ditch the guilt, and feel confident in whatever move you make for whatever reason you make it.

Here’s a rough guide of how it can look. The key is that you believe what follows is true for you:

I am doing ____________ even though ____________.

I am doing ____________ because ____________.

I accept that doing _____________ might result in ____________.

I hope that doing ____________ gets me ____________.

And again, the explanations don’t need to convince a jury, just you. Sometimes you’ll have thesis-level reasoning. Sometimes you won’t. I want a DQ Blizzard because, well, I’ve just always liked them is no better or worse than I want a DQ Blizzard because the sugars, contrary to most medical advice, actually help correct my hormonal imbalances and improve my metabolic fitness.

So, good luck! I direct this luck not toward great results but toward great self-knowledge and the accompanying mental equanimity.









[1] None of this is to say that you shouldn’t ask for advice. It is indeed a great way to talk about one’s life, and talking about one’s life is pretty damn fun. And yes, you can learn things. Not doubting that either.

[2] Except for those fake friends who secretly enjoy the AR’s failures so they can feel better about themselves. Fuck those people.

[3] This resistance can be a driving force behind the request for external advice. You want to be wrong about what you see. Please, please, please tell me that you see this differently than I see it.

[4] Another helpful thought exercise here is to anticipate regret. If you can correctly predict what your future self would regret and then take steps to avoid those regret-inducing behaviors, you are well on the path to peerless self-knowledge.