Imagine if there was someone you could turn to who had the best solutions to your biggest problems, knew exactly what your next step should be and was an unending source of life-changing advice. That someone exists – it is you. All you need to do to access the best advice you’ll ever get is to step back and get out of your own way.
How many times have you seen a friend struggle with an issue that won’t go away, seemingly unaware that the solution is staring him in the face – a solution that seems obvious to everyone except him. You don’t understand why he can’t see why he’s always arguing with his spouse or child, or why he won’t look for a new job when it’s clear as day that his current one is going nowhere, or why he won’t make that one small change that will create the space in his schedule he needs to take care of his health.
The solutions seem so obvious to you, and yet your friend can’t see them. And as you wonder why, your friend is thinking the exact same thing about you.
Yes, that’s right. It’s not only your friend who has a blind spot. You do. We all do. We are great at solving other people’s problems that we can observe from a distance, but struggle to see the most obvious solutions to our own problems when we are in the thick of it.
What if you could see exactly what you need to do to move forward in your own life even better than you can figure it out for your friend?
How to Give Yourself Advice
By definition, you spend more time with yourself than with anyone else. You can often be the best source of advice for yourself – you just need to know how to access it.
The secret is to put a little space between you and the issue you are trying to solve, just as you do naturally when you look at your friend’s problems. Typically, we think about our challenges from the inside of them, so to speak. We are smack in the middle of our challenges as we struggle with them, and so we are susceptible to all kinds of emotional and cognitive distortions that make finding good solutions all but impossible.
You can see clear solutions to your friend’s problems precisely because you’re not in the middle of them. You have no personal resistance to the solutions to your friend’s problems. You’re not directly feeling your friend’s anxiety or anger or whatever other emotion the problem evokes. But when it’s your problem, you’re susceptible to all of that.
To get beyond your inner distortions and see your challenges as clearly as you see your friend’s challenges, you need to look at them from a distance just like you look at your friend’s challenges.
The best way to do this is to role-play – pretend it’s not your problem, but that your best friend has turned to you for honest advice. Alternatively, pretend that you have been hired as a consultant or executive coach to find a way to solve this problem.
Yes, this can feel a bit artificial. That’s ok – your goal is not to think about whether this feels a bit awkward, but to actually solve your problem and find the best way to take a constructive step forward.
Ask Yourself the Right Questions
I have found over and over again with my clients that having them frame issues in the form of questions can open up possibilities that otherwise are overlooked. Thinking about your problem in the form of statements is typically less productive.
“I need to find time to exercise” is more likely to affirm that you lack time than to lead you toward a solution. “What are three changes I could make to my schedule to accommodate exercise?” or “How might my schedule look if exercising three times a week were non-negotiable?” gives you the room to explore new scenarios that hadn’t occurred to you before. Rather than emphasizing the problem - which statements tend to do - you are instead finding the solution that your question assumes already exists.
When you are facing a problem or challenge of any kind – personal, family, career, health, finance, lifestyle – start by asking yourself the following questions in the third person, acting as if you are helping your best friend solve a problem, or that you are a consultant helping your client plot his next steps:
1. If my friend (or client) came to me for advice about ____, what would I tell him? What do I think my friend needs to hear, but may not want to hear?
2. What do I think is the biggest issue holding my friend back? Are there any patterns to my friend's behavior that tend to keep him stuck?
3. What are three things I think my friend could do that would help him move forward?
4. What is the one best thing my friend could do right now as a first step to move forward?
5. What might happen, or what might his life look like, if he took that first step or did those three things?
6. If I think that my friend could solve his problem or move forward by doing ____, why do I think he’s not willing to do those things? What internal resistance do I think he has? If I were him, what steps would I take to move past the resistance and do the things that would help?
7. What unproductive thoughts does my friend tell himself about his problem? (Example: Does he say he can’t exercise because he’s lazy?)
8. What if my friend or client asked me to check in with him in a week to monitor his progress? What “deliverables” would I tell him I would want to see from him when we meet again in a week? What would I tell him to do during the week so that he could make sure he has accomplished his deliverables when we meet again?
You’ve noticed by now that none of these questions are about you – they are about your friend or client.
Taking all the questions that are really about your own life and your own problems and shifting them to you friend or client can be deceptively powerful. You are no longer in the middle of the problem. You are looking at it from a distance, and will much more readily spot the emotional and cognitive distortions that keep you from moving forward.
Once you switch back to thinking about the problem as your own, you may not like all of the advice you have just given your friend. Although some advice is easy to implement, you may find that you don’t want to hear the advice you just gave your friend when it’s really about you.
It was easy to tell your friend that his job is going nowhere and the writing is on the wall, and that he needs to start looking for career opportunities elsewhere. But when it’s you, it’s easy to start making excuses why now is not the right time to look for a job.
Remember that the purpose of this exercise is to detach yourself from the problem so you can see it more clearly. Once you’ve achieved clarity, you may find the solution isn’t easy. But you will know what the solution is.
And if you care enough about your friend that you think he would be well served by implementing the solution you’ve identified, remember that you deserve this solution (however difficult) every bit as much as he does.