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Why Is It So Hard To Take Your Own Advice?

Danielle Dahl, Lead Contributor

As people, we offer advice in situations where we feel we are being helpful. Often, it is expert advice based on knowledge, personal experience, and even professional skills. Why is it difficult to listen to our own advice when we find ourselves in similar situations?

The reason is that advice has more psychological factors than I ever realized. We find it easier to believe in the people around us than we do ourselves because we believe in our limiting beliefs. The second reason is that we are closer to our problems than we are to those of other people, and our emotions cloud our judgment. 

Think about it for a moment. What is the best advice you ever gave someone? When you faced the same challenge, was your first instinct to do what you had advised your friend or loved one to do? Probably not, and when you dig a little deeper into these reasons, it is easy to see why you find it so hard to listen to yourself.

“Sometimes an outside perspective is the clearer perspective.” ― Shannon A. Thompson

It is easier to believe in the potential of those we care about

Low self-esteem is the biggest reason we see ourselves differently than other people see us. I have given my friends and family compliments about all the wonderful qualities I see them, yet when anyone compliments me, my first response is to doubt it and question their sincerity.

This is because I spent years feeling inadequate and unloved, and I have only recently begun the process of reframing my thoughts; stopping those negative tapes from playing over and over. With other people, we aren’t privy to the tapes they play in their heads. We see their actions, their character, and their heart.

Those are the reasons we spend time with them. Those are the things that resonate with us and why we value them, but they are hard to spot in ourselves. Our limiting beliefs have conditioned us over the years to think we are not capable of certain things, yet when we give advice, we believe the other person is more capable than we are. 

Dan Matthews, a Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner, explains, “as you began to age, you were introduced to an unending list of rules about what you should say, how you should be, and what you should do. These likely resulted in you limiting yourself and maybe even not realizing your full potential.”

“Giving advice is like seeing an elephant in someone’s path and suggesting they remove it. Heeding advice requires forcing the elephant to budge. Huge difference.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich

What are limiting beliefs?

These are the feelings that hold us back from achieving what we want for ourselves. But we can give our friends advice to chase their dreams because we don’t think what we believe about ourselves is true for them.

If you want to take your own advice, then you must identify the limiting beliefs that you are dealing with. Matthews offers a step-by-step process in how to cope with limiting beliefs:

  1. Identify your beliefs by writing them down.
  2. Assess your behavior and identify situations where you exhibited toxic behavior.
  3. Pay attention to the areas you feel are challenging. Compare your beliefs to your challenges, and it will probably surprise you how aligned they are. 

When my husband first graduated college he struggled to find a job in the computer programming field. He sent out application after application and went on several interviews, but ultimately, that dreaded letter about how they hired someone with more experience would arrive in the mail.

I always told him how great he was at his skills, and that it was because the market had crashed (back in 2008) and there were so many people without work that he was competing against. I pointed out that he was improving his interview skills with every interview he did, and that none of these places were where he was meant to work.

Eventually, he got offered a contract position that was only supposed to last 12-18 months. He took it for the experience, but ended up working there for a decade, even though we had moved away! 

Now, I had a very different experience with work. When I was 16 and had my first interview ever, they offered me the job. That was the pattern until I was 32 years old. I had always landed every job I interviewed for.

Then I applied for an Aquatic Director position at the YMCA in the town we had just moved to. I had a Bachelor’s degree in Business, had almost 4 year’s experience with a different Y where I had been a manager, a lifeguard instructor, water aerobics instructor, and right-hand woman of that pool.

I also helped with the fundraising efforts every year and loved everything about the Y. My interview went spectacularly, and I had never been more confident that I had gotten the job.

Then the CEO of the Y called to tell me personally that I had done an amazing interview with them. They could tell my passion for the YMCA was real, and that I was more than qualified to be their director, but they had felt they needed to give their internal candidate the position.

It was all I could do to not sob on the phone, and I was embarrassed because I knew he could tell. He just kept being nicer and saying every kind word he could think of. When I could finally get off the telephone, I burst into tears.

I cried for a solid two days. I couldn’t sleep at night and wandered around my house. I kept telling myself that I just wasn’t good enough. It was because I was not skinny enough and didn’t look like a competitive swimmer anymore.

Or maybe it was because I had been out of the workforce for a few years and everything that had once made me an exceptional employee was gone now. Maybe I reached too high, and I wasn’t supposed to be anything other than the reliable assistant. Then the dark thoughts of my childhood trauma reared their ugly heads:

  • You just got lucky for a while, but you should know that all you are is the abandoned girl no one wants.
  • You are never good enough and no matter how many things you achieve, they will know you are broken.

It was a dark week for me, and my poor husband tried to give me back all of my advice. I couldn’t hear him over the cacophony that was the voices in my head.

Eventually, I realized that I needed to stop, and just realize that something that had happened to nearly every other adult out there had happened to me. It didn’t mean I was worthless and unworthy. It just wasn’t the right path. 

We are too close to our own problems

This instance of not getting a job I interviewed for is a perfect example of how we bring our emotions about other things into our thought process. I was too close to this situation and let my negative self-talk impact my judgment process.

The reason I didn’t get this job, was because they had an internal candidate who had been working with them for years, who they felt deserved a chance. It was part of her career growth.

I had a hard time believing everything the CEO told me because I let my emotional responses bubble up to the surface. The important thing to remember is that just because you feel an emotional response to something, doesn’t make it true.

The truth was, I had an amazing interview. I was qualified and would have done a wonderful job in that role because I had the skill set and the motivation to excel.

I just was not the candidate they chose, and all the advice I had given my husband when he struggled with not getting the job was valid. I just had to set aside the emotions that had nothing to do with this situation and take it! 

I know that advice isn’t easy. Learning to stop your limiting beliefs, seeing yourself the way other people do, and fighting through emotional responses is likely some of the hardest self-growth you will undergo.

Therapy is an excellent resource for each of those things, especially if you have past trauma. Next time someone offers you really sound advice, and you feel you should take it, but list all the reasons it doesn’t apply, try to see if your reasons are because of your own experiences and beliefs.

If they are, maybe take a moment and be brave. Imagine you are exactly the way your friend sees you and try taking their advice. You might just be shocked about the results.

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  1. Avatar

    Megha Adlakha

    February 3, 2021 at 10:29 AM

    I loved the metaphor of negative tapes. I agree with each thing penned here.

  2. Avatar

    Santosh Shrikhande

    November 23, 2020 at 10:51 PM

    Interesting & importan blog.. thanks for sharing information..

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