Ten years ago, I was preparing to climb the famous Mount Kinabalu (one of the tallest mountains in South East Asia). A friend from my local sports club who had just climbed it, was eager to share his story along with tons of advice.
My friend was being “helpful”. He went on and on relating his arduous journey and I felt worn out just by listening and imagining his laborious effort. He was so fervent in giving me many “helpful” tips of what I should and shouldn’t do.
As I was making mental notes based on his sharing, I noticed that I was buying into his beliefs – that the climb would be incredibly tough. My doubts grew and my body felt weak.
Oh, did I mention that he did not make it to the peak of the mountain?
My squash team captain also heard of my plan to climb the mountain. He too was eager to share his experiences and advice with me. After all, he had climbed it many times and concluded that Mount Kinabalu is one of the easiest mountains to conquer!
My captain also remarked that there’s no excuse for a regular squash player like me to not make it to the peak….easily. I immediately felt the weight of high expectations on me!
Over the weeks and months, other friends were also eager to share their stories and advice with me.
On the actual climb, I did make it to the peak of Mount Kinabalu faster than I thought. Looking back, I can honestly say that none of the many advice I received (most were unsolicited) was truly helpful. If I’m brutally honest, heeding those advice would have hurt my chances of reaching the top – I’m glad I didn’t!
Before I continue, let’s pause for a second. Here are a few of questions for you:
Are Advices Really Useful?
Do you get many advice in your work and life?
How do you feel when people offer tons of unsolicited advice to you?
How many of them are actually useful for you?
At best, they are harmless, and we mentally file them away. But many times, we feel disempowered and would unconsciously resist or push back what people say we should or shouldn’t do.
Should and Shouldn’t
Ah, be careful how you use the word “should” and “shouldn’t”.
Be aware of the negative implications of those words on the listeners. Notice their unspoken reactions – how they feel smaller and limited when they’re told “You should……” or “You shouldn’t……”.
“It’s true that the worst men often give the best advice, but those who need it most like it least, and the better the advice is, the more it’s likely to be ignored and resented.” ~ James Reston
Who Is It About?
When you give advice, is it really about you or the listener? Who is it about?
Whenever someone gives me advice without understanding my situation (he assumes he does), I get the feeling that it’s really all about how great he is and how wonderful his intentions are – it’s not about me. I feel small.
On the other hand, if someone listens to understand me and my situation, I would feel honored and touched. Whatever suggestions he give then would be more well received and I would consider them.
My wife is pregnant after many years, and our doctor warned us to be wary of many well-intention friends and relatives who are eager to pour their advice on us. Doc said that is one of the major sources of stress in pregnancy!
Back to my mountain climbing story. Many advice and tips that I had received were not useful for me. Sure, they might have be useful for the ones who gave it, but I was not them. I had my unique set of capabilities, worldviews, desires, limitations and circumstances.
If I had listened to the first guy, I would have been overly cautious, suffered throughout the journey. I would not have enjoyed it. And if I had believed my squash captain, I would have underestimated the challenge and not do the adequate mental and physical preparations.
So what really helped me in conquering the mountain? Did I get any external tips? Sure, I did.
I was in contact with Roy Palmer, an Alexander Technique (use of the psycho-physical self) teacher from the UK who then got me in touch with one of his students that had just made the climb to the base camp of Mount Everest. I gained insights from the both of them on how to use my body and mind optimally in mountainous situations.
I learned how to get out of my own way of breathing, thinking and moving. I learned how to be in the moment and not be consumed by my end-goal – reaching the destination. I learned how to enjoy the journey. I also learned that I could use the gravitational force to my advantage. Gravity was my helper, not my enemy.
How I used the insights was up to me, and boy, it was incredibly useful. The teachers never imposed on me what I should or shouldn’t do, knowing that I was relearning how to trust my body’s wisdom.
Our innate wisdom is our best teacher and pointer – she knows best of what we can and cannot do. Some of the best advice I receive usually point me in that direction.
By tuning in to my inner wisdom instead of following those unhelpful advices (again, they may be great for the person who gave them) and getting pulled in many different directions, I had one of the most enjoyable mountain experiences ever. I used less effort, achieved my goal faster and I was happy in the whole experience. Most importantly, I was happy with myself.
Mountain climbing is challenging, and following the wrong advice for ourselves is unwise and dangerous. In the same way, everyone faces their unique “mountains” in their work and life. Therefore, giving good advice can be dangerous.
What Can You Do
In conclusion, whenever you intend to give advice, pause and consider these:
- Have you truly understand the person and the situation he/she is in?
- Is it about you or the person you’re trying to help?
- When would giving advice be truly useful?
- Instead of giving your advice, what are the alternative approaches you can use?
- How can you point him in the direction of listening and trusting his innate wisdom?