Mental Challenges

Real Talk: How Do You Truly *Take* The Advice That You Give to Other People?

Erin Bunch

Photo: Getty Images / Westend61
Take a moment to visualize this very common scenario: Your best friend talks incessantly about how badly she wants a relationship, and yet she only dates unavailable people. You can easily identify this contradiction in desire and behavior, so you tell her that if she wants to settle down, she needs to look for partners who are open to that possibility. Yet you yourself are dating someone who has repeatedly told you they don't want anything serious—despite your own desire for a steady relationship. Which raises the question: When your advice to someone else on the very same matter is sane and solid, why is it so difficult to apply it to your own life?

Why is it so hard to follow your own advice?

The answer lies mainly in the fact that you're not living in the other person's emotions, which enables you to see the situation more clearly than you can your own emotionally-charged circumstance, says clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. "Knowing that you need to dump someone toxic is very different from dealing with all of the complicated emotions and loss and the social and financial consequences of ending a relationship," she says.

It's not just specific to relationship issues, either. Imagine telling someone who's in the middle of a panic attack to "take a deep breath," and then imagine you're in the middle of a panic attack yourself, Dr. Daramus suggests. How easy would it be for you, in that moment, to take the deep breath you've recommended to another? (If you've never had a panic attack, the answer is: very difficult.)

"It’s fairly easy to step back and see a friend’s missteps or the errors of a co-worker. Yet even at our best, we sometimes lack the ability to be similarly objective about our own lives." —Carla Marie Manly, PhD

Unconscious emotional issues can also prevent us from taking our own advice, says Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear. "Our inability to follow the advice we often freely offer to others is the result of various underlying issues including fear, personal bias, and defense mechanisms," she says. "In many cases, we give the very advice to others that we secretly wish we could follow; a temporary sense of relief is often felt when we project our needs and desires onto others."

Sometimes, we may not even view our situations as being similar to others due to our own lack of objectivity, Dr. Manly says. All those aforementioned emotions and added context can really get in the way of accurately appraising our own circumstances and behavior. "It’s fairly easy to step back and see a friend’s missteps or the errors of a co-worker," she says, echoing Dr. Daramus's earlier point. "Yet even at our best, we sometimes lack the ability to be similarly objective about our own lives."

How to take the advice you give (for real this time)

The secret to getting better at taking your own advice, then, is to become more self aware, says Dr. Manly, which she notes takes time, effort, and perseverance but ultimately leads to greater objectivity about your own life. This should, in turn, make you better at heeding your own recommendations.

She advises noticing when you're giving advice to others that you secretly wish you could follow. "Non-judgmentally ask yourself, 'What’s occurring in this area of my life that is not in line with my personal truth or code?'" she says. Then, as soon as possible, she recommends journaling—again, non-judgmentally—about the issue. "Ask yourself, 'Why am I not following this advice in my own life? What are my fears?'" she suggests. This work should be done as objectively as possible—Dr. Manly wants you to attempt to evaluate yourself the way a researcher would, sans emotions or other baggage.

Once you've identified those fears and issues, Dr. Manly advises continuing to journal about them, talking them through with friends, and seeking out the support of a trusted mentor or skilled psychotherapist. She also recommends setting simple, clear goals you can achieve. "This might be something as simple as, 'I can see that my boyfriend is rude to me. I will say, ‘I deserve to be treated respectfully' and walk away every time he says something unkind. Such basic goals can lead to an increase in self-esteem that may either shift the relationship or trigger a decision to leave the boyfriend behind," says Dr. Manly.

This baby-step approach is approved by Dr. Daramus as well. "When you’re trying to take your own advice, take it one step at a time," she says. "Break [the advice] down into a job small enough that it feels manageable." 

Then, be patient with yourself. If you felt *too seen* by the headline of this article, you likely know how difficult it is to take your own (or really, anyone else's) advice on certain issues. The transformation won't happen overnight. "Work at the goals slowly and steadily," advises Dr. Manly.

And when you do experience a win—like replacing flaky Brandon or Sarah with an available human, even if just for one date—it's important to celebrate. Says Dr. Manly, "Congratulate yourself with every positive shift you make toward heeding your own advice." Hear, hear.

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