Breaking the Advice Addiction

What do you think of this guy that I am dating? How should I respond to this text? What should I wear to the party tonight? Is it bad for me to be drinking so much coffee? Do I need to have acupuncture? Should I quit my job and move to Bali?

We all do this. We look to friends, family, teachers, experts and gurus to tell us… how to feel, what to think, the next book we should read, or the next workshop we should sign up for. It’s an advice addiction. Why do we do this?

Sometimes we seek others’ advice because we need approval. We want those that we look up to and respect to reassure us that we are in fact doing all the right things, and that our life is moving in the right direction. This validation can feel like a warm, well-loved, well-worn, baby blanket. We wrap ourselves up in it and feel comforted and safe within it.

Sometimes we seek others’ advice because we need direction. We are flying on autopilot, out of touch with our own intuition, disconnected from the clarity of our own mind. We look to external sources of wisdom to give us a clue to what the truth is. We feel certain that they must know better than us, because we are not aligned with our own sense of knowing.

The attraction and the danger of advice is that it comes from someone else. It is fueled by someone else’s ego, and flavored with someone else’s desires, fears, and intentions. When we take someone’s advice at face value, without parsing and processing it for ourselves, we run the risk of taking on all the baggage that comes with the advice giver’s life experience. To make the most of the advice and perspectives that we get, it is important to:

Remember that all advice is subjective

Whatever recommendation your mother or your teacher or your neighbor offers up to you, might be true for you, might be partially true for you, or it might not be true at all. Advice can be useful as a reflection. It provides another perspective on the problem at hand; it brings in another opinion on the choice you face. And, it’s important to integrate it with your own intuition. It is a way to press gently on our own internal knowing, not a way to replace it.

Check in with intuition, not just intellect

When someone makes a suggestion to you, consider how that advice lands with you. Look beyond the words the other person is saying or writing, and the ideas that he or she is sharing with you. Take some time to investigate the feelings and sensations that those words activate in you, in your body. That will help bring you a bit closer to what is true for you.

Press pause before taking any action

Then, get quiet with yourself. Allow the advice to float down and settle slowly into the depths of your psyche before you leap into action. Take in the offerings of others. Accept that input with gratitude. Consider where it comes from. See how it affects you. And then do nothing. Sit still. Allow these various sources of wisdom sink into your subconscious. Often the answer is already within you, and only needs some time to emerge.

Advice is not a bad thing. Like many things that we tend to develop addictions to -- alcohol, sex, caffeine, television, Facebook, or self-help seminars -- it can be helpful, even healthy, in moderation.

Breaking the advice addiction requires us to notice what we are in need of when we ask for advice. What is driving our request for external validation or direction? When we can see that, we are able to take in the advice that we receive, seasoned with just the right amount of salt.