This article first appeared on Happify
We seek advice for different reasons. Some of us look for it more than others. Perhaps we’re wired to want safety over adventure. Or perhaps we’ve had experiences that make us fearful of losing control or facing failure or rejection.
Some of us seek advice when the complexity of the situation baffles our mental capacities, or when the stakes are high and a faux pas can be very costly. And while advice can certainly guide us toward a favorable outcome, our ability to discern good advice from bad is the key to making good decisions in our lives.
This can be difficult in a world where there’s no shortage of advice. Every article we read (including this one) has something to say about what we need to do differently to be more successful, peaceful, charismatic—you name it. Add on to that the personal advice we’re given by well-meaning people around us who take it upon themselves to guide us in everything from what to wear to what to say and how to say it.
I remember a well-meaning participant I met at a conference who told me exactly how to build my online business. This is before she knew what I did, and most of her advice that I blindly followed backfired—because it wasn’t suited to a coaching business. (Nor was it my style.)
Over time, I learned to grow an inner guide who could help me be receptive to advice, but also make decisions based on what worked best, given my unique personality and situation. If you too have had moments where you now wish you’d ditched a piece of advice instead of ingesting it as the gospel truth, here are 5 steps that can guide you.
Step 1: Don’t Ask Just One Person
Every person you ask will have his or her own perspective on the situation. While none of these perspectives may be incorrect, each one will likely be incomplete because it’ll be based on their distinct outlook on life. Asking as many people as is appropriate will expand your understanding and help you see a fuller picture. It will also unhook you from a single story, because our minds are very good at paying attention only to what confirms our original take on a situation.
Step 2: Know the Giver
Once you have enough pieces of advice, see which one appeals to you and seems the most applicable in your situation. Who are each of the people giving those pieces of advice? How well do they know you? How well do they know your situation? Be mindful of hidden agendas or insecurities that may be driving their advice. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should discard what they’ve said, because it may still be good advice. But it helps you be more discerning.
Step 3: Know Yourself
I’ve often heard people say things like, “Tune in to your inner sage,” or, “Ask yourself, ‘What feels right for me?'” While these are all great pieces of advice, I’ve learned that they don’t necessarily work. (See, I’m getting better at letting go of advice that’s not right for me!) Intuition is not an absolute entity for most people. It can disguise itself as fear and let our emotions decide our actions. A better strategy would be to ask yourself, “Why does this piece of advice speak to me?” See whether it’s keeping you safe from your fears and anxieties, or whether it’s helping you accomplish what you most want for your life.
Step 4: Show Gratitude
Too often, we miss this small and essential step of expressing gratitude for the advice we’ve been given. Most of us don’t say thanks to those whose advice doesn’t appeal to us. We may even get defensive or cynical—or, worse, judge them for the advice they’ve given. It’s easier to show appreciation for the advice that does speak to us, but it’s just as important to give them credit for it. Unfortunately, that’s rare—most of us decide to save the credit for ourselves. Give it back, because it’s better for your relationship and your well-being.
Step 5: Keep Experimenting
Now that you know which piece of advice may be best for you, follow it. It may not be the perfect answer you’re looking for, and that’s okay. You have enough to begin, and your answers will grow, change, or expand as you take action. Life is best lived in a lab coat, experimenting with what you know in the moment. If it doesn’t work out, you learn. If it does work out, you learn as well. Isn’t that what life is all about?
That’s my two cents of advice. Take what appeals to you, leave out the rest, and always be willing to change course.