Who needs advice? No one.
Have you ever noticed that when you offer advice to a colleague or friend who is upset, confused, indecisive, or self-doubting, they usually respond with a “Yes, but…”? Or with a wistful, “Yeah, that would probably work, if I could only do it…”? A good solution to someone else’s problem may seem perfectly obvious to us, but until a solution is obvious to them, it’s not helpful. Upset people struggle with advice. Upset people do not need advice. They need to emerge from their upset and get calm and clear-headed. Then they will see their own obvious solutions.
I learned this lesson years ago when I was first in the consulting business. I and my colleagues would carry out detailed and thorough analyses of our worried clients’ problems and arrive at what we felt were elegant and ideal solutions. We would present the solutions in writing and in person, expecting our clients to act on them and see results. Normally, the clients would be impressed, even appreciative, when we first offered our reports. But rarely did they take our advice. How could that be? They were paying us to do meaningful work. We were doing the work well. Still, the reports would sit on the shelf; action steps would met with procrastination and pushback, and eventually fade away. Taking good advice appeared to be too hard to do. Problems would persist, even worsen. The clients would become more worried and anxious. They would ask for more advice. It was circular and frustrating to all concerned.
When I learned that the real problem was not the clients’ circumstances, but the state of mind in which my clients were addressing their circumstances, everything changed. My relationship changed from “advisor” to “partner” in creating psychological conditions that would foster solutions. I started setting aside the details of problems to first address the state of mind in which we were operating. As the clients awakened to their own natural capacity to quiet down and clear their heads, they would come up with great solutions to their own problems, far better than we would have imagined. After all, each of us is the best expert on our own life, and our own business. No one knows as much as about us as we do. So tapping into that expertise to bring fresh ideas to light from a wise, constructive perspective is bound to work out well. As the clients discovered the power of their own problem-solving in a calm state of mind, they could engage in constructive change. People can act confidently on their own insights because we are undaunted by our own ideas.
So, how can upset people become calm before their problems are solved? Isn’t getting upset the inevitable result of the problems people are facing?
Until I realized for myself that we are all creating our experience of the circumstances of our life from the inside-out, I certainly believed that of course people with serious problems should be upset. Until a mentor asked, “How does being upset help solve problems?”, I never questioned the logic. Then my own questions poured out. How come some people don’t get upset, even when faced with enormous difficulties? How come all the upset people I know who get upset and stay upset never seem to be able to extricate themselves from their problems? Isn’t it true that when I get upset, I get distracted, make mistakes, forget things, go over and over the same issues in my mind without ever having a new idea, end up at cross-purposes with people trying to help me, feel discouraged and powerless, wind up stressed and exhausted with no answers? Why would I be different from anyone else? Nothing helpful has ever occurred to me in an upset state of mind!
I realized that a first step in finding calm was just to leave my upsetting thinking alone, to turn my back on it, to accept stress and upset as nothing more than warning signs that I was using my thinking against myself, rather than as signals to dig deeper, taking my worst thoughts increasingly seriously. I started to see more and more that thinking is a creative power, originating from the very energy of life, and that I was generating my own thoughts. Life wasn’t thinking me, I was thinking my way through life and experiencing life circumstances through the lens of my own consciousness, my own ever-changing states of mind. I started to feel the power to change my mind as a natural spiritual gift, something that would simply happen if I allowed thoughts to come and go, rather than grabbing them and analyzing them and trying to do something with or about the ones that upset me. Most importantly, I started to appreciate and to cherish the unselfconscious moments in my life when my mind was at rest and to recognize how easily I moved through life situations in that state.
I had many wonderful mentors who pointed me in that direction. Not a one of them ever offered a word of advice. Compassion, yes. Confidence in my innate capacity to return to balance, yes. Guidance towards understanding how thinking works, yes. But when I would ask these wise people for advice, always the response was, “I don’t know. You’ll find your own way as your mind quiets down.”
Thirty years of experience with this has proven them all right. No one needs advice. In a calm state of mind, we know what’s best for ourselves.