When you want personal advice, what are your best sources? How do you evaluate them? Are family members and friends your best choice or are licensed counselors or clergy a better option?
In addition to discussing the benefits and shortcomings of these sources, I will be presenting other options at the end that may render advice that more accurately aligns with your needs. These involve assembling your own team of personal advisors and accessing your own personal wisdom.
The personal advice that we can get from family members is often undervalued. Many of us have a built-in resistance to the advice we receive from parents and siblings (brothers/sisters). This stems from the fact that much of this advice is unsolicited. We never asked for their opinion, we just got it anyway. So we immediately get angry and defensive. Then we reject and ignore it.
These patterns are cemented into our psyche by our role in the family. These roles can continue into adulthood, which can cause us to disregard the personal advice we receive from family members.
Completely rejecting the advice we receive from family members can be a big mistake. Not taking advantage of this resource when we’re struggling with a personal problem can be a matter of just plain ignorance. Here’s why.
If you think about it, no other group of people on this planet knows you better than your immediate family. There is also no other group of people who are more closely matched to you genetically and psychologically. Most importantly, no other group of people has the potential to love you more or have greater concern for your well-being throughout your life.
Most of us have at least one sister or brother who was conceived by the same parents as us (genetic similarities) and grew up in the same environment — good or bad. With this in mind, not “considering” their personal advice, even if it’s unsolicited, is ludicrous. Who is better equipped to recognize, understand, and guide you on your unique idiosyncrasies than members of your immediate family?
I know how easy it is to fall back on familiar roles and react as you always have with a parent or sibling when they give you advice, solicited or not. I am not saying that all the advice you receive should be treated as a valuable nugget of wisdom. What I am saying is that it should at least be considered and mined for tidbits of insight.
The relationships that you have with members of your family are often a magnified version of your relationships with others in the world at large. How is this true? Because we don’t have our public masks and armor on when we are with family members. The relationships that we have at work and other places are conducted behind a public persona and protective mechanisms.
Family members are an excellent source for personal advice. The key to getting good advice is to select your family advisors carefully and set up the best conditions for receiving it. For example, ask to meet with them in a private neutral place like a restaurant or a park. This will give you privacy, and an undisturbed block of time, and it takes you out of the roles you play inside your home(s). Also, consider the questions that you want to ask them in advance. The quality of the answer that a person receives is directly related to the quality of the question. Finally, prepare yourself to consider their personal advice without reacting in a defensive way.
Getting personal advice from friends has similar benefits to family sources, but with a bit more objectivity. Good friends, especially long-term ones, can know you better in “some ways” than your family members do. Not being restricted by genetic limitations or parental teachings, they may offer you even greater insights than family members can in particular areas.
Sometimes there is a tendency to place greater value on a friend’s personal advice than that given by family members. If you consider the fact that friendships are not permanent like family relationships, you’ll begin to appreciate the different motivations in the personal advice that they may give. A friend can say something that’s hurtful and the relationship can end. Or a friend can tell you what you want to hear and the relationship can be strengthened, albeit perhaps, in a less than virtuous way.
A family member, however, may tell you the brutal truth straight away and the relationship may become non-communicable but it does not end. A parent or a sibling never stops being your father or mother, brother or sister.
A friend’s influence can be powerful. Because of this, no other source of personal advice can be as inspirational or destructive. A levelheaded friend will give advice that leads you toward discovery of your own answers. A troubled friend can give you advice that is erroneous or self-serving. For this reason, it is important to evaluate a friend’s advice before acting on it.
Friends are a great source for personal advice. A good friend will only give advice that they are qualified to provide. And when they do give personal advice, they will only give it based on what is truly best for you and not them. Your job is to remain sensitive to the differences.
A clinical psychologist goes to college for 8-10 years (including a 1-year internship), passes state tests for a license, and then starts seeing clients.
As it is with any professional service, there are psychologists who perform their job well and others who do not. Unfortunately, I have found that even some well-meaning psychologists can sometimes do more harm than good. I have also come across a few gifted ones that really make a difference in the lives of their clients.
Consider their bias. It’s hard not to have an academic mentality after spending so many years in college. Eight to ten years of lectures, reading, writing papers, and taking tests all geared toward a predefined way of evaluating, diagnosing, and treating patients. Their training seems to have a heavier emphasis on giving names to problems than creating solutions and strategies. It’s a relatively young science, however, and progress is being made all the time.
It probably sounds like I am against this profession. I am not. I believe that most members of this profession are honestly trying to help their patients. Aside from those psychologists who should be in another line of work, I believe that some of the blame for the poor results lies in the attitudes we are taught in our culture.
We tend to expect that the answers to our problems lie in the minds of other people who we perceive as being more intelligent and capable than we are. Certainly, a good psychologist can help guide us, but they will never have the perfect formula that makes everything better as we expect. As I see it, a psychologist is an information resource and a coach. We use this information and coaching to discover our own answers. And we find them in the same place where they have always been— inside ourselves! The mindset that we need to overcome is the expectation that another person, product (book), or philosophy will easily solve our problems for us. It really just comes down to taking 100% responsibility for our own life and happiness.
During World War II, there was a mental institution in England that was caught up in one of the bombing campaigns by the German air force. Many of the patients in this particular hospital were diagnosed with severe mental illness. During the chaos of the bombings, the hospital staff had no other choice but to unlock the doors and let the patients fend for themselves. A large number of patients never returned. When they invested the status of these patients a few years later, they found that many of them were living perfectly normal lives! Apparently, when they were forced to take 100% responsibility for their lives they rose to the challenge and their mental illness disappeared!
Just because a person was able to make it through 10 years of college doesn’t automatically make them a brilliant doctor or even a competent one. Putting doctors of any profession on a pedestal and wishfully believing that they have some divine solution is a mistake. Take charge of the process, plan, and outcome.
A psychologist is a good resource for personal advice. Just make sure that you choose one carefully and that you approach the relationship as a “consumer” rather than as just a “patient.”
Most clergy members have good hearts and intentions. They also can have the experience of counseling a great number of people. Sometimes they know all the members of an entire family from birth to death. Knowing the other members of a family gives them an advantage in putting the pieces of the puzzle together. A psychologist would never have these advantages.
Their answers to problems can be limited in scope, however. Their entire reference is religious guidelines, which can be good, but it all depends on their interpretation and application of them to your problem. Applying strict theological doctrine to every issue doesn’t always translate into useful personal advice.
The value of a clergy’s personal advice is that they are committed to high moral ground, they aren’t motivated by money since they don’t charge a fee, and they frequently know other members of your family which can be a huge advantage.
Personal Advisory Team
When you assemble a team of advisors in the way that I will describe, there are no biases, misunderstandings, unsolicited advice, or personal motives except your own. There is none of these because you gather this team and conduct the sessions in your own mind. Here’s how.
First, select people whose personal advice you would value the most. These people can be living or dead. They can be people who have been close to you or people who know nothing about you, but you know a lot about them. For example, your team might include one of your grandparents or another close relative who passed away years ago. It might also include one of your teachers from school or a former boss that you admired. And it might include some famous people who you know a lot about such as Socrates, Michelangelo, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Albert Einstein, Ralph Waldo Emerson, or Dale Carnegie. Or they might be contemporary figures such as Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, or John Gray.
The next step is to get yourself into a relaxed yet alert state. Sit in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes and focus your thoughts on a single relaxing image like the view through your window on a beautiful spring day or the colorful leaves of fall. Stay there for several minutes until your mind is clear, your thoughts are in the present moment, and you are feeling completely relaxed. Gently nudge yourself back into this state if you feel yourself slipping away. Your goal is to keep yourself in this state throughout the process.
Now picture yourself in a comfortable room with chairs formed in a circle, positioned around a table, or in whatever arrangement that feels right to you. This scene could also be created outdoors, but it should invoke a feeling of complete privacy.
Next, visualize each person who you have selected to give you personal advice entering the room, greeting you, and taking a seat. Imagine that they know ahead of time that you have some important questions to ask. So as they take their seats there is no conversation between them and their attention immediately goes to you.
At this point, take yourself deeper into the scene. Imagine it as vividly as you can in your mind. Block out any disruptive thoughts or doubts. Then look around the room at the people you invited to give you some personal advice. If you’ve picked the best possible people, you should be amazed at who’s present. Study each of their faces for a few moments. As you do, recall as much about them as you can. After you’ve gone around the room and reacquainted yourself with each person, you’re ready to receive the advice they have for you.
Finally, one by one, look at each person and present your question. Continue asking the same question until you’ve asked everyone in the room. Ask any follow-up questions you may have before going on to the next one. As each person responds to your question, zero in on their spirit in a way that makes their words feel like they are truly coming from them.
When I did this, I found that the personal advice that I received was congruent with both my needs and what I knew about the person who was giving it. It made perfect sense to me. I took particular delight in getting long-forgotten advice from my grandparents in the style that I had grown to adore. The advice that I got from several of my famous heroes inspired me to greater determination because it was coming from them. They said it in a way, however, that addressed my particular needs.
It is obvious that this exercise draws upon the record of your life that is stored in your subconscious mind. It is also possible that this process summons the spirits of the participants. I felt their presence, and it became more evident the more I focused on their comments to me. I don’t know enough about spirit connections to totally embrace it. But at this point, I find it extremely interesting. This is particularly true when you consider the possible uses and benefits. I’ve decided to keep an open mind and keep learning. In the meantime, I am going to keep using this method when I need some personal advice from a reliable team of experts. 🙂
Other’s Advice versus Your Own
Any personal advice that you get from anyone, be it a family member, a friend, clergy, or a Harvard psychologist is all based on “their” experience, knowledge, needs, and understanding of you and your problem. They will offer a plan for you that aligns with “their” beliefs, perspective, and way of doing things.
These well-meaning individuals can offer useful personal advice but it will never fit perfectly. It’s like a person giving you their prescription eyeglasses expecting that you’ll be able to see the world as clearly as they do. Those eyeglasses were made to accommodate their needs “not” yours.
Your best bet is to add any personal advice that you get to your mind’s database and let it process the information for a while. Your only job is to learn how to access and trust it.
Trusting it can be the most difficult part. We’ve been taught starting as children that other people have the best answers for us. We are also taught this through advertising and the proliferation of self-help books. While many of these people have some great ideas, we cannot rely on them for the ultimate answers that we need. That would only lead to frustration and lower self-esteem when we can not get “their” formula for success to work for us. What we need to do is study the ideas and discoveries of the masters and then come up with what works best for us. What we find might be completely different, but it may also work better for us.
One of the purest forms of personal advice that you get is from yourself. Why? This might sound funny, but only you have been there every second of your life. You could sit in a psychologist’s office twice a week for 5 years and he or she still wouldn’t have enough information to make a better decision about your life than you would.
I understand that there are times when an objective opinion is needed. I understand that there are times when we can’t see the forest through the trees. It’s at these times when we may need someone to set us straight. But who’s to say that we couldn’t do it ourselves? If some other person helps to get us back on course that’s positive. Our goal should be to learn how to do this on our own.
Certainly, we can benefit from the wisdom of those who have lived life a few decades ahead of us. We can surely learn from those who have discovered successful ways of doing this or that. Ultimately, we need to discover our own wisdom.
You can listen to and read all the best advice and opinions, but it all boils down to how it can be shaped and formatted into methods that work for you. Trying to make something work as the presenter packaged it is like trying to make a relationship work with a beautiful (or handsome) and rich partner that you know is wrong for you.
The key to getting personal advice from yourself is to learn how to access the most powerful computer in the world — your subconscious mind. Since it contains all the experiences of your life, it is your most reliable source for solid personal advice.
Here are two ways you can do this through what I call Purpose-Centered Meditation and Write Storming. Both of these are easy to do but it takes practice to get great results.
Purpose-Centered Meditation uses the meditation method I described earlier, but instead of presenting a question to a group of advisors, you present the question or problem to yourself. Once you have gotten yourself into a deep state of relaxation, you mentally present the issue to yourself and then let your subconscious mind work on it. Don’t try to force the answer by searching for it or putting any pressure on yourself. Just relax and stay in the moment by mentally focusing on a comforting image and/or sound. Don’t expect an answer to come to you in any particular form or timetable. If nothing comes after 15-45 minutes, take a break and try again later.
I have found that the messages that I get are sometimes unclear or they point to some other course of action that I didn’t understand until later. You’ll find that the more you use this technique the better you’ll become at getting yourself into the place to receive answers.
Write Storming is similar to brainstorming except you do it alone instead of with a group. An advertising executive first popularized brainstorming in the 1930s. The idea was that a group could double its creative output.
The objective of brainstorming is to create an unrestrictive atmosphere whereby all ideas are thrown into the pot. As ideas are presented, they are mixed and matched, built upon, or mutated into new versions of the original.
With Write Storming, you do the same thing but you do it by yourself in a word processor or on paper. Here’s how. First, get yourself focused on the task at hand. Block out any thoughts that don’t connect to the topic. Start by writing the question, problem, or issue across the top. Then start writing whatever comes to mind without regard to what makes sense. Just let your thoughts flow. As with Purpose-Centered Meditation, don’t try to force answers or sway the direction of what’s coming to your mind in one direction or another.
You should end up with a list of possible answers or solutions to your question. Go through them and look for patterns and similarities. If you don’t get something that makes any sense, take a break and try again later.
When you really get into the “zone” of Write Storming, you’re accessing your subconscious mind. Write Storming is a great way to generate your own personal advice. I like it because I can rely on the source — me!
Personal advice is like an opinion. Everyone is willing to give you theirs. The key is to select your advisors carefully, consider the source and content objectively, and make the solution and implementation method your own.