thrive

Welcome to Thrive! A weekly advice column for creatives and the generally confused.

Dear Thrive,
What is it that makes some of us ready to pounce, ready to make the necessary change, while others flounder, become apathetic, or dig their feet into the ground even more? We remain closed for any number of reasons. What does it take for the human spirit to grab on to the hand that’s reaching out to them and take that chance?
-A.H.

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Dear A.H.,

Wow, way to make me work for it! This is a question I think any one of us could spend extensive time answering and debating, because not only do individuals have their own responses to attention, change, growth, and fear, but how they feel about certain trials will color how they view the trials of others. And actually, I think that’s a good place to start…

Most of the time it’s easier for us to see where our friends and family are “going wrong”, to us their choices and their path are illuminated and clear. If they want to be healthier, why don’t they just stop eating fast food? Or if they want to change jobs, why don’t they start applying? The answers appear easy to us because we don’t have the burden of their feelings—whether its fear, lack of confidence, a secret we aren’t privy to, or any other number of things that are zipping through their brain at the speed of light.

Have you ever noticed that you’ll come up with good advice for a friend, only to find that you should be applying the very same advice to your own life? That’s because it is so, so much easier to be objective when you don’t have the well-worn paths of negative thoughts to travel down. Our brains don’t want to work any harder than they already do, so when we present it with a complicated thought, it travels down the paths it already knows. If we ask it, “Is it time for a new job?” The list of reasons of why not is already waiting to get called in: we can’t afford it, we might get a promotion soon, we like the commute, we couldn’t possibly get hired somewhere else, so why bother? And the list could go on.

These chain reactions of thoughts are based in fear and confusion. We can’t predict the future, only make the best choice for ourselves based on previous information received. The more we make fear based decisions, the more often we will use fear based conclusions to carry on through life. Challenging fear is like flexing a muscle, the more we do it, the more use to it our lazy brain becomes and soon, taking chances is one of the brain paths we can travel down.

Courage is doing something regardless of fear. Courage is what it takes for us to dare to change our lives and to take that great advice from our impartial friend. They can see how unhappy we are. They know how many times we’ve asked the same question, given ourselves the same answer, and remained unhappy with our lives. I won’t even get into those of us who do the EXACT opposite of advice given to us, as that’s an entirely different beast and is less based in fear and more in confidence. They are desperate to be in control of their lives and will do anything to remain so, even decline good advice.

We cannot make our friends and family take our advice. And we especially can’t ask them to listen to unsolicited advice. But here is what we can do when they come to us for help:

Be Direct but Kind – If they ask you for advice repeatedly about the same exact problem, do not mince words or be aggressive, but be calm and clear in your delivery. Don’t say “Jesus Christ just break up with him!” or “You’re fine.” Try instead, “This is the 4th time you’ve asked me this. The choice is always yours, but clearly something is wrong and I am worried about how often you bring this up. What’s going on?”

Ultimately, It’s Their Choice – Like in the example above, unless their life is in danger or they are in serious trouble, the choice is ultimately theirs to make. Make recommendations: “Try adding a vegetable to each and every meal” instead of “You never eat at home and it’s really irresponsible. Learn to cook already!”

Understand Them – Understand that it’s hard to come to someone for advice and often your friend is pretty upset by the time they get to you. Do not forget that you have been in similar positions before and that they have a lot of emotions and fears fogging up their vision. If they come to you for advice, your job is to only clear the fog, not to make the choice for them. Try “If you could get hired anywhere, where would you apply? What will you lose if you just apply?” Stay level headed so they can return the favor when you’re panicking about something in your own life.

Always approach advice giving with love and patience.

Whew. Ok guys, can we have an easy one next week? 😉

Love,
THRIVE

THRIVE is answered by Amanda Kusek, a poet, blogger, and dog mom living in NYC.