Choosing your reactions just takes a little mindfulness.
Many people self-sabotage by routinely ignoring perfectly good advice. This is despite ample evidence suggesting that we should consider others’ advice when making decisions.
I’m a prime example of this phenomenon. For example, my husband, who truly has my best interests at heart, often makes suggestions that I balk at. Other times, I’ve had a knee-jerk reaction of Why should I listen to you?! when my mom tries to give me advice. But in hindsight, I’m forced to admit they were often—gulp—right.
After realizing that I may have been better off if I’d taken some of the advice I’ve received, I decided to conduct an experiment: what would happen if I actually asked people for advice, and then put it into action for an entire week?
I asked my sister if she had any advice she thought I should follow, and she said, “I think you should try to do something fun or relaxing every day.” Other advice I received when I asked? “Don’t base all your self-worth on one person’s opinion,” advised a colleague. Another colleague suggested meditation, which is something I do anyway, but I could be more consistent with it. A friend recommended that I, “always pack snacks”. My husband added, “I think you should drink more water.”
I’ve already had two cups of coffee, but when my mom comes over and asks me to make some, I pour myself a third cup to be polite. “Maybe you should drink water instead,” my husband says. I squelch my first instinct (“Don’t tell me what to do!”) and consider it. I decide to pass on the coffee (after all, I know it isn’t good for my chronic digestive issues) and drink some water. My mom actually comments, “It’s nice that your husband cares so much about you and is always looking out for you.” OK, OK, I do drink too much coffee and not enough water.
As per my sister’s advice, I make an extra effort to try to do something relaxing and fun. I cook tacos with my family, and later, I watch a silly sitcom and drink a glass of wine. Even though I feel pressed for time, I do a few minutes of meditation before bed, thinking of the advice from my colleague. I fall asleep feeling much less angsty than usual.
I have a direct confrontation—really not my strong suit— with someone at work. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and makes me feel highly emotional and vulnerable. Then I remember the advice I received: don’t base your self-worth on one person’s opinion. I’m able to pause and catch my breath and move on without it ruining my day.
Continuing my efforts to do fun and relaxing activities, I read a book for a while. I begin to realize I actually do manage to fit in fun or relaxing things on a near-daily basis—had I just not been realizing it, or not consciously making an effort to enjoy it? My sister’s advice helped me really carve out and enjoy these moments. I think of this again while enjoying a podcast during my commute.
Another piece of advice I received for the week: try to stay positive. Numerous studies show that fostering positivity and cultivating gratitude can have an excellent impact on our well-being. I sign up for emails with tips to stay positive; getting exercise is a mainstay on most of these emails. I wake up early for once and immediately hop on the stationary bike. Later, I make a list of some of the nice things that happened to me during the week and come up with ten things off the top of my head. I think my outlook may be a bit rosier after all.
My husband tells me that I schedule too many things and that we need more time to decompress and just be. He may be onto something there, since “too much structure can result in feeling confined or worse can lead to us feeling more overwhelmed by all we need to do.” With this advice in mind, I back out of a non-essential commitment that was scheduled for Sunday, because I’m already overscheduled and stressed out, and this might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Usually, I would feel guilty about this, and in fact, I do get pushback. After I say no, I’m told I’m needed for something after all. Normally, I would cave, but I stand my ground and reiterate that I will not be able to attend.
Just before my son’s morning soccer practice, I run into the supermarket to pick up some drinks and, thinking of my friend’s advice to always pack snacks, I stock up some snacks for after soccer. This does indeed save the day when I have a starving six-year-old on my hands immediately after soccer. In the afternoon, I make a conscious effort not to fill our day with plans; we have a spontaneous play date for our son, and I spend most of the afternoon cooking a new recipe and writing while the kids play. I feel rather cozy and content.
We host a birthday party with 20 kids, which is, of course, chaos. I am so glad I declined the other commitment, which would have directly followed our party. (What on Earth had I been thinking?) My sister-in-law, her boyfriend, and my nephew all came back to our house after the party, and I’m glad I had the time to host them; it’s far more important to me to spend time with my family than attend an event where I would have been more resentful than present.
I felt pretty good noticeably less exhausted and stressed at the end of the week. Even though some of the advice I received initially seemed challenging, I ended the week on a strong note.
When I gave people in my life carte blanche to give me advice, I didn’t get any outrageous dares. I repeatedly heard that I should look out for myself, take back some of my time, and keep hope and joy in my life. I felt encouraged to pause, leave space, and be deliberate. Even when I’m not in the middle of a meditation, I can still incorporate this awareness into my life. Sometimes I just need a little reminder.
What did I learn from my experiment? It’s worth truly listening to those who love you, whether it’s a partner, friend, or relative. Taking advice without judgment or knee-jerk reactions, and being open to suggestions when they’re given with love and sincerity, is a worthwhile endeavor. That’s my advice.
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.