How To Lovingly Take Your Own Advice
“Be kind to yourself”
I’ve reiterated this advice to my dearest friends for years—it’s instinctual, to remind a hurting heart to practice patience and gentleness. Almost instantly, though, I turn around and speak to myself with harsh questions like “why aren’t you better?” and declarative (and false) statements like “no one likes you.”
It’s as if a hurting heart only matters when it beats outside of my own ribcage. Compassion flows like a river when it comes to supporting the people I love, but when I’m alone in the wilderness of my mind, it dries right up. I don’t take the advice I lovingly give to others, even when it might help me. Even when those are the words I’ve longed to hear all my life.
When I offer clarity to a friend in need but avoid navigating my own mental or emotional chaos, I do everyone a disservice. The loved ones who will take my advice to heart are the same people who want me to be whole, healthy, and thriving in the ways I’m advising them to be. It’s not a personal failing when I can’t process the same words I produce for others; instead, it’s an opportunity for growth. An invitation.
So how can we embrace our own advice on a practical level, but also allow ourselves to live in our experiences deeply? Here are the questions I use to help guide me towards giving better advice to others—and taking it for myself.
Why am I giving this advice?
It’s always easier to give advice than to take it. Giving advice makes us feel wise and pulled together and grown-up. It makes us feel useful. All that to say, it’s important to interrogate our intentions for giving advice before we interrogate the advice itself.
There’s a difference between prescribing and empathizing, and sometimes the former is entirely self-serving. I like to ask myself if, by advising, I’m trying to placate my own insecurities by sounding smart, important, or better than someone else. If that’s the case, it’s okay to take a pause and engage in a self-affirming activity rather than dishing out advice that’s ill-intentioned. (Make art, play music, lift something heavy—anything that works!)
Instead, honest advice that benefits everyone comes from a place of compassion and humility. Before you start giving (or trying to take) your own advice, ask yourself: is this coming from a place of love—or of superiority?
This question offers a guide for examining our own self-judgments as we decide which advice is the most appropriate for ourselves as well. We can ask ourselves: Am I being swayed by external influences I don’t agree with? Is the intention one of self-judgment or one of empathy? And, does the advice encourage me to uphold the status quo, instead of fully being myself?
What advice am I actually giving?
Over the past few years, I’ve made an intentional effort to speak to myself as I speak to others, and also to speak to others as I’d speak to myself. This means offering advice with honesty, openness, and generosity. Basically, I’m only giving advice that I’d like to be given.
Am I telling my friends to get into arguments with difficult people, or instructing them to quit a project in a fit of rage? This advice might work for some people, but if my friends told me to do these things, I’d panic. I’ve become more aware of the suggestions I give my loved ones, and only offer advice that I know suits their personality and the tone of our relationship. I also try to only give advice that I’d like to be given. So when I suggest to “feel your feelings” and “acknowledge how far you’ve come,” it’s easy to recognize as advice I’d personally like taking.
More importantly, I’m modeling the support I’d like to receive from my friends, and from myself. My “helper” personality jumps into high gear when I hear about a burden someone is carrying, and I instinctually leap towards offering a fix. I find that a pause helps immensely to keep me from giving unsolicited advice—often, my friend only wants a listening ear and a generous heart. Extend this to yourself, too. Do you just need space to express yourself, without judging yourself harshly or prescribing a solution?
Sometimes the best advice is no advice at all.
Does this advice ring close to a painful truth?
When I find myself doling out advice that I know I should be taking, it sits heavy in my gut like a rock. I avoid acknowledging that it’s something I need to hear because it can feel like an admission of inadequacy. Look at it this way: if giving advice makes you feel wise and worldly, taking advice can feel like finally owning up to the fact that you might be just a little bit lost on a road trip.
If we know that the advice we’re giving could move us forward, why don’t we take it? There can be so much truth hidden behind the curtains of our own hesitation; we just have to get past the stories we’ve crafted about ourselves first.
For example, I’ve long advocated for my closest friends to seek mental health support via therapy or medicine or lifestyle overhauls—whatever might work best for them. Yet, how many times have I avoided doing those exact things? The story I’ve told myself is that taking this advice means I must admit to a brokenness, or to a failure of self that I would never assign to someone I loved. Instead, the truth is that support for healing is available, and I have an opportunity to accept it. Our deeply-entrenched stories are not our truths, and they can get in the way of accepting the advice we need the most.
It can help to take a step back and look at yourself objectively to discover the truths about what you need. It’s also okay to let your feelings crash over you like a wave—but take a page from the meditation handbook and practice seeing them without letting them wash you out to sea.
The key is empathy. Extend kindness to yourself and to the people who may come to you for your insight. And don’t be afraid to lean into the advice that gives you pause, even when it’s your own. You never know when something’s trying to point you in the right direction.
Do you struggle with taking your own advice? Why or why not? Share in the comments below!
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio.