Friday, 13 March 2015

A word about advice

Ever felt so overwhelmed by advice that it becomes hard to know what to think, let alone what to do?

There are some situations in life where seeking and receiving advice is useful, and indeed even life saving. For example if you've been feeling unwell you would probably, sensibly, seek the advice of your doctor.

There are also many situations in life, such as whether to stay in a job or a relationship for example, where ultimately no amount of advice from others will help, because a decision or way forward is so personal and so unique to you, that no one else can possibly make the decision for you.

My baby is ten months old today and I started thinking about this blog post about six months ago when I was faced with so much advice concerning both her, and my, wellbeing.

Being a new parent is, according to many, fraught with pitfalls and boy should us parents smarten up and listen to the advice. And believe me, there is an avalanche of it!

It comes from well meaning friends and relatives. It also comes from baby experts telling us off in their books, other parents sharing what's worked for them in the hope it helps you, and it even comes from complete strangers - one can be nipping to the supermarket for an onion and find oneself bombarded with unsolicited advice about the position of baby in the buggy/ whether or not to give baby water in hot weather/ why your baby is tired/hungry/hot/cold. (NB these exact things have happened to friends of mine.)

Here's the thing - advice is often an opinion. Not fact. Those giving the advice, no matter how well they know me, cannot know what course of action feels right for me. And the more I listen to them, the less I trust my own judgement. And this is truly where I come unstuck.

Back in the summer when my daughter was about three or four months old, I fell fully into the ‘obsessing about parenting advice’ spiral.  I learnt some great tips, but the more I listened to advice, the less I could hear my own voice, and the less I trusted my own judgement and instinct as a parent. I became anxious and obsessed with my baby's sleep patterns. Even though my baby was happy, this anxiety impacted on my confidence as a parent.

I've been in other situations where I've been bombarded by advice before, during relationship difficulties or deciding whether to leave a job. In all those situations the only thing that truly worked for me was to tune into my own instinct, my own inner voice.

Have you ever fallen down an advice spiral?

Now I'm not about to give you advice about taking advice am I? But I'll share what I did this summer to clamber out of that advice spiral when I was lying on the bedroom floor, exhausted and doubting my abilities as a mum.

1. I sought support not advice.

2. I dialled up the volume on my instinct

3. I made some decisions and I waited to see what happened.

But how exactly?

Seek support not advice.

I spoke to friends I know to be good listeners and those who had recently been where I was knew how I felt and boosted my confidence. They also helped me feel not alone.

I tried not to engage emotionally with any advice given, unless of course it was from a qualified health professional. I listened intellectually to the suggestions, but reserved the right to file them in the recycling bin if they didn't seem helpful to my situation. (One way of listening to someone without engaging with it emotionally is to pretend the advice is being given to someone else).

I practiced nodding politely when unsolicited advice was given and didn't feel obliged to enter a conversation about it.

Turn up the volume on your instinct.

If you’re going to try this, first find quiet space (hard if you're a parent I know), go on a walk in nature, stare out of the train window or have a bath without music or the radio. I walked round the park with the push chair and my phone switched to silent.

This quiet time is a great time to tune into your inner voice. It’s not necessarily the time that I ask myself the big questions, because that can often get the anxiety levels rising again, but it’s time to spend with you. You could imagine a version of you in 6 months/a year/5 years time. What does that version of you want to say to you? You could also start by contemplating some smaller decisions. Even ‘what shall I do today’ or even ‘what do I really want to eat for lunch’ can feel huge if you’re feeling stressed, but making some small decisions for yourself can help build your confidence again. I thought about what I’ll be thinking about in 5 years time when my baby is at school, will I still be worried about sleep patterns? Probably not.

Make some decisions and wait to see what happens

I'd already started asking myself questions related to daily tasks, so next I started making a few other decisions relating to whatever it was that was making me anxious: giving things a go and seeing how it pans out. If you read this blog regularly you'll know that for most situations I don't believe there is a right or wrong thing to do, just a range of options, with usually more than one that will turn out just fine. Choosing to do something to change things, however small, helps prevent me getting stuck.

In the summer I decided to stop logging how my baby was eating and sleeping on my baby app (yes I know, who knew they existed?) That really helped me focus less on her sleep, whether it be good or bad (what is good or bad anyway? according to who?) I also sought out conversations about subjects I did know a bit about. That not only helped me keep the whole subject of babies in context, but also gave my confidence a boost.

What about you? What are you focusing on right now? Whose voices are holding you back? If you could dial down the external inputs and tune into your own inner voice, what would life look like?

Let me know if you decide to give it a go!

With love

Jen xxx

If you'd like to find out more about how working with a coach could help you be the person you want to be, and achieve what you want to achieve, email me at or connect with me at Linked In, and if I'm not the coach for you, I have a network of talented associates I can put you in touch with.

Jennifer McCanna ACC
Professional Leadership CoachFollow me on twitter @jenthecoach

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