The Problem with Asking for Advice

Often, when asking for advice, a person isn't really seeking something new. They're just looking for validation, affirmation of a choice already made. And this is a problem.

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When someone asks another person's advice, they're usually asking two questions:

  1. “What am I doing wrong?”
  2. “What are you doing that I'm not doing?”

Sometimes, you get the same answer to both questions, and that can certainly be enlightening. But that's not the hard part of the process.

The hard part comes when you have to do something, when you have to change your habits or adjust your attitude. When you have to get up at 5 a.m. or stop eating junk food.

For whatever reason, we resist this part. We ignore the hard work, hiding behind programs and fads that promise instantaneous results. No wonder we're so jaded about living our dreams and finding work that matters. And no wonder these efforts so easily fail.

We don't really want advice. We want to be right.

I don't know why we think the rules of physics don't apply to us or why we avoid the discomfort of change, but we do. This is why we beg mentors for “tricks” and gurus to share their “secrets.” We want help solving problems we already know the solutions to. And we want the answers to be easy.

Incidentally, this is also why sages of old are often found out in the desert, tucked away from society and technology and the distractions of the world.

They learned long ago that there is a big difference between talking about changing your life and actually doing it.

When it comes to solving our own problems, we usually know what must be done. Often, it's the very thing we're avoiding, the hard choice we're simply afraid to make. And what's required of us is that one choice we almost always refuse to make: We have to change.

In light of this, I'd like to propose a new question to ask ourselves before asking someone else's advice. It's a simple requisite that, I think, would change the conversation entirely.

Instead of asking what you should do, ask yourself this question first:

Am I willing to change what I've been doing to get different results?

If the answer is no, then the other questions don't matter. You have your answer.

If everyone did this, the only advice given would be taken seriously. And what a wonderful world that would be where we wouldn't have to waste each other's time, talking about things we never had any intention of doing.