My daughter was born a few months ago and I was immediately thrust into a world of “they”. In this case “they” are the so-called baby experts on the internet that have all kinds of advice about parenting. Figuring out how to sort through millions of pages of parenting advice and apply it to yourself can be a huge challenge, especially when you want to make sure you’re getting everything right. After all, who doesn’t blame their parents for at least some of the problems they have as an adult?
The problem I immediately faced was that so much of the advice I received did not apply to me or my baby. In an effort to follow the advice I received, I started to feel overwhelmed and question my ability to parent my daughter well. Then I realized that I have the ability to know what will work best for me as a parent. Some things feel natural and other things make sense when I listen to my daughter. I’ve made mistakes along the way, but most of the advice I’ve found now guides my decisions instead of causing me to feel guilty.
If you’ve ever had the maddening experience of asking your therapist for advice and having them ask “what do you think you should do?”, you’ve seen this in action. One of the reasons therapists avoid advice giving is that we are trying to teach our clients autonomy and to trust themselves. We also want our clients to learn how to take responsibility for their choices and actions. If you make a bad decision because your therapist recommended it to you, that means you can blame your therapist for the poor outcome.
So if your therapist won’t tell you what to do, and a Google search isn’t always the most reliable way to find information, how do you navigate all the advice you receive in life?
Trusting Your Gut
Sometimes, you will have an instinctive reaction to advice that tells you whether it will work for you. For example, if someone tells you to move to another city for better job opportunities, your level of comfort with that idea could automatically tell you whether it is a good idea. Sometimes you will have this feeling that you’re comfortable to give advice a try to see if it works for you. Other times, the advice will be completely unsolicited and you’ll know immediately to ignore it. Think of this as the gut reaction to a distant relative telling you what to do at Thanksgiving.
Knowing When to Question Authority
There are a lot of times when it is good to listen to the experts! Please don’t hear me say that you should ignore advice from true experts in their field or start believing conspiracy theories on the internet.
Here’s what I mean: We all have people in our lives who we look up to and trust. These people often have your best interests in mind. However, they are not perfect and they will never know you as well as you know yourself. Sometimes, you may have to ignore their advice to make the decision that works best for you. A well-meaning mentor might tell you to go to their alma mater when you would be much more comfortable at a smaller college. Or someone may tell you how to organize your time or money in a way that feels unnatural to you.
Be willing to question why something isn’t working for you instead of shaming yourself for not doing it “the right way”. So many things in life have room for you to forge your own path. It can be challenging to recognize that you disagree with someone very close to you, but that doesn’t mean you are wrong.
Knowing whether advice will work for you is a journey of exploration. It requires vulnerability with yourself to make mistakes and be wrong. Sometimes you will need to break with the status quo. This can look like so many things. Maybe you don’t do the hardest task first thing in the morning. Maybe you exercise at night instead of waking up early. You choose the lower paying job for more free time. You might choose to continue in a challenging relationship by setting boundaries.
The point is, you won’t know if you can do these things until you try. Other people can give you guidance along the way, but ultimately, you have the strength to make choices for yourself.
If you’re afraid of making mistakes or you don’t know how to find strength in your own voice, a therapist can help you let go of perfectionism and find self-compassion. Schedule an appointment with a therapist today to break your own status quo.