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Advice: Why We Take It And Why We Don’t

Taking AdviceIn the last few weeks I’ve received quite a bit of positive feedback about my latest blog posts. The fall is a hard season and barreling into this fall has brought up a lot of challenges for several of my students and patients. The message of self-appreciation and self-care seems to be important this time of year. But I am struck by both the need for permission to rest and the staunch refusal to honor health in so many of my very health-savvy patients.

As a health care provider I give a lot of advice. Whether it is the best massage therapist in town, the best liquid iron supplement, the best place to buy local, humanely-treated organic meat, or the best exercise for sore whatever—I know my stuff. People pay me to have a large mental rolodex of ideas, names and strategies. What is interesting is when people choose to take the advice and when they refuse it.

Why It Is So Challenging
A lot of the advice I give is obvious. Your skin is dry you probably need to drink more water. You feel sluggish all the time you probably need some gentle exercise to increase endorphins. You can’t sleep at night you probably need to stop drinking coffee after 4pm. These lifestyle suggestions are quite obvious and the people not abiding by these suggestions already are doing so because they don’t want to. That kind of advice is very hard to give and not very often well received. Usually, when something obvious like this is being ignored in life it is deliberate, even if it is unconscious. For instance those of us who don’t let ourselves rest are not trying to run ourselves ragged we feel guilty putting our feet up and resting. Being told to rest more doesn’t address the root of the problem it just embarrasses the person.

How To Discover The Root
Think about the last piece of good advice you received that you ignored. Imagine a life that included perfect behavior around that single lifestyle change. Imagine 100% successful follow through. How would the end result feel in your body? How would it feel in the context of your whole life? In what ways would you benefit from this lifestyle change? And now think about why you are deliberately standing in the way of all that perfection. What message(s) exists around the behaviors necessary to complete that lifestyle change? Are those messages worth exploring and changing? What stumbling blocks in your life make that change really challenging? How could they be changed?

Short Term Versus Long Term
I try to always give time frames around lifestyle changes. If someone comes in with a pain issue I ask them instead of complaining about how they will never be able to do X,Y and Z for the rest of their lives to embrace a short term period of rest. I treated a patient a while ago with serious hip and hamstring pain. Her doctor told her she had arthritis and she would never be able to run pain free for the rest of her life. She was a serious runner and this news was devastating. I asked her if we could just focus on the short term and requested she take a couple of weeks off of running and to come see me twice a week while she was resting. After a handful of treatments she started running short distances and really listened for any signs of distress. Soon she was done with acupuncture and out running any distance she liked without any pain. If she hadn’t followed my advice of rest, she wouldn’t have seen the same results. Examine the advice and see if by making a short-term life change you might actually benefit your entire life. What is two weeks of a change for twenty years or forty years of being healthier and happier?

Understand And Respect The Advice
When I am teaching yoga and someone is doing something wrong I always ask them to try it the other way and see what it is like. Is it in fact better? If they don’t experience the physical sensation of the pose improving they won’t want to strive for that the next time. The same is true of advice if you don’t respect it or understand where it is coming from you probably won’t follow it. Ask for clarification, more information, or a time frame to monitor results after starting. If you feel empowered and confident about a lifestyle change you are usually more willing to follow through on a task.

This is an advice blog. I am an advice dispenser. I know that some of my patients and students will heed my advice and some of them won’t. I also know I’m the oldest child in my family and I grew up being the boss. So much of our ability to hear and receive advice has to do with birth order and personality. The more we can appreciate and understand that our seven-year-old selves are calling the shots for our adult bodies the better. My advice for you today, question authority and your own intolerance of/admiration of/addiction to authority. Separate the advice from the person and the concept of advice from the actual suggestion. If we could get to the point where we could just hear the suggestion, we might all be a little bit healthier.

Copyright: michelangelus / 123RF Stock Photo

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