3 Powerful Questions to Ask While Dealing With Unsolicited Advice

Riley Blue

A perspective shift might turn this tedious task into your secret superpower

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In a few days, I’m quitting my job to become a full-time writer. 

When I told this to my colleagues, the first thing they told me was how I’d be making a mistake. There’d be no coming back, and if I do this without thinking, I’d live to regret my decision. They even suggested that if I work 12 hours a day, I can make time for both my writing and my job.

In my heart, my decision was made. I knew where my true passion lay. Ten years down the line, I’d like to be my own boss and not work for someone else.

My colleagues’ reaction didn’t sway me, but talking to them took up a lot of mental space. And especially when I have my own insecurities, them taking the worst-case scenario and painting a bleak picture for my future didn’t help. 

This got me thinking — to what extent should we let other people’s unsolicited advice affect us? Is it possible to detach from their opinions and only focus on doing what you want irrespective of the fear they show you? After a lot of deliberation and some research, I narrowed it down to three powerful questions you can ask yourself to effectively deal with unsolicited advice. 

1. Do they have any experience in what they’re talking about?

Or are they just talking in hypotheticals, projecting their insecurities onto you, and painting a world full of worst-case scenarios?

When I talked to my colleagues about my decision, all they could think of were the ways I could fail. Psychologists call the first instinct to imagine the worst-case scenario whenever presented with any uncertainty as ‘catastrophizing.’ 

According to the clinical psychologist, Linda Blair, catastrophizing is an unhelpful habit people fall into in some way. It’s not a natural instinct we’re born with, but a protective mechanism. We like to seek solace in the assurance, ‘If I think the worst, then when the worst doesn’t happen I’ll feel relieved.’

But I had to remind myself that no matter how bleak a picture they painted, my colleagues didn’t have any actual experience in the matter. They only shared what they believe might happen, without accurately analyzing the pros and cons of the situation.

How you can apply this

Forgive your friends for having the limiting beliefs, but don’t let their thoughts hinder your world-view. According to Harvard Business Review, here’s what you can do if your friends’ unsolicited advice fills your head with negative thoughts:

  • Stop mentally transporting yourself to the future and only take care of the present, one step at a time.
  • Focus on the facts — the “what is” — rather than the future — the “what if.”
  • Play out the best and worst-case scenario in your head. You’ll realize both are simply childlike fantasies. Reality is almost always somewhere in between.
  • Get more data points. The real cure for catastrophizing is confidence, and confidence comes from experience.

2. Does their definition of “success” or “happiness” align with yours?

Success has different definitions for different people

For my colleagues, “success” meant having a stable, secure, well-paying job. To me, it is enjoying what I do and getting paid from it as well.

For them, “happiness” meant finding someone to marry, settling down, and starting your own family. To me, at least for now, it’s the ability to find some meaning, a sense of purpose in my work, and to be able to do what I want without anyone judging or presiding over me.

No wonder our views clashed. No wonder they met my decision with so much resistance.

How you can apply this

Understand that people with different goals and expectations from life will see a different version of reality. Their feelings are valid, but you shouldn’t let their “rules” mess with your head. Here are some ways to deal with people who doubt you, according to Thrive Global and Harvard Business Review:

  • Know your worth and don’t let anyone tear you down.
  • Don’t demonize opposers. People who oppose almost never have bad intentions — they are usually trying very hard to do something they see as valuable.
  • Use the doubt and negativity to fuel your passion and energize you to be better, to do better
  • Turn to TED talks and inspirational quotes if need be.
  • Surround yourself with people who clap when you win.
“Conformity begins the moment you ignore how you feel for acceptance.”
― Shannon L. Alder

3. Is it their intention to hurt you?

When my colleagues filled my head with insecurities, they didn’t actually intend to make me feel bad about my decision. In their own way, they were trying to take care of me, to make me see the version of reality they did.

But as Mark Alicke, a professor of psychology at Ohio University, puts it, “The gulf between what things feel like to us and to others is impassible: No matter how hard we try, we cannot enter another person’s subjective, conscious experience.”

I wish my colleagues understood that it’s natural to not understand where I was coming from, but they shouldn’t have assumed that I was wrongheaded and hadn’t considered my choice a million times already before finally taking the plunge.

How you can apply this

As Dr. Gregory Jantz writes in Psychology Today, here are some ways to respond when another person’s well-intended words or actions hurt you:

  • Recognize their intention behind what they did. Usually, your gut reaction is a good indicator of what you really think. Learn to trust it. 
  • Resist the tendency to defend your position. When you stick to what you are feeling, you give the other person the permission to explain their point of view. Then together you can come to a consensus, hopefully resulting in mutual forgiveness.
  • Give up the need to be right. You may simply agree to disagree.
  • Recognize and apologize for anything you may have done to contribute to them feeling sad about your decision.
  • Realize that even if someone has hurt you, that need not take away your personal happiness. You are always in charge of your attitude and response. You can get over it and go on.

Final words

When you make a decision that’s different from what’s considered normal, you’re bound to face a lot of resistance from the people around you. While their concern might be well-intended, if you let their unsolicited advice get to your head, it will only end up messing with your peace of mind without contributing anything valuable to your decision.

Before you let anyone else’s unsolicited advice affect your mood, here are three questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Do they have any experience in what they’re talking about? Or are they just talking in hypotheticals, projecting their insecurities onto you, and painting a world full of worst-case scenarios?
  2. Does their definition of “success” or “happiness” align with yours? If not, then why are you even letting their opinions get to your head?
  3. Is it their intention to hurt you? If yes, you need to distance yourself from this opinion. If not, forgive them and move on.

No matter what everyone else around you says, you have the right to make your own choices. You might be making a mistake and you might end up regretting it later, but it’s your life, and you deserve to make mistakes. That’s the only way you’ll learn. That’s the only way you’ll grow.

You don’t owe anyone else an explanation. 

“You often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”
― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

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