How many of you have been in this situation – you’re sharing a conversation with someone and the topic rolls over a problem that’s troubling them…
“I just can’t seem to get enough sleep! No matter what I do, I’m always tired and have trouble getting out of bed in the morning! If I could just figure out what’s wrong I would be so much happier.”
Well hey now! You have experience with this! For years you felt the exact same way! It took you a lot of work and reflection but you started to put the pieces together.
The first part of the problem was easy – you were simply staying up too late. Something in your mind told you that as long as you caught up on the weekend you should be okay! But somehow, even though you slept long on the weekend, it didn’t fix the problem.
Eventually you learned that you have to go to bed and get up at exactly the same time each day. It’s the routine that helps, not the aggregate hours you collect.
As you continued your journey you learned that you needed at least twenty minutes to wind down in subdued light and atmosphere before sleeping. Later you learned that the days you exercised you slept better. And you learned that you’re just a little bit allergic to cherries and you feel pretty tired for the next day after you eat them.
It was long and taxing on your patience, but you put enough pieces together and now you feel rested all through the day. And now someone is struggling with the very problem that took you blood, sweat, and tears to solve. You can save them so much time and energy!
And so, buzzing with excitement, you crack open the bottle of problem solvers to upgrade their life.
“What time do you go to bed? Are you getting enough hours?”
“I think so, I mean usually… but it doesn’t seem to matter.”
“It doesn’t matter? Sure it does! I mean, there’s lots of things that can leave you feeling tired. I used to feel that way all the time! I had a bad sleeping schedule, but once I started going to bed and getting up at the same time things started to change.”
“Yeah, I guess. I mean, I can’t go to bed early with my schedule. I’m too busy late into the night.”
“Well, maybe you need to get more exercise. Or are you eating properly? Because nutrition will affect how you sleep and how you feel in the middle of the day.”
As their eyes start to glaze over, they suddenly have something on their phone that must be checked immediately. They’re still acknowledging what you’re saying with some nods of the head, a few words relayed back to you.
They are showing the usual conversational pleasantries, and that’s kind of them since you’re still talking. You have all this great knowledge that can take a huge bite right out of their troubles and there’s so much to say!
But in your excitement you’ve failed to notice that your benevolence has turned you into a solutions-for-all answering machine. They stated that they have a problem, you know that you’ve had that problem, all the circuits in your brain that have been established while solving that problem light up like a laser pointer straight into the retinas, and now you have no idea what’s happening on the other side of the “conversation” because you have all of this charity pouring out of your mouth.
How kind of you.
Now you’re wondering to yourself why they seem disconnected? Do they even care about what you’re saying? You’re pouring your heart out with some very hard-earned knowledge that is exactly what they just expressed a desire to have.
Or are they just a poor conversationalist? They said what they wanted to and then checked out. Yeah, that’s it. I mean, who does that?
You do. You’re doing it right now. You’re saying exactly what you want to say and you’re checked out to the fact that they didn’t actually request this information. You think they did. Their statement sure seemed to be lending a listening ear to anyone that had some answers.
But they didn’t. People are strange and confusing creatures, and something that is easy to misunderstand in the art of conversation is that most of the time that people are talking about their problems, maybe even wishing for the answers, they’re not actually prompting people to give them the answers.
Why the hell not?
Well, for starters, people like to find their own answers. They like it a lot. For one, it’s satisfying and gratifying to solve our own difficulties. And for another, and this is more prevalent, people will protect their ego at pretty much any cost. And when they have something they can’t figure out and you roll in with answers that seem to trivialize their difficulties, it’s easy for that to come across like their problem is actually easy to solve and that you think they’re a fool for not having figured this out already.
Of course you’re not saying that. I hope you’re not saying that. Don’t be a dick.
But it doesn’t matter what you’re actually saying. When it comes to connecting with another person what’s more important regarding maintaining that connection is how you come across. That part of it is entirely up to them, and no matter how good your intentions are those intentions don’t shape how the message is received.
You may be full of the world’s greatest advice, but if you extend that advice where it wasn’t specifically requested then you’re not helping, you’re just pleasuring yourself verbally at someone else’s expense.
In that case it’s more like needing to go to the bathroom. You’re full of something and it’s going to come sliding out at the first relevant opportunity. While that’s going to be satisfying for you, it’s just an unwelcome mess for anyone that’ s not you.
Or there are times that people are receptive to it and take in what you have to say with great interest. As time rolls on, however, you come to learn that they did not actually utilize that helpful information.
“Oh yeah, I was thinking about what you said. I just haven’t had time to try it out yet. But I was thinking next week I’d set a schedule and try it out.”
And yet, somehow next week never seems to arrive.
It’s quite rare that people are actively looking for solutions such as these. Many times people are just in love with their own problems and don’t realize how much their complaining is a part of their identity. They think that they want to solve their problem, but really they just want to
- find like-minded people
- make sounds with their mouth
- justify the problem (so they don’t have to solve it)
The reasons for this are endless. You may be wondering to yourself, what kind of idiot would operate this way and have no idea or care to even realize they’re doing that?
Perhaps the same kind of fool that judges someone for operating this way. The kind of person that also has problems with a leaky mouthbox and a similar and ironic lack of self-awareness.
It took me a very long time to figure this out, and I’m sure it will be the rest of my life that I’m trying not to fall into the same trap.
How did I figure this out? By doing this to people. A lot. A big part of my identity for a long time was to know more than other people and to always be right.
I’ll never forget the time that my college girlfriend was frustrated with me and cried out “why are you always right?!?”
And I actually answered her. I had the audacity of ego to think that was a genuine question. Because I was always right. I was truly relieved to know that she was finally coming to understand my wisdom.
As I started to figure out that this made me a staggeringly pompous horse’s ass and gain some humility I turned those same energies to trying to help people rather than judge them with that knowledge.
Little did I know I had just put a new mask on judgment and superiority and welcomed it in as an upgrade. Which, in a way, it was. My heart was in the right place.
But no matter how much lipstick I put on that pig, it was still a pig. I’ll probably continue to do this in different forms, and I promise you I’ll keep on the watch for it and try to use it as an opportunity to learn how not to do it.
So where’s the Bright Side to all of this?
The Bright Side is in your release from the prison that is this misunderstood attempt at heroism. Not only are you not obligated to offer advice to those that don’t ask, it’s preferred that you don’t. If you’re prone to doing this, that means you can free up a lot of your time and energy where you would’ve otherwise spent it misguidedly trying to save the world.
The Bright Side is that you can turn all of that energy inward and work on the never-ending game of growing yourself. I mean, really, that’s what got you so excited to try to help someone in the first place.
The Bright Side is that people will enjoy talking to you more. You won’t be “that guy” that keeps trying to fix them – aka: tell them how flawed they are.
The Bright Side is that you won’t feel frustrated that people don’t seem to value your knowledge. It will still be helpful to your life and you can carry less weight as you break the habit of spreading yourself out to take on other’s troubles.
Don’t confuse intentions with results. Only open your mouth if what you’re going to say is an improvement over silence.
I’ll close with a quote from Mara Glatzel and her post on TinyBuddha:
“…But when I was truly honest with myself, I was able to notice where I was crumbling under the pressure of that external flawlessness. How, in an effort to shellac over my imperfections, I was micromanaging those around me, offering help that had not been asked for, repairing others because I didn’t have the courage to believe I was repairable.”
If you find yourself regularly trying to fix those around you, then it’s not them, it’s you. Take a look inside, my friend.
Thank you Mara, and thank you to everybody that is working to find the brightest side of themselves and make the most of what they’ve got.
By the way, isn’t it wonderfully ironic that this is an advice post on not giving advice? I’ll assume you came here requesting it.
I’ll catch you next time.