How to Get Some Distance from your Problems And Give Yourself Some Great Advice
If you could take a step back from yourself and your life, you might see that your problems aren’t as insurmountable as they seem ‘from the inside’. You might even be able to see how you could overcome the obstacles in the way of your dreams and happiness. But getting that distance from people and circumstances that are so personal to us seems incredibly difficult.
Try this short experiment: think of some event that happened ten years ago that really bothered you at the time but which you can now smile about, or shrug off.
Now, think of something that’s bothering you right now. In ten years time, you’ll look at it in the same way as you do about that embarrassing or hurtful incident from ten years ago, that you now see as a minor ‘blip’, or that you might even see as funny. That’s the kind of distance you want from your problems – to see them as they really are so that you don’t go into a spiral of panic and worry.
Relationship and Lifestyle Advice
Whether it’s your best friend who’s giving you a headache, or your boyfriend who’s giving you heartache, or your boss who’s giving you earache (and a stomach ulcer to boot!), advice can be found everywhere – from glossy magazines to the highways and byways of the Internet; from doctor’s surgeries to support groups, and from the gossip in the corner shop to the woman next to you on the bus.
But none of it seems to apply exactly to the particular predicament you find yourself in. It can be so vague that it’s difficult to extract any solid meaning at all from it, or it can be so rigid it leaves you utterly cold.
Most of us have read at some point in our lives ‘relationship’ articles or books, or watched ‘reality’ TV programmes. There is something fascinating about the way people tick. Even if the advice could never apply to us, just the insight of how someone else’s mind works on the problem of human interaction draws us in. On a slow TV night I can be drawn for hours into make-over programmes that transform the dull ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. And I’m mesmerised by that person’s transformation, as her confidence and relationships improve through the polished-up-for-TV fairytale journey of spending six weeks being buffed and shined to within an inch of her life. And like most people, while I’m watching these TV programmes, at the back of my mind I’m thinking, ‘hmmm, I wonder if that haircut/dress/new cute little laugh would work for me’. And I’d soak up every morsel of advice from the gurus in the hope of finding The Ultimate Way of Life.
Write Your Own Advice
But it was when I started to write articles about relationships that I had something like a revelation. Because when I had to think about a particular question or situation, I started to see patterns in how little parts of a relationship work. I had to try to see both sides, and in doing this, I had to rethink my own relationships, and after a while, I saw that my relationships began to improve.
So. How can you apply this to you? The following steps are the ones I take to write an article. And even if you have no intention of ever publishing your work, you can still give yourself some great advice.
Write Your Problem As A Question
Posing the problem as a question makes it clear and gives your advice to yourself some shape. It’s easier to answer a particular question than to write down everything you know about a topic haphazardly. So if you’ve got boyfriend (or girlfriend) troubles, think of the question that best fits the way your mind is going from one answer to the other. If you’re thinking of breaking up with your other half, the question might be ‘Is it time to end things?’ or ‘When is it too late to save a relationship?’
Read what others have to say - and disagree with it!
Read a dozen or so articles or forum posts that deal with a similar issue. Some of the advice will be good and some not so good, but all of them will spark off ideas in your mind – even the ones you absolutely disagree with, because you’ll start to think of reasons why you disagree with them, and these ideas will act as an ‘argument’ in your finished article, and add some balance. If you knew the answer already, you wouldn’t need to write the article, so there should be elements of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ in there.
Answer your question with five or ten different points – these can be single sentences or lots of notes, but just do some brainstorming for now. Don't censor or edit yourself - you can do that in a minute - just start with scribbling down everything you can think of.
This technique works in two ways. First, it helps you to see clearly all the different things you think about the situation or problem and starts to give you a wider view of it - if you find yourself writing one-sidedly on the issue, try reading some different articles that deal with it from the other side of things. Secondly, writing down a problem is an age-old way to lessen its sting. Keeping something tucked deep inside causes a pressure-cooker kind of effect - sooner or later if you don't vent your feelings, you'll explode. Writing is a way of venting in private, where there's no danger of saying something you'll regret to someone you care for.
Write your 'advice' to yourself
You might take two minutes to do this, or two hours. Use a little mental roleplay and pretend you are your own best ever big sister. Reframe your 'brainstormed' answers as if you were detached from the problem and you were giving the advice to someone else. This can take a bit of ‘double vision’ – you want to draw on your own experiences, both past and present, but you also want to make the advice broad and general. You want to be able to read the article later, and be able to recognise how it applies to you, but you also want to be able to see some obvious points that could apply to anyone else too. It’s the mixture of the specific and the general that will help you to see your problem more clearly.
So for example, let’s say that you want to know if you should reconnect with the friend you lost contact with a few years ago. Your question might be ‘Can old flames ever be rekindled?’ and one of your points might be ‘people do change’. Your notes might include ‘we used to fight all the time’ ‘I’ve moved on’ ‘do I just want to show her how successful I’ve become?’ ‘we used to laugh all the time’ ‘the friendship ended on a sour note’. Your ‘point’ can apply to any of these notes – both good and bad, so now you want to put it all together coherently, as if you were advising someone else: ‘Point: People do change. If you used to fight all the time, but that was ten years ago, the chances are that you’ve both done a lot of other things since then, and matured quite a bit, so the differences between you will probably hardly matter at all now. On the other hand, your similarities might have also faded and you might not have anything in common anymore. But if there were lots of good times in the friendship – if you shared the same sense of humour, or both had a love of horse riding or Star Wars for instance – the chances are that some of those things survive. If the friendship ended badly, you might want to break the ice with a phone call first, or maybe make some tentative enquiries through other mutual friends that you shared back then.’
Writing things down helps...
It's probably not something you would do often, but if something is bothering you, taking ten minutes out to think and write about it can really help give you a clearer view of things and let you vent your frustrationat an awkward or difficult situation.
This exercise on giving yourself advice is different from simply making a list of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ (which is also a good idea), because although it deals with your own, very specific issue, it encourages you to think of it as if you were detached from the situation: include some examples that aren’t purely personal – as if you were someone else with a different (but similar) problem, and try to give yourself advice from different perspectives: how would you feel, for instance, if the friend had got in touch with you six months ago, before you ever thought of contacting her?
Why keep it general?
With very personal issues, and especially relationships because they can affect our self esteem, it’s easy to get bogged down in a million tiny details that aren’t really relevant, and you want to avoid the spiral of over-thinking. The chances are, you know what it’s like to listen to a friend talk endlessly about an obsession, and you also know how it feels to be the person with an obsession – neither situation is a very productive or interesting one to be in, so to solve your problem and answer your question, you need to get rid of the tiny details that muddy the waters, and instead try relate to a version that cuts through too much personal baggage, whilst keeping in mind the parts of the problem that make it uniquely yours.