How Can We Filter The Advice We Receive?

advice over coffee


Apr. 3 2015, Published 3:30 a.m. ET

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Another fork is in the road, another major life decision to make, and many questions to answer. Times like these happen to all of us and often beg us to seek advice. We turn to those near and far, close friends and family or perhaps anyone willing to lend an ear. We live an information age where sometimes the information is simply too much or not useful. The same goes for advice. How do we know what we should listen to and what should be discarded?

1. Listen to your heart and intuition

Knowing what your heart really wants is a powerful way to filter advice. Try mediation or taking some time to visualize the future that you want. Setting this framework will help you piece together advice so that it is most useful for YOU. Keep an open mind to everyone’s opinion but let your intuition chime in when it needs to. It will happen more naturally than you think!

2. Consider the source

When asking for advice, be cognizant of the lifestyle and interests your source has. It is not that they want to deceive you, but it is hard to remove personal ideology even when trying to give advice. If you ask a group of doctors what they think the best way to help people is, you will likely get an answer along the lines of “in the healthcare field.” However, what if you feel the best way to help people is through artistic expression? Their advice, while suitable for some people, will surely be misleading and likely confuse you. For that group, attending medical school was the best road to help people. For you, it may be different and that is where your intuition should kick in. Strive to get advice from a source with a similar lifestyle to the one you want.

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3. Recognize your journey

It is prudent to seek advice from those older and more experienced than you. They have been down the road that you may want to travel. However, do not fall into the trap of comparing your stage one to someone else’s stage four. Trust the process and know that you can get where you’re going but your journey may look differently than your advisor’s journey. Ask your mentor to share some failures and ask what they learned from them. Knowing how to navigate bumps in the road may be more helpful to you than knowing the destination.

4. Run with what hits home

Take in advice with a net rather than a bucket. It is not about capturing every word your family member or mentor says but rather picking out the pieces that really resonate with you. As they speak, they may deliver a line or story that sends a chill up your spine. That’s resounding and probably something you should write down and think about later.

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5. Alter the course and source

Sometimes advice will lead to a shift in your course. For instance, a sibling may recommend a college class or a book to read. It is perfectly suitable to follow the advice through but be sure to inspect the value it adds to your goals. It is also perfectly suitable, and even preferable, to decide against that advice if it turns out to be a bad fit. Perhaps you’ve read the class description and it doesn’t exactly fit what you’re looking for. Use this as an example of advice that would need to fall through the holes in the net and simply be dismissed. If the mentor is close to you and therefore sensitive as to whether you use the advice or not you can use language like “I really appreciated your suggestions. I will keep it in mind for the future.” It shows you’re grateful for the advice but may not have use for it at the moment.

Lastly, it can be difficult to go against the advice you receive from someone you admire. But whether the conversation has brought up good or bad advice, do not be shy to ask your current advisor for another reference to speak to. Be as specific as possible in your criteria. For example asking, “Can you please refer me to someone who has personal training experience in a small yoga studio?” will make it easier for the person to think of another source. They may not know anyone but perhaps can get you closer to someone who does.

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