Let’s begin with the fact that for 20 plus years I have been studying and practicing as a credentialed professional. I can recite ACSM recommendations for exercise, tell you the Mediterranean style diet has the most scientific literature for health, understand and explain details of chronic disease management, and bore you with behavior change theory until you decide you are giving up your wellbeing journey and just may take up smoking. So what you say? Exactly. While my advice was factually correct and well meaning, it was still nonetheless lousy.
Here are just a few of reasons why.
Number one, the advice was not always requested. What that often results in, is anything from annoyance to disconnect on the end of the recipient, and therefore was LESS likely to support someone in health or life improvement . Sometimes people just want to be heard in their struggle, not offered advice, tips, or tools.
Number two. It was from a microscopic and myopic level. My limited life and career experiences, especially in the early days, reflected a much narrower viewpoint. While I felt compassion and demonstrated kindness, I really had no comprehension of the level of another’s pain or suffering. This was exacerbated by the fact that I did not know, that I did not know. A glaring example of this was when I worked pediatrics and believed I understood a Mother’s visceral pain when we attempted multiple times to start an IV on her child … until I had children and it occurred with my youngest at 16 months. If not for a well placed chair and an observant nurse, I would have hit the floor.
Number three. In large part believed people made their choices and behaviors mainly from a place of logic. A personal relationship, a work out, a food choice. Be given education. Capable? Follow plan. Uh huh. Naivety off the scale on this one. We are complex human beings. We are wired to habits that have given us rewards or kept us safe in the past, and now even though their path may be causing destruction and illness, we WILL be drawn to repeat. Not hopelessly but drawn. Secondly “numerous cognitive neuroscientists have predicted almost 95% of our decisions, emotions, actions, and behavior are made at the subconscious level.” While sounds impossible…I have witnessed smoking via a tracheostomy…. on more than on one occasion.
Number four. I did not consider people’s strengths, likes and dislikes, personalities or compelling values. What motivates me does not necessarily motivate you. I may have touted a running regime to someone who likes social activity. I may have told someone they could make more money in less time working from home when they thrived being part of a team. The worst one of all was not considering social determinants in people’s lack of “compliance.” 3 years working with the disenfranchised mentally ill was the wake up call I admit to needing.
Numer five is I supposed and decided the problem and therefore the solution. While I did not participate in all of these, here are some examples.
A friend is single and states having difficulty in long term relationships. “You have to try to find the right partner. I know someone.” But what if she spent her whole life building an identity and value on work and now unsure how to make space in her life for something else?
Someone has gained weight. We suppose it is lack of movement, not enough fruit and veggies. We offer lots of handouts on diets, food, exercise advice, all the latest trends. What if the weight gain is not an issue for this individual? Or what if it is an issue but due to a family illness and lack of resources for care, the person has not had time to meal prep? Or what if a gentleman’s wife has left him and he lacks cooking skills and is surviving on the upside down W?
Coworker suffering with fatigue and lack of motivation? Oh try this supplement, this pillow, this sound machine. While all may be very helpful, what if the fatigue is due to staying up late working a side hustle to pay the bills?
So I have learned a lot, especially in the last decade. In my personal and coaching business. I try to pause before I speak and when I hear myself about to slip, I go back to a helpful acronym from my initial coaching school.
W.A.I.T. Why Am I Talking?
And hopefully it won’t be to offer unsolicited advice.