I bet you are amazeballs at giving advice! You’re able to deliver thoughtful and poignant feedback to friends, family and colleagues who are struggling. You don’t judge, belittle or criticize. You compassionately take into consideration the circumstances and the other person’s feelings. I bet, that same advice you passionately give out to others could be pretty beneficial for yourself.
As goal-oriented problem solvers, we are able to look at a situation and objectively provide the best answer - for others. It’s so much more difficult to do this for ourselves. Which totally makes sense… We are way more attached to the outcome! This causes the emotional, mid-part of the brain, to activate and confuses everything. Additionally, we instinctively take out a gigantic hammer and beat ourselves up.
Here’s a little trick to tap into all of that awesome advice you’ve been handing out to others - write a Letter to an Advice Column. And, I do mean literally write it down. Our brains process information differently when we take it outside of our heads (which is one reason why talk therapy is helpful). Thoughts tend to swirl and escalate into worse-case scenarios much easier when we keep it inside our brains and just think about situations.
What are the key points for writing a letter to an advice column?
Start the letter with: “Dear Advisor.”
Jot down an overview of the situation, including some things you’ve tried.
Instead of using your name, sign off the letter with a couple word summation of your predicament.
Write a return letter from “the advisor” which first provides compassion, connects with the struggle and then provides a perspective you haven’t been listening to, but would totally tell your bestie.
Here’s an example to get you started:
Dear Advisor… I am so frustrated and heartbroken that my 25-year-old son will not take the steps he needs to in order to better his life. We’ve talked about all the ways it would be helpful and all the things he should do, but he just never does it. I’m at my wit’s end. Please advise. Sincerely, a Worried Mother.
Dear Worried Mother… I am so sorry you’re going through this. It’s obvious you care so much for your son. You know he can feel better and you just want the best for him. There’s so little that’s in your control. It really sounds like you’ve done everything you can. You should continue to love him and be there if he came to you - he already knows what you think he should do, so you don’t need to keep telling him. Try your best to detach from the outcomes that are outside your control. With warm regard, The Editor.
As you go through this writing activity, here are a couple of pieces to keep in mind:
Put the Hammers Away: When you respond to yourself, do so with the same compassion as you would if you were talking to a dear friend. Now is not the time to get judging and blame yourself for the things you “should” be doing.
In/Out of Your Control: So often when we feel stuck, we’re attempting to control things that are outside ourselves. Address this in the letter from the editor by simply asking, “in this situation, what is in your control?” or “What are you trying to control that perhaps isn’t actually in your control?”
Rachel Baker is a Spokane, Washington-based psychotherapist, helping driven and successful people who are overwhelmed and anxious create peace and purpose. Her goal is to connect individual client strengths and experiences with proven therapeutic approaches that increase skill and insight in order for people to create a life filled with peace and purpose. If you are interested in individual therapy to address worry, overwhelm or anxiety and are located in Washington state, please call: (509) 999-8696 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free 15-minute consultation.