How much do you love to get unsolicited advice? Let’s say, on a scale of 1-10. Do you welcome it, and revel in the sound of other people’s voices telling you everything you have done wrong and how easy it would be to solve your problem if you just listened to their sound advice? I don’t. On a scale of 1-10, I enjoy receiving advice around a 2.
On the other hand, I like giving advice very much. Maybe even an 8 or a 9. I’m the one that pipes up on a Facebook post when a friend asks for advice, offering little nuggets that begin with “We tried …” and “You should …” and “Why don’t you …?”
It never goes over well.
Have you ever noticed that when people spill a little of their dirty laundry on social media, asking for assistance, that others quite simply flock to the scene, dripping with advice? It doesn’t matter if the person is asking for advice on how to get into the school of their choice or what type of wine to serve with dinner. People are eager to add their two cents. They revel in it.
Why is it so easy to fix other people’s problems?
With a little compassion and a sprinkle of love, I can look at other people’s problems and see solutions quite easily. Sometimes, solutions are so obvious that I honestly can’t believe the afflicted parties can’t see them. Their problems are so simple! Yet, when it comes to my own problems, I am often paralyzed by the enormity of the issue at hand. Whatever it is that is going on matters to me. That’s why there’s a problem. It matters, and it impacts one or more people or things that are important in my life, and I’m so invested in the outcome that I just can’t see through all of that clutter to the other side.
When another person looks at my life, on the other hand, they don’t have all that chaos in the way. They have the gifts of clarity and objectivity. They may care about the problem or potential solutions a bit, but they have something I don’t have – they have detachment.
Is detachment the key?
I’m not always detached to the outcome of my problems. On the contrary, I’m greatly invested. Solving problems brings up questions about my identity, my values, my history, my anxieties and my fears. I fear being hypocritical for changing paths midway, even if that’s what I need to do to solve a current problem. I fear hurting or offending others. It’s just all so messy.
It occurred to me that the answer to all my problems was simply to ask others to solve them for me, but that is distasteful in many ways. Yet, I like telling other people what to do.
Two truths seem evident here: 1) People love to give advice. 2) People hate to take advice from others. Can I combine these two truths into one magical problem solving technique?
Here’s how to solve every problem you have.
- Articulate the problem.
- Envision the best possible solution.
- Ask yourself how to get to the ideal solution, posing the question as if you are asking your friends on Facebook for advice.
- Solve the problem, with loving detachment, as if it is someone else’s problem.
The only way to truly solve a problem is to understand the root of the issue and fix that. Solving problems is only possible after a little detached excavation, followed by compassionate creativity.
I tested this hypothesis right away. We’ve had a sleep problem in our house for an embarrassingly long time. Our two preschoolers do not fall asleep on their own – they fall asleep with one or more parent, after hours of stress and tears and begging. Bedtime is a nightmare, and the stress involved usually makes the “free time” following bedtime pretty awful, too. No one is getting enough sleep, and everyone is stressed out and anxious, every single night. I think it’s important to honor children’s needs, so I’m opposed to “cry it out” techniques and anything that may hurt my kids or make them feel abandoned. Yet I also want to honor our bodies’ collective need for quality sleep, and enjoy some free time at the end of the day. I could go on and on, but I’ve already said too much. There is a problem. It is big, at least to us. We’ve tried lots of different things, but what we’ve tried hasn’t worked, so we’re all feeling a bit hopeless. It seemed like a good problem to try my new problem-solving technique on.
So I did.
- Articulate the problem. (I wrote a few bullet points out on a piece of paper with everyone’s needs and issues written out as objectively as I could.)
- Envision the best possible solution. (I would like to spend sweet, cuddly time with my children before they confidently put themselves to bed every evening.)
- Ask yourself how to get to the ideal solution, posing the question as if you are asking your friends on Facebook for advice. (“Carrie, how can our family make bedtime peaceful and help our children fall asleep by themselves?)
- Solve the problem, with loving detachment, as if it is someone else’s problem. (“Carrie, you may hear some big tears for a few days, but you’re going to have to leave the room if you want the kids to fall asleep on their own.”)
Then, I followed my own advice.
Want to hear something really cool?
For the last four nights, our children have put themselves to bed