When we are restless for change, it seems that everyone has an opinion on what we should do next. The precarious state of their own lives is, of course, irrelevant. Fixing other people's problems is far easier than resolving our own, so well-meaning advice generally comes loaded with baggage.
Our balance swings, according to the loudest voice. Is it your partner? Colleague? Best friend? Mum? Who carries the most weight when making significant decisions? It’s not always you.
A quandary is an uncomfortable place to live. There’s often more fear than hope and more anxiety than excitement. The greatest risk is giving more value to others’ voice than to your own. Of course, the advantage of taking advice is that you have someone else to blame. It happens when people go answer-shopping. Having settled on a course of action, they look for someone to give advice that tallies with their decision.
Why, then, don’t we spend more time thinking for ourselves? I think the answer is partly generational. Most of us were raised in a binary age, where answers were right or wrong, black or white. Anything outside of that was a misfit. The education system rewarded us for giving correct answers, not inventing new ones. That meant we were taught what to think, not how.
Most women learned not to rock the boat and that conflict was to be avoided. It is evident still, in families and workplaces where we’ll do almost anything to keep the peace. Little encouragement to think for ourselves, especially if coming to our own conclusions involves diverging from the norm.
We learned not to trust our voice; that our thinking would never match that of others. Yet as Nancy Kline wrote, ‘The quality of everything we do, everything, depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.’
That means we need to think on our own first. Use simple techniques such as Edward de Bono’s Plus/Minus/Interesting technique (PMI) to uncover what you think. Or write a list of questions to help you see the challenge from different angles.
Testing out your thinking with someone you trust can certainly help you think better. Someone who will challenge and provoke you, without an agenda of their own. Just be careful what you ask for. I often ask a friend for ‘five minutes to help me think something through.’ That makes it clear that I don’t want her answers, just a safe space to talk and good questions to help me see what I’m missing.
Trust that you are the expert in your own life and that you will come up with the answers that are right for you. They may not always work out, but experimenting is how we learn.
Keep the words of Doris Lessing in mind. ‘Think wrongly if you please, but in all cases, think for yourself.’ Thinking practice is just as important as any other form of exercise.
So, are you a woman at a crossroads, tired of other people dishing out advice on what you should do? Choosing Bold offers time to think, the space to get clear and a process for moving forward. It's all about you. We start next week and there is only one place left on this programme. Want to know more? Pop through an email, but be quick!