What was the best piece of advice that you ever received? And why? Also, how soon did you act on it?
The best piece of advice that I ever received was from my dear, Roman friend, Teresa – and it actually wasn’t a piece of advice, at all.
In reality, Teresa has given me a load of advice over the years. Most of it I have rejected out of hand. Partly because the specific advice didn’t sit well with me. Partly because I can be a bit of a polarity responder. Overall, I tend not to respond too well when given advice – especially if I didn’t ask for it in the first place.
I am afraid that I resist being grateful for something that I happen to dislike that has been foisted on me without my consent. (That might just have something to do with the way that I was brought up.)
One little question to focus the mind
On this occasion, Teresa did something out of the ordinary. She asked one little question that focused my mind.
It happened when I met up with her in Rome, soon after the end of a trial separation from my then husband. He had moved out for 6 months, gone to therapy (which, for him, was always a much-loved opportunity to talk about himself) and had, in the main, seemed to have fallen in love with me all over again. (Or, possibly, for the first time. Who knows? Who cares?)
I was feeling hopeful about the future. Then, as Teresa and I sat in a rather elegant café, three words brought me crashing down.
“What has changed?” she asked.
What has changed
“What do you mean what has changed?” I asked uncomfortably.
“If you have got back together and want things to be different, what have you – both of you – said and done to ensure that it will be different?”
“Well, we love each other more. We know that we want to be together more. It’s different, now.”
“Yes, but what has changed?” Teresa asked, relentlessly, stressing the words as if talking to someone deaf, stupid or both.
My heart landed in my boots as I realized that I had no answer.
We left the café to enjoy some of the delights of Rome and I did my best to repress Teresa’s question – and my lack of an answer.
When nothing changes
I had no answer because nothing had changed.
When nothing changes, you end up back at the same place. All that happens is that you get a little bit older and more broken.
My marriage limped on for another three years –in part because, the next time that I decided to leave, I ended up in hospital having a major operation.
When I did finally decide to end it, my husband tried to pull the old “But I’ve just realized how much I love you” stunt again.
This time, I just didn’t listen.
We were back at the same place. Again.
But this time, I heard Teresa’s voice in my head,
“What has changed?”
He certainly hadn’t.
I realized it was down to me
This time, I realized that it was down to me to change myself and my situation. This time, there would be no going back.
If Teresa had given me actual advice, I suspect that I could have found a way to wriggle out of it. Instead, she left me with that searching question that burned a hole through my hopes, fantasies and desires.
Teresa’s question had a belated but huge effect on my life because it made me shift my focus from sameness to difference. If something isn’t working for you, you need to make that shift from sameness to difference.
If I wanted a better relationship next time, I really needed to know what needed to be different about me, my partner and the relationship.
If there was something that was troubling me, I needed to look at what needed to change so that I could feel more satisfied, at peace, reassured or whatever other emotion would work better for me.
As we head towards the end of what has been an incredibly hard year for pretty much everyone, I’d like to share with you the gift of Teresa’s question. (It can be a bit of a slow burn but it is a really useful gift.)
Most of us are on the receiving end of a lot of advice, the majority of it unsolicited. That advice comes, in the main, from people who either lack empathy or are otherwise unqualified to pass judgement on our situation.
But a lot of it comes from our own good selves.
Most Advice to Self is worth very little
Most of the advice that we routinely give ourselves is really NOT worth listening to. We simply rehash the tired old clichés that other people have said to us, complete with a healthy smattering of “shoulds”.
That only serves to make us feel even more inadequate than we already did.
That kind of advice shuts down your powers of thinking creatively – which is just about the last thing that you need to happen.
So, if I were to offer you a piece of advice to take forward, it would be “be more Teresa”.
Ask yourself more questions of the “What has changed?” and What needs to change?” sort.
You don’t have to find an instant answer.
In fact, instant answers might well suggest that you are still working form the old norms that aren’t working for you.
Replace bad advice with good practice
What you want to do is replace the habit of listening to less than stellar advice with good practices. Forget about advice – apart from the expert advice you actively seek out. Instead, allow Teresa’s line of questioning to work its way through you. The point is not to find an answer asap but to find a good answer that will enable you to enjoy more of whatever it is that you desire.
Good questions really are a great gift to give to yourself and others – just don’t try that with family members etc. at Christmas, weddings and birthdays when a more conventional gift might go down better.
Difficult people and events mess with your heads. Good questions are one of the most effective ways of clearing that mess from your head.
Good questions are the best way to get to good answers. That is the best piece of advice that I have on offer right now. I do hope that you will use it to your advantage as we head towards a new – and hopefully happier – year.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
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