We are all overflowing with practical wisdom and panache when it comes to advice. When we have to give it to others. Some of us are rather good at it and are sought out for it. But I have a different question to ask you. Something that a young man asked me a long time ago : “Would you take your own advice?”
I remember that day like it was yesterday. We had finished a long run and I was spent. In addition to expending all the energy on the run, I had spewed bucket loads of advice on ‘following passions’ during the run. The young man was on the verge of starting up his company and I had thought he had a number of things going for him. I didn’t quite expect that my advice would make a quick dash for me. ”Would you take your own advice? Why won’t you start something on your own?”, he had asked me as the salt-laden winds of the Arabian Sea howled in the background.
The biblical King Solomon, known well known for his wisdom and wealth has also a ‘paradox’ named after him! The story goes like this. King Solomon was endowed with much wisdom. In fact, it wasn’t as much as an endowment as much as it was an explicit wish for wisdom that he was granted. People came from far and wide to seek his counsel. He was revered for his wisdom. That’s the good part. The not so good part was this: his personal life was a dire mess. He made poor decisions, had many wives and didn’t invest in his son. In time, his kingdom disintegrated. His own deeds were a patch on the advice and counsel he reserved for others.
That is Solomon’s paradox. People reason better for someone else situation compared to their own.
Professor Igor Grossmann from the University Of Waterloo and the Ethan Kross from the University of Michigan gave Solomon’s paradox a good perspective in a paper published in 2014. It is a fascinating research paper that you can read here.
The tale of two eye views: Bird’s eye view vs Worm’s eye view
I have been thinking about it for a while and invariably think of two views. A birds eye view and a worms eye view. A birds eye view gives us a rather distant view of what’s on the ground. Distance brings clarity.
The humdrum of daily life keeps us the company of warp speed and withering attention spans. At such speeds perfections and imperfections in others are obvious and the roads they should take are crystal clear. Pretty much like a bird who can see which roads we must take to get where!
Our own lives are pretty mired. We have our fears, anxieties, beliefs, experiences and such else. A worms eye view if you will. An eye view that renders a molehill as Mt.Everest!
Yet, we can be our own best counsel.
So, what can we do?
1. Its a great idea to start with the acknowledgement that we all carry imperfections and biases. I have mine and I have been at work seeking to discover more of them. Pointed conversations with others and seeking feedback always provides a perspective. You do not have to accept whatever someone is saying. But considering and examining it is important.
Here is an exercise for you.
Grab a paper and pencil and list down what your biases are. Check with your friend. Your colleague. Spouse. Kids. Conversations help.
2. Indulge In Reflections. I say indulge because we don’t have time to pause and ponder. Just to reflect on the conversations you have had or how a day has gone is mighty useful. These reflections help draw patterns. Journaling is amongst the most underrated personal development tools in the world. People think of journaling as a huge investment that takes the form of writing and maintaining a diary. I think otherwise. It’s just a simple act of reflecting on one day and recording what happened in it. Even if it’s in broken words or images. It helps!
Here is the second exercise for you:
Take a piece of paper or your phone every night and think about all what happened. Do it for a few days and see what you notice.
3. The witness view. This view helps us look at ourselves as a witness to all what’s happening and not as a judge. That changes a lot of things. Observing what happens with us, within us without judgement provides us more courage to notice and observe. Did you know that weighing yourself daily and recording helps us keep a control over weight? Many a time we don’t record because of our fears and that we sit on judgement.
When we view our actions as a witness would, for the sake or recording without passing judgement, the chance of distance and change are far higher.
Would you take your own advice?
I hear your asking me that question. I have had some hard lessons over the past severals years that has got me to adopt these as ways of working. Imperfect. But making progress.
Am no soothsayer or wise man. But my conversations and reflections have always left me with lessons. My struggle is on two axes. On one rests the need to be sufficiently distant from myself to see my desires, actions, biases and consequences. And on another, to stay compassionate with myself to to do something about what I see. This fight is perpetual.
Let me know if you have other ideas. I am in the market for more.
The OWL Despatch
The OWL Despatch is a fortnightly labour of love where I curate five interesting pieces for you. This is edition number sixty three.
1. Speaking of paradoxes, here is a piece on ‘sophisticated leadership’. From ‘Humble Hero” to “Global minded localist” this essay explores six paradoxes of leadership.
2. Science fiction has played a huge part in human kind being able to imagine futures differently. Now, how did science fiction imagine a pandemic? Well here are some pointers.
3. Asking good questions is an important skill to thrive in the modern day world. A world where giving good answers takes all precedence, questions are key. Did you know there was an “International Ask A Question Day”? That day happens to be the birthday of a famous man we know. Guess who!
4. The adoption of Artificial Intelligence in South East Asia has been steady over time. Here is a piece that delves deeper on the subject. If you are interested in digital transformation and topics of that nature, you will love this piece.
5. One of the reasons for the rapid resurgence of COVID 19 is fatigue! Fatigue of COVID 19. There is so much news and stuff about COVID 19 and pandemic that people are tired and have stopped paying heed to warnings.
Here is a piece that a friend received on Whatsapp and duly forwarded it to me. Titled “Four tips from elite sport you can use in everyday life” holds plenty of insights and so dip in.
Abhijit sends this wonderful quote. “I am I plus my surroundings, and if I do not preserve the latter I do not preserve myself. – Meditations on Quixote (1914)
Deepak sends in the picture. As always, his enthusiasm is magical.
Thats that for this edition. I hope you will make the distance and find the compassion to say YES to the question we began with. “Would you take your own advice?”
Image credits Deepak Arora