Why Is It So Hard to Take Your Own Advice?

Have you ever had a teacher, friend, parent, or mentor tell you, "do as I say, not as I do"? Have you ever given any thought to how confusing this maxim is? Furthermore, if you are the person giving the advice, why aren't you taking advantage of your own wise guidance?

As a health professional, it's common to find yourself in a related conundrum - how can you help clients live better lives when yours remains largely unchanged? Personally, I spend hours every week challenging clients to set goals, make changes, and face tough truths about their current habits. But I spend very little time challenging myself to change.

This is not to say that my life couldn't use changing - it most definitely could. But I've gotten so comfortable with my current habits that I haven't bothered to revisit and refine them. So I am challenging myself this year to be my own coach and start setting new goals. One of those goals is to continue researching interesting health-related topics and writing about them.

Here is the question I want to answer - why is it so hard to take your own advice? I started with a few hypotheses and confirmed the list below.

First, the illusion that education outranks experience. You heard about intermittent fasting on a podcast and now you're telling all your friends why they should try it (even though you gave up after 3 days). When we think we have unique, coveted scientific information we are eager to share it with others despite having no personal evidence whatsoever.

Too much information can also cause analysis paralysis. If you learn too much about a given subject you can become overwhelmed, causing you to take no action at all.

Second, we tell ourselves we will follow through with our own advice at a later date. It's a classic case of procrastination mixed with falsely equating intentions and action. This advice might be something you tell your book club you're going to try next month, so they should too. But when next month comes, and the next month, and the next month you still haven't changed.

A third possible reason for not following our own advice is believing that for some reason we are the exception. Your kids need to have less sugary drinks but you're an adult, so you have soda with dinner or margaritas on the weekend. We make excuses for ourselves because we believe our situation is "special". Truthfully, humans are a lot more alike than we are different. So, while your health journey may look different than someone else's, the two paths probably have more similarities than differences.

The final possibility is fear of failure/lack of confidence in success. We want to build up the people around us and we have faith that they can overcome challenges that we could not. When you don't believe you can succeed, you probably won't. Sometimes it's easier to give advice because you're not on the hook if it doesn't work out. But when you take your own advice and ultimately don't reach the outcome you were hoping for, you have to face yourself and your failure.

The Keys to Following Your Own Advice

So, what's the answer? How do you start to "walk the walk"? Here are a few tips:

  1. Try, fail, and try something else. Change is not a linear process.

  2. Find an accountability partner to work with - share how following your own advice has or has not worked for you.

  3. Find a source of motivation to help you want to change long-term

  4. Work with a health coach - like me!

  5. Write down your goals, track your progress.

  6. Be kind and forgiving toward yourself during the process of change.

Whether it's in-person, on social media, or through a text message, the next time you give advice, consider taking it yourself! And if you want resources to learn more about health and wellness topics, subscribe to my blog.

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