Most of us give better advice to our friends than we give to ourselves. A friend asked me just this week, “Bill, what can I do to lower stress in my life?”
It didn’t take long for me to come up with a conclusion for him. “I know you are going to be busy in your career because it is who you are. You can lower stress by scheduling regular time to exercise. It will have to be a decision on your part, however, so the emotional pressures of life don’t get in the way of your workouts.”
It’s hard to argue with the logic. Regular exercise will make him stronger and more relaxed. His capacity to focus on work will be enhanced and his sense of well-being will improve. As I was talking with him, however, a small voice inside me asked, “So, Bill, how are you at scheduling regular time to work out for yourself?”
The answer, of course, is, “Not that well!” I exercise several times each week, but I tend to do it randomly with whatever time I have left over. If I want to lower stress in my life and stay focused on my career goals, I ought to adopt the same advice I easily dispensed to my friend.
Treating Yourself As A Friend
I am certainly not alone in this. Even the apostle Paul wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) Like most people I know, I overanalyze myself, am overly critical of my motives, downplay my performance and give in to my fears more often than I want to admit.
In contrast, I enthusiastically encourage others to believe in the gifts God has given them, embrace the fact they are completely forgiven and push through the fears that hold them back. I find that when I do this, people like to spend time with me and good memories fill our lives. When I get self-absorbed and think negatively, I find that people around me become lethargic, irritated or just plain disinterested.
We tend to give better advice to our friends than we do ourselves because God designed each of us with a powerful friendship instinct. Proverbs 27:9 says, “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.” We are wired to give heartfelt advice to the people we call friends. That sincere advice makes life more pleasant for everyone because we naturally want our friends to do well and to flourish in all areas of life. Our input is aimed at helping them make constructive choices and careful commitments.
When Negativity Brings You Down
Now, contrast how you talk to friends with some of the things you say to yourself. We would never think to give a friend self-destructive advice or self-defeating direction, such as:
- “You don’t really have what it takes, so I think underachieving is a good idea for you.”
- “I think you should worry for hours or even days until you are exhausted.”
- “You are not as smart as others, so I think you should avoid taking the lead.”
- “You don’t look as good as other people, so I think you should stay home from the gathering.”
We don’t talk this way to others, but we often speak to ourselves with a defeated tone. As a result, we show up with self-doubt, imagined scenarios of defeat and overanalyzed conclusions which can be exhausting to everyone in the room. When you are absorbed with negative thoughts about yourself, it is harder for others to spend time with you. You get together with the anticipation that everyone will be energized and inspired. Instead, everyone goes home tired, wondering if the next time will be as much work.
Staying Positive With Friendly Advice
One of the best ways to become a better friend to others is to allow yourself to join your friendship circle with the following steps:
- Identify situations where you give yourself negative advice.
- Say out loud the advice you would give to a friend who was in the same situation.
- Choose to follow the advice you have just spoken.
The advice you give your friends helps them be more confident and less stressed. They accomplish more, worry less and invest more in their communities. It is time you let yourself in on the privilege.
You may also be interested in How To Be The Friend You’ve Always Wanted To Have