3 Tips to Effectively Deal With Unsolicited Advice

A perspective shift might turn this tedious task into your secret superpower.

3 Tips to Effectively Deal With Unsolicited Advice
Photo by Tai's Captures on Unsplash

A perspective shift might turn this tedious task into your secret superpower.

I’m quitting my job to become a full-time writer.

When I told this to my colleagues, they said I was making the biggest mistake of my life. There’d be no coming back, and if I do this without thinking, I’d live to regret my decision. They even suggested that if I work 12 hours a day, I can make time for both my writing and my job.

In my heart, my decision was made. I knew where my true passion lay. Ten years down the line, I’d like to write and reach millions of readers across the globe. I’d like my words to mean something — even if it’s to one person.

I have so many stories trapped inside my heart. I want to share them all and leave a legacy behind.

My colleagues’ reactions didn’t sway me. But, talking to them took up a lot of mental space. Especially when I have my own insecurities about it not working, them talking about the worst-case scenario only painted a bleak picture for my future. It made things harder.

I was upset for the rest of the night after our discussion.

This incident made me think: “to what extent should we let others' unsolicited advice affect us?” Is it possible to detach from their opinions and only focus on doing what you want?

After a lot of deliberation and some research, I narrowed it down to three powerful questions you can ask yourself to effectively deal with unsolicited advice. Read on to know how to apply these lessons to your life.

1. Do they have any experience in what they’re talking about?

Or are they just talking in hypotheticals, projecting their insecurities onto you, and painting a world full of worst-case scenarios?

I realized this when I talked to my colleagues about my decision, and all they could think of were the ways I could fail.

Psychologists call the first instinct to imagine the worst-case scenario whenever presented with any uncertainty as ‘catastrophizing.’ According to the clinical psychologist, Linda Blair, catastrophizing is an unhealthy coping mechanism that’s not a natural instinct we’re born with. We like to seek solace in the assurance, ‘If I think the worst, then when the worst doesn’t happen I’ll feel relieved.’

I had to remind myself that no matter how bleak a picture they painted, my colleagues didn’t have any actual experience in the matter. They only shared what they believe might happen, without accurately analyzing the pros and cons of the situation.

How you can get past this

Forgive your friends for having limiting beliefs, but don’t let their thoughts hinder your world-view. According to Harvard Business Review, here’s what you can do if your friends’ unsolicited advice fills your head with negative thoughts:

  • Stop mentally transporting yourself to the future and only take care of the present, one step at a time.
  • Focus on the facts — the “what is” — rather than the future — the “what if.”
  • Play out the best and worst-case scenario in your head. You’ll realize both are simply childlike fantasies. Reality is almost always somewhere in between.
  • Get more data points. The real cure for catastrophizing is confidence, and confidence often comes from experience.

2. Does their definition of “success” or “happiness” align with yours?

Each of us has our own, distinct and different definition of success. For my colleagues, “success” meant having a stable, secure, well-paying job. To me, it’s enjoying what I do and getting paid from it as well.

For them, “happiness” meant finding someone to marry, settling down, and starting your own family. To me, at least for now, it’s the ability to find some meaning, a sense of purpose in my work, and to be able to do what I want without anyone judging or presiding over me.

No wonder our views clashed. No wonder they met my decision with so much resistance.

How you can get past this

Understand that people with different goals and expectations from life will see different versions of reality. Their feelings are valid, but you shouldn’t let their “rules” mess with your head. Here are some ways to deal with people who doubt you, according to Thrive Global and Harvard Business Review:

  • Know your worth and don’t let anyone tear you down.
  • Don’t demonize opposers. People who oppose almost never have bad intentions — they are usually trying very hard to do something they see as valuable.
  • Use the doubt and negativity to fuel your passion and energize you to be better, to do better
  • Turn to TED talks and inspirational quotes if need be.
  • Surround yourself with people who clap when you win.
“Conformity begins the moment you ignore how you feel for acceptance.”
― Shannon L. Alder

3. Is it their intention to hurt you?

When my colleagues filled my head with insecurities, they didn’t actually intend to make me feel bad about my decision. In their own way, they were trying to take care of me, to make me see things according to the priority list in their heads.

But as Mark Alicke, a professor of psychology at Ohio University, puts it,

“The gulf between what things feel like to us and to others is impassible: No matter how hard we try, we cannot enter another person’s subjective, conscious experience.”

I wish my colleagues understood that it’s natural to not understand where I was coming from, but they shouldn’t have assumed that I was wrongheaded and hadn’t considered my choice a million times already before finally taking the plunge. I wish they had trusted me a bit.

How you can apply this

As Dr. Gregory Jantz writes in Psychology Today, here are some ways to respond when another person’s well-intended words or actions hurt you:

  • Recognize their intention behind what they did. Learn to trust your gut instinct.
  • Resist the tendency to defend your position. When you stick to what you’re feeling, you give the other person the permission to explain their point of view. Then, together you can come to a consensus, hopefully resulting in mutual forgiveness.
  • Give up the need to be right all the time. You may simply agree to disagree.
  • Recognize and apologize for anything you may have done to contribute to them feeling sad about your decision.
  • Realize that even if someone has hurt you, that need not take away your personal happiness. You’re always in charge of your attitude and response. You can get over it and move on.

Final Words

“You often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”
― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

When you make a decision that’s different from what’s considered normal, you’re bound to face a lot of resistance from the people around you. While their concern might be well-intended, if you let their unsolicited advice get to your head, it will only end up messing with your peace of mind without contributing anything valuable to your decision.

Before you let anyone else’s unsolicited advice affect your mood, here are three questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Do they have any experience in what they’re talking about? Or are they just talking in hypotheticals, projecting their insecurities onto you, and painting a world full of worst-case scenarios?
  2. Does their definition of “success” or “happiness” align with yours? If not, then why are you even letting their opinions get to your head?
  3. Is it their intention to hurt you? If yes, you need to distance yourself from this opinion. If not, forgive them and move on.

No matter what everyone else around you says, you have the right to make your own choices. You might be making a mistake and you might end up regretting it later. But, it’s your life, and you deserve the freedom to not always make the right choice.

That’s the only way you’ll learn.
That’s the only way you’ll grow.
You don’t owe anyone else an explanation.

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