This is going to be a slightly ironic read. As you’re most likely reading it, like me, in search of answers. For advice. That golden nugget of wisdom that will define your path, fix your mind and make everything perfectly clear. You see it’s this tiresome pursuit for answers that takes its toll or our minds and our bodies. It’s an overdose of advice.
For a while now I’ve been on a relentless consumption of advice. I’m building a new venture, I’m at a crossroads in my personal life and I’m struggling with my day job. And I have no idea what I’m doing (or at least, I didn’t).
We live in an age where we have all the information we could ever need, intravenously fed to us, daily. It’s this huge amount of information on tap that cripples us. I ask one question. And get more than one answer back. I then have two questions — my original question and a new question, which asks ‘which answer is right?’ And then this multiplies. It’s like rats at an orgy.
Up until recently, when I decided to sort this shit out, I had advice coming in from: Medium publications I subscribe to, articles from writers I’m subscribed to, books, blogs, friends, family, my agent, various work connections I’ve made over the years, my girlfriend and my therapist. Oh and the usual social media feeds I have.
Too. Bloody. Much. Input.
I slowly found myself feeling sluggish. Weighed down. I had physical symptoms of all the advice I was receiving. And I don’t want to confuse this with just information. I’m not talking about the general internet and life garbage.
I’m on about having tough questions, that are stressing you out as it is. And then the ensuing advice that comes from when you ask for help. And I’m not saying I’m not grateful for all the advice I’ve received, and I’m not saying any of it was bad. In fact, I think that’s the problem. There’s so much good advice available now.
People are becoming more open about sharing their failures. Their own vulnerabilities, faults and mistakes. And it’s these stories that we’ve become addicted to. ‘If I read about another person’s mistakes, I won’t make them myself’. This mindset is absolute bullshit. You need to screw up on your own. You need to sometimes find your own answers to your own problems. Because your problem is unique to you.
It’s fair to say I reached a breaking point. I had become tired, stressed, irritable, not present, constantly thinking and analysing, my brain hurt from thinking, reading, responding, talking and listening, my head felt heavy, my body ached, I felt lost, confused and anxious, restless, bored and impatient.
So rather than go cold turkey and shut myself off from the world, I decided to take a gradual approach on phasing out my advice dosage. These are the steps I took:
1. Removed all social media from my phone.
Removing Twitter, Facebook and Instagram from my phone instantly allowed me to breathe. Being a small business, I do need access to social media to grow my community and fan base. I’ve not yet figured out a way to do this without having to sacrifice my own sanity. Maybe a cheap old smartphone, that’s used just for social media would do the trick … I didn’t remove Medium, however. Or iBooks. Both of which supply me a decent dose of daily advice. But here’s why …
2. I edited all my remaining reading material
If you can read 15 books at once, then you’re not reading them properly. I’ve got four on the go and about 20 sample books that I plan to read and I’m struggling. I’ve now removed all my books on iBooks to just one. The one I started reading 6 months ago. When I’ve finished it I’ll read another. If I get bored of reading it, I’ll just take a break, rather than start another book.
I know I enjoy reading it, so it’s probably me and not the book that’s boring.
I’ve also gone through and tidied up my Medium feed. I found myself scrolling a lot and diving around, just aimlessly consuming stories. Often aborting stories as soon as I realised it was a long one (a bit like this one is). It might have been good. But there might have been something better. So I bailed. And carried on hunting.
Pick 3 writers or publications. Follow them. Only read their articles for 3 months. Review and then refresh. That’s my plan. And since I’ve done it I feel lighter and less overloaded.
3. Curated my advice panel
I’m listening to too many people. Asking the same questions to each person I have a coffee with. And coming away with more questions than answers. The problems is, the advice people are giving, are solutions on what they would do if they had the problem. And that’s fine, and their ideas are great. But they’re not right. And that’s because only I can find the solution to my own problem. Hey, I might even be the problem. And then no one can fix it, other than me.
So I collected the names of all the people that have been giving me advice. I looked at the time it took me to speak with that person and the quality of the help they gave, to create my optimum advice panel. I realised that I had 3 core subject areas I needed help with — life, career and business. From this, I’ve picked 1 person for each area. And I’ll review things in a few months time to see how things are going.
4. I stopped chasing for answers
Most articles around self-help contain steps you should take. And the more you read the more steps you think you need to take. And before you know it there are so many steps, it’s like a game of hopscotch. You’ve got hops, skips, jumps and fuck knows what else and all you keep thinking is — what just happened to wandering around a bit.
It’s easy to chase for answers. Consume, consume, consume. The funny thing is — the answer will come when it’s ready. Not when you want it.
Right now you are journeying through space and time. And the future is coming. It’s out of your control. And the answer to your problems is there, inside it. You can’t physically move faster through space and time. You can’t force the answer that’s locked in the future to arrive before its due. So forget time. Don’t put a deadline on when you need to find the answer. It’s out of your control.
As soon as I started doing these things, literally within a couple of weeks, answers started arriving. And things have felt a lot lighter in my mind. It’s given me space in my brain again. Not to think or to force the answers but to just be in this moment of not knowing.
And being OK with it.