How often have you been given some really, really good advice in your life? I’ll put money on it being a lot more often than the number of times you’ve taken it. And conversely I’ll bet  you’ve offered really, really good advice far more often than it’s been taken.

(As an aside I’ll wager that the times good advice is taken is pretty similar to the number of times the advice matched what the person receiving the advice wanted to do in the first place!  But that’s very much an aside to my main point!)

The point is this: it’s always easier to solve other people’s problems than your own. Admit it, you know it is.  It’s the way coaching works, after all. Coaches don’t have answers – what they have are questions. Or better yet, reflections of your own questions – making you look at things (problems) in a different light. And hopefully a more productive one.

There are a few tools you can use yourself to take advantage of this clarity of vision without the expense of a coach and I’ve listed some of them here. They don’t remove the need for a good coach if you’ve got a significant problem but will certainly help for the day to day problems of life…ask yourself this question:

“If a friend of mine came to me with this problem, what would I ask them and what would I suggest?”

There now. Simple…isn’t it!

Let’s take a personal example where life hacks you off. Someone I know is in an abusive domestic relationship. That’s all you need to know from the outside to know what she should do next – leave. From the inside, however all she can see are the reasons why she shouldn’t leave and can’t leave. In other words, all she sees are the problems, not the end/solution.

Okay, I’ve over-simplified to make the point but I’m sure you get the idea.

Less importantly, a friend of mine has a car which is falling apart and he doesn’t have the time or the money to maintain it. At the moment it’s still worth quite a bit of cash but the odds are very much that within the next six months it’ll devalue spectacularly.  From the outside the solution is simple – sell – but from the inside it all looks very different. Ask yourself this question:

“I know I don’t know what to do to solve my problem, but if I did know the answer, what might that answer be?”

Yes, I know it sounds silly but what it does is allow you to get past the automatic self-filtering of ideas that everyone does when they sort of know what to do but don’t want to admit it to themselves.

This one is – in my personal experience at least – particularly useful in business settings for problems such as what to do about rising advertising costs, or falling income predictions or a member of staff who’s under-performing…ask yourself this question

“If I wanted to explain the situation to someone else, what would I say?”

Try writing the problem down – the best format is to imagine you’re writing a letter to someone you absolutely trust but who you’ve not managed to keep up to date with – which means they won’t know the ins and outs of your issues.

That in turn means you’ll have to explain the problem to them in simple steps, giving them all the information they need to solve your problem but only the key things they need to know.  Often you’ll find that the things you need to do come to you just in the process of writing this letter because you’re forcing yourself to structure your thinking and looking at the problem (and only the problem) not all the fluff and anxiety that lies around it.

If you don’t get inspired by the process of writing, try posting it to yourself somewhere else, so that when you read it you’re in a different environment. Address it to yourself using a different name to the one you normally think of yourself as… in other words, treat this letter as though it was coming from a friend.

Chances are…you’ll spot a way forward.

(Photo credit: Closeup Image of Vision Flow via Shutterstock)

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