What’s the best life advice you ever got?
What are the words you tucked away in your pocket or personal tool kit and have since rolled out whenever you’ve needed it?
Life advice often comes in the simplest packages, in the sharp one-liners key people drop in your lap at the exact moment you’re ready to hear it.
It interests me that these almost throwaway lines often end up having more power over us than values or virtues. When we’re under the pump, we don’t sit down and remind ourselves of our authenticity, honesty and integrity.
Instead, we reach for what-we-know, a few words that ring true — and use them to calm/soothe, make decisions, remind us what to say, how to act and who to be.
Which means those one-liners can end up defining our lives.
So what guides you? Drop them into the comments section if you get that far. But I’ll kick off the process with three of my best.
The 3 Best Pieces of Life Advice I Ever Got
1. All I ask is that you don’t grow up dead.
This classic line was delivered to me by my mother just as I was about to leave home for the first time. I was 17, pretty naive and moving to a new city to study. This was her tearful parting line. We ended up laughing at the irony of her words. But I’ve never forgotten it. It’s my guiding light for risk-taking. I’ve taken some big, probably dumb (actually, definitely dumb) risks but luck played a role and I’m still here. But I loved that she spared me the parental lecture; she didn’t give me a long list of What Not To Do. I loved that she left a wide margin for error. Most of all, I loved that I made the most of it.
One day I will “grow up dead”. We all will. But in the meantime, leave the comfort zone. Try things. Take some risks. Not crazy, stupid ones, but bust out of your own cage sometimes. All we have is the gap between when we’re born and when time is called on us. Aim to live as well as possible in the gap.
2. The cat sat on the mat.
My first career was as a print media journalist. At one job I worked in the sports department of an old-school newsroom (7 men and me), filled with piles of newspapers, noise, hustle and people yelling and swearing as news broke and deadlines loomed.
When we reporters would come in from a game/interview and sit down to knock out a story our boss would stomp between desks chanting this mantra to each of us: “cat sat on the mat”. It was designed to smash through any hint of writer’s block. It meant stick to the basics. Keep it simple. Don’t try to flash or fancy. Don’t be a smart ass. Get it finished. And do it FAST.
Living by “cat sat on the mat” makes it impossible to be a perfectionist and it helps you break through procrastination. My newsroom boss taught me this: Just do it. Set a deadline because deadlines help you finish your sh*t. Don’t try to be the best or the coolest or use the biggest words. Be methodical. Cover the basics. Do what’s right in front of you. Be a finisher.
3. What’s going to make the most difference to this person’s life right now?
When I trained as a psychologist the information, the knowledge came at us like an avalanche, I could fill books with all the stuff we learned and I hope a lot of it stuck.
But one lecturer had a way of distilling complex information into a pill that was easily swallowed. She was a working clinical psychologist and her lectures were filled with useful tips for working with clients like “keep the plane off the ground.” In other words, don’t crash and burn therapy. If you find yourself veering off the flight path, get back on it — quickly.
But the tip that most stayed with me — and I think of it in EVERY single session I have with clients now — is this: what’s going to make the most (positive) difference to this person’s life right now?
When you’re working with people, it’s tempting to bring all you know into the room, to take someone too quickly down into their core schemas and beliefs to figure out what’s driving their thoughts, feelings and actions.
But that’s not helpful. It’s too much, too soon, and can even be a little mean. It’s better to help a person leave the session feeling a little better about their life outside the room.
- So, if someone is lonely, how can we introduce more social contact?
- If someone is struggling with their weight, how can we get them started on a plan today?
- If a person is depressed, what will help them get up tomorrow morning?
What’s top of the heap? How do we nudge this person’s life forward? How do we give this person some hope?
Whenever I’m struggling I think of this: what’s going to make the most positive difference to MY life right now? Then, I go do that one thing and I almost always feel better.
Taking action in your favoured direction is the first step in building or renewing hope.
And hope is everything.
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