The best approach is the one you actually use
Do you want to know how to make someone feel really bad about their inability to get their life in order?
Tell them exactly the best way to get their life in order.
You read a book. You saw a YouTube video. You did a LinkedIn learning. You took a class. Or maybe you came up with it yourself.
“I know exactly what you should do,” you should say with confidence.
Then tell them the thing that worked for you, smirk with smugness at your own brilliance and magnanimity, and watch them try to thank you as they slowly realize the horror that you just unleashed on them.
What worked for me will of course obviously without a doubt work for you
Most of us have a strong desire to help other people solve problems we’ve already conquered. When I got my coach training through the UC Davis program, the biggest early hurdle many of us had to overcome was to avoid “solutioning” for our clients.
All of us, but especially those with long, diverse careers in management, teaching, or leadership, felt a pull, at first, to jump straight into solutions.
We all do it, especially when talking with friends, coworkers, or our children. And especially when they’ve got a problem we think we know something about.
“I have trouble with time management,” someone might say.
Most of us jump straight to what has worked for us. A calendar app. A to-do list methodology. A decluttering philosophy. A focus on exercise, or mindfulness, or self empowerment.
I get LinkedIn messages like that every day—someone has the one solution guaranteed to change my life. 🙄
But there’s a fundamental problem in offering people solutions to problems you’ve already solved.
They’re your solutions, not their solutions.
Not everyone sees the world as you do.
One dress does not fit all people
Sometimes even you don’t see the world as you do.
Remember the great internet dress controversy? I personally still see the dress as yellow and white, even though I have read that it is, in reality, blue and black.
I love optical illusions. But did you know that your experience of that photograph may depend on what time you typically go to bed? (TL;DR: people who go to bed late tend to experience a lot of incandescent lighting, so when they look at that picture their brains make different assumptions about the colors than people who experience more natural lighting.)
When you were arguing with your colleagues about the colors of this dress, did they ask you what time you normally went to bed?
Of course not.
Besides being a potentially creepy question for the workplace, who knew that bedtime might be a factor in this situation?
Suggestions, not solutions
And that’s really the question that matters: who knows what factors are at play?
When someone has found “the solution” to your problem, they’re either unaware of, or ignoring, a whole host of other things that might make their solution a complete flop for you. (Or they’re selling something.)
I talk with clients all the time who are aimlessly and unsuccessfully trying to pick from a whole bunch of solutions that friends, family, or “experts” have told them to try.
They can’t settle on any one thing, even though all those people seem so authoritative and successful. It worked for those people, it should work for everyone. Right?
But it’s important to see all those “solutions” as mere suggestions. They were valid paths to success for someone, but that doesn’t mean they’re right for everyone.
That’s because we all come from different backgrounds. We don’t all take in information the same way. We don’t process information the same way, or arrange the results the same way.
Our brains use complicated, subtle calculations based on our unique experiences and biases to color the world around us.
Gold and white? Or blue and black?
Don’t feel bad rejecting other people’s suggestions
The most insidious thing about experts solutioning for others is that if their solution doesn’t work for you, it can actually make you feel worse. It worked for them, so if it doesn’t work for you then you must be the problem.
When you’re already swimming in a puddle of self-doubt because of the problem itself, continuously trying and failing at other people’s sure-fire solutions just brings on more self-doubt.
That said, if you take in enough suggestions, it’s often likely that one of them will turn out to be the actual solution you need.
But how do you know which is the best one?
How to pick the best approach
Quite simply, the best approach is the one you actually use.
Not much else truly matters.
You can pay top price for the most highly rated home gym used by all the fitness experts, but if you only use it to hang laundry on, it’s not a solution for you. If you actually use the cheap stretch cords and bargain treadmill every day, then that’s the best solution for you.
You can buy the most feature-rich calendar app with artificial intelligence and color coding, but if what you actually use is a dry-erase wall calendar while the app never gets opened, which is the better solution?
Keeping a growth mindset
Understanding yourself and your goals is key to picking the right solution when there are many to choose from.
You might feel comfortable keeping your budget on a paper notepad, so you might be reluctant to try a spreadsheet or financial tool. It seems a lot to learn, more work, all the rationalities we convince ourselves of.
So do you stick with the primitive, limited, comfortable method you use? Or do you try something new because your old method might be limiting you and holding you back?
And that brings us back to the original problem: Which one of these new ones do you pick?
Again: The one that’s best is the one you will actually use. Not necessarily the one most highly rated, or the fanciest, or the one Todd in accounting uses.
Those things may influence your decision process, but you should have your decision process drive which influences you pay attention to, not the other way around.
Owning your decision process
One of the key differences between a guru and a coach is that a guru tells you what to choose, while a coach helps you understand and take power over your decision process.
Even a question as simple as “should I move my budgeting process from a notepad to a spreadsheet app” can twist some people up in knots.
A guru will tell you the answer they think is right and probably try to sell it to you.
A coach will help you drill down into your motivations, expand your view to see your big picture goals, and try to find out what other factors are at play so you can feel that you’re making the most authentic, intentional, useful decisions for yourself.
I won’t ask you about your typical bedtime, though.
Or maybe I will, if it seems relevant.
How can I be of service to you?
I’d love to have a chat about what’s going on in your life, the goals you have, the challenges you’re facing. What is motivating you? What is getting in your way?