Advice on Taking Advice: 5 Steps to Become a New Year’s Resolution Ninja

Written by on 06 Jan 2015

Welcome back, 2015ers!


If you’ve been reading along through the holidays, then I know you’ve spent much of the last week or so celebrating a year gone by and preparing for the year ahead. You’ve had champagne and sparklers and teeny tiny parades. And now, you’re ready to tackle whatever might come your way in 2015.


For many of you, that list of items to tackle will start with New Year’s resolutions.


And that leaves me wondering…


How’s the whole “resolution” thing goin’ for ya?


We are exactly six days into the new year, and already I’ve seen signs of struggle.


I was in a yoga class just after the New Year, and my instructor made a joke about having already broken her New Year’s resolution—two days into it. She was trying to explain a basic yoga principle about how we need to be understanding and forgiving of ourselves, even when we fail. But all I could think was,


Holy crap… If a woman who teaches self-discipline for a living is on the Struggle Bus, what hope is there for the rest of us?!


Pretty extreme, I know.


But I tend to live in exaggerations.


Seriously though, New Year’s resolutions are notoriously difficult to maintain. This tendency to fail has become so commonly accepted that many people don’t make resolutions at all. I think that’s a pretty sad state of affairs considering the fact that the beginning of a brand new calendar year is probably one of the best excuses we have to start something new, make a much-needed change, or otherwise improve ourselves, our lives, and the lives of those around us.


So how can we fix this?


The major determinant of success or failure is not the capacity of the person. People are not categorically successes or failures. In fact, I think most people are infinitely powerful and capable of change.


The factor that separates the resolution newbies from the resolution ninjas is how a person intakes, integrates, and implements advice.


I’ve seen it time and time again. The combination of the right words at the right time with the right execution can take someone from confused and stuck to enlightened and well on their way.


Take my recent foray into yoga, for example. I’ve been practicing yoga for exactly one year as of this writing. I go to  class either five or six days a week depending on how good of a Friday or Saturday night I have. I’ve seen my strength, flexibility, and balance grow by leaps and bounds.


And yet, up until last week, one thing has eluded me—crow pose.


If you don’t practice yoga, go ahead and Google “crow pose.” It’s what I like to call a “basic-advanced” pose. It’s definitely not something for beginners, but it should be manageable for someone who has practiced rather religiously for a year.


There I go, “should-ing” myself again…


Anyway, I’ve had no less than 20 different instructors in the last year try to explain the best way to get into crow pose.


You have to start in a squat.

You have to start standing.

You have to have your head down.

You have to have your head up.

You have to rely on strength.

You have to rely on balance.

You have to lift one leg then the other.

You have to life both legs at once.


You can imagine my frustration with that amount of conflicting information. So, I'm sure can imagine my surprise when, last week, the perfect storm hit. I got the right instruction on a day when I was feeling particularly strong and I put it into practice.


And for the first time, I balanced my entire body weight on my arms, in the air, for longer than it takes to say, “whuuuuu.”


Crow pose, complete!


::cue fist pump::


New Year’s Resolutions—or any major changes, for that matter—are no different than yoga poses. You just need the right advice at the right time with the right execution to be successful. Get rid of the noise and get down to business.


So how can we be sure we’re doing that? How can we be better consumers, consolidators, and creators of information? How can we be sure that we’ve done the best we can with the advice we’ve been given?


In short, how can we become New Year’s resolution ninjas?


Well, it all starts with taking a little advice on taking advice.


Here we go:


  1. Consider your source.


Where is your advice coming from?


If you said, Buzzfeed, then we have bigger problems.


But if you said, other people, then let’s get started.


People are, by definition, imperfect. Realize this, deeply. Even if someone gives you advice with the best intentions, the best information, and the best understanding of your situation, it will never be perfect.


Know that no advice from another human being will never be the whole answer you are seeking. Each one will provide only parts of your complete answer. You will have to take the bits and pieces that resonate and make them work for you.


In the case of crow, I had to keep trying new instructors and eventually connect the advice dots.


So, consider your source.


  1. Consider the expertise of your source.


Who are you talking to, exactly?


If you’re going to your single friends for relationship advice or your broke friends for financial advice, you need to hit the reset button, immediately.


Don’t beat yourself up too much, because this is a totally normal practice. Once you trust a person, it’s much easier to trust his advice. That’s the reason it feels natural to go to your boyfriend or your dad for legal advice even though neither of them is an attorney.


But if you were just starting out on a new diet, let’s say, would you ask your overweight friends for help? Ummm, no. You'd want to hear the opinion of someone who is a) an expert in nutrition or fitness, b) in good shape himself, or c) actually knows what the hell he’s talking about.


I know I would.


In the case of crow, I continued to work with yoga instructors—not Crossfit coaches or Pilates teachers.


So, consider the expertise of your source.


  1. Consider your current needs.


Do you really need advice, at all?


Erica Jong is famous for saying that “advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.”


In your case, is she right? Do you already know what you want—or more importantly what you need—to do? Do you already have an answer, but you’re looking to be validated? Or better yet, to be talked out of it?


If that’s the case, resist the urge to live in advice limbo. Don’t collect information for information’s sake. Just get going.


If that’s not the case, then assess the extent to which you need actually need advice. Do you need advice about what to do or how to do it? Those are totally different.


In the case of crow, I knew that my goal was to get the pose down, so I just kept asking people how rather than why.


So, consider your current state.


  1. Consider your current expertise.


How much do you already know and how much do you need to learn?


If you’re honest about what you need from others, the process will go that much more smoothly.


No one has it all figured out. But some people do have some things figured out. And I know that you’re smart enough to know the difference between what you can figure out on your own and when you need to ask for help.


Do yourself and your advisors a favor by turning on your brain before you blindly ask for advice.


If your goal is to go back to school this year, then consider all the parts of that process and apply what you already know or can do on your own. You can probably make a lot of headway researching things like the application process or writing an essay outline before you ever engage someone in a conversation about the merits of the advanced study courses at XYZ Obscure University.


This will also help with information overwhelm, which I know you struggle with, too.


In the case of crow, I had collected information about hand placement, head alignment, and arm rotation, so I just kept asking about advanced techniques.


So, consider your current expertise.


  1. Consider the big picture.


How are you approaching your goal, problem, or resolution as a whole?


If you're relying on the advice of one person, website, or tea leaf to cure your ills, then you’re in for a rude, and rather quick, awakening.


Even the best advice doesn’t work 100% of the time for 100% of the people who take it. It will be your job to gather as much information as possible, take what works for you, and leave the rest. Only you will know the difference.


So how will you know what works for you?


All you have to do is try. See what works and keep it. See what doesn’t work and change it. Realize that the battle won’t be won in a day, and success is not measured by the lack of failure but by the will to continue trying.


It’s really that simple.


In the case of crow, it took a lot of time, and more than my fair share of advice, but finally the right words at the right time with the right execution brought all the pieces together.


So, consider the big picture.


This is how we can create a better state of affairs for 2015.


  1. Consider your source.
  2. Consider the expertise of your source.
  3. Consider your current needs.
  4. Consider your own expertise.
  5. Consider the big picture.


Remember, there is no “right” way, but there is a wrong way: never trying at all.


Go out, make a resolution, be an advice-taking ninja, and get ready for success.


Happy 2015!


Resolution on!




Now, I want to hear from you!


  1. What are your 2015 resolutions?
  2. What one thing will do change about your approach to taking advice to become a resolution ninja?


Share your story or your reaction in the comments below.

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