A lot of the advice, feedback, and food for thought we receive won’t fit or work for our specific situation, for whatever reason.
Either we have a situation that makes the advice impossible to enact; or the author is speaking to people with a slightly different set of circumstances and challenges; or the author has made assumptions that don’t hold true for us.
It’s easy to get discouraged when we’re out there actively seeking advice and guidance, and we’re met with an avalanche of content that misses the mark— either by a little, or by a lot. It can get to the point where we might think, in exasperation, “Doesn’t ANYONE understand what I’m struggling with? Doesn’t ANYBODY get it?”
Want to know the truth? No. Nobody gets exactly what it’s like to be you. And anybody who says they do is either mistaken or selling something.
In our quests to discover paths, philosophies, and tools that can realistically help us make the most of the life we have— not the life we wish we had— we often have to take the wisdom to which we’re exposed and adjust its specifics so that we can benefit from its core message.
It’s either that— or we throw out the baby with the bathwater, and we lose the opportunity to benefit from decades upon decades of wisdom, research, and experience that may otherwise be helpful to us…but which doesn’t scratch us exactly where we itch.
We have magnificent minds that are very capable of being flexible in response to the things to which we’re exposed in our journeys toward health and wholeness.
A good example of this approach is the twelve step philosophy of dealing with addiction and other dysfunctional behavior patterns, like codependency.
There is nothing magical or particularly complex about the twelve step tradition. It fundamentally revolves around the concept of radical honesty with oneself and others as the key to abstaining from behaviors that have proven harmful. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous provide a supportive environment in which people are encouraged to be brutally real with themselves and each other about how their behavior has impacted their lives and the lives of the people around them, and to pull no punches about their inability to make that behavior an ongoing part of their worlds.
Do you need to be addicted to a substance to find this approach and philosophy helpful to your life? Absolutely not. Regular readers of my blog know that unrelenting realism and radical honesty about both our strengths and limitations are cornerstones of my own approach to treatment— whether or not someone is an “addict” per se.
Which is to say: because an approach or a piece of advice isn’t designed explicitly for you doesn’t mean you can’t internalize and benefit from it.
Another example is cognitive behavioral therapy, the most empirically validated psychotherapy approach of the last fifty years.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is an approach that investigates the rationality, functionality, and testability of the thoughts that flow through our heads all day, every day. The research that bolsters CBT suggests that when people experience outsized or dysfunctional emotional reactions, it’s often the case that their thinking is distorted— that they’re thinking in patterns that are unnecessarily and unrealistically black and white, exaggerated, or focused on themselves in aggressive and blaming ways.
CBT was explicitly developed as a treatment for depression. As it began to be widely employed and started to show real promise for people who were suffering, its used were modified and expanded to address anxiety as well. As time went on and the research on CBT became even more robust, it’s scope expanded to encompass problems such as addiction, procrastination, and self-harm.
Does one need to be depressed, anxious, or afflicted with any of the challenges for which CBT has been designed and validated in order to benefit from its techniques? Of course not. But some people will nonetheless draw a line in the sand, figuring that because their exact circumstances don’t quite conform to what CBT was designed for, the core message doesn’t have value for them.
It’s an unnecessary waste.
Our brains are designed to be flexible. There is a psychological principle called “accommodation” that allows us to adjust the information we’re exposed to to fit in with our own unique circumstances and challenges. We’re born with this ability— you have it already. I guarantee you’ve used it in the past to take advantage of information and principles that had value for you…but which may not have scratched you exactly where you itched just then.
You don’t have to be from a galaxy far, far away to be moved and motivated by the hero’s journey of Luke Skywalker.
You don’t have to have Borderline Personality Disorder to take advantage of the techniques of Dialectical Behavior Therapy.
An insight doesn’t need to speak perfectly to your situation in order to be valuable to you— a part of it can speak to a part of you, and that’s all you need.
On your quest, don’t get bogged down in the details. Think big picture. Ask if any part of a core message can apply to any part of your life or struggle.
Keep your magnificent mind open
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For information and resources on protecting yourself on your personal development journey, visit the nonprofit organization SEEK Safely.