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Overcoming the Power of Suggestion: Make Your Own Choices

“People who urge you to be realistic generally want you to accept their version of reality.” ~Unknown

I’m often open to suggestion. I like to gather opinions and feedback about my writing so that I can use it to improve the impact and make it a better read.

The thing I’ve learned about listening to other people’s thoughts on my writing is that sometimes what seems like good advice is little more than personal preference; changing an image or an entire scene to suit one person isn’t always the right path, especially if my gut is saying, “You know you don’t want to do that.”

Now that I am working on a novel, I realize how easy it’s been to sway me, not just in my decisions but also in my thoughts.

Have you ever taken a different route to a party or family event because the person in the passenger seat told you to? How about putting those comfy, though slightly old trainers in the bottom of the closet because your partner thinks they look shabby?

It’s a given that we’ve all spent money on something we don’t need because we’ve been lured by the suggestion of T.V. and big companies that appeal to our desire to happy. I bet some people have even given up on dreams because someone else has said they’d be better off aiming a bit lower.

There’s a difference between valid advice and suggestions based on self-interest.

There are times when my view of reality gets distorted, when I’m stressed or upset. Once I’ve calmed down, I often acknowledge that my perception was overblown, although a grain of truth often remains.

It’s frustrating when someone else negates my experiences—essentially saying there is no grain of truth.

A lot of the time I can take what’s helpful to me and shrug the rest off, but I sometimes start to lose trust in myself when the words come from an authority figure.

We can easily decline the views of a family member if they don’t reflect how we think or feel, but it’s much more difficult to follow the path that you know is best for you when faced with suggestions from well established groups, such as doctors, teachers, and politicians.

Sometimes we’re given advice that is necessary even though it seems bad, but other times, we need to recognize when other people simply don’t understand what’s going on with us and what’s right for us.

For example, I had a rough day about a month ago. I was in an unfamiliar place and finding it hard to cope. When I spoke to someone about my feelings of uncertainty, about the fear and emptiness I felt, he quickly realigned my experiences to his point of view.

He told me that the things I had felt hadn’t happened and that it had just been an unusual day, but that didn’t change how I felt.

I’ve done it before myself, but I try to be conscious of whether or not I am actually trying to help someone, or trying instead to silence them and convince them to do what I would do (or what I want them to do).

If I’m giving feedback on someone’s writing, I’m conscious that my interpretation could be incorrect, so I always say, “It’s just a thought, and you’re free to pass it over, but…”

I’ve found that when someone is suggesting you think, feel, or do something that doesn’t feel right, the best remedy is to question. You don’t have to do it out loud if it’s not called for, but it will help you highlight unseen motivations and desires if you ask yourself, “Why has this person told me to do something that goes against my gut feeling?”

These motivations and desires might not be malicious. Even people who mean well can end up having a vested interest in your decisions. For example, a friend might suggest applying to the same college, even if you’d rather not, suggesting it would be better to be closer to your family, when in all reality that friend just doesn’t want to go it alone.

Once you’ve asked your questions, politely address these issues and stand firm. Question yourself too: “Am I distracting my friend from her work because I think she needs a break, or am I tearing her away because I’m bored and lonely?”

A bit of persuasion goes a long way. When we’re feeling uncertain and vulnerable, we’re more likely to accept the influence of others. Maybe it’s because we need reassurance or we’re feeling frightened by the prospect of stepping out with a new idea.

Sometimes giving in to persuasion is a way of stepping back into our comfort zone.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to get people to see your side of the story, especially if it’s for a good cause or to help steer them from disaster. But we have to be mindful of how we influence one another. We have to watch out for those moments where we hold people back or are held back by others.

If we gave in to consensus all the time, even over the smallest things, how far would we get with our dreams? How much of my novel would be mine and not the decision of others?

Influence is rarely selfless, which is why we need to be mindful of the power of suggestion so that we make the choices that are right for us.

Photo by Orin Zebest

Profile photo of Sam Russell

About Sam Russell

Sam Russell is a young writer from the southeastern corner of the UK. He’s a cynic by nature trying to prove that cynics can be happy and positive, too. Visit his blog at http://cackhanded.wordpress.com/.

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  • Alan

    Well said. I find it hard to filter through others suggestions and to figure out if their comment does resonate or not. Their suggestions can seem so intriguing and great and accompanied by my lack of direction or drive seem to be the best choice. Knowing which path is best is always a tricky decision. Thanks for the article.

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  • Excellent article! Thank you for this inspiration today.

    Being true to myself is so important and only I know my own truth. What is true for someone else may not be for me, and checking in with myself is an important part of loving my life.

    I recently wrote my own article about taking ownership and making choices and this article is the second I’ve read today on the topic of choices. Progress depends on breaking out of a passive mentality and accepting responsibility for my life and my choices. Though taking ownership of my choices may feel uncomfortable at times, the good news is I am free to make a different, better choice at any time!

    Retweeted & stumbled! Thanks again!

    Recently posted: http://www.liveandlovework.com/2011/07/12/take-ownership-make-a-choice/

  • anon

    Thank you for this. It’s as if you had been living my life, especially in the past couple of months. This has been a real problem for me and just to hear that I’m not alone in this helps. Thanks so much.

  • What a great article, Sam.  It’s so important to make the distinction between persuasion and genuine advice.  Like you said, most people have an agenda or motivation when they make suggestions.  If you’re in a vulnerable place or unsure to begin with, it’s easy to be swayed by someone else’s opinion when in reality it might be completely wrong for you.

    I have experienced this a number of times recently.  When I talk about making changes with one friend, she immediately gives me several reasons why I “can’t” do the things I’ve mentioned.  She has a vested interest because my making the changes would affect her.  That’s an obvious example, but it really made me examine the advice I get in any situation.  As you said, other people don’t know my circumstances or what’s right for me, so I need to know my own truth and reject anything that feels wrong at my core.

    This piece is also a great reminder for me to be aware of my influence on others when they come to me for an opinion.  I always intend to mindfully listen but it’s only human to want to “help” and I’m guilty of attempting to persuade as well!

    PS–I have to say that I always look forward to your articles here on Tiny Buddha.  Whenever I see your name, I know it will be an especially great piece!

  • It is always amazing when you read a post that speaks directly to your own personal struggle. This has been my lifelong struggle (being susceptible to others’ opinions/direction) but has been especially troublesome of late. Thanks so much for the insight!

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  • Shelley

     It’s so true that others, consciously or not, often have their own agenda when giving advice. Like most people, I’ve experienced this many times in my life & often, recently. It’s important to separate this agenda from the advice, in order to determine whether the advice is the right path to follow. Thank you for this terrific article!

  • apol

    Terrific blog entry. “Influence is rarely selfless.” Spot on. I have been much more mindful of accepting others “advice”. I had a “friend” that pushed ideas and agendas on me constantly. She knew I was in a vulnerable place and took full advantage. I realize I am to blame as I have to control my own reactions and behavior. Thankfully I am awake now! Trust your gut. Know your truth. It’s the only way to live.

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  • Grace

    I needed that.
    While growing up, I was constantly told that my feelings and choices were “wrong” so I learned to distrust my gut and second guess myself in nearly every situation. 
    At 52, I feel that I’m just beginning to know and live my truth even when others disagree. That’s okay – many people will never learn to do that.