Why You’re Good At Giving Advice But Can’t Take It Yourself

We’ve all had those moments when our friends are going through a tough time and we start spouting all kinds of wisdom: “You deserve to be treated better!” “Tell them how you feel!” “Maybe you’re not ready to be that serious.” However, when the tables turn and we’re suddenly the ones receiving the tips and pep talks, things don’t seem so straightforward. Why is it that you’re so good at giving advice but you can’t take it?

  1. You see your friends’ lives a lot more clearly. It’s a whole lot easier to be rational when you’re looking at things from the outside. There isn’t an emotional piece to the problem, and without emotion, you’re more clear-sighted. But when you’re the one in the thick of it, it’s hard to keep your feelings out of it, and that’s okay! It just means that as an outsider, things may be more a little less shaded and a little more objective.
  2. You don’t have to live with the consequences.It’s easy to tell your friend to dump their partner if you don’t have to deal with the aftermath. You won’t be the one who has to break someone’s heart or live with the pain of going through a breakup. The same thing goes for any piece of advice. It isn’t your life that you’re affecting, so it’s easier to coach your friend on what you think they should do.
  3. You don’t have the full story. The human brain naturally gives more weight to negative interactions than positive ones. This negativity bias comes from the way our brains are wired. Let’s say, for instance, that your friend is in a relationship. They might only share with you the negative experiences with their partner, or they may share these more frequently than their positive ones. From an outsider’s perspective, their relationship may not seem that great, while they may actually be really happy. This could cause an issue to seem simpler than it is and make giving advice seem straightforward while in reality, it isn’t.
  4. Your friends don’t understand. It’s the full story issue from the other side of things. If a friend offers you advice that you don’t like, you’re likely to say that their advice doesn’t make sense since they don’t fully understand your situation. That’s an understandable way to feel. The person giving you advice doesn’t know everything. Even if you explained every little detail of the situation, something would still be missing. This mindset, however, can make it a lot harder to take a friend’s advice. 
  5. You’re denying your problems are real. You can’t be open to advice on something if you don’t think there’s an issue. During my last relationship, a friend told me that she thought my partnership was toxic. I remember getting so angry at her. Who the hell does she think she is, I thought. I didn’t see an issue with my relationship at all. Now that I’m out of it, I can look back and see that she was right. In the moment, I was in denial. I didn’t think there was an issue and I certainly didn’t want her advice on it. 
  6. Giving advice is easy, following it is harder.If your friend is trying to be healthier, you may tell them to get outside more or eat more vegetables. Maybe you tell them to cut out alcohol. All of these things are easy to say, but actually doing them takes effort. There’s going to the grocery store, cooking more, missing out on some fun drinking opportunities. The act of giving advice is usually easier than following.
  7. It’s human nature to be hypocritical. Robert Kurzban, former psychology professor, says that hypocrisy is the natural state of the human mind. He even wrote a book on it: Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind (Princeton University Press, 2011). You may be great at giving advice but terrible at taking it yourself because you’re a hypocrite … and that’s okay! It’s just something you need to realize about yourself. 

Yes, giving advice to a friend is easy, but taking advice (even your own sometimes) is harder. Pay attention next time you give advice. Listen closely to yourself. You may be saying something that you need to hear too.