Walking Your Talk: Advice, Knowledge & Action

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It seems everyone wants to give us advice, for our own good, for our own benefit. The aim is to help guide us back on course, the perception being that we have somehow wandered off it. Inversely, we are also drawn to give our advice to others for similar reasons. Is this advice the be all and end all solution for how to live a happy and meaningful life? Oliver Burkeman, in his article in NewPhilosopher, examines “Walking your talk “and explores if we really know how to take advice, impart and receive knowledge and turn it into action. ” Advice, there’s a lot of it about. No matter your problem, personal or professional, you’ll find a few hundred self-help books promising a solution, plus several irritated friends eager to share their unsolicited tips. Indeed, from one perspective, the whole history of philosophy is an exercise in learning how to live.”  The notion, or in Cicero’s writings learning how to die, which may amount to the same thing in the end. This is the thought, we may already know exactly how to live a happy and meaningful life, and that the real problem, is despite everything we know we don’t actually do it.

As humans we seem to think one thing which has value and makes sense, and then are inclined to do another. Oliver, ” The ancient Greeks called this akrasia: knowing the best thing to do but doing something else.”  Nobody really needs telling us a life spent in pursuit of material wealth is a bad idea, happiness wise, compared to one spent focused on mind expanding experiences or serving others. Another example is talking with your family over dinner rather than compulsively checking social media. Oliver, “Yet that hardly means we’ll choose wisely in the moment. This is the conundrum that the management scholars Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton once labelled, the knowing – doing gap.” Companies throw millions at consultants and training courses every year, they argue, not because they lack knowledge on how to improve, but because they’re desperate for ways to turn the knowledge into action. Ampersand - Path

No matter how you interpret the knowledge and advice you will need some way of putting it into your form of action. What follows is the need for even more advice so that further action can take place unless you create a method of internalising this data so that all execution becomes automatic. This is the holy grail of being able to put good advice into positive and rewarding action. You want action that flows naturally.

Following on, a good way of coming to terms with implementing action after thinking is to understand the psychological effect of it all. Oliver, ” Traditional approaches to philosophy and education seem impotent here: they’re intrinsically intellectual pursuits, and yet the whole problem is that the intellect isn’t sufficient. A more promising alternative is psychology and specifically the psychoanalytic perspective of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.” When you do this and examine thinking and action closely, you will find the understanding of our own minds is far from total, and when we repeatedly fail to change it means something. Oliver refers to an example where on one level you may want to ask for a promotion at work, but on another, more buried level, you may wish to cling to an image of yourself as  permanently denied such opportunities

Oliver speaks to us with, as he explains, his own bitter experience. Having published a book “on the negative path to happiness” which looked at ” exploring the benefits of cultivating a more accepting attitude toward insecurity, pessimism, fear and other feelings we usually spend our lives attempting to eradicate.”  The fact is as we try to relax and deal with these insecurities, pressure of another kind arrives. The key is then to train ourselves to relax even when we know other pressures have arrived created during the process of attempting to eradicate the original problems we encountered. Learn to exist with all that comes our way or as Oliver puts it, “focus on relaxing with the uncertainty.” Further realising, “I’m once again reminded that the advice I’m most prone to dispensing myself is exactly the advice I need to follow.”

Unable to see the forest for the trees? Probably. The main difficulty is that we are too close to our own experience to see closely what has happened. Because we hold all sorts of different data about ourselves such as memories, fears and beliefs it is easy not to apply the same logic we can deal out with confidence to those around us. The crux of the issue as Oliver puts it is, “The other main reason we don’t practice what we preach is that we’re probably drawn to the kind of advice we find hardest to follow.” As an example, people don’t tend to write books, or dedicate careers in philosophy, to topics they find boringly easy. The hope of Freud and Jung is that by painstakingly and slowly identifying these unseen reasons for our stuckness, we’ll become unstuck and start following the advice we know deep down to be best. Oliver, “It’s easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than to think yourself into a new way of acting.”  Telling yourself that you don’t need to believe in the wisdom of a given course of action can be a surprisingly effective way of motivating yourself to experiment with it. Suddenly the stakes seem much lower.

We seem to believe we know what to do and how to solve everyday problems when they appear, at home, at work they crop up all the time. Intent on living a fulfilling life and understanding the need for positive action to do so, we find in this article by Oliver Burkeman that we simply avoid doing so. Most of the time we seem inclined to do the opposite of what is required. We can start to come to terms with this paradox by understanding what is taking place and then concentrate on really attacking the problem. Business in particular is desperate to turn knowledge into action and it is also important from a personal point of view to train ourselves into action as well. Rather than push against the wall of uncorrected mistakes and unsolved problems we see the best way is to accept the need for action, relax and engage our minds to take positive steps, happily. With these steps we are walking our talk.

Hayley James.



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