02/17/2011 12:24 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Good Advice of Others

Last time we talked about Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and the need to be "independent of the good advice of others." Some of you suggested I add "or bad advice" to the quote. But being "independent of" does not necessarily mean rejecting out of hand. Some advice is certainly worth exploring and some worth adopting. But how do you tell which?

Take, for example, this advice from Woody Allen, offered in "Love and Death":

To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer. To suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy then is to suffer. But suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you're getting this down.

Sounds like a lot of the psychobabble that is presented as great advice all of the time, doesn't it? Is there any criteria that can I use to see if the advice works? It turns out that the answer is pretty simple -− I try it on and work it. And if it works, I use it. If it doesn't work for me, I throw it out with the rest of the garbage. In fact, I do that with most things, because I have begun to learn that when it comes to my life, I am the only real authority. Remember in "The Truman Show" when Jim Carrey finally realized that his world was an illusion and he was free to break out of it? He used his powers of observation and awareness to create freedom from illusion. Disillusionment isn't such a bad thing when used in this way. In order to become the authority in our own life, some of us have to try out each experience, while others can learn merely by observing. Most of us use some combination of the two. But however we do it, here is a four-step process for you to experiment with:
  1. Try it on in your head. Does it make sense for you? Can you do it? Do the steps make sense? Do you want to do it? Does it fit it with who you are? If you can't figure it out, you probably won't line up inside and be able to make the change.
  2. Try it on in your gut. Speaking of lining up inside, what does your intuition tell you? The computer behind your belly button can be just as important as the one behind your eyes, and sometimes more accurate and reliable.
  3. Try it on in your heart. How does it feel? Is it for the highest good for all involved? Is it coming from a positive place inside of you? We can all learn from Andrew Lloyd Webber's admonition, "Love changes everything."
  4. Try it on for size. Is it working? Am I getting the results I want? I don't expect the new behavior or thinking process to work first time out. Change takes time. Give it a fair chance before abandoning it.
Also, don't worry about where the advice comes from. Sometimes it's really important (and just as difficult) to separate the message from the messenger to find what's there for you. Sometimes you might have to dig pretty deep to find the nuggets. An entire book may contain just one sentence that really applies to you.

Take the best and ignore the rest. And there's no need to feel obligated to take it all or follow it to the letter. You don't have to take the whole pie. Take only the pieces that work and leave the rest for whoever wants or needs it. And like a great pie, you may want to take huge bites, but taking small ones and chewing them fully pays great dividends.