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Don't Ask for Advice When You’re in a Slump, Study Suggests — Do This Instead

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We’ve all had moments of self-doubt and times when we've lacked motivation. We can also just be downright lazy when a goal seems too impossible to grasp. Whether we’re having trouble tackling a project at work or drowning ourselves in unfinished chores at home, it’s always difficult to kick a bad case of “the blahs.” Understandably, most of us seek out advice from others — our friends, family, or mentors — to inspire us to climb over that hump. According to new research, however, that could be the exact opposite of what we should be doing. 

Lauren Eskreis-Winkler, a psychologist who studies motivation at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavior science at the University of Chicago, shared their results from a recent study in a blog post for the MIT Sloan School of Management. In it, they ask the question, “What if instead of seeking advice, we asked struggling people to give it?”

The study examined individuals dealing with unemployment, money problems, anger management, and weight loss. They asked a sample of the unemployed group to offer job-searching advice to their “equally deflated peers.” After that, they had the entire group read tips from a professional career-advice platform. Of the participants, 68% felt they were more motivated by giving advice rather than receiving it. The results for other groups continued to be overwhelmingly in favor of giving advice: 72% of those struggling with money, 77% of adults with anger-management issues, and 72% of adults attempting to lose weight all agreed that giving advice made them feel far more inspired to achieve their goals.

Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach explain the reasoning behind their results: “Giving advice prompts one to conduct a biased memory search by considering one’s past successful behaviors in order to generate advice for others.” Basically, by giving advice to others, we’re also reminding ourselves that we have more value than we’re probably giving ourselves credit for during those motivation slumps. The study ends by recommending managers use this to boost confidence in their employees who are having problems. “For example, if an employee is experiencing a problem at work with time management, our research shows that this employee would benefit from being asked to counsel a colleague on how to help prioritize their tasks and manage their workload.”

You have to admit, the logic behind these findings definitely make a lot of sense, but no one ever put it quite this way before. The next time you’re struggling with a project, try offering advice to someone else in your life and see if you feel your confidence go back on the rise.

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