Drinking a cuppa – and eating avocado on toast – with a friend, one morning last week, she remarked that she should have ordered a decaf coffee but had gone for full-strength-caffeine. “That’s so funny!” I laughed. “I have been on the decaf coffee ever since you told me, a year ago, that caffeine affects anxiety levels.” A year earlier, we’d met in the same cafe, and talked at length about our struggles with hormones and anxiety. She’d mentioned that she drinks decaf coffee, to help anxiety levels, and something just clicked in my head. It sounded like a really easy thing to do that might make a big difference. And ever since that day, I’ve always ordered decaf coffee.
After a couple of hours of chatting, we were saying goodbye, and talking about the day we had ahead of us. “I’ve got so many emails to reply to,” she said. “But I do this thing where I only reply to emails that are addressed specifically to me,” she said. “If it’s a generic email sent to loads of people, it doesn’t get a reply. It cuts back on the number of emails I have to write.” I told her that I do that exact thing too! “Oh! Actually,” she laughed. “I think you told me that you do this, and ever since, I’ve done it. It really helps manage my overflowing inbox.”
I walked away thinking about how we had both, in the past, shared a nugget of wisdom with the other – and how that nugget had lodged itself into our heads and stayed with us, making a tangible difference to our lives.
We read self-help books, share wise articles on Facebook and buy postcards and prints that say things like “A Sunday well spent brings a week of content” but if you ask me, it’s the tips that come from friends (FRIEND-TIPS if you will! Geddit?) that really make the difference. Another friend Gillian agrees. “I have a tendency to stress about minor things,” she says, “and one of my friends told me to think ‘Will this be important in ten years time?’ as a way of putting it into perspective and into context. It really works for me.”
Worrying over BIG life stuff can cause stress too and advice that Sarah got from a friend helps her. “My friend told me: ‘It’ll be OK in the end, and if it’s not OK? It’s not the end.’ This has got me through some horrid times and to remember to focus on the present, it really is true.”
Eleanor has found that tips from a friend have helped her no end at work. “The tips were ‘If you’re going to miss a deadline, tell the person before you miss it, don’t just let it go by’ and also ‘Read your emails out loud before you send them’. Both were invaluable in my first job in PR, in terms of gaining gravitas.” Meanwhile Caro always remembers one piece of advice from a friend that has helped her be more vocal at work. “My absolute favourite tip was from an old work colleague. I’d never heard it before and it’s stuck in my head from the moment he said it,” she says. “We were talking about pay rises and promotions — and how some people seem to get along (and get rewarded) much more often than others. He said ‘It’s the squeaky wheel that get’s the oil’ – basically meaning, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you just carry along quietly, no-one will know that you need help etc… I thought it was brilliant — and have lived by that motto ever since!”
When life feels overwhelming and her to do list never-ending, Lynn remembers a tactic shared by a friend. “I got an email from a life long friend who helps me out with stress,” she says. “I quote her: ‘Start with number one. What’s the one thing you need to do right now? Can you name it? Focus on it and throw yourself at it completely. Then breathe and find your next number one.'”
When I ask myself why these tips shared by friends stick in our heads more than others, I think it comes down to a couple of things: firstly, often when we are reading a self help book, we’re so preoccupied by the desire to learn something, that our brains do the opposite and allow a lot of the advice to wash over us. Like when I was revising for my Standard Grade Biology exam – the intense focus on learning about photosynthesis created a bit of a mental block. But when we’re in a casual conversation with a friend, we’re often relaxed and that one nugget of advice stands out later on when we’re thinking back over the conversation. I also think it’s a trust thing. As much as we trust wise authors or agony aunts, it’s not the same as the trust we have for our mates, is it?
So hooray for good friends and the sharing of wisdom.