Giving advice – how hard can it be?

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Well, the answer is – very hard indeed! And the other question is – how good are we all at taking advice?

I heard on the radio this week criticism of guidance given on the amount of exercise we should be taking on the basis that it would be unrealistic for many people to achieve that level, and so they would be de-motivated to try to exercise more. I only fleetingly heard this, so I can’t give details, but I believe the advice was that we should be taking 2.5 hours of moderate exercise every week.

Similar problems arise with recommendations about the amount of  fruit and vegetables we shoudl be eating every day. Most, if not all, nations are pointing out to their citizens that the more fruit and veg they eat, the healthier they will be, but the quantities recommended vary greatly. In the UK it’s now 7 a day, I believe, up from the 5 a day we have become used to. But in Japan they recommend 17 different fruit and veg every day. The difference is largely down to the fact that most people in the UK struggle to get to anything like 7 portions a day. However, I have heard some commentators say that it is discouraging to mention 7 so we shoud recommend fewer portions.

The problem is that if we are simply advised to “eat more fruit and veg” or “exercise more”, many people wll have no idea of what they should be moving towards, or how close they are already to the ideal. Someone who only ever eats meat and potoatoes may think they are doing marvellously by having an apple every week or so, or some fruit juice with breakfast. Someone who always drives may think they are exercising well if they walk to post a letter. How will they know otherwise unless someone tells them?

I know that when I was teaching, I had a series of conversations with a parent whose child was doing very badly at school, and had little or no ability to take part in their lessons. Eventually I asked the right question (“Is it just that he’s tired?”) It turned out that he was watching videos every night until his parents turned off the television at midnight. No one had ever told them how much sleep a child needs.

Part of me is continually surprised that we need this kind of advice. But another part of me realises that many intelligent and well meaning people just don’t have the informaton they need to make good choices.

So maybe we all need to toughen up a bit, and learn to take advice the right way. We might not be able to exercise for 2.5 hours a week, but we should know that if we are doing less, we would be wise to make an effort to do more. We shouldn’t give up just because it is hard and we have a long way to go, but use the guidance as a measure of how well we are progessing.

(In case you are wondering why I chose the photograph above, it’s about perspective and point of view.)

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