One red apple on an otherwise empty fridge shelf. Variety: Pink Lady.
Yes, this is my fridge. My apple. Wasn’t there a saying once — “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”? Went out with home visits, I suppose. Not that I’m old enough to remember — well, okay, just old enough. My picture. Please don’t tell me about white balance.

Diagnosing by appearances

Do people ever tell you how to live your life? Well-meaning friends, I mean, who know that if you would only change — this — or do — that — you’d be so much happier?

How often is it something you’ve heard before?

I get a steady stream of well-meaning friends telling me to eat more healthily and take more exercise. That’s understandable, I suppose. Big bloke, not thin, not young — it’s what people say to me if they’re the type to say something.

And it has no effect whatsoever. Give or take a belt loop or two, this is how I’ve looked forever. However fit I am, or not fit, I stay the same.

For the record, I do eat reasonably healthily and I do take, well, a variable amount of exercise according to my mood. There are days on which — bleugh, maybe tomorrow. There are also days on which I’m flat-out busy and don’t want to do anything afterwards.

Except munch on whatever the fridge has to offer.

Most of all there are days on which I go with the flow. So — yeah. If you like me in that peculiar (but well-intended) way of wanting to take control of my life by telling me what to do for my own good, I might humour you for a while. I might even eat brocolli with you.

But there’ll come a day on which I serve doughnuts with thick marzipan and sugar-icing on top, with chocolate fudge to follow. And if you don’t get the message then, the coffee will be served with cream and honey already added, and I’ll suggest spending the afternoon on the sofa with a few boxes of chocolates and some old movies. [No, this is not an invitation to lunch.]

I know. We all do it. But whenever I catch myself telling a friend what to do, I stop and ask them how I’m doing. If they’ve actually asked me for advice, I ask them what advice they’d give themselves. Or at least, what their options are.

Because I’ve noticed this. Tell me what to do, and I’ll tell you why I can’t do it. Or I’ll ignore you. Or I’ll go along with it until I can stock up on doughnuts. Partly because — Yes! Exactly! — people just don’t like being told what to do. But also partly because we’re all complex creatures, and there’s no way you could possibly know me well enought to know (a) what I should do, and (b) why I’m not already doing it.

If the advice you want to give me seems obvious to you, chances are you’re missing something. You don’t know enough.

So find out more. Ask a question.

If we’re sticking with me as the example — Hey! How about this? Ask me what I eat. That’s just occurred to me. Because — seriously — nobody ever does.

I get told to eat more healthily by people who don’t ask me what I eat.

We’ll skip over the bit where I work out that they take one look at me and diagnose that I’m not healthy. Because that would be depressing, wouldn’t it? Very much an unintended consequence.

Yes — skipped over that! Depression? Moi? Have another dark-chocolate caramel fudge cream. Shall we watch It’s a Wonderful Life next?

I was trying to make the point that telling people what to do doesn’t work. It’s not a way to get them to change their behaviour. Also — if the advice is obvious, chances are, you’re talking to somebody who’s heard it before. Who may even be bored with hearing it. Who switches off on hearing it.

But if you ask them questions, you’re getting them to think about their own behaviour. You’re also showing your interest.

That friend of yours. The one who should obviously [okay, you complete this sentence]. Ask them how they feel when people constantly tell them to [okay, this one too]. You might be surprised.

We could watch Frozen next if you like. Are we out of soft centres?

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