Why is advice largely useless?

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If I followed all the advice I’ve been given and it worked as intended, I would be fantastically productive, perfectly healthy, filthy rich, and getting laid all the time. None of those descriptions seem particularly apt. (I exaggerate for effect. In reality I have read advice on all sorts of things. Most topics were more mundane than those I listed, for example advice on relieving stress or staying organized.) If people are constantly inundated with advice, why do they, by and large, fail to achieve the things the advice was meant to help with?
Good question.
Great advice is all around us.
Yet it is in many cases not effective.To minimize frustration & for good advice to create great results I find that it helps to ask myself 3 simple questions.

  1. Do I fully understand the advice? We have different world views and buckets of experience that color our interpretation of the world around us including the advice people give us. We can all listen to the same lecturer and have multiple interpretation of the key take aways. Our sound byte culture doesn’t help in this regard as clips and quotes can be taken out of context. Oftentimes it helps to ask the advice source if your understanding & interpretation are correct (If your lucky enough to have access to him or her)
  2. Is the advice relevant to me? We can understand the advice. We can follow through with action but it might just not be applicable to us. It could be timing. Sometimes I think back to advice I received in the past and find that it’s much more relevant to me now as I’m older.  It could be our physical location. Sometimes a change of scenery can produce massive changes in the effectiveness of good advice and in turn our own fortunes.
  3. Will I follow through advice with sustainable action? This is the killer of good intentions. Following through. Sometimes the advice takes us down a longer road than we would have liked to tread. Maybe a harder one too. Oftentimes we give up before we finish. New Years Resolutions are self advice that often die a forgetful death walking down this road.

Hope this was clear enough and can be of some help to you!

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Why is advice largely useless?

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"Follow the Oldtimers Advice." - NAR...

“Follow the Oldtimers Advice.” – NARA – 514272 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Illustration of advice

Illustration of advice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Right hand thumb rule

English: Right hand thumb rule (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Good advice! Or you'll find out just ...

English: Good advice! Or you’ll find out just how slow those lions really are! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good Advice

Good Advice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Caricature condemning Buller: Judge Thumb - Pa...

Caricature condemning Buller: Judge Thumb – Patent Sticks for Family Correction – Warranted Lawful! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why is advice largely useless?

 

If I followed all the advice I’ve been given and it worked as intended, I would be fantastically productive, perfectly healthy, filthy rich, and getting laid all the time. None of those descriptions seem particularly apt. (I exaggerate for effect. In reality I have read advice on all sorts of things. Most topics were more mundane than those I listed, for example advice on relieving stress or staying organized.) If people are constantly inundated with advice, why do they, by and large, fail to achieve the things the advice was meant to help with?

Confirmation bias is my candidate for the top reason. People who succeed (and are most likely to offer “advice”) make up idiotic reasons for why they succeeded, mostly discounting the role of luck, and writing self-serving stories and “prescriptions” that are less about helping others and more about self-aggrandization.

More specifically, this comes down to an almost incredible capacity to ignore necessary/sufficient conditions for a particular piece of advice to work.

For me, a piece of advice that does not have an if… then… structure is completely useless, because my basic bullshit detector filter is a “there’s no free lunch” rule of thumb.

Almost nobody prefaces advice with the condition, “this will work for you if _________ and will not work if ____________”

The presence of that structure, on the other hand, makes me immediately take the person seriously, because they’ve taken the trouble to convert a single example (i.e. an existence proof) into a more general truth statement that is carefully circumscribed.

Also a lot of advice that apparently works does not work because of the content of the advice, but the sheer fact of somebody offering an understanding and sympathetic reaction to another person’s situation. That alone can be enough sometimes, whether or not the advice is valid. It’s sort of a placebo effect. It’s what people call “motivational speaking” as opposed to real advice.