As you scroll through any social feed, you see all sorts of message types that can be broken down into different categories. One trend you might notice, is the perpetual stream of advice columns: the secrets to success, the how-tos, and the must-follow-rules. On a daily basis, we are inundated by these messages, and in the name of personal growth, sometimes you want to follow them all. Just be careful not to drown in it all.
Mary Schmich once wrote a hypothetical commencement speech for the Chicago Tribune, entitled, Wear Sunscreen. The speech contains one of my favorite quotes, which just happens to be on advice: “Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”
In other words, don’t just take advice because it’s given. Schmich asks us to always listen, but always be critical as well. With internet advice overload, it’s easy to be listening, but how can we discern the good from the bad, and the relevant from the irrelevant? For what my word is worth, read on…
Critique everything, starting with yourself.
If you try and fix all of your problems at once, you’re going to have a bad time. You’ll read every advice column, implement all of the best tactics from them, but you’ll have no focus. The likely result? A lot of half-cocked fixes, and nothing to show for it. I’ve been there, or I wouldn’t be writing about it.
The first step, I’ve found, is to objectively analyze what’s in need of repair in your life. Then prioritize. Then, internalize the top few items on your list. They can’t just be line-items on a to-do list, this has to be something you actively think about.
After college, I knew I had to do a lot with my life to get it in order, and end up on the track to success (an aside: please define success for yourself). Find a job, move out of my parents’ house, start dressing like an adult (no more graphic tees and loose jeans), utilize my dust-laden savings account, buy a car…you get the point. Trying to accomplish all of this, at once, however, only led me to a lot of unfinished projects. I needed to take a step back.
Analyze and Prioritize
Based on my needs, getting a job was priority number one, but it’s nice to be presentable while on a job hunt, so “Dress like an adult” slid into the top spot. I’d need money, for clothes, though, so bump it all down a rung, and throw “Work my college job like crazy for a few months” into the first slot. Everything else ended up out at the edge of the radar; still in sight, but not the focus of the journey.
Knowing what takes priority allows the brain to automatically begin filtering out irrelevant. Even better, a focused approach will allow you to learn even more each subject, giving you the tools to filter out the bad advice, and the tricks that may never work for you.
Imagining that these four articles come up on Twitter, for example:
‘How to Use a CRM Like a Boss,’ ‘Things to Consider When Buying a Dress Shirt,’ ‘Great Beginning Money Saving Techniques,’ and ‘The 6 Things to Check on a Used Car,’
Without prioritizing my needs, I’ll read them all, and remember very little. If I know what I need to focus on, though, my brain filters out the irrelevant so I really only see:
‘Things to Consider When Buying a Dress Shirt,’ and ‘Great Beginning Money Saving Techniques.’
Just think of the implications when looking over hundreds of tweets instead of just 4 articles; having that filter turned on makes the process much more manageable.
Next time I read an article about money saving techniques, or men’s clothing, I have something to compare to; I can now do a better job of criticizing what’s out there, and come to my own, educated conclusions.
Now, critique everything else.
Now that you know where to put your time and energy, how do you determine who, or what, to listen to? Consider a few things:
Bad advice exists
It simply does. In this case, the credibility of the source is in question. Do your research on the author if advice seems too good to be true, or if anything seems slightly fishy.
Attribution Bias is very real
Or, simply put, someone thinks the reason they are good at something is entirely because of X and Y, when in fact, Z plays a huge part as well. If someone tells you that they got the job they have because they followed some special formula for their resume, but failed to realize that someone put in a heavily influenced word to get them the job, then following their resume advice might not be perfect. It might not be bad advice, but you’re unwittingly missing a big piece of the formula.
This is where critical thinking skills come into play. Consistently ask questions about the advice you hear, “Okay, that sounds pretty good, but does it seem like it would really account for the whole reason it would work?”
One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure…
…and you’d better believe it works the other way around. Let’s assume the author is the most credible source on the block, and they’ve taken care to address all possible reasons they’ve succeeded. The method that works like gold for one person, might not fit at all with you.
There’s no reason not to try their idea out, but if you’re consistently not getting results from it, then it’s not because you’re broken, it’s because you’re different. Keep trying variations, or try new things, but just keep trying.
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