Almost all advice is bad advice

Take all of the advice you’ve ever been given in your life — from friends, family, colleagues, teachers, internet strangers, everyone — and ask yourself: “how much of this advice actually changed my life for the better?”

I think I would put it at around 5% for me, if not less. I’m not trying to sound ungrateful. I’m sure almost all advice given was well-meant and worked well for some people, but it often didn’t work for me.

Why Most Advice is Bad Advice

I mean, this should be obvious, right? Everyone is so different: different backgrounds, thoughts, preferences, habits, surroundings, relationships, cultures, challenges; no wonder most of the things that seem to work so well for other people fall flat for us.

Example 1: “Oh, when my child wouldn’t go to sleep, we would just put him in a car and go for a drive. Works every time!” Nope. Our first child screamed and screamed the whole time he was buckled in the car, everywhere we went, day or night. For a while, our road trip soundtrack was just baby screaming.

Example 2: “This is the way you should eat, because (insert scientific theory here)”. That sounds nice, but try and eat nothing but beans and vegetables when everyone around you is eating delicious food all of the time. See how happy other people are to cater to your weird diet. You can just take your own food to dinner parties, right? Willpower? Sorry, I’m using all of that right now just to feed and dress my children every day.

Example 3: “Just snap out of it.” Really?

Advice on Giving Advice

(I’m giving advice about advice. Meta.)

Step 1: Don’t.

Step 2: Just listen.

If you hold back from giving advice, and instead, really listen to what someone is saying, you might realize a couple of things. First, you didn’t really understand their problem in the first place. Second, they didn’t really want advice, they just wanted to talk to someone who is willing to listen.

If they want advice, they’ll ask for it, and it’ll mean more. Let them know what you heard from them, and give them your perspective on it. But most importantly, don’t tell them what they should do: show that you respect them as the expert of their own life.


A Word on General Advice

The more general, the better. I present ideas to people based on good research, but I try to make it as general as possible. The best advice, the type that stands the test of time, is applicable to everyone:

Be excellent to each other

As general as it gets