Most advice is terrible. So says Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, author and motivational psychologist, in a recent blog post of hers, “The Difference Between Good Advice and Bad Advice.” Dr. Halvorson goes on to say, “Whether you get it (i.e. advice) from a best-selling author, your boss, or your neighbor, nine times out of ten it’s about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.”
Dr. Halvorson is also the author of Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals; which is also kinda funny when you think about it. (Ironic? Paradoxical? Nervy?) Presumably, she doesn’t include herself in the 90% of advice-givers who are “terrible.”
Advice-giving is really big business, and completely recession-proof too. It is estimated that when one tallies all of the self-improvement training and paraphernalia, e.g. books, authors, seminars, holistic institutes, infomercials, etc., the total self-help market is more than a $12 billion industry, and growing at 6%+ annually. Indeed, when one enters “self-help” in the search box on the Amazon website, you’ll find 129,706 different books that fall into this ever-increasing category. (By Dr. Halvorson’s calculus, 116,735 of these books are valueless!)
What separates good advice from bad advice? One of the challenges with getting advice from others is that the advice often comes with strings attached. When you think about it, it is really difficult for many advice-givers, even well-intentioned ones, to dissociate themselves from their own personal agenda when they dispense their advice. In this way, their advice is more about them, and less about you.
As Oscar Wilde has said, “The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on; it is never of any use to oneself.”
The other interesting thing is that when one gathers advice from others, solicited or not, there is a tendency to discount our own intuition and experiences. Not that we shouldn’t value the insights of others, but sometimes the best solution to a specific problem can be found in our own backyard…by virtue of using our own built-in tools and instincts. Although I am no psychologist, it seems that sometimes when we seek advice from others, what we really want is their approval.
I’m curious. When was the last good advice that you received? On the other hand, when was the last time that you came to a resolution…intuitive leap of understanding…or clarity of thought, by your own thinking efforts? My guess is that, for many of you, the last circumstance was much more recent than the first.
On the matter of giving advice, I have always appreciated this quote from Harry S. Truman, when he offers this guidance on how to advise one’s children:
“I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.”
Interestingly enough, “advising them how to do it” is still giving advice, and an indicator of how tricky it is to break the advice-giving habit.