Not all advice was created equal and some could be terrible for you. Don’t let it hold you back from living the life right for you. Without wasting any time, I hope you’ll nod your head along as you read.
#1 YOLO (You Only Live Once)
This advice is given in a ridiculously counterintuitive way. People will tell you to take risks because you only live once.
Let’s imagine we are playing Super Mario. You start with 5 lives so you can be reckless and experiment. I wonder what happens if I jump off a cliff? Yet when you are on your final life, are you going to put yourself in danger? Of course not! You move more thoughtfully when there is more to lose.
Yes, we only live once and it’s why you shouldn’t waste it trying to impress people. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take risks but remember we don’t get do-overs. If you hurt yourself or others, you can’t rewind time and return to a saved version. I take this advice as a reminder to look after my mind and body because I want it to last me a long time.
#2 Never Give Up
This struggle porn frustrates me as sometimes the best thing to do is give up and move on. If a relationship is leaving both people miserable then why cling on? It stops both people from finding someone who could make them happier.
There is the sunk cost fallacy where people are afraid to move on because their efforts so far will be worthless. But this means throwing more effort down the hole when they could switch to something better. Everything we do in life has an opportunity cost. By writing right now, I’m not doing a million other things including giving myself rest.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson gave up a football career to become a wrestler. He then gave up wrestling to become one of the greatest box office draws in Hollywood today! Can you imagine if he had tried to juggle all 3 at once?
#3 Focus on One Thing
How many people do you actually know who obsess over only one thing? Are they fun to be around? When all we know is one thing then it’s hard to relate to anyone else.
Merging skills from different areas is the bedrock of creativity. It’s how people can revolutionize a field. David Epstein reveals in Range that Nobel Prize scientists are much more likely to be musicians, dancers, or magicians than the average scientist.
Polymathy is where you focus on building skills you can apply in multiple areas. I’ve reached high levels in karate, dance, and yoga. They may not be related but I’ve taken exercises from others to apply and be able to excel much faster than others.
What are you good at which can cross over into new fields? Can mental frameworks you use in your day job also work in a side project?
#4 Don’t Trust Anyone
It pains me to see people attempting to deprive others of joy. What kind of life is it to live where only you matter? What’s the prize? Possessions? Wealth?
Most people in this world aren’t evil. I love Hanlon’s Razor:
Never explain with malice what can adequately be explained by ignorance.
Did someone forget to call? Maybe they were busy. When we assume the worst of everyone we close ourselves to many positive experiences.
We have evolved to be social animals for a reason. Yuval Noah Hariri, the author of Sapiens, credits our ability to work with large groups of people as a key reason for our success as a species.
No matter what anyone tells you, no one makes it alone. The fact you can read this now means someone taught you to read. Trust in others and you both win.
#5 Follow Your Passion
It scares me how many people are unhappy because of this advice. If you think there is something you were born to do, everything else feels inadequate. People can spend their whole lives chasing instead of living.
Self-help elaborates on this and people lap it up. The Japanese concept of ikigai and the joy of everyday life has been transformed into a jargon Venn diagram.
Let’s think about this rationally. When something is a hobby, you might spend a few hours a week on it. It’s completely different from dedicating your life to it. Running for fun at the weekend is a far cry from the brutal training regime and diets of professional runners. I’m passionate about eating cake but it would end badly if I ate it all the time.
Develop your passions and work out if the reality of the new lifestyle would be right for you. Focus on enjoying what you do, not doing what you enjoy.
#6 Never Change, You’re Perfect the Way You Are
Change is a constant in life. We might as well be told to never grow.
I’ve been wrong so many times in my life. I’m never going to be perfect and neither are you. That’s ok, we are human. We make mistakes and fall then rise again stronger than before. We have to adapt to the changing world around us and the new knowledge we gain.
When I talk to people, I aim to learn. I challenge what I know by listening to others. Every single person on this earth has something to teach me. I used to refuse to do yoga because I wasn’t that type of person. Now I love it.
Every year I look back and think wow I can’t believe I used to think like that. I expect in 2021, I will think exactly the same.
#7 Stop Complaining
This is the cornerstone of toxic attitudes towards mental health. I know far too many people who keep their thoughts inside where it eats at them.
Releasing our emotions is healthy. By vocalizing, we can process our thoughts. Others can help challenge negative spirals. It’s better than battling inside your head.
People often quote Marcus Aurelius, a forefather of stoicism, when giving this advice. Yet people forget Marcus was practically a god-emperor with thousands of subjects and slaves. It is easy to tell other people not to complain when you’re at the top.
The related offending advice is to drop negative friends. So you only want friends who have perfect lives? It is stressful to help friends in need and you need to know the line where you need support. I have encouraged friends going through particularly difficult times to see therapists because I know my limits.
#8 Treat Others How You Would Like to be Treated
In elementary school, this was in big letters on one of the noticeboards. On the surface, it sounds great. But it’s selfish. How I want to be treated isn’t how everyone wants to be treated!
Some people like their personal space, others want to be surrounded by people creating noise. If they treated each other how they wanted to be treated it would be a disaster.
This advice is commonly called the golden rule but we can level up to the platinum rule.
Treat others how they would like to be treated.
We are now focused on the other person rather than our own needs. This is key to understanding them and creating a strong relationship. People may have different values to you but if you both follow the platinum rule, you can still build a strong relationship.
#9 Everything Happens for a Reason
This is one of the most condescending things I’ve heard people say to someone experiencing trauma. No there isn’t a greater good behind much of the evil in the world. Especially when it doesn’t happen to us.
Our minds are rationalization machines. Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow shows how we spot trends even when they don’t exist. We get this mush of information at all times and our brain needs to make sense of everything.
Sometimes things just happen. There’s an infinite number of possibilities all with different probabilities. We get weird patterns like the divorce rate in Maine and the amount of margarine consumed per person being almost perfectly aligned. Do we truly believe one is causing the other?
We can drive ourselves insane by finding these patterns. Luck may be a powerful force but we have the power to drive our lives.
#10 Practice Makes Perfect
This mantra is the greatest mistake of consistent people.
It’s not enough to just turn up. Doing the same thing mindlessly won’t make you improve. I trained in karate for 12 years and saw some people plateau for years. They would train several times a week but never act on any advice. Practice can make our neural pathways stronger so it’s even harder to break bad habits.
The best learners aggressively experiment and iterate. I went into every training session with a long mental list of things I wanted to work on. Ask yourself small questions every time you practice. How can I be better than last time? There should always be an answer.
With few exceptions, perfection is impossible. If you love what you do this is exciting. You’ll never get bored!
#11 Fake it Until You Make it
If the people you’re trying to impress fall for your deception, they probably aren’t the people you want to impress.
For any expert, it is painfully clear when someone doesn’t know what they are talking about. My ears will prick up when I hear someone talk about martial arts. If they can’t answer basic questions, they will lose respect unnecessarily. If you say you can bake a cake, you better expect to be baking later that night!
When you pretend to know everything, your glass is already full, and you can’t grow. Would you be willing to help a know-it-all? It’s better to adopt a beginner’s mind, shoshin, where you are open about your faults. This allows you to ask questions and absorb knowledge from those around you.
I subscribe to Dare to Lead author Brene Brown’s philosophy that there is power in vulnerability.
#12 Be Yourself
Can anyone honestly say they always act the same? I can’t and it is what makes this advice so confusing.
We’re complex and we act in different ways with different people. This is normal. Putting on skins allows us to express ourselves. We can be professional with our boss and hilarious with our close friends. You wouldn’t want to act the same in a big interview and a date!
Chris Niebauer has fascinating neuroscience input from his book No Self, No Problem. The left brain creates patterns to explain who we are but dismisses anything which doesn’t fit. It’s how we can live with clear conflicts in our beliefs.
Acting the same in every situation is our brains refusing to show emotional intelligence. Sometimes, it’s ok to trust the intuitive right side of our brain. Be the you who feels right for the moment.
All You Need to Know
For you some of this advice might work, the important thing is to not take it as universal. Forge your path and experiment. What works for you is what matters.
- YOLO — Take care of your one life
- Never give up — Give up when something else betters serves you
- Focus on one thing — Diverse interests make you more creative and interesting
- Don’t trust anyone — Allow yourself to be vulnerable and love
- Follow your passion — Enjoy what you do
- Never change, you’re perfect the way you are — Constantly change and grow
- Stop complaining — Open up for the sake of your mental health
- Treat others how you would like to be treated — Treat others how they would like to be treated
- Practice makes perfect — Practice makes permanent
- Fake it until you make it — Approach the world with a beginner’s mind
- Everything happens for a reason — Sometimes the world has no reason
- Be yourself — Be multidimensional and show different sides of yourself
Thank you for reading and I hope you have a wonderful day!