All Opinions Wrong But Useful

@rixx@chaos.social · @rixxtr

Applying advice


Speaking of stoicism porn, all of those virtue porn materials typically don’t give much of a justification for their advice, instead assuming the role of a teacher without further credentials. Although, to be fair, no modern virtue porn can live without an introduction showing one or more cases of people who were desperate before encountering $method, and were absolutely healed/productive/happy/… once they found it, so we do get a dubious form of credentials, at least.

But I’m more interested in the justification and reasoning, which is rarely given. Oh, we see a lot of after-the-fact rationalisation, but it’s rare that people are honest what actually led them to the advice they are giving. Confession time: I understood how to handle advice a few months ago. I don’t feel very clever about reaching the age of BLEEP¹ without understanding how advice works.

You see, I thought a lot of advice was not very good, or did not apply to me, or did not work for me because I’m weird and not a good fit for other people’s mental models. But really, that just meant that I was lazy and took the easy way out. Most advice is not terribly useful if you take it literally and as gospel, unless it is highly specific. Somebody teaches you a good technique to peel some fruit? Probably applicable as given, though even here you may have to adjust the advice for the ripeness of the fruit, for the tools you have², and how you like your fruit.

One striking example that brought this home was the advice to make your bed first thing in the morning. This advice is echoed in productivity contexts a lot (and also, unsurprisingly maybe, in advice for dealing with depression). It is claimed that this will make you feel good/accomplished/starts out your day in a positive and structured way, and the added order will highlight this structure. On the surface level, this advice does not work for me at all. I can make my bed in the mornings, and it will feel like I cleaned something and structured my room and accomplished something, but it will also feel boring and draining and adult. On low-energy days, it will suck up an absurd amount of spoons, first thing in the morning. Terrible advice, amirite?

But the real advice is not “make your bed in the morning”, it’s “Find a way to make your environment feel clean and structured, ideally in the morning”. I can apply this in ways that don’t feel like I’d rather claw out my eyes, for example by cleaning away all loose papers on my desk (gives me a clean, structured feeling), or by making myself a cup of tea in the morning (feels very adult and reminds me that self-care is a thing).

You can, of course, claim any meta level as “the real advice”. Maybe the real real advice is to do small intervals of housekeeping, or to do one small easy thing in the morning to feel accomplished. Distilling a form of real advice that works for you is a bit Tarot-y, and requires a bit of introspection and also empathy for how this advice feels to the source. And this flexibility in turn ensures that you can find something useful in most advice given out there. It’s easier the more you’re aligned with the source of the advice, of course, and trying to find a useful spin on advice is not always worth it, but it’s probably always possible, and I for one enjoy the sophistry involved in finding a useful version of advice given to me. You should absolutely follow my advice verbatim and do the same.

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² Please, for all that is holy to you, keep at least one really sharp knife in your kitchen.