Estimated Lesson Time: 4 minutes
It seems as if everywhere we turn others are giving us advice, or an opinion about what could or should be done about a situation or problem. A key to success is knowing the difference between good and not-so-good advice and acting on the good advice. As Wilson Mizner wrote, “To profit from good advice requires more wisdom than to give it.”
Nobody can tell another person with certainty what is good advice and what is bad advice. The distinction between good and bad advice is very personal, and it requires a combination of knowledge of oneself and common sense. Here are some points to consider that can help you decide which advice to take, and which to leave.
- Is the person giving the advice on the subject qualified to do so? All too often we take advice from people simply because we care about them and do not question if the advice is good or not. We assume that those who care about us would not give us bad advice. Unfortunately, the world is full of bad advice yet void of those who think they give bad advice. Question the advice itself, not the integrity or intent of the person giving the advice.
- Is this something that works for everyone, many others, or just happened to work for the person giving the advice? This is usually a tough one to answer for certain, so it is best to rely on your common sense.
- Is the advice based on timely information? For the most part, advice is timeless, especially when it is about subjects that don’t change much over the years, like happiness. Beware, however, of advice based on outdated information. My grandmother used to tell me I needed to eat a good breakfast every day: fried eggs, sausage, and bacon. To quote Phil from City Slickers, when Curly suffers a coronary: “The man ate bacon at every meal—you can’t do that!”
- Just because it is a quote, does not make it good advice. There is a misleading, unwritten rule that states if a quote giving advice comes from someone famous, very old, or Greek; then it must be good advice. One can be just as well off taking advice from a good friend as a 14th century French poet or a child Hollywood movie star. In writing this course, I have read thousands of quotes, most of which offer some kind of advice. Quotes frequently contradict each other; for every famous person who advises something, there is another famous person advising the opposite. Many authors even seem to contradict themselves—unless kept in full context, quotes are open to interpretation.
- Is this advice based on theory or practice? While advice based on theory can be good advice, advice based on practice is usually more credible.
- Why aren’t they doing it? “If stock market experts were so expert,” wrote Norman Augustine, “they would be buying stock, not selling advice.” There are many people who talk the talk but do not walk the walk, especially when it comes to selling advice.
- Expert or professional advice is not always the best advice. Professionals most often give advice more on the safe side and rarely take into account persistence and the human spirit. For example, a doctor may advise one to refrain from a certain sport because it would be best for the ailment the doctor is treating but not best for the patient as a whole (holistic approach). While most professionals do have your best interest in mind, they are also concerned with lawsuits and their reputations.
Ironically, this whole course is really about advice. I say this not to make you overly skeptical of any advice I may have to offer, but to admit that any advice I give is advice that should be subjected to the same points above. Remember that every person you meet is your superior in some way. Be both open-minded and cautious when it comes to taking advice. A life-long habit of following good advice is like taking the less bumpy road to success.
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Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):
- Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
- Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
- What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)