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Advice On How To Take Advice (Including Mine)

“Listen to all, plucking a feather from every passing goose, but, follow no one absolutely.”
Chinese Proverb

So, I read, watch and listen to a lot of what might very generally be called “advice”.

A lot of advice-givers, myself included, can seem to be telling you:

“What you’ve been doing SUCKS! You’re messing up! Do it THIS way!”

And this makes you feel like a schmuck, I mean, a jewelry, I mean…Anyway — so you get busy dutifully struggling to fit your square self into whatever new round hole your advice-giver has prepared.

OK…I’m not going to tell you what do, because the world is already full of that. I’m just going to tell you…I don’t think that that’s the point. I don’t think that it’s the intention of even the most energetic, enthusiastic advice-giver to make you feel like crap and get you frantically re-arranging your life in their image. Certainly it’s not my intention. Good advice is intended to make your life easier, not harder.

Here’s a simple two-step process you may or may not want to try.

  1. Read/listen to advice. Mine. Other people’s. Whoever’s.
  2. Do whatever the heck you want, whether or not it matches that advice.
    • A lot of the point of good advice is the forest, not the trees. Much of the point of good advice is simply to be exposed to it, rather than to painfully turn yourself into a carbon copy of it.
    • Now, it may well be that turning yourself into a carbon copy is the easiest, least painful, most effective path, or at least the path  that hits the sweet spot — that gives you a maximum of both ease and effectiveness — and if that is the case, then go for it. Imitation is how we learn.
    • But don’t freak out over minutiae. Minor deviations and improvements are normal and even desirable. The basic plan is: take the mold and change it to fit you, you needn’t fit yourself to it. When that Betty Crocker cookie recipe tells you to add two nanograms of rosemary and twirl around ten times while reciting the pledge of allegiance…tell Betty Crocker to get on her ice skates and go puck herself 1: focus on the flour, sugar and Crisco.
    • (Wow, is that the taste of vomit in my mouth?)

OK, I’m over the Crisco now. Let me repeat myself: Of course, if it’s easier to just follow the advice, then do that. But chill.

Don’t be a harried, obedient zealot. Seriously — you’re going to die if you do that. Relax. Don’t be a whiny “if only I had the talent”/”maybe it’s possible for other people but not for me” person. Don’t be an emo-type “it’s all B.S.” person either…or do be these things…but do it quietly. Man who say it cannot be done needs to STFU, and other supposedly Chinese proverbs.

We often go to considerable lengths to protect children from this type of thing; we rarely even allow children to say these types of things. Well, adults are just children with bank accounts and large bodies. Negativity damages their fragile minds just as it does those of children. People who are going to freak out need to try to keep “the children” out of it — and that includes you freaking out at yourself.

By now, the dutiful part of you is all: “but…but…but…article 4, subsection (b), paragraph (iii) of AJATT says…”. Check this out: if you’ve read the advice then it will affect your decisions: you don’t need to worry about that. The point here is that you stop the breathless compliance and mental self-flagellation.

And I bet you’re getting frantic about this advice, too, aren’t you? You’re so earnest, the cuteness makes me giggle. The cyclical irony of giving you advice on how to take advice is not lost on me. “Lost” is lost on me…that show…I dunno, man…

Anyway, let’s review:

  1. Read/listen or otherwise expose yourself to advice.
  2. Do whatever the heck is most comfortable, workable, sustainable for you. “Obey”, “disobey”, remix — it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, your unique life, preferences and situation are going to call for some degree of very unique, perhaps even counter-intuitive, choice-making. You’re the DJ.

What we’re really talking about here is our making a practical, active distinction between “advice” and “orders”. Namely, that:

  • With “advice”, no matter how strongly worded, no matter how handsome the giver (oh, stop!), you always have choice; you always retain the right to refuse and/or reinterpret.
  • With “orders”, the presumption is that you have at some point put this right on hold: no veto right for you: it’s put up or shut up, hump or walk, fall in line or leave in utter disgrace. A lot of military, school and religious activity proceeds like this.

I give advice, not orders. I intend it to be taken as advice. So, do whatever you want. Refuse, accept and reinterpret at will. I would. I did.


  1. We’re still talking about ice hockey, right?

  23 comments for “Advice On How To Take Advice (Including Mine)

  1. Ben
    February 28, 2010 at 12:57

    I think that this is the hurdle that many people face and fall flat on their faces. Pure mimicry of someone elses ideals wont work for you. Just like a jigsaw fails to fit only one piece, you have to find that hole to which you fit to. (ahh the joy of inuendos). If theres one thing I learnt from my A level in history, its that you need to sample a wide range of sources in order to come to a judgement for yourself. If an individual, unexposed to the world, reads in a book stating that ‘Hilter was great’ then its likely hes going to believe it, even though its not the way he would go about running a country.

  2. Drewskie
    February 28, 2010 at 13:44

    This should be the first article in the Table of Contents.

  3. February 28, 2010 at 14:31

    I think school makes people question their own ability to make good judgment, so they take advices as orders, because that’s what they’ve for more than a decade been trained to do. It took me a lot of thinking and reflection on my own behavior to realize that this was exactly what I was doing.

    Unfortunately, “you should” is often interpreted as “you must” without much thought, because that’s how it was usually encountered in school. “You should include at least 5 printed sources in your bibliography” is what is usually found in assignments, but implied and very well understood message is more like “You must include at least 5 printed sources in your bibliography or else you will have 10 points taken off for each missing source, and if all 5 are missing you will get an F which will make it impossible for you to get a job and have money to buy that awesome car you always wanted.” Once out of school it’s very hard to get that filter out of your mind.

  4. February 28, 2010 at 17:57

    1. Read it
    2. Understand it
    3. Forget it
    4. Think of your own way to do things

    If point 2 was successful, it will influence point 4 subconsciously, in some way.

  5. February 28, 2010 at 20:01

    That wasn’t cyclical and self-referential at all :p

    I do very much agree though with the idea of not following every last piece of advice to the letter, and am surprised every time anyone does. Seems pretty obvious that no-one is going to be dishing out advice that is perfect for everyone.

    Everyone is a unavoidably a composition of everything and everyone around them, and it’s odd that they’d ever consider trying to take advice from just one source. It’d be a pretty weird world if they did.

  6. Triplez
    February 28, 2010 at 20:36

    This was a good post for me. I think I need to work on the ordering side of the relationship as much as the interpreting orders side. Because I spend so much time deconstructing things I’ve heard and read, I think the POV that I’ve built for myself is the best one, and forget that other people will be just as different as me. The way we tell other people things probably reflects our thought process just as much as the way we tell things to ourselves.

    It seems to me that the best road is equal parts cynicism to reject things, and optimism to accept good things and stay excited and hungry for more information.

    On a totally unrelated note, does anyone have and suggestions for Japanese SF books?

  7. February 28, 2010 at 21:59

    I think, a lot of what you might be percieving as people looking for minutiae is people reading your site, realizzing you’ve achieved something they want to achieve, and simply wanting to find the easiest, most efficient method for reaching that same achievement. I know I personally fit this category, with my own recent questions. Here I’ve tried dilegently and usually in a disciplined manner to try to learn Japanese for four years, several times getting discouraged and slacking off when I didn’t seem to be making any real progress. Then I find this website and here’s this dude that achieved what I want, fluency in Japanese, in 18 months, and he says he had fun doing it. So, as I begin to implement some of his ideas, I run into a couple areas that either seem inefficient, or aren’t fun, or just aren’t working for me. So, my thought isn’t so much to ask questions so I can follow your instructions to the letter, as it is that I figure you or someone who reads the site has probably encountered this before, and I’m wondering what sort of solutions they came up with, because I want to find the most efficient and fun means to go about things, in fact, need to find the most efficient means because of certain physical limitations which I discussed before.
    I think you have a lot of great ideas, and I fully realized you got many or most of them from others. But, I also figure that if I have a problem, it is likely you or others have encountered it before and have some ideas to save me time. If it wasn’t clear, I mostly worked out those problems on my own, but simply took into consideration the ideas presented by others. I think sometimes you worry a little too much about people blindly following your advice, when they probably just don’t want to re-invent the wheel if someone else has already built a really good one.

  8. March 1, 2010 at 08:30

    I’m pretty well-motivated, I think. But, maybe this is just me — I have a hard time with native audio. I spent 2008 listening to a lot of incomprehensible audio, but 2009, I switched to a mix of podcasts and other language learning CD’s combined with some incomprehensible audio, like anime or news. With something like anime, I’ll hear “blah blah word blah blah word blah blah blah” — and with something like Japanesepod intermediate I’ll hear “word word word blah word word word blah.” and I can learn the missing words from context or using a dictionary.

  9. bubble
    March 1, 2010 at 17:50

    ke6i, the blah blah blah phase really sucks. All I can say is to fiddle around with your sources as much as you like… for me I liked watching things I had once seen with subtitles or read the book or something, so I knew what was going on. Also things that are very visual work well for me at that stage. And I find it works better not to sweat the words I don’t know, and just to enjoy the ones I do… until I head a word six times and still don’t get it. Then I look it up.

    Also, khatz, for some reason the blog looks squished or decentered on my computer. Maybe it’s since the last firefox update? There’s a big beige empty space to the left, and a narrow little text box to the right. Looks fine in IE.

  10. March 1, 2010 at 19:17

    Your advice sucks!

    …But it’s great.

    It may work for you, but it can’t work for me!

    …But maybe if I tweak it just a little…

    The best advice is FREE!

    ….Except the really good advice, you have to pay top dollar for that!

    Neat article in any case 🙂

  11. ヒュー
    March 3, 2010 at 12:32

    Yay for recursive rants!

  12. マイケル
    March 4, 2010 at 01:10

    Advice is always given in context… with general advice, such as this blog, you must place it within your own context yourself.

  13. Ari
    March 4, 2010 at 16:28

    You know what, screw you. I’m *not* going to follow the advice you give here. In fact, from now on, I’m going to do [i]exactly what you say[/i].

    Starting with this post.

    Wait a minute…

  14. Tom
    June 30, 2010 at 05:16

    Ironically, this is fantastic advice. It can be a hell of a struggle to break free of that regimented form of thinking if that’s what you’re used to. (Which I definitely am.)

    But once you start dropping advice that is not working for you and using the advice that does work, something strange starts to happen. You often start discovering your own unique methods that work specifically for you.

    It took an extraordinarily large amount of time for me to come upon this information on my own, so the fact that it’s now posted for all to see will probably help many who have the same problem.

  15. Emp
    October 27, 2010 at 15:16

    I once was outside a shop that literally was titled “Brilliant Schmuck.” (german speaking country, of course). I took a picture. It made me happy. x3 But I digress…

    I never realized that people actually take it so literally. I’ve always been the sort to absorb the parts of advice I like or think are compatible with me, and jettison the rest. To outer space. Sometimes I’ll try out a bit more as homage for clever snarkiness. But at some level many (or all?) people are afraid of freedom because they worry they can’t handle it properly. That they will EPICPHAIL. Or something like that. I know we’re not supposed to be like that in this new enlightened age of empowerment, but even the people who would obediently conform to this can’t just up and do it, as that would be a paradox in their thinking. People like stability and certainty because they can leave it unattended without worrying that it’s gonna start something that may or may not be good. Or they can prepare for the outcome in advance. Anyway. Baby steps~

    I have some advice for you. And I won’t hold it against you either if you mull over whether or not to take it. Go write for a newspaper column or something in your spare time. You have a flair for that lovely sort of blunt humor that makes people think, unless they really have their guards up and their minds as closed as possible. Even when I find myself ticking off disagreements I still read through to the end because it’s entertaining.

  16. November 2, 2011 at 00:33

    It’s all well and good and I agree with you but at some point people need to listen to some amount of Japanese even if it takes them 15 freaking years to get 5,000 hours of exposure to the language.
    There’s this teacher who told me that I should listen to 15 minutes of English/day to improve my listening comprehension. BTW, this teacher’s English sucks. He makes pronunciation mistakes and is generally not very good at the language. Surprising? I think not.

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