This is Part 3.4 of the Building the Foundation to Start a Personal Development Journey Mini-Series. For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here. For Part 3.1, click here. For Part 3.2, click here. For Part 3.3, click here.
After asking over 400 people to share their best advice they could give, I decided to dig deeper than that. I looked at some good advice. I wrote about some bad popular advice, why it’s bad and better advice instead. Then, I delve into the topic of giving advice, both socially and professionally. I discussed why we should stop giving advice, what to do instead, a surprising reason why we should offer advice and the best way to effectively provide feedback in the workplace.
Now, we’re looking at how to effectively seek advice, knowledge, and information.
Although most of us don’t like receiving unsolicited advice, we will still often seek out advice. Especially if we’re struggling with overcoming an obstacle or reaching a goal. Whether it’s from friends, family members, therapists, psychics, life coaches, books, blogs, videos, or podcasts. This goes not only for advice but any knowledge, information, or data we can apply to our own lives. And this is a great thing.
But there’s so much out there though. A lot of it can be contradicting. And there’s a lot of junk too.
We obviously want to make the best decisions for our lives and well-being. Most of us don’t have a system for weeding through good and bad information. So, how can we seek advice and information effectively?
Take my previous success definition as not being applicable to anyone for example.
“Success to me means when your thoughts, desires, and actions are in sync and in harmony together. You do what you believe in and what you say you do rather than just what you want to do. When you are in consonance* with yourself. When you have a balance in important areas of your life: your work, your family and relationships, your health and your time to yourself.”
Working to have harmony between thoughts and actions is not ideal for someone who has beliefs, thoughts, ideals, and goals that are harmful to themselves.
Learning to think critically is crucial in this era of growing information. We should learn about and consider all the different cognitive biases we have and psychological phenomena. But there’s more to it than that.
The Importance of Learning How to Seek Advice
Remember, you are responsible for your decisions, not an advice-giver
Remember that if you choose to take someone’s advice, especially if it’s risky.
If you follow investment advice from an influential financial speaker, your money is on the line. Not theirs.
If you follow health advice from a health expert, your health (and life) is on the line. Not theirs.
If you follow any type of advice, your time is on the line. Not theirs.
Your money, time, relationships, health, and life. No one else’s.
Now let’s dive into 21 ways and considerations to improve seeking advice, knowledge, education, and information.
Learning is a skill we should all learn.
First, ask yourself some questions
When Ryan Simonetti, co-founder of Convene picks up a book with a specific question in mind he asks himself three questions:
- What am I trying to learn or improve?
- Why is it so important to me?
- Why is this particular book (over an alternative) going to be the best resource to help me accomplish that goal?
We can ask ourselves these questions before or without picking up a book, along with the following questions:
- What is the problem or obstacle?
- What goal(s) am I trying to achieve?
- Or what is the desired outcome?
- How can I best accomplish that knowledge or skill?
- A book? An article? An online course? Hiring someone? Watching videos? Taking in-person classes? A therapist or life coach? If it’s only to feel better—even just talking to a friend?
- What is the worst thing that can happen? How can I avoid that?
- What is the best thing that can happen? How can I get closer to that?
Get to the root of it
Instead of focusing on the symptom(s), treat the root. Get to the bottom of it. Work your way backward.
Instead of focusing on getting motivated, focus on being disciplined so that it won’t matter if you’re feeling motivated or not.
Rather than focusing on bananas to treat depressive symptoms, focus on recovering from depression.
Instead of following the advice tip to get some space in an argumentative relationship, focus on the communication that’s causing the arguments.
Learn great mental models
Mental models are just ways we look at the world and how we think the way we think and make decisions. They are principles and fundamentals we follow. We can have great mental models that allow us to think, understand, and act better. And we can have poor mental models that make it easier for us to make mistakes and be destructive to ourselves.
An example of a mental model is the 80/20 rule I briefly mention in a previous article which states that 20% of our actions produce 80% of our results. So learning, implementing and using this mental model would be focusing on the 20% core actions and tasks that we think or know produce the 80% majority of our results. It means focusing more on the few things that matter the most rather than pouring all of our attention into everything equally.
Learning more mental models that make us more efficient in our day to day lives makes us focus on the knowledge, advice, and information that help us the most.
“Mental models are to your brain as apps are to your smartphone.” — Jayme Hoffman
Expand your circle
Most of us hang around the same friends, watch the same news, read the same websites, etc. When we do this, we are only setting ourselves up for stunted growth and learning.
Because of confirmation bias, we tend to seek out information that confirms our beliefs rather than information that challenges our current beliefs. Talking to your friends and people you spend a lot of time with is not likely to bring you information or understanding you didn’t consider before. They are likely to be just like you and think similar to you. So it’s not likely that their ideas and advice will provide you with unique insight from your own.
When we only listen to ideas within our groups and circles, the more we become trapped in our own little bubble. Doing his can also alienate us from other people because our views and perspective are very one-sided and can lead to close-mindedness. We are less likely to relate to other people. Expanding our circle can be hard to do because we are drawn to people who are more like us.
Consider all sides and different points of view
This is a lot easier said than done. It’s psychologically difficult to do. It involves stepping outside of our comfort zones. But it’s crucial for having a better understanding of everything.
Research shows that contrasting examples helps people develop expertise and uncover deep underlying that can be applied across vast disciplines.
We have to force ourselves to do this.
Note: A place to see people respectfully argue and try to prove a person’s viewpoint as wrong is the subreddit /changemyview.
Be extremely open to new ideas
This not only means opening your life to new possibilities but eliminating old beliefs and commitments that are no longer serving you.
Recognize that there is not one thing that you know 100% of. Not one thing.
You might say, “Well, I know 100% of the English alphabet.”
But do you really? Do you know the name of the little dot on top of the letter i? How about how we came about the alphabet? Do you know why we have 26 letters? Or the answers to many other questions about the alphabet?
There is always something you don’t know for everything and anything.
You may know a bit, but you don’t know everything completely. Never say you do. There is always something to learn to everything.
True experts are always learning.
Be insatiably curious
I like to click on and read articles with titles I disagree with, or I think I’ll disagree with. Surprisingly, I often end up at least somewhat agreeing with the article. I didn’t expect to agree with the article. The reason why I initially clicked on the article in the first place was curiosity. Even if I make a face, roll my eyes and say, “Yeah right!” when I first read the title.
Whenever I read an article, I read the comments which sometimes show disagreement even if at a portion of the article.
After, during, or before reading a book (usually after) I read the critical reviews on Amazon. The reviews with 1-3 stars ratings.
I’m curious about what I may have missed. I’m curious what the opinions of people who hated a book I loved or disagreed with an article I agreed with or believed.
And a lot of times the reviewers bring up some valid points. Doing this helps me to be more objective, see things from different perspectives. And it helps me learn more.
Take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt
Yes, even my advice.
Just because a successful person, an expert, a celebrity, or someone we look up to says we should do something a certain way doesn’t always mean we should or that it’ll work for us too. A cognitive bias called the halo effect makes us think we should though. This makes us tend to believe certain positive or negative traits about a person “spill over” into other areas about their life and personality. This also happens when we see someone attractive or well-groomed. We tend to assume other positive traits about them like that they are smart, friendly, or successful.
This usually happens unconsciously meaning we are not fully aware of our judgments of a person being attributed to certain unrelated characteristics. We don’t think about it when we do this. Just because we may think, “Well, that’s obvious not to do that.” doesn’t mean we don’t do it or that we are always aware of when we do that. Our brain likes to take shortcuts.
Either way, we tend to glorify the rich and famous or people we consider to be successful or experts in our eyes.
Although I would probably jump on their business advice, I would be hesitant to follow any relationship advice from Mark Zuckerberg who stole the idea of Facebook from the Winklevoss twins, Ray Kroc whose ethically questionable methods acquired McDonalds from the McDonalds brothers, or Steve Jobs who was known for having a temper and treating his employees less than they deserved.
Even in the field of business, many argue that while Steve Jobs was an incredible visionary, he was not a great leader and his leadership style should not be emulated.
Here’s what Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and one of the world’s top ten most influential management thinkers had to say:
“Steve Jobs was a great role model for many things. Original thinking and nonconformity. Seeing the future more clearly than others and working relentlessly to create that future. Obsession with beautiful design and quality. Building a world-class tech company without knowing how to code. That doesn’t mean he was a great role model for how to treat others.
Disrupters are often disagreeable. But you can be disagreeable without being an asshole.”
No, I’m not by any means saying these entrepreneurs are bad people. But they are not perfect. They are flawed human beings that make mistakes. Just like every one of us. Being aware of that is important. No one is a perfect role model. No one is right about everything 100% of the time. Success in one area of life does not mean success in all areas. Expert in one field does not mean expert for other fields.
We can also confuse someone who’s rich and famous as overall successful because of survivorship bias.
This cognitive bias means we tend to overlook flaws our idols and heroes may have because of what we do know. We also overlook what we don’t know and probability as well. We tend to only look at the “after.” And neglect the process, journey, or “before.” Things we often don’t know much about. I talk about this a bit in my About page.
So, unfortunately, just because someone is successful and we do all the things they do, doesn’t mean that we will be successful too.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do the things that successful people do. But we should try other things as well, which I list more below.
What works for one person may not work for another person
This is an argument and issue that I’ve seen come up often in the blogging world. There is no one right way to successful blogging or successful pinning or perfect SEO. There are multiple different strategies. Some work better for some people more than others while different methods work better for those. Emulating monetization from a blogger that makes money from their blogging blog on your health blog that doesn’t even mention blogging might not be reliable.
This holds true for many other disciplines.
Don’t be afraid to be wrong or admit it to yourself
Or to seek out information and listen to viewpoints that you disagree with.
Again, because of confirmation bias, we have a tendency to favor information that already confirms our existing beliefs.
So, you should be more discerning with advice that you already agree with. Just because we agree something doesn’t mean it’s true.
What’s great about being wrong is this:
We learn from being wrong
In fact, you should try to prove yourself wrong. It’s hard to form a conclusion from facts when you are already strongly biased and opinionated about one thing.
Let’s look at science first of all. The greatest discoveries in science have been from disproving.
The greatest scientific advancements and breakthroughs came from disproving what scientists believed to fact. Not from proving that they were right.
Our greatest growths come from being wrong, making mistakes, and proving ourselves wrong not right.
Science and facts have been wrong and will continue to be wrong and disproven. Knowledge is always becoming outdated.
New information and facts are always being found.
This brings us to our next point.
Consider the dating of the knowledge
Someone who’s been a specialist for decades who hasn’t gained any new knowledge or skills isn’t necessarily more credible than someone who’s less experienced but has been and continues to gain new knowledge and education. The former may be basing their knowledge on a lot of false or outdated facts and information.
A degree in engineering 40 years ago is not the same as an engineering degree now.
Education and knowledge have a half life. Half lives also continue to decrease in certain fields. About 50% of what is true and fact today won’t be true ten years from now. Information and facts have an expiration date. Facts change as time goes on. Knowledge becomes outdated with advancements in science and technology.
As I mentioned in my previous point, science advances from disproving former facts and theories.
On the other hand, just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s true (or better than old)
The Lindy Effect shows that the longer an idea or technology lives, the more likely it will hold in the future. Just because an idea is old doesn’t mean it doesn’t work or it’s not applicable.
Some older ideas and solutions have (with)stood the test of time and can, therefore, be better than newer solutions. This includes age-old wisdom from great ancient philosophers and self-help classics. Some of those ideas are not outdated. They are, in fact, timeless. As old as the problem is, solutions that work can be just as old. They can be still relevant today.
Confidence and sureness can be a bad thing
This mostly pertains to advice about future outcomes such as the stock market. Or anything that can’t be proven to be fact or to be 100% probable.
Too much confidence is a bad sign.
Research shows that the more confident someone is about a specific outcome, the less accurate it is. We all do this on some degree. We tend to overestimate our abilities and judgments which demonstrates what is called the overconfidence effect.
“The sign of intelligence is that you are always wondering. Idiots are always dead sure about every damn thing.” — Jaggi Vasudev
The Dunning-Kruger effect shows that we are most confident when we are least skilled.
When everyone “says so”
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” — Mark Twain
“You can’t make money agreeing with the consensus view,” — Ray Dalio
This cognitive bias is called the bandwagon effect which many of us know what the term means.
This requires independent thinking. It’s only not easy to do because when we go against everyone else, we’re likely to be wrong. And we feel uncomfortable, awkward or even embarrassed being wrong.
This takes skill to do. First of all, we have to have courage to stand up against when we’re right and everyone else is wrong. We have to be able to have a unique perspective, understanding, or have access to information that most people don’t. Multiple sources have to be look at and analyzed, not just the most popular ones. We have to be able to analyze the information for ourselves and form our own conclusion rather than running with others’ conclusions.
That was one of the main reason why I never spoke up in social groups. I used to be afraid to disagree with people. And I disagreed often. I would just disagree and shake my head internally. What I found was that when I did get the courage to speak up and show a different perspective, my view was actually respected and even got the other person thinking and telling me I had a point. I would hear things like “You’re right.” “Hm. Yeah, I’ve never thought about it like that.”
Also, doing what everyone else is doing is the definition of average. It only brings you average results.
The availability cascade bias doesn’t help either as it reinforces collective beliefs that are repeated and popular. And if we repeat something long enough to ourselves, we believe it will become true, or it must be true.
This shows the importance of being an independent thinker.
There has to be data
Data can be backed by either theory or experience. The more experiences, the better. Looking at just the data helps to form an independent opinion.
A group of employees at a law firm is brainstorming ideas on how to best market themselves. A number of people might think it’s a good idea to do one thing just because it’s what they think will be best. Maybe the people with most authority agree, or maybe the most people agree. But the one person (better yet a new person in the firm) with a background in marketing has a different idea that is backed by what they know.
Not all opinions are equal in merit and truth.
There has to be data. However, the data has to be good. This brings us to our next point.
Check out the source material
People usually agree with other’s conclusions of sources. Checking out and reading the source material for yourself helps to form your independent opinion and gives a deeper and more accurate understanding of the topic at hand.
Warren Buffet makes sure to read annual reports himself.
I like to go to websites that publish studies and research. Not just sites that post articles about the research. I look up information that I’m looking for there.
Doing this helps me see things at face value rather than how other people see them. It helps formulate my own opinion rather than taking others.
Also, whenever I read an article with sources, I often check out the sources. Sometimes within the sources, I find something more interesting than the article never even mentioned!
Be aware of how a message is being delivered
Sometimes we receive advice from really great speakers and writers. But we have to make sure to not confuse the speaking and writing skills with the information underneath.
For example, a great speaker giving an incredible speech about leadership does not make them a great leader.
How would someone know that they were a great leader without actually being led by them?
It’s important to know the difference.
Also, consider the world’s greatest influencers and speakers who have beautifully and persuasively wrapped dangerous messages. Their messages were delivered brilliantly. However, they were not always based in reality or ethical.
Don’t just learn from others’ successes learn from their mistakes and failures.
Don’t just learn from what worked best. Learn about what didn’t work. Brainstorm on what is the worst thing that can happen. And learn to actively avoid those mistakes.
“Tell me where I’m going to die, so I don’t go there.” — Charlie Munger
Focusing on prevention will make us less likely to meet new future problems that could have been avoided.
Look for patterns and constants
If you notice that multiple examples show a pattern, pay attention.
This is why it’s important to look at different sources, examples, and cases that are very different from each other rather than looking at sources that are very similar.
We can apply different fields to new fields. We can explore different approaches and then compare and contrast them. This is called “contrasting cases.” And again, research shows it to be highly effective.
This leads us to make connections which literally rewires your brain to learn new things and how they connect with each other.
We get a better understanding and new insights.
Within patterns, it’s important to pay attention to constants. Things that don’t change rather than riding on trends.
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon focused on constants when building Amazon. He focused on what does not change—the fact that people will always buy products that are as cheap, quick, and easy as possible.
Try new things and experiment
“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Brainstorm and look for all possible solutions and outcomes. Don’t just consider what you think the best one is or the first one that comes to mind. Doing this will avoid availability bias, a cognitive bias in which we tend to pick the first option we think of instead of brainstorming and considering other options.
And just like I mentioned earlier just because we do all the things a successful person does or all the successful people do, doesn’t mean we will be successful too.
So, in that case, we should learn what they do, emulate what they do but try new things as well, experiment and break the rules.
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” — Pablo Picasso
The more we experiment, the higher the probability we have to find something that works. We are more likely to have breakthroughs.
If your goal is to be more motivated
If we’re looking to be more confident, motivated, or master a specific topic or skill it could be a better option to give advice rather than seek it.
In my previous article, I mention a fascinating set of studies which showed that giving advice was more motivating than receiving it. These were studied with a range of people struggling with different issues from saving money, to managing anger to losing weight. The studies found that people were more motivated and were more likely to achieve their goals after giving advice than receiving advice from experts in the pertaining fields.
So, if you’d like to be more motivated in achieving a particular goal or skill like financial management or you’d like to learn and master it, consider starting a blog.
There are plenty of successful bloggers who’s achieved their goals or overcame their struggles and beyond from starting a blog. They have even attained authority in their niche when they only started beginners.
A Final Note
This article is not advocating to disbelieve everything that we hear until we see or experience it for ourselves or until it’s strictly “proven” by multiple experts as fact. It means to take into consideration the facts behind the advice. And to not be afraid to do our own research or look further into advice someone gives.
There’s a difference between a cynic and a skeptic.
These suggestions and methods do not guarantee that you will always make the best decisions and you’ll never make any mistakes. But they will make such processes easier and most efficient. And they will most likely put the odds in your favor. Either way, it’s all a learning process. Making mistakes and believing junk knowledge is one thing, learning, recognizing and adjusting is another.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler