Ditch Generic Advice for Self-Help That Really Helps

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m not a huge fan of TED Talks, but here’s one worth watching. It’s by Orin Davis — principal investigator at the Quality of Life Laboratory, adjunct professor of psychology and management at Baruch College, and lecturer in Critical and Creative Thinking at UMass Boston.

Some juicy quotes:

These are a bunch of people that want you to pay them for the privilege of telling you what to do. How does that sound?

Most of the advice that you’re reading is rather generic. It’s not really tailored to you. The people who write this, they have no idea who you are. They have no idea what your life is like. They have no idea how you’ve bent, contorted, twisted yourself to deal with the contingencies that you call life. 

Even those of us who do research in positive psychology — our results are based on inferences that come from averages. Yes, they may be randomized controlled trials. And yes, we may be finding an effect across the mean. But they’re still averages. 

So as much as our results are theory-based, data driven, and jargon-laden, your mileage may vary. 

The other problem we run into in the advice industry is this thing called “best practices” — the idea that if we can find all the successful people and we figure out what made them all successful, then if we do that, we’ll be successful, too. 

The problem is the people who tried the very same strategies and failed, and we don’t know who they are. Because if you fail, you fall off the radar. We don’t track you. We don’t know how you failed. We don’t know why you failed.

How willing would you be to try these best practices if you found out that only 10 percent of the people that use them succeed?

How similar is your definition of success to that of the people we studied? Do you want what they have? Do you want to be like them? Because their contingencies are different. Their lives are different. Their goals are different. 

You’ve got your own path. You should walk it yourself. 

The most important thing we need to do is be fearless.

Also see these articles by Orin:

Making Self-Help Effective

Reverse Engineering Positive Psychology

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