Don’t let bad advice define your future.
By David Penney
We live in a world where there is no shortage of advice available.
In this increasingly connected world, there are a million and one sources to turn to when a decision has to be made.
The trick of course is to be able to discern which advice is going to help you achieve your goals rather than hurt you – something that is not always that easy, as many of us will discover to our cost at some point in our lives.
In the words of the playwright and tragedian Sophocles, there is no enemy worse than bad advice - it can stop you dead in your tracks, killing that all important momentum that you have been building.
As we have seen from the Conservative Party’s astounding loss of the previously safe North Shropshire seat in Parliament, by-election sparked by a chain of events that appears to have been initiated by some poor advice, there can be long term and potentially devastating consequences from listening to bad advice.
The truth is that not all advice is created equal and some of it is just downright bad and so when we are seeking advice there are a number of things that we should consider before acting upon it.
The first question we should always ask ourselves when seeking advice is whether the person we are asking has an ulterior motive for the advice they are giving.
Unfortunately, whether it is your career, your relationships or your finances that are being considered, not everybody is going to have your best interests at heart, be that consciously or subconsciously.
Even advice given with the very best of intentions, particularly from those very close to you such as a parent, partner or friend, may lack the necessary objectivity to be truly valuable.
The second question to consider when seeking advice is whether the person that you are speaking to is an expert.
Lots of people have opinions, in fact we all do, but very few of us are experts and in a world where we are bombarded with so many different voices and strident opinions, it is important not to confuse confidence with expertise.
As the Dunning-Kruger effect clearly demonstrates, one of the unfortunate frailties of the human psyche is that the less some of us know about a given subject, the more confident we are in our opinions.
Ultimately the best way to overcome this is by seeking advice from those that have done what you are trying to do, ideally multiple times. If somebody is just offering their opinion, then it is probably worth thinking twice about how much credence you give to what they have to say.
One of the great challenges for us all is that we are attracted to advice that reassures and confirms beliefs that already exist.
As Francis Bacon, the 16th century statesman rather than the 20th century artist, said: “It is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human intellect to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than negatives; whereas it ought properly to hold itself indifferently disposed towards both alike.”
Good advice is often about being told what you need and that may not always align with what you thought that you wanted.
Taking advice on a given matter also invariably comes at a time of heightened anxiety about the issue at hand and repeated research has shown that anxiety has a significant impact on our ability to discern between good and bad advice.
This makes it doubly important to really understand from who you are taking advice as well as refraining from making major decisions until in a relaxed state and able to clearly reflect on the matter at hand.
In many ways it is a matter of self confidence and being able to monitor our own levels of anxiety and being able to recognise that worrying will make us more receptive to advice and less discriminating as to whether it is good advice or bad.
When we allow fear to rule us, we gravitate towards advice that capitalises those fears – even if it is bad advice.
However, the worst thing that we can do is to stop taking advice, no matter what our previous experiences.
As we move through each stage of our lives, we will potentially seek lots of advice and some of it will be incredibly valuable, some less so.
There can be damaging and potentially long-term consequences of taking bad advice but there will always be a better way and through taking a more considered approach as to where you seek advice and how it is acted upon, the chances of achieving a more desirable outcome increase dramatically – even for Prime Ministers.