How to Get the Advice You Need But Don’t Want to Hear

I came up with a workaround to filter out bad advice and get the good advice I need the most but don't want to hear.


A while back, I read the article Kevin Kelly wrote to mark his 70th birthday: 103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known. Then, like everyone who consumes advice online, I didn’t act on any of it.

But I did take some action: I forwarded it to fifteen family members and friends. Not because I wanted them to also enjoy then forget Kelly’s advice. Because I wanted their input.

I had an idea for how to force myself to listen to unwelcome but good advice.

The Public Pool of Advice Is Gross

If Kevin Kelly were to ask me for advice, I would suggest adding this as his 104th bit:

“The advice you don’t want to hear is usually the advice you need.”1

It’s my third favorite quote.2 I frequently try to shove it into the inboxes and ear canals of readers like you. But I don’t do a good job abiding by it myself. I couldn’t tell you a single instance of me taking advice I don’t want to hear. Can you?

There’s a solid excuse not to listen to advice you don’t want to hear: 99.9% of it is truly bad or useless.

Allow me to illustrate:

Diagram of good vs bad advice.

Rather than risk swallowing bad advice, it’s safer to throw the baby of good advice out with the Olympic-sized-pool’s-worth of nasty bath water.

Safer, but also boringly risk-averse and complacent. So I set out to stop being my usual hypocritical self3 and risk wading through crappy advice to rescue some babies.

Can You Find a Cleaner Pool?

I look up to many people, but only partially. For instance, I admire Tim Ferriss’ ability to deconstruct success and construct networks of successful people, but I wouldn’t want any part of his neurosis. I’m also in awe of how Arnold Schwarzenegger kicked butt with shmäh and a smile on his face, but his selfish single-mindedness cost him more in his personal life than I’d be willing to pay.

Very few people’s lives seem roundly admirable. Kevin Kelly appears to be one of them:

  • He created things that have benefitted society in his own weird way.
  • He adventured all over the world and in many industries.
  • He seems to enjoy great relationships with family and friends.
  • He appears to be super psychologically healthy.
  • People value his advice.

I wouldn’t mind my first 70 years resembling Kelly’s. Not all of it, of course. The Amish-style beard would have to go. But 80/20, for sure. So it stands to reason that I would do well to listen to the advice he wishes he had known when he was my age.

In other words, Kevin Kelly’s pool advice seems like a safe place for me to dive into in search of beneficial babies:

Kevin Kelly's advice diagram.

Ask Others to Filter For You

One hundred and three bits of advice is too much to take in at once. I probably don’t need them all, anyway. Many seem irrelevant and I’m pretty sure I’m already following some.

Then again, what do I know?

“The advice you don’t want to hear is usually the advice you need.” So I needed a second opinion—and a third, fourth, fifth…

That’s why I sent Kelly’s article to fifteen friends and family members. They: A) Know me the best and B) Want the best for me. So I asked them, “Which of these bits of advice do you think I do the worst job of following?”

Message asking for advice.

Unsurprisingly, all of my friends and family members were eager to seize the opportunity to tell me what they thought I’m doing wrong. Some picked out one or two bits of advice for me. My wife Kim limited herself to nine.

Then I consolidated their selections:

Consolidated advice.

In case you can’t read the screenshot above, Kelly’s bit of advice that the most people thought I do the worst job following was this:

  • Efficiency is highly overrated; Goofing off is highly underrated. Regularly scheduled sabbaths, sabbaticals, vacations, breaks, aimless walks and time off are essential for top performance of any kind. The best work ethic requires a good rest ethic.”

Five out of fifteen chose it. Pretty remarkable considering they were picking from 103 options.

Not What I Wanted to Hear

My first reaction when seeing these consolidated results?

“What nonsense!”

My rest ethic is formidable. I goof off and take breaks all the time. I “pretired” at 27 for chrissakes.

I felt similarly about the next most common bits of advice chosen for me:

  • If you stop to listen to a musician or street performer for more than a minute, you owe them a dollar.

never stop to listen to street performers. My 2-year-old Zac always does, but then I’m paying attention to him, not them. Who carries coins anyway?

Yeah, yeah, I get that the underlying point is to generously thank people who add value to your life. But still. Only like ten out of the 5,000 subscribers generously support this newsletter, so I can’t afford to throw money around!

Next one:

  • For a great payoff be especially curious about the things you are not interested in.

Are you kidding me? I’m interested in pretty much everything (…except musicians and street performers).

But my friends and family selected this advice for a reason. Maybe my negative reaction is a good sign! They’ve helped me find advice I need but don’t want to hear.

Embrace Your Ugly Babies

Psychologist Marsha Linehan said, “You have to accept reality in order to change it.” But maybe I don’t have to blindly accept it. Maybe I can begrudgingly force myself to go along with others’ perception of reality. See what happens. If the results surprise me in a good way, I’ll accept it.

So I’m going to give my friends and family the benefit of the doubt. Even though I don’t agree with their choice, I’m going to make a plan to work harder than ever on improving my rest ethic.

Good timing, too, because it’s extra hard to be efficient these days with a newborn.

Let’s see what happens.

More on this:
  1. Oliver Burkeman shared it in his final column for The Guardian. Burkeman didn’t stop writing, though. He later published the hit book, Four Thousand Weeks. Kelly also took his advice offline and put it into a book. I guess the unwritten advice I can deduct from both Burkeman and Kelly’s example is that if you have popular advice, take it off the internet and put it in a book. ↩︎
  2. My favorite quote: “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting,” from Jerry Sternin. ↩︎
  3. This supports another of my favorite bits of meta advice from psychologist Angela Duckworth: If you want to give someone advice about a topic, ask them what advice they’d give to someone else. ↩︎

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About the author

I'm Chris. Canadian, husband, dad, writer, investor, athlete, and obsessed explorer of the secrets to living a never-boring, always improving, unfollowable life story.

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