Some Old Advice May Have Spoiled

I am disappointed in an article I read on Psychology Today1. “5 Thoughts That Can Get You Through (Almost) Anything: Collected over a lifetime, advice to keep you moving forward.” I don’t think most of the points made in this are true and think a few are potentially harmful. I believe a saying such as, “Do the best you can,” is a very condescending piece of advice. What if my best isn’t good enough for my goals? Does that mean that if I am never good enough for any of my goals than I have to tell my self that my goals are just unreachable for a person like myself? (sounds horrible) That isn’t very helpful. These types of thoughts loops and dangers are why I wanted to review this article. I think Psychology Today is often right on the money, but when I read this, second or third thing this morning, I felt my “red flags” begin to wave with each passing “point.” I (almost) had to stop reading. Once I tried again, I began having more than five thoughts about how badly this post misses the mark and ends up being potentially harmful without inspection.

The five things are vaules most of us carry around anyway, and I think this post underestimates the intelligence of it’s audience. It is often dangerous when political correctness rears its ugly head once again in this country, as well, it would be a mistake to underestimate a clientele which is likely battling and thinking about bigger issues and more complex problems then “Do the best you can,” will be able to fix. I will cover that one and the four others and see if we can shed a little more light on what the article is trying to do. Maybe I can help get the proper message across. An extra brain on the job couldn’t hurt; I hope.

  1. Do what makes you feel best about yourself.”

What!? Okay, this open the door for all kinds of pathology. Often what makes people feel best about themselves is their addiction.2 To deal with reality outside of that addiction is often too painful, especially at later stages. This was why I (almost) stopped reading the first time through. I felt like the whole article must be pure poison at first glance. Yet, even if there is information we fear, the right thing to do is examine and press forward. This advice is pretty bad, but when we start combining some of these points, dangerous things start to evolve.

  1. Just do the best you can.”

I mentioned this earlier. This combines horribly with the first statement. “Well here is a challenge you could possibly fail; it will make you feel bad if you fail; you failed and feel bad. Don’t worry about it, as you did the best you could.” How does this meet the needs of a person. The theory of “Flow” (a well studied phenomenon3) requires a person to meet some challenges so that they may obtain feedback. Not to mention this leaves out the old saying, “try, try, again.” The author challenges us to find the pattern. I think I am starting to see one develop, danger.

  1. Set your own standards and work up to them.”

This isn’t so bad. Be careful that one isn’t influenced by the combination of the first two mistaking what your standards could be, for what they would be if you were invited to feel strong and dominate your challenges. There is also evidence that raising your standards for certain things can provide huge benefits for quality of life.4 This one is okay as long as you keep upping the bar for yourself, not past reasonable expectations, just make sure its up.

  1. Do what makes sense to you.”

Um, this sounds potentially dangerous. The mind is full of hallucinations. If we do what makes sense to us most of the time we will inevitably make life harder on ourselves. It can “make sense” to become a recluse and start blowing up mailboxes with people in front of them. It can “make sense” to kill your babies for Jesus5. (I literally looked this citation up on Google as I was writing, and it was the fifth entry for “killed children for Jesus news.”) I don’t think this translates into reality and will allow people to feel justified in their actions, even if they aren’t wise choices. This raises a tall, red flag of marketing strategy to sell products. Please tell us if you are trying to manipulate us to buy copies of your products. It feels dirty.

  1. Welcome mistakes and learn from them.”

This I agree with this “whole hardheartedly.6” Brené Brown has done over a decade of research and publishing on why the best lives are full of the ability to fail and recover, to become vulnerable without certainty of success. I would replace the word “welcome” with “embrace.” That makes much more sense.

This isn’t wisdom which I think is mysterious to most people. I think most of us use these types of idioms to take care of a couple surface issues and trivial things. You didn’t get a job after years of trying and putting everything you had into the effort. “You tried as hard as you could.” This does nothing for the crushing, and potentially career ending, events that happen to people in this condition. I know; I have been there. What worked in my situation had more to do with my loved ones telling me how awesome I am. Making suggestions of how to use that “awesomeness” to dominate other areas of life. I am glad the last one made good sense, but I encourage all of my readers to examine carefully the situation when applying any of these suggestions. Don’t settle on what you think you can do alone, trust others opinions of what they believe you are capable. Especially if they think you are more capable than you do. Those suggestions will likely raise you up, and who knows what your goals will become with such an amazing view.

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3.   Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. Print.
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2 thoughts on “Some Old Advice May Have Spoiled

  1. Howdy! This blog post couldn’t be written much better!
    Going through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!

    He constantly kept preaching about this. I am going
    to send this information to him. Pretty sure
    he’ll have a good read. Thanks for sharing! http://www.yahoo.net

    • Thank you. This issue of platitudinous nature has been bothering me for because of the harmful and divisive. If “manspalining” is considered rude, surly saying “Stay strong,” must be as well.

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