Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Harsh Self-Help Advice

I just came across a webbed essay by someone I have never heard of that struck me as both well written and, on the whole, sensible, so thought I would link to it.


At 11:19 AM, December 18, 2012, Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

Wise words indeed.

At 12:32 PM, December 18, 2012, Anonymous Simon said...

Yes... my version would be like this:

- Each of the people you know will be interested in one facet of you: the lover, the husband, the employee, the son, the neighbor, the friend, &c.

- Each will kindly and happily help you grow and improve in the speciality relevant to them

- Nobody but yourself can help you achieve things outside of these established facets: for achieving balance or completeness or realizing abilities so far unexpressed, you are on your own

At 12:40 PM, December 18, 2012, Anonymous Kid said...


At 3:33 PM, December 18, 2012, Blogger DR said...

David Wong's a great writer. There's an old essay from him back from 2007 or so called "The Monkeysphere." If you liked this article, you'll probably like that one.

At 4:53 PM, December 18, 2012, Anonymous HH said...

I've tried to link you to Cracked in the past, sir. 'Tis a treasure trove.

At 4:54 PM, December 18, 2012, Blogger Tibor said...

...or in a strip comic version:


At 6:20 PM, December 18, 2012, Blogger jdgalt said...

All I see is "504 Gateway Timeout".

At 8:57 PM, December 18, 2012, Anonymous Charles Leo said...

Hey this is a good article.

At 9:48 PM, December 18, 2012, Anonymous Jared Imbler said...

Therapists will always tell you to focus on your inner value and strengths. Sure, that's great and we all have many inner strengths, but ultimately no one but you knows about these unless you act on them. In a society of telepathics it might mean something. But until we can read minds, the only way to prove your value to others is to show them you are valuable.

At 6:50 AM, December 19, 2012, Anonymous joeftansey said...

Going in order (reverse numerical order...)

6) If someone is a conscientious and honest person, they are likely to be generally competent even if they lack specific expertise. In the bullet example, our Samaritan is less likely to make a hasty or sloppy mistake than someone without these virtues.

I'd rather have a professional surgeon do it, but the claim that a person's qualities don't matter is false.

5) This is kind of the same, but the example is question begging. *Given* that you are unproductive, it doesn't matter how virtuous you are. But this says nothing about the independent relationship between the two qualities. I'd imagine that an honest hard-working person would make a better coworker, on average.

4) The more direct way to phrase this is to say that "acting good" and "being good" are two different things.

3) Grinding is productive for certain skills. In my life, I find grinding helps with athleticism, but little else. What holds me back the most is whether I can work intelligently and methodically. Rather than try to power-through issues by investing massive amounts of time and energy, I make the best progress in bursts when I see a good idea... The critical skill being the *ability* to sort out good ideas from bad ones. This requires "virtuous" traits like conscientiousness, patience, and integrity.

Overall I don't think most successful people grind really hard. People always overstate the amount they work. In reality I think human beings are wired to waste 95% of their time no matter what. I waste 99% of my time and I'm proud of it.

2) More question begging like 5).

1) Question begging again! Yes, if your mind struggles against *improvement*, this is bad. But who says change is improvement? You could easily waste years of your life changing careers, or buying a new house, or...

Status quo bias isn't all bad. It's probably what stops you from trying all sorts of crazy "improvements" that would screw up your life.

TLDR - Cracked.com is pop culture sensationalized.

At 8:55 AM, December 19, 2012, Blogger Tibor said...

joeftansey: Well, you have some interesting points, but I think you miss a point a little. The point is not that honesty does not matter. The point is that people only can see what you do. And they can see whether you are or are not honest again based on your actions. Other people can only percieve us through our actions, because nobody can see inside your head to find out you really are more honest than everyone else. Really the whole article could probably be summarized into two sentences - "People percieve you through your actions and nothing else. Adapt to that notion."

You pointed out quite well that saying that you care can hardly be considered caring. But I think that does not really go against what the article is trying to say. Some people are actually convinced that they care about something just because they "wish it well" or "think about it" or even "pray for it". Again the bottom line is that only actions matter.

You made quite an interesting point about working hard vs. working efficiently. I think the author's "think how much time you spend consuming and how much time producing" might be more accurately rephrased "think about how much utility you consume compared to how much utility you produce" and I mean utility in a very broad sense here. But I think the main idea is the same as in the article anyway.

At 12:12 PM, December 19, 2012, Anonymous joeftansey said...


You're correct that some parts of the article can be salvaged. We can probably both agree that it is sloppily written.

But when he writes:

"Now the man becomes agitated -- why are you being shallow and selfish? Do you not care about any of his other good qualities? Didn't you just hear him say that he always remembers his girlfriend's birthday? In light of all of the good things he does, does it really matter if he knows how to perform surgery?

In that panicked moment, you will take your bloody hands and shake him by the shoulders, screaming, "Yes, I'm saying that none of that other shit matters, because in this specific situation, I just need somebody who can stop the bleeding, you crazy fucking asshole."

He explicitly says "none of that other shit matters". Except it does matter for the inductive reasons I've given above.

Overall it is a poorly conceived piece whose thought experiments don't even pass the sneeze test.

At 4:23 PM, December 19, 2012, Blogger Tibor said...

joeftansey: Ok, you're right abou that. But the core argument of the article seems to be very good for me. You are nitpicking some definitely existant, but minor flaws. I think shunning something just because it is not perfect or completely detailed is not a good thing to do. You can find minor flaws in pretty much everything. But even if there are quite a few flaws in something, it does not necessarily mean there are no good ideas there.

I tried to summarize the idea of the article in those two sentences and I think that in that exact idea is the article valuable. Sure, it could have been written more percisely or in a more detailed way (also maybe in a more funny or readable way, who knows?), but that you can say about pretty much anything.

At 7:58 AM, December 21, 2012, Anonymous joeftansey said...

These are not minor flaws. I am hardly nitpicking if I can find something wrong with 5 of his 6 points. The article is entirely sloppy. According to you, its merits can be summarized in a couple of sentences, and yet it is several pages long.

I'm completely amazed that people enjoy this piece.

At 8:27 AM, December 21, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I've been having a really hard time for the past couple months trying to find a job and this article helped me.

At 3:30 PM, December 22, 2012, Blogger Patri Friedman said...

I love it! Hits on some key themes of libertarianism and rationality without being about either, or being boring, or pedantic.

I think the article could have been slightly better/clearer if he had explained that he's not talking about value to yourself, or value to god, but value to society.

If someone says "What I am inside is all that matters to how I feel about myself, not what I do", OK, fine, your feelings, your standards, heck it might even be true. It's when they say "An awesome person should love me / a great company should hire me / people should respect me based on who I am inside", that's the fallacy.

At 6:06 AM, December 23, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

F I think it's pure shit. No one really gives that much of a shit what you do or your income. They care if your a nice guy who they can spend time with who donates your time helping others. They care if you're a good father. People buy from salesmen who they respect and very few people respect an idiot who wastes money on a watch or car. That doesn't show me how successful you are it shows me that your an egotistical douchebag who really wants to be liked for how much money he has. In reality he probably has nothing saved. If he were really successful he would be retired and by enjoying life with the ones he loved and noit being a douche to a bunch of middle aged home salesmen

At 11:40 AM, December 24, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

Thanks for passing this on; maybe it will do me some good; but it would have done me more good 40 years ago. If I'd paid attention.

At 3:01 PM, December 28, 2012, Blogger ErisGuy said...

IIRC, while Last Psychiatrist and Cracked cite Baldwin's speech as a good example, note that in the movie, the actual response of the characters is to commit a crime. I don't think that's the act to which the speech was intended to motivate the realtors.

At 6:15 AM, January 13, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 8:47 AM, April 26, 2013, Blogger Unknown said...

Great advice. A good wake up call.


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