Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Advice regarding advice

If you know me (or, you know, have read anything on this blog), you know that I like to give lots of advice.

But I've come to believe that many of the pieces of advice I give just don't work for other people.  I think it's because your brain is a big pattern-recognizing, association machine.  Patterns and associations are formed from experience, and experiences differ from person to person.  So my advice might not fit you.

This is a personal example: one of my biggest problems is that I always, always, always have extremely high expectations of myself.  Sometimes it drives me to keep learning and trying to perfect the things that I do (which helps me become better, which is great), but it also kills my motivation when I first start out.  I may have no expectations of myself at the start, but as I learn more about my field (or game, or skill), I create an image in my head of what it means to be perfect at it.  Then I start comparing myself against that perfection.  The farther away from it I am, the worse I feel.  If I feel that perfection is within reach, I keep going, and if not, I stop.  Not very efficient, or enjoyable.

So I'm very good at starting lots of new things and trying lots of new ideas, in the same way that somebody can be good at quitting smoking after trying it twenty times.

One of the only ways that I can fix this is by telling myself repeatedly that I'm going to fail.  Doing this relieves my stress.  It relieves the pressure that I feel to be perfect and always present a perfect image to other people, because I know from the start that things won't work out.  Then sometimes they do.

I don't know of a lot of people who suggest that you boost your self-confidence by telling yourself that you're going to fail and lose.  But it works for me, much more than the belief that I'm going to win.  This is because my thought processes, my associations and my experiences, have conditioned me to increase pressure and frustration the higher my expectations.  So if I say, "hey, I'm going to win," then I create "victory" as my new baseline.  Anything that deviates from the baseline frustrates and upsets me, hindering clear thought and performance.

But if my expectation is "constant failure," then I don't experience the performance-killing stress and frustration that normally comes from my perfectionism.  There are people out there who are afraid of failure.  I'm not.  I just hate it so much that it makes me want to break stuff.  The only way to counteract it, for me, is to assume it and believe it from the outset, and get comfortable with it to begin with.  If I know I'm going to fail, but I try anyhow, I can't be mad.   Not getting mad lets me concentrate and succeed more, at which point I tell myself it isn't going to last.  I hope that doesn't sound depressing, because it actually puts me in a pretty good mood.

Like I said though, how am I supposed to recommend this to other people?  I can't.  Some people shake off unexpected failures a lot better than me, and will gain more strength from believing, "not only can I win, I'm guaranteed to win."  Some people benefit more from thinking neither about winning or losing, but simply from having a gameplan that they focus on, without worrying about the outcome.  I'm guessing there are a million and one tricks and routines you can try that will help you get into the winning state of mind.

Why?  Because you have a personal, optimal emotional state for performance.  You have also lived a unique life, obtained different experiences from other people.  Those experiences trigger different associations, triggering different emotions.  Following that chain is part of understanding what makes you tick, and what puts you in the right frame of mind for doing your best.  And that's why a blog that tries to dispense helpful advice isn't always very helpful.  And why even if your very wise and very understanding mentor gives you advice that sounds sage and timeless, it actually just might not apply to you.

I'm worried about saying that, because it's the kind of thing somebody might use as an excuse to just totally ignore advice.  You shouldn't ignore advice, especially from intelligent and successful sources.  But you must always think critically about the advice you receive.  You need to test it, collect data on it, see the results, and try to understand yourself more as a result.  Figure out if and how that advice fits for you.

Thanks for reading.

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