Scott H Young

Be Yourself, Law of Attraction and Other Pieces of Bad Advice


I give a lot of advice on this blog. I’d like to think that some of it is good, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading it. Part of giving advice, however, means you need to receive a lot of it. And a good amount of the advice I get from friends, books or blogs, is crap. I’d like to share what I feel is the worst of it.

Some of this advice has gained considerable popularity, so I’m sure to hear some irate comments from readers whom I’ve offended. Keep in mind that I’m not attacking the perceived level of truth of this advice. The nice thing about the English language is that it takes only a mediocre skill level and some creativity to make almost anything sound profound.

By my standards, in order for advice to be good it should be true and useful. Actually it doesn’t even need to be true. Take metaphors, they aren’t true in themselves but are useful to describe things. I’m judging this advice with my own biased opinion of their utility.

1) Be Yourself

There must be a lot more people with multiple personality disorder than I thought. How can you be anything but yourself? I can understand the feel-good sentiment that if you just be yourself, then you will become the best salesperson, fall in love and have tons of friends. That’s a nice image, but unfortunately it isn’t helpful.

In reality, be yourself works, but it is a gross simplification. Being yourself means you have to learn how to market yourself. Learn what your strengths and weaknesses are and figure out how to portray those to others in a relaxed and natural fashion. This takes time, experimentation and considerable reflection. Summing up what might be the entire process of human growth into two words isn’t just trite, it’s dangerous.

When being yourself doesn’t seem to work, you get caught in a vicious cycle of blaming yourself for failure and confusion at why your attempts aren’t working. Building an identity that you can communicate and feel comfortable with is a process that can’t be solved with a platitude.

2) Be Confident

Confidence works. It charms, magnetizes and persuades. But just because confidence works doesn’t mean it is good advice. It is easy to become overconfident and appear arrogant or become blinded to your weaknesses. An excess of confidence also limits your attempts to learn and grow.

Better advice would be: Learn how to fake confidence when you need it and build the underlying competence from which confidence is derived. If you need to give a speech of ask for a date, fake confidence is almost as good as the real thing. But what you really want is the underlying competence so that confidence isn’t as necessary.

3) The Law of Attraction

The Law of Attraction is popular these days. There are a few aspects of it I like, namely, you need to develop a positive belief system that will support your goals. But this isn’t new. Napoleon Hill wrote about this decades ago in, “Think and Grow Rich” and other philosophers have espoused similar ideals for centuries.

My concern with the Law of Attraction is how it frames itself. First off, calling itself a law would seem to put this completely unscientific theory in league with Newton’s laws of physics and other scientific staples. For something to be a “law” in science it must have predictive powers. This is why evolution is just a theory, because theories explain and laws predict. At the very least it should be labeled the Theory of Attraction and not a law.

My second concern and the most major is that the Law of Attraction lacks any basis from which to disprove it. This not only makes it unscientific, it also renders it impotent. In order for advice to be useful, there must be some way to determine whether it is working or not. The Law of Attraction fails this test. At best the Law of Attraction is just repackaged old ideas, at worst it is a dangerous pseudoscience that has no practical value.

4) Use Willpower

I’ve already mentioned how I feel willpower is just a placeholder theory for deeper understandings. But what I really hate is how this willpower advice gets used as a weapon against people who are trying hard but still haven’t figured out the system necessary to win. Overweight people, those struggling with addictions and those who aren’t earning millions shouldn’t be seen as weak-willed people who are too lazy to succeed.

The world would be a better place if people strove for more understanding and less judgement, and unfortunately this is a piece of advice that leans more to the judgement side. I’ve found numerous theories that are better at explaining reality than willpower, such as habits, energy management, motivation, belief, etc. Can we finally scrap this antiquated notion of willpower?

5) Solutions Using Epiphanies

I’ve mentioned how I hate advice that promises huge results from one or two individual changes. The problem isn’t that people don’t get lightbulb-over-the-head moments of inspiration, but that they usually don’t work that well. I’ve had hundreds, if not thousands of epiphanies where I figured that I had discovered some new secret to success. Each may of helped, but they didn’t revolutionize my life.

It doesn’t take just one flash of inspiration, it takes thousands. Each piling on top of each other to slowly build new results. But this myth of the one great idea is prevalent because people tend to craft their life stories in favor of epiphany moments. It sounds more romantic if you had that magic insight rather than slow improvement.

Modeling off of people who actually do succeed from epiphanies is like trying to get rich by following the path of lottery winners. When you win it all in one roll of the dice it is more luck than skill.

6) Stop Complaining! There are People Worse Off Than You

Throughout human history there have been billions of people who have had lives and situations much worse than yours. But I fail to see how this is in any way comforting or useful. Now instead of just feeling bad about your problems, you feel guilty for feeling bad and weak for being unable to solve them.

It is important to get perspective, but this doesn’t mean your problems are insignificant or trivial. Respect your emotions or they will turn on you. Whenever I receive a request for advice I try to use as much humility as I can and respect the challenges people face. Nothing will lose you friends faster than trivializing the problems others face.

7) Build It and They Will Come

You need to ask. I don’t care if you’ve built the best product in the world, are the most worthy and attractive individual or your novel should be an international bestseller. You still need to push and market yourself. Do you need quality? Of course. But once you have quality, you can’t assume that will be enough to carry the message on its own.

The other half of this problem is that this mindset is often accompanied by self-delusions of excellence. It can be hard to admit that the article you spent a few hours writing or the program you spent months coding is simply mediocre. Asking is critical to improvement, so learn to market, because building isn’t enough.

8 ) High Impact, Low Substance

The English language is nice because you can describe two almost identical concepts with both negative and positive wordings. ‘Risky’ and ‘bold’ can often describe the same thing. As can ‘firm’ and ‘stubborn.’ As someone who has to understand and utilize the power of wording, I hate to see it abused.

I enjoyed The Power of Now, but there were many sections where I felt Tolle wrote several pages on end that had absolutely no content except for polarizing wordplay. I felt some of his good ideas got degraded by his overuse of clever wording to inspire a feeling but completely lacks substance. Referring to conditions as, “insanity” or, “sickness” contrasted to his own metaphors heavily involving light or purity was a bit much for my tastes. This is just one minor example, but there are many others.

9) Hindsight Troubleshooting

Hindsight troubleshooting is misusing the past to predict the future. Everything seems obvious in hindsight. There are two variations of this type of bad advice: explaining failure and explaining success.

Explaining Failure: This occurs when you are struggling and get a wide range of advice to figure out what you are doing wrong. The problem is that most successes don’t require perfection. The reason you aren’t succeeding isn’t usually because you are doing too many things wrong, but that you aren’t doing enough things right.

I’ve studied a lot of different blogs and how they work. Each does dozens of things that shouldn’t work from bad design to poorly structured articles. But they each manage to excel in a few critical factors that make them successful.

Explaining Success: There seems to be a prevalent myth that successful people have a good idea of why they are successful. True to a certain extent in that they know better than people who are complete failures, but you shouldn’t give expert advice too much credence. I’m certainly not omnipotent and any successes I do have are often as surprising to me as failures.

It takes a lot more humility to admit that you aren’t entirely sure how you got to be successful even if it is true. I’m not saying you should ignore expert advice, just don’t become dogmatic following it.

I’d be disappointed if I didn’t get at least a few comments telling me why I’m wrong. Feel free to tell me so in the comments, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.


Print Friendly
StumbleUpon It!

This website is supported, in part, by affiliate arrangements (usually Amazon). Affiliate relationships are always marked by bolded links.


24 Responses to “Be Yourself, Law of Attraction and Other Pieces of Bad Advice”

  1. Tom Haskins says:

    Scott: You’re on very solid ground with your insightful critiques here. You’re not over-simplifying or merely ranting. You are being yourself, so you miss the point of that advice. Most people we’re taken hostage by their parents’ approval and go into the world as people pleasers. They could not write a post like this because it might not please everyone who reads it. They could only think these thoughts and utter platitudes on their blog or write some screed with no self respect. “Be yourself” means to me: speak your mind regardless of other’s reactions and know what you’re feeling in spite of “what you’re supposed to be feeling”.

    Now it’s up to you to decide if you created my leaving a comment on your blog by your asking for comments, or by attracting someone with similar vibration of thought and feeling.
    Tom

  2. Scott Young says:

    Tom,

    “Be yourself” can mean many things. Honesty, forthrightness, uniqueness, not being try-hard and many other things. I happen to believe that those more specific pieces of advice are infinitely more useful than “be yourself.” But I agree with you, endlessly trying to please people is impossible (although I’m far from perfect)

    My problem with the Law of Attraction is simply that it pretends to be a lot more useful than it is. It is definitely an interesting model of the universe and of reality worth exploring for philosophical reasons, but it doesn’t constitute advice.

    If I get success it is because I attracted it, if I try to attract success and am met with failure then I unintentionally attracted that too. Aside from the reused pieces of advice it holds, the model breaks down at a practical level because it can’t be disproved.

    Thanks for your thoughts and wisdom.

  3. Chuck Bartok says:

    Scott ,

    What brilliance from a young Man.

    You will enjoy listening to hopefully Joining us LIVE
    on our twice weekly braodcast, bringing Hill
    and Haanel into the practical world.

    Dowmnload or listen on-line

    http://focussociety.com

    See ya there
    Chuck

  4. JohnPlace says:

    I recently discovered this blog, Scott, and I must say, I am very impressed with what I’ve read here. This article in particular strikes a chord with me. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of bad advice posted on Internet forums, much of it in line with what you’re saying here.

    Everyone seems to be in love with the Law of Attraction at the moment, but most of the people who fell in love with it after Oprah’s endorsement will drift back to previous ways of thinking for precisely the reason you mentioned: Where the rubber hits the road, it breaks down.

    The “be yourself” advice is often given as a pat on the back to make people feel more comfortable in an uncomfortable situation — as in, it’s O’kay to be yourself. To this end, I suppose it can be useful, though perhaps not exceedingly helpul as a development tool.

    Keep up the great posts, Scott. I enjoy reading them.

  5. Scott Young says:

    John,

    Thanks for the comments, I’m glad you like the posts.

    Chuck,

    Interesting site. I’ll check it over more thoroughly when I have time.

    -Scott

  6. Marek says:

    As someone who has tried some of this “advice” (and much more), I am fully behind you. All these usually reduce success and failure to elements which are, at best, only partially impactful, or, at their worst, completely irrelevant.

    Though sometimes, as you said, the people who gave this advice have some nice pointers, I feel that they failed to notice that their success may be more dependent on those small pointers and numerous other factors they did not include in their works and just started overthinking everything.

    And a bit on the “be yourself” advice (we probably can write much about it, because we all have received it at one time or another): what to do when you are actually unsatisfied with yourself? If that is the case, would it not be actually detrimental to self-growth? Could the phrase be read as “you will never be anything better”?

  7. Scott Young says:

    Marek,

    I think the whole “be yourself” advice is usually given as a pointer in situations, particularly dating or social as advice to get the person to relax and not try hard to win opinion. I think this idea has some merit, but under the current labeling of “be yourself” it usually just results in confusion and added stress. Some simplifications are useful, but this isn’t.

  8. Apurv says:

    I really believe in Law of Attraction. I believe that it works best. Even unconciously we use it most of the times, but a little knowledge about the same can make us achieve anything we wish abt.
    Just a few days back I got to read an Interview with Bob Proctor. I am passing the url below for you to have a look around..

    http://www.SuccessActivator.com

  9. CGDotNet says:

    Scott,

    I have been reading your blog for several months. I have noticed a theme in your posts – it comes across to me as:

    “Life is hard work.” or perhaps, “Success is hard work.”

    I always shake my head when I see this thought come forth. This is one way I am perceiving you.

    It also feels a smidge bitter.

    Well, I am not saying that “hard work” is not necessary, I am just saying that I often sense a feeling of “trying too hard” and “why am I not making it” tone.

    Well, you asked for commentary, there it is. Respectfully offered.

    I also think you are genius and a marvel.

    Best to you,

    J

  10. SpiKe says:

    Be yourself has some merit but as you say it is an over simplification. After all you should accept and be happy with who you are. Hating yourself and beating yourself up because you consider yourself too quiet, too fat etc is not a good starting point for self development. It would be better phrased as “accept yourself for who you are. Then look at how you can improve” (but even that’s simplifying it).

    Organize IT

  11. pHysiX says:

    I really don’t know what to say. In general though, I believe you do have a point and glad that there are people that view advice from a different angle.

    Many people give me advice, but majority of the time, I get annoyed because it is practically the same thing and is not useful in any way.

    Great article and keep it up mate.

  12. Scott Young says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

    CGDotNet,

    Bitterness? Probably not. But I don’t like reading a lot of self-help, primarily because it sells on hype not on practical information. I’m always careful to balance out my enthusiasm with a healthy appreciation for the difficulties involved in making personal life changes. I have enormous respect for the difficulties of problems people face, and I think it would cheapen that by proclaiming easy answers.

    Success is hard work. Life is hard work. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. The hard work has intrinsic value of it’s own. The challenge, and yes, sometimes the pain, necessary to make changes in your life make them all the more valuable.

    That said, I’m far from immune to frustrations and working hard entails it’s fair share.

    Thanks for the feedback!

  13. julie says:

    I like your statement, “In order for advice to be useful, there must be some way to determine whether it is working or not.” What works for one human being, does not always work for another. Try it on, experiment with it. If it works for you, buy it, if not reject it.

    Enjoy your thoughts Scott.

  14. Boss says:

    Hey Scotty,

    Your website has some great articles,

    but your #6 “Stop Complaining! There are People Worse Off Than You” is many times what the person needs to hear. There are little prissy babies that complain “oh I’m having a bad hair day” or “my shoes dont match my belt” blah blah blah etc. There are people that are facing real problems. There are people with muscular dystrophy where every day is a challenge. There are soldiers fighting in war getting their limbs blown off. Gosh some guys sound like Paris Hilton with all their frivolous whining; they need to man up. If people put their life in perspective they would be more grateful and kind to others. It would make them thankful for what they have; sometimes we dont realize how much we have until its too late.

    Peace

  15. Scott Young says:

    Boss,

    Are there people who complain too much? Yeah. Are there people who should be more grateful? Hell yeah. But is telling them there problems are insignificant helpful to them? I don’t believe so.

    This is just my opinion, but the only reason you should ever tell anyone to just “tough through it” and stop complaining is to keep the complaining from bothering you. That kind of advice doesn’t do anything for the other person.

  16. Ross Cornwell says:

    I enjoyed very much reading your blog today, and it occurs to me that you might be interested to learn that a new edition of Napoleon Hill’s classic book “Think and Grow Rich” has been published.

    Its title is “Think and Grow Rich!” (subtitled) “The Original Version, Restored and Revised.” I am the editor/annotator of this new 412-page edition, which is really an homage to Dr. Hill. (For several years I was the editor-in-chief of “Think & Grow Rich Newsletter.”)

    What I have done is this: to restore Dr. Hill’s book to its original manuscript content (it was first published in 1937, but was abridged in 1960), annotate it with more than 50 pages of endnotes (most of the persons and events he discusses are generally unknown to readers today), index it thoroughly, add an appendix with a wealth of additional information about Dr. Hill and his work, and revise the book in ways to help remove certain “impediments” to reading the book today (language that today would be considered obsolete, sexist or racist). None of these things had previously been done with TGR.

    If you would like to learn a little more about this project, a quick visit to http://www.tgr-restored-revised.com will give you some details. The “Editor’s Foreword” provides more complete information, and the “Testimonials” page will demonstrate how well-received this new book is around the world. Here is the book’s Amazon.com page:

    http://www.amazon.com/Think-Grow-Rich-Original-Restored/dp/1593302002/sr=1-1/qid=1172004763/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-1493475-7148634?ie=UTF8&s=books

    The book is available on all the Amazon websites and most other online sellers, it can be ordered by any bookstore, and it will start appearing in bookstores soon.

    Our edition of TGR! is superior in every way to other versions on the market. It is a trade paperback, not a pocket-size mass market paperback. It is 412 pages versus 230+ (depending on the edition). It looks better, feels better, reads better than any other version. It is fast becoming the “version of choice” among Napoleon Hill devotees and other students of success and high achievement.

    Thank you for your time and attention.

    Ross Cornwell, Editor

  17. [...] you tend to manifest the exact opposite outcome (see “law of attraction”, although I’m not entirely convinced of that either). So I’ll leave it at that for now. I might search some blog networks, those look “more [...]

  18. [...] said it a few too many times for my liking. To give him some respect, he did explain what he meant by “being yourself” as not hiding your [...]

  19. Travis says:

    I really enjoy all of your articles. Thank you for creating this blog.

    I recently had a discussion with a co-worker, and when I mentioned that I wasn’t sure of my career goals, she advised me to look into the Law of Attraction. She briefly described it to me, and I couldn’t help thinking that the supernatural element was kind of bogus.

    I was wondering what your thoughts are on my observation.

    Thank you,

    Travis

  20. Heather Williams says:

    I’m really interested to say oddly I don’t disagree with you, all of your thoughts were astoundingly logical and spoke to me in a manner that I don’t disagree. I think that many of the current issues that are coming to individuals how are in their twenties (I am myself) is that we as a whole were exposed to the idea that information means ease, that everything good can come at once. I think to an extent this is why many young people are trying to find a new ‘way’ by using these techniques and are finding them inadequate. I used to think that just by focusing and working hard fast I could become something great, now I’ve found that steady consideration and depth of learning has led me to be much more capable. I do hope that makes sense, because it seems to me that you are going down a simular life path. I’m really glad to have found your blog, it’s been very interesting reading your thoughts, I hope to learn from them.

  21. Kendall says:

    One thing we need to learn about the internet is that whatever you say will stay in place a long time. I’ve just discovered your blog today, March 2011, as a result of a Google search.

    My comment is about #3 Law of Attraction. You are correct that Evolution is a theory, but then all physical laws are theories, In fact, a larger empirical database supports the real world unfolding of evolution than do most theories. And it does make predictions, by the way,

  22. Jen says:

    I’ve never really bothered to read a blog, let alone comment on one. I had preconceived notion of blogs and bloggers. I tend to gather whatever information I need from other sites and sources. Somehow I stumbled upon (and not via it) your blog and was pleasantly surprised. It was a nice change to have thoughts presented without being confrontive; I find that is not the norm of late in traditional media and social media (and I had blog/bloggers in their own category). Very impressive site as is your MIT challenge; quite the undertaking. Wish you well.
    Jen

  23. [...] Do you have skills? Presumably you do; at a minimum you can use a computer, and are literate. That won’t get you very far, unfortunately, so you need to either gain new skills, or discover skills you already have. “Being yourself” is not good enough. [...]

  24. […] The Law of Attraction and Other Pieces of Bad Advice @ Scott H. Young […]

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

Leave a Reply