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Whacamole Advice Waste
When you get some really good advice you might want to follow it. If it really is good advice, then you should follow it. Right?
What everybody knows is that often we dont. We fail to listen, or rather we fail to shape our habits and behavior to a new standard. So why don’t we improve upon getting good advice? Are we just dead set against getting smarter? Are we deliberately trying to sabotage ourselves? Are we just stubborn? Viewed from an ordinary perspective this might be a bit puzzling. But viewed from any advisers perspective, this is really a problem. And hard to explain. We shrug and move on. Nothing out of the ordinary.
But why? And why does it seem like the people who most need to change their ways are the ones that never “listen”. Why would people who need to change their behavior be more resistant to advice than people who don’t really have such a need? Or more specifically: Why would an addict be especially prone to rejection of advice? Is this an effect of addiction or a cause of it?
Based on the common experience of ourselves and others, it might be a good idea to take a look at giving and taking advice from a different angle.
According to the wikitionary whacamole is “…the practice of trying to stop something that persistently occurs in an apparently random manner at the point where the occurrence is noticed, such as terminating spammers’ e-mail accounts or closing pop-up advertisement windows. It’s like whack-a-mole: as soon as you fix one, another appears.
In connection with giving advice you might think that it is odd when someone don’t make use of a better method or approach. But you might notice that the same happens when you try to make use of advice that someone gave you. It should be easy. But somehow it isn’t. There is a certain kind of weightless quality to advice. If you didn’t pay for it, it is supposed to be “free”. You are supposed to add it to your collection of facts and standards at no more cost than if you had received a free book and found a suitable place for it on a bookshelf.
The thing is though, that after putting the book on its shelf you will need to find the time in which to read it. And this is where free books are no longer so free. Same thing with advice. You need to apply it as a standard for your behavior in the relevant situations. And this is where we are all limited in our ability and in the necessary resources: You can only commit to regulating your behavior to chosen standards to a certain degree. Beyond that, your brain will just not do the work. Some people can only do self regulation in very small amount. Some can do a bit more. Very few people can do a lot more self regulation. Nobody can do it without limit. The movie (now a tv-series) Limitless is a sweet fantasy about what it would be like not to be limited in this way. But we all are. And for good reason as will be discussed elsewhere.
So what happens if and when you are already at the limit of self regulation? When you are maxed out within the personal budget that reflects your actual capacity. This leaves no room and makes taking on new regulation tasks futile.
You could still try to do it. You could tell yourself that you are now committed to eating low-carb, learning Spanish, exercising 4 times a week or cutting down on fine wines on weekdays. But if this actually exceeds you current capacity, what you get is just more and more ego depletion. It might feel like a severe loss of motivation, but it is actually more a matter of your motivation no longer being turned into controlled behavior as you lack the energy for the “control” part of that to happen.
So what about a bit of advice then? What if you then get a nice design for doing something differently and supposedly better? As this in no way gives you any more capacity for self control the result will not be exactly what you hope for. Even if you feel motivated and committed to do the necessary in terms of controlled behavior, you will find that other tasks are now suffering. You did not magically get at higher capacity for self control. So all you could do was a bit of reshuffling of resources, that benefited the particular task that the new advice was focused on. But at the same time this reshuffling left something else starved for fuel and resources.
This is why giving advice very soon becomes a game of whac-a-mole: When you get the advice you still need to operate within the same limited budget for you self regulation. When something new and shiny gets a serious, committed and motivated dose of regulated endeavor, then something else drops out somewhere down the other end of thing that you have committed yourself to doing.
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You could tell yourself that you are now committed to eating low-carb, learning Spanish, exercising 4 times a week or cutting down on fine wines on weekdays. But if this actually exceeds you current capacity, what you get is just more and more ego depletion.