most decisions can be broken down into either “act” or “don’t act”

  • do i break up with my partner?
  • do i move to a new country?
  • do i go to this party where i don’t know many people?

there is usually a sense of momentum behind you that, all else being equal, would carry you down the road towards a specific choice.

personal advice also usually can be binned into two categories:

  • doing what the adviser did, because it turned out well for them
  • not doing what the adviser did, because it turned out poorly for them

this gives us a pretty nice 2x2 to work with

“be like me” vs “don’t be like me”

and

“act” vs “don’t act”

let’s use the example of moving to another country.

act + be like me: “You should do it! I moved to Italy and it worked out great for me.”

don’t act + be like me: “Think about all the connections you have here. You can’t just run from your problems. I also wanted to leave, but I doubled down on my relationships instead, faced my problems head on, and things turned out great for me.”

act + don’t be like me: “I always regretted not going out to see the world when I had the chance. You should travel while you’re able to!”

don’t act + don’t be like me: “You should stay in the country, I spent a few years abroad and it was painful seeing how all my friends drifted away from me. I feel like the thing to do is really find out what you’re not getting here, and try to find it locally.”

Of all of these, I’m most suspicious of “don’t act + be like me”. It’s the one where there seems to be the most room for impurity of motive. For example, I feel this way when people who married their high school sweetheart try to give relationship advice about how you shouldn’t take risks.

This is certainly an uncharitable reading, but I get the sense that there’s some sort of FOMO informing their advice subconsciously.

On the other side, I think I trust “don’t act + don’t be like me” the most. There’s a natural tendency for people to give advice that encourages action. So it feels like there’s some proof of work when people buck that trend. Additionally, advising someone to be less like you can be an emotionally challenging thing to do. These are the people with the least to gain emotionally from offering advice: it’s both kind of boring and doesn’t reflect positive on their own life. As a result, I’d trust these people the most.

I don’t have much to say about the two other options right now: “act + [do/don’t] be like me”. An “advice pt 3” will show up eventually where I go over those!