All of us have received great advice from people over the years—advice that has served us well.
Other times, people have made suggestions that were blindingly stupid.
There’s also a middle ground, with advice that might work well in *some* situations, but certainly not all.
Let’s look at some of the most common bits of bad advice, and why they should be taken with a pinch of salt.
1. “Follow things through to completion, no matter what.”
Anyone who has ever forced themselves to finish a book they weren’t enjoying will know that this is complete BS.
The definition of madness is to keep on doing the same thing and expecting a different result, so if you know that something isn’t working for you or isn’t right for you, why would you continue with it?
This goes for intimate relationships, school or work paths, health and fitness practices, and the aforementioned entertainment.
Why “stick with it” when it’s not working, or even causing you distress? It’s better to be realistic, and end things before they get ugly.
2. “Don’t go to bed angry.”
This piece of advice is often given by people who have experienced loss and grief unexpectedly.
For example, they may have had a fight with a parent or partner, and then found out the next day that the other person died in a car accident before they could make up.
As such, they counsel others to make peace with one another and to express their love while they still can.
This is bad advice because it encourages people to ignore their very real emotions in the moment for the sake of potentially feeling less grief “just in case” something worse happens.
But what if you’re angry for a really good reason; one that can’t simply be brushed aside or resolved before bedtime?
If you’re that angry, there’s probably a solid reason for it, and some serious issues that’ll need to be resolved.
That takes precedence over pretending everything is okay so that nobody loses sleep and everyone feels content in themselves.
3. “Forgive and forget—be the bigger person.”
This once again implies that it’s better to simply let things go than to stay upset about it.
It’s often used by people who don’t want to be held accountable for horrible behavior, and simply want to move on and pretend nothing happened.
They put the onus on the person who was wronged to act like everything’s okay, and if they don’t, well then they’re the bad guy for not “being the bigger person,” and choosing to hold on to grudges instead.
It’s a tricky situation to navigate, and advice on how to handle it will depend a great deal on what has occurred. Some behavior is unforgivable, and certainly isn’t going to be forgotten any time soon.
Other times, you may want to forgive someone because you can understand that they were coming from a place of hurt at the time and weren’t behaving their best, but you aren’t going to forget what happened.
In fact, you may never trust them again, nor want them in your life, but you’ll still hope the best for them in the future if they can sort themselves out.
In certain circles—particularly the pseudo-virtuous ones—people hold to the mantra “when they go low, we go high.” Basically, the implication is that when and if other people do you dirty, you “rise above” and don’t sink to their level.
Interestingly, this idea is most often adopted by those who behave terribly and don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. By encouraging others to “be the bigger person,” they try to guilt trip them into being compassionate and forgiving instead of kicking their backsides.
4. “Never judge a book by its cover.”
While this may be true in some cases, such as focusing on a potential long-term partner’s inner beauty instead of fixating on their temporary hotness, there are many cases in which first impressions can (and should) inform how you’ll respond thereafter.
For example, if you’re checking out a potential apartment and it looks super sketchy, it doesn’t matter how much “potential” it has: you’ll likely have rats for housemates and a cockroach colony under the fridge that’ll try to smother you in your sleep.
Similarly, if you’re on a date with someone new and there’s something about them that simply seems off—that can be demeanor, body language, scent, or anything else that makes your skin crawl—it’s best to make a quick exit before you end up as the subject of a true crime podcast.
5. “A problem shared is a problem halved.”
Sometimes, the worst thing you can do is either tell other people about the problems you’re facing, or rope them in to help you with them.
While it’s important to reach out for help if you truly need it, constantly turning to others for help for relatively small issues shows a lack of personal strength and capability.
Furthermore, this action could potentially be turned against you at some point in the future.
For example, let’s say you tell all your friends about relationship issues you’re having, rather than working them through with your partner. You two may be going through a rough patch and everything sorts itself out after a while, but then your mates tell your spouse everything you said about them. How well do you think that’ll go?
Additionally, in some situations you could be damaging others or putting either them or you in harm’s way by telling them certain details. What others don’t know can’t hurt you (or them).
6. “Treat others how you want to be treated.”
No two people are alike, and what makes one person happy would absolutely traumatize someone else.
My partner was once thrown a surprise party and impromptu trip by a friend of hers who loves those types of things and thought she would love one too. She very much did not, but felt obligated to pretend that she appreciated it while hating every second of the experience.
Instead, do your best to understand how other people would prefer to be treated, and then behave accordingly. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress—and possibly lawsuits—by going that route instead.
This doesn’t encompass treating others with basic respect and courtesy, as those should be the baseline standard for dealing with others.
Rather, it’s a question of acknowledging that everyone’s preferences are different, and then making a point of doing what they love; not what you love.
7. “Live each day as if it were your last.”
If you went this route, you’d likely be broke and in prison really quickly.
It’s one thing to try to enjoy every moment that you have, and appreciate all the blessings you have, and another to be flippant about reality and responsibility.
Think about it this way: if you knew that you only had one day left to live, how would you spend it? Gorging on tacos and binge-watching your favorite series on Netflix? Or getting your work assignments in on time and doing laundry? The former sounds a lot more fun, but the latter are vital for staying alive and not getting leprosy.
It’s all well and good to try to live life to the fullest and fill your days with things that make you happy, but not to the detriment of every other aspect of your life.
Most people’s last days on earth would be filled with hedonism and irresponsible abandon, since they wouldn’t have to deal with the long-term consequences of those actions, unlike you right now.
8. “Marry someone less attractive than you.”
There’s an old song called “If you wanna be happy” by Jimmy Soul that suggests that if you want a joyful and fulfilling long-term relationship, don’t marry someone who’s attractive.
The advice, according to the lyrics, is that if you’re with someone who’s super hot, they’ll make you look bad by comparison, won’t treat you properly, and either flirt with other people or downright cheat on you.
In contrast, someone unattractive will consider themselves so lucky to have you that they’ll bend over backwards to do things to keep you happy. Furthermore, since it’s unlikely that anyone else will want them, you won’t have to worry about infidelity.
This is startlingly horrible advice. Countless people get into relationships or marriages with those they aren’t physically attracted to, and things usually end in disaster.
I mean, sure, date someone you’re not instantly attracted to because attraction can grow. But know when you’ve given it enough time to develop, and don’t try to force things to work if it hasn’t.
If you’re not attracted to the person you’re bound to for life, that’s going to make intimacy rather difficult (if not impossible) unless you’re getting it on in a very dark room and thinking about someone else.
And unless both partners are asexual and aromantic, sex is a hugely important part of most relationships whether you want to have children or not.
If you choose to spend your life with someone who repulses you physically, it doesn’t matter how nice they are or how great their family is: you will both be miserable, and at least one of you will be unfaithful at some point.
9. “Being kind is more important than being right.”
While this may apply to some situations, those are few and far between.
For example, if you and your partner are having an argument, you may very well be right about a subject, but choosing that hill to die on may have terrible effects on the future of your relationship.
In other cases, being right is absolutely the better option.
When I was on a wild edibles foraging walk, one interaction could have had a dire outcome. An elderly lady insisted that a particular plant was edible, while the younger female instructor tried to get it through to her that she was misidentifying it.
Several onlookers berated the younger one for disrespecting her elders; that the older woman likely knew what she was talking about and didn’t appreciate being contradicted.
It was only after someone used a plant identification app on their phone that the others accepted that the plant in question was actually lethal. Then the younger woman was admonished for making the elder feel bad, despite having potentially saved her life.
Being kind rather than correcting others may result in horrible consequences. Few people like to be corrected when they think they’re right, and they’ll likely get upset with you for doing so, but that’s okay: your conscience will be clear.
10. “Follow your passion.”
Some people say that if you do what you love, then “work” will be a joy.
Furthermore, a lot of us were raised with the idea that we could be or do anything we wanted as long as we put enough effort into it.
Truth is, we’re not all well-suited to the things we’re passionate about, and depression and self-loathing are inevitable if you try to do something you’ll never succeed at.
You may be devoted to the idea of being a singer, but if you’re tone deaf, that’s not gonna happen. And who’s going to pay the bills while you’re doing free shows at cafes around town for “exposure”?
“Follow your bliss” can end up with you following your blisters: unrealistic passions taken to an extreme will be anyone’s undoing.
If there are things that you’re truly passionate about, try them out to see if you truly love them as much as you think you do. Fairly often, the daydreams we have fizzle out when reality sets in. Give it a go, yes, but have backup plans in place in case your passion projects don’t work out.
There are many other amazingly bad pieces of advice out there, ranging from your grandmother’s suggestion to rub mayonnaise on your face to clear up acne, or your friend’s advice that medium-rare chicken is delicious.
Go with your gut instinct, and if something feels wrong to you, it most likely is.