How The Type Of Advice Someone Can Give Can Change Over Time

This is a more general, abstract article. It's not about social skills, but the broader process of reading advice and self-help information and knowing where it's coming from. I'm not even sure how helpful it will be to read. It's just something I've been thinking about and wanted to write down.

As of the time this article is first being published I've been writing this site for several years. It's felt like a fairly long time to be providing information about one area. I think this has given me a certain perspective on the advice I see other people giving. In particular I've noticed that the advice someone can want to give on a subject can be influenced by where they are on their own journey with it.

In other words, I think the advice someone gives can change over time. I wouldn't say the advice they provide at one point is better or worse than it is at another. I do think, however, that depending on where the advice-receiver is in their own development, a particular tip may not be the best fit for them.

Here are a few ways I've noticed people's advice tends to change over time. Knowing this may help you put the suggestions you come across into perspective. If you give advice yourself, it may also help you have more awareness of how you do it.

As people become more skilled in an area, they lose touch with the basics and their advice can get much more general and abstract

I've seen this in many other writers. I've also noticed a tendency to want to do this myself, but I've tried my best to avoid it. When someone starts writing about a field as a beginner themselves, I've noticed their advice tends to be more detailed, broken down, and nitty gritty. When you're new to something and putting things together for yourself from the ground up, this is how you naturally think, and if you write about it, this is what you'll tend to cover.

When I first started improving my own social skills I pieced together a lot of specific little bits of knowledge. When I wrote what I learned in this site a few years later, that's what I first explained. Of course, it wasn't totally clear cut. I was writing about abstract concepts from the start too, but there was a lot of more technical information.

Then, as someone starts to become proficient in a field, they can start to take all the tiny basic steps for granted. With time they may even start to forget what it was like to be a beginner, or lose touch with how it felt to not have certain abilities. I've noticed this happening myself. Certain social skills and ways of looking at the world come much more naturally to me now, and my memories of what it was like not to have them are getting a little fuzzy. Sometimes when I'm reading through my own articles, which list mistakes I've made or self-sabotaging mindsets I've had, I think, "Oh yeah, I forgot I was like that. Wow, was I really that bad?..."

It's weird how with time we're capable of losing touch with how we used to think. It's common though. Many of us have been in a work situation where a supervisor was getting annoyed with us for not picking up a new skill fast enough. It's like they forgot how hard it was to learn themselves, and assume that because they can do it now, everyone else should know it too.

Moving to more general advice

Once someone internalizes the basics and moves into more advanced levels of skill, I've noticed they can want to focus on the bigger picture. They'll want to figure out a handful of profound, succinct principles that tie all the advice about their field together. Like I said, I see this in other advice givers pretty frequently. At the beginning they're writing about quite-specific sub-topics, but as the years go by, they start talking about the 'Seven Keys' that can be applied to solve any issue in their area.

They may even start to see writing about more specific topics as semi-pointless, when a general concept could cover all those things. Their attitude may be that since specific tactics naturally flow out of larger scale principles, if you help people out with the bigger picture the little parts will take care of themselves.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to come up with broad principles. I think they can be very useful at times. I write about many myself. I also think people naturally want to organize and simplify things, so general concepts have an innate appeal.

Beginners often need that drilled-down, specific information though. Sometimes they need to learn some hands-on tactics before talk of larger strategies can sink in. I also think if an advice giver gets too broad and abstract, his ideas can become vague to the point of being unhelpful. For example, I could take everything I know about people skills, really ponder on it, and distill all my knowledge down to the single principle of, "Just love and accept other people." I'm exaggerating to make a point here, but hypothetically I probably could do this and make a case for how that statement really does encompass all my advice. Now when people read that maxim it may give them this little jolt because it seems so simple and wise. But really, if a woman is having trouble with a new friend who always cancels plans at the last second, I think "Just love and accept other people" doesn't give her much concrete to work with.

I've mentioned this elsewhere on the site, but I think this is also the root of how people with naturally good social skills can be so unhelpful about how to improve them. They often give vague advice like, "Just don't care what other people think" or "Just be yourself". They've lost touch with what it's like to be a beginner, and they've summed up everything they know into a handful of broad statements. They don't realize their suggestions only work if you're already running a ton of mastered sub-skills on autopilot.

On this site I've tried to be conscious of these tendencies. The odd time I've found myself thinking, "Man, some of the articles here are way too specific. I should take them down and put up a handful of pages that sum up all the core principles people need to know." Then I remind myself that as a newbie I appreciated reading basic, detailed how-to information, and that other beginners would likely appreciate the same kind of thing.

I mentioned earlier about reading articles that reflect how I used to think and going, "Was I really that bad?" I'll also catch myself reading the same pieces and on some level I won't be able to relate to my own previous mindset. I'll finding myself thinking, "No way. No one's really that bad. No one really has such blatantly self-defeating thoughts. No one really needs advice that basic. I'll take this page down." Then I tell myself, "Hey, I wrote it, so it must have been true for me at some point. And it's probably true and helpful for other readers. Just because I can't relate to it as well anymore doesn't mean no one else can."

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They place less value on things that used to be important to them

Sometimes people are quite focused on things they don't have yet. They may think having them is really important, put a lot of effort into getting them, or even feel bad because they don't have them yet. It's easy to think of examples: Money, relationships, friends, sex, jobs, success, recognition, even something much simpler like seeing a particular movie.

Once they've acheived their goal they may relax about it. It doesn't occupy as much of their mental space. They can even start to take it for granted. For example, a high school senior who's isolated and lonely may feel really torn up about it and constantly work to fix the problem. Once they've made friends, they don't really have to think about the issue anymore and can enjoy their new social life.

People can go a step further and start to de-prioritize the goal they once cared so much about. This can be reflected in the advice they give. Someone may tell you that a certain area isn't important, or worth pursuing, but they're speaking from a position where they've already experienced and moved beyond it.

For example, someone who's made a lot of money may decide that it isn't important to him anymore, shift to a simpler lifestyle, and start painting instead of working on business deals. He may start telling people that wealth isn't everything. There is wisdom in that, but someone who's young and poor may need to first make some money and discover that lesson for themselves. It's easy to say a need isn't important when you're secure and don't have to worry about it anymore.

Another example would be relationships. If someone is experienced with those they may be able to say things like, "Ah man, other people can take a lot out of you. Don't worry about it too much. Just enjoy your own time. Whatever you do, don't sink all your time into trying to have a million friends or date a ton of people." Easy to say if you've been there, but not really realistic for someone to follow if they're feeling desperate and alone.

As people become more happy and successful, their advice can get more spiritual and new-agey

For writers authors I've followed, when they start out they focus on more practical, grounded topics. Then, as the years go by, they get more successful. Their priorities change, like I mentioned a second ago. With some people it seems once they reach a comfort level in terms of their jobs, relationships, etc., they move in a more spiritual direction.

Here's where you can see some writer's advice slowly take on a new-age flavor. They start experimenting with new belief systems, or writing about more esoteric practices they're dabbling in. Life is pretty good for them so they talk a lot about love and connecting with everyone and the universe.

The 'goodness of fit' idea comes back here. A beginner may not get as much out of the new-agey advice, especially since it also tends to be vague and abstract. Some people aren't into spiritual stuff, and will bail. On the other hand, a few more advanced students may appreciate the shift in focus and be happy to follow along with it.

The topics people are interested in writing about will change over time

This last point is really basic, almost even not worth including. If someone writes about one field for a long time, their interests within it will naturally evolve. For example, a self-help writer may spend a year or two writing about how to be successful in the work world. Later they start talking about fitness and dieting. Nothing wrong with this. It's totally natural. Some readers may follow them to their new interests. Others won't, and they shouldn't feel any self-imposed obligation to.