Who can give you better advice on how to succeed than successful people? Well, if you’re smart, you’d also listen to people who failed so you know what pitfalls to avoid. And maybe back it up with some unbiased data.
As the video above from Bite Size Psych points out, we have a natural tendency to assume that successful people know how to replicate their own success. We think they can give us advice on how to achieve success in our own lives, even if we have wildly different circumstances. This is often a fallacy. Just because you succeeded doesn’t mean you know every factor that got you there.
The video uses the example of people who are happily married. In one 10-year German study following 2500 couples, those who stayed married for the entire duration were already happier to begin with than the couples who eventually got divorced. However, when asked how to make a marriage work, most couples wouldn’t say, “Well, I was already pretty happy.” Even asking the question in terms of how to make a marriage work eliminates any answers that involve improving one’s own personal happiness. Our entire approach skews the answer.
The solution, of course, isn’t to ignore the advice of people who have succeeded. Instead, also listen to the people who have failed. For every person who successfully started a business, listen to someone who failed to find out what tripped them up. Don’t just find out the habits of happy people, learn the habits that can make you miserable, too. Most of all, don’t be afraid to consider external points of data. People are notoriously bad at knowing the full scope of factors that influence their lives. While you should never trust just one single study, paying attention to many can paint a better picture of the world around you.
Why you shouldn’t trust successful people’s advice [Bite Size Psych]