Scott Alexander, (Alexander 2014)


You’re more likely to hear things you agree with or that are, broadly speaking, aligned with your world-view. Therefore, you’re likely to over-index on a certain flavor of advice. You may benefit from considering the reverse of the piece of advice.


A simple bit of metacognitive advice which I’d like to integrate into my daily life.


You need to stop being so hard on yourself, remember you are your own worst criticStop making excuses for yourself, you will never be able to change until you admit you’ve hit bottom
You need to remember that the government can’t solve all problems and that some regulations are counterproductiveYou need to remember that the free market can’t solve all problems and that some regulations are necessary
You need to pay more attention to your diet or you’ll end up very unhealthyYou need to pay less attention to your weight or you’ll end up in a spiral of shame and self-loathing and at risk of eating disorders
You need to be more conscious of how your actions in social situations can make other people uncomfortable and violate their boundariesYou need to overcome your social phobia by realizing that most interactions go well and that probably talking to people won’t always make them hate you and cause you to be ostracized forever
You need to be less selfish and more considerate of the needs of othersYou can’t live for others all the time, you need to remember you deserve to be happy as well
Follow your dreams, you don’t want to be working forever at a job you hateYour dream of becoming a professional cosplayer may not be the best way to ensure a secure future for your family, go into petroleum engineering instead

It’s much easier to join a group that celebrates your natural proclivities than one that demands you fight against them.


I wonder whether everyone would be better off if they automatically reversed any tempting advice that they heard (except feedback directed at them personally). Whenever they read an inspirational figure saying “take more risks”, they interpret it as “I seem to be looking for advice telling me to take more risks; that fact itself means I am probably risk-seeking and need to be more careful”. Whenever they read someone telling them about the obesity crisis, they interpret it as “I seem to be in a very health-conscious community; maybe I should worry about my weight less.”

Probably this wouldn’t literally work as written. Too much advice is applicable to everybody; the absence of advice to play more Russian roulette is directly linked to Russian roulette being a really bad idea for pretty much everyone.


The checklist could be something like:

  1. Are there plausibly near-equal groups of people who need this advice versus the opposite advice?
  2. Have you self-selected into the group of people receiving this advice by, for example, being a fan of the blog / magazine / TV channel / political party / self-help-movement offering it?
  3. Then maybe the opposite advice, for you in particular, is at least as worthy of consideration.


Alexander, Scott. 2014. “Should You Reverse Any Advice You Hear?” Slate Star Codex.