Original post: http://bearlamp.com.au/applicable-advice/
Part 2: http://bearlamp.com.au/addendum-to-applicable-advice/
Part 2 on lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/nuf/addendum_to_applicable_advice/

Einstein said, "If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions."

The Feynman Algorithm:
Write down the problem.
Think real hard.
Write down the solution.

There is a lot of advice out there on the internet. Any topic you can consider; there is probably advice about. The trouble with advice is that it can be just as often wrong as it is right. Often when people write advice; they are writing about what has worked for them in a very specific set of circumstances. I'm going to be lazy and use an easy example several times here - weight loss, but the overarching concept applies to any type of advice.

Generic: "eat less and exercise more" (obvious example is obvious)

Dieting as a problem is a big and complicated one. But the advice is probably effective to someone. Take any person who is looking to lose weight and this advice is probably applicable. Does this make it good advice? Heck no! It's atrocious. If that's all the dieting advice we needed we wouldn't invent diets like Atkins, Grapefruit, 2&5, low carb and more.

So what does, "starve for two days a week", have to it that "eat less and exercise more" doesn't? Why does the damn advice exist?

Advice like, "eat less and exercise more", is likely to work on someone in the situation of:
1. Eating too much
2. not exercising enough.
3. having those behaviours for no reason
4. having the willpower and desire to change those behaviours 
5. never do them again.
6. the introspection to identify the problem as that, and start now.

With this understanding of the advice, you can say that this advice applies to some situations and not others. Hence the concept of "applicable advice".

Given that the advice, "eat less and exercise more" exists, if you take the time to understand why it exists and how it works; you can better take advantage of what it offers.

Understand that if this advice worked for someone there was a way that it worked for that someone. And considering if there is a way to make it work for someone, you can maybe find a way to make it work for you too.

How not to use Applicable advice

When you consider that some advice will be able to be adapted, and some will not, you will sometimes end up in a failure mode of using an understanding of why advice worked to explain away the possibility of it working for you.

Example: "you need to speak your mind more often".  Is advice.  If I decide that this advice is targeted at introverted people who like to be confident before they share what they have to say, but who often say nothing at all because of this lack of confidence.  I then assume that if I am not an introverted person then this advice is not applicable to me and should be ignored.

This is the wrong way to apply applicable advice.  First; the model of "why this advice worked", could be wrong.  Second, this way of applying applicable advice is looking at the scientific process wrong.

Briefly the scientific method:

  1. Observe
  2. Hypothesis/prediction
  3. test
  4. analyse
  5. iterate
  6. conclude

Compared to the failure mode:

  1. You noticed the advice worked for someone else
  2. You came up with an explanation about why that advice worked and why it won't work for you
  3. You decided not to test it because you already concluded it won't work for you
  4. you never analyse
  5. you never iterate
  6. you never confirm your conclusion but still concluded the advice won't work.

How to use applicable advice

Use the scientific method*.  As above:

  1. Observe
  2. Hypothesis/prediction
  3. test
  4. analyse
  5. iterate
  6. conclude


  1. Observe advice working
  2. Come up with an explanation for why it worked.  What world-state conditions are needed for successfully executing said advice, search for how it can be applicable to you.
  3. Try to make the world into a state such that this advice is applicable
  4. Evaluate if it worked
  5. Repeat a few times
  6. Decide if you can make it work.

*yes I realise this is a greatly simplified form of the scientific method.

Map and territory

Our observable difference - in how you should and should not be using applicable advice - comes from an understanding of what you are trying to change.  The map is what we carry around in our head to explain how the world works.  The territory is the real world.  Just by believing the sky is green I can't change the sky.  But if I believed the sky is green, I could change my belief to be more in line with reality.

If you assume the advice you encounter is applicable to someone, AKA the advice suited their map and how it applied to their territory to successfully be useful.  Then when you compare your territory and their territory - they do not match.  Instead of concluding that your territory is immune - that the advice does not apply, you can try to modify your own map to make the advice work for your territory.


  • Where have you concluded that advice will not; or does not work for you?
  • Is that true?  And can you change yourself to make that advice apply?
  • Have other people ever failed to take your advice?  What was the advice? and why do you think they didn't take the advice?
  • Have you recently not taken advice given to you?  (What was it? and) Why?  Is there a way to make that advice more useful?

Epistemic status: trying not to do it wrong.

Meta: I have been trying to write this for months and months.  Owing to my new writing processes, I am seeing a lot more success.  Writing this out has only taken 2 hours today, but that doesn't count the 5 hours I had put into earlier versions that I nearly entirely deleted.  It also doesn't count that passive time of thinking about how to explain this over the months and months that I have had this idea floating around in my head.  Including explaining it at a local Dojo and having a few conversations about it.  For this reason I would put the total time spent on this post at 22 hours.

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5 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 5:54 AM

Example: "you need to speak your mind more often". Is advice. If I decide that this advice is targeted at introverted people who like to be confident before they share what they have to say, but who often say nothing at all because of this lack of confidence. I then assume that if I am not an introverted person then this advice is not applicable to me and should be ignored.

I don't think the problem with "you need to speak your mind more often" is at it's core about targeting the advice and deciding whether it's the right advice for you.

The problem is rather that it doesn't tell you how to make the decision when to speak your mind. It also doesn't tell you what you could to speak your mind more often. From it's structure it's also not clear what's meant with "need". Does the advice giver mean that I should speak my mind more often? If so that comes with the general problems of "shoulding people".

In some sense you could say that "Radical Honesty" is about providing a solution to problem that the person who get's told "you need to speak your mind more often" has.

I spent a lot of time reading personal development material on the internet and I had read articles about "Radical Honesty". When I was reading about it I thought it was basically about insulting people. I didn't get what it was about.

Later I took a "Radical Honesty" workshop. I went because the title was "Radical Honesty and Conscious Intimicy" and the "Conscious Intimicy" part lured me. When I was there I got "Radical Honesty" and what it's about. "Radical Honesty" tells me about the trigger I can use to decide that it's a good moment to speak my mind. It has exercises that make it more likely that I'm actually speaking my mind that also have a strong physical effect. Lastly I'm not told that I need or should speak my mind in that enviroment.

Seeking advice like "you need to speak your mind more often" is like eating fast food. It's easy to digest and understand the advice but it's shallow and superficial.

The more general a piece of advice is, the more amount of people can associate with it in more situations. Once you get into more details, it is easier to apply to a specific situation of a certain person. That is why these short sentences of advice can only be really used as motivation or inspiration to search for more reliable and good help, to apply them would do more harm than good in my opinion.

I don't think the issue is that "you need to speak your mind more often" applies to more situations than Radical Honesty does. Radical Honesty is a system that you can live 16 hours per day. It might even debatable whether you can do it for the full 24 hours.

The issue is rather that it takes more effort to understand Radical Honesty. "you need to speak your mind more often" is the kind of advice that a 5-year old can understand and is valued by the ELI5 crowd. And that sentence is quite ironic given what Radical Honesty is about (eg. you are not 5-year old and are therefore much harder to teach).

How did you like the workshop? I've read A.J. Jacobs' article about Radical Honesty and skimmed Brad Blanton's book and wondered if it was worth going deeper in. Did you change any behavior from that or the Conscious Intimacy workshop?

I was at three 3-hour workshops and they were all worthwhile. The first one under the title above was a year ago and led by Juro Glo. Juro is quite young as far as trainers go but is living the radical honesty paradigma all the time. From reading material I had the impression that radical honesty was about being mean but Jura happened to be one of the sweetest people I know, which was interesting. She thought the workshop didn't go as planned (and said so, because of honesty) but everyone had a really great time.

Jura than became Taber Shadburne assistant and my second radical honesty workshop was with Taber and that time purely focused on Radical Honesty. Taber has his 30 years of experience and fulfills the heuristic of seeking teachers that have their 10,000 hours of practice. While we are at it when Chris Mulzer from whom I learned NLP retold the story of the 10,000 hours research he spoke of 20,000 hours because that number makes more sense to him. Taber has likely 20,000 hours as well.

I think the heuristic of choosing teacher who have 20,000 hours invested into their skills is one that served me well regardless of the particular methologies.

I think radical honesty is a good workable alternative to Crookers Rule as it teaches you how to communicate all information in a good way. Of course there are situations that are political and where it's still not effective to communicate everything.

One interesting framing that Taber brought during his workshop is that radical honesty is about become a connoisseur of pain. In Yoga it's important to learn to feel how the pain from stretching a muscle to it's limit feel different than the pain from putting your legs into a position that's unhealthy for your joints. In a similar way it's important to learn to feel the difference between different kinds of pains in social communication.

I think this is a very useful way to think about comfortzone expansion and it's a metaphar that comes to my mind when actually faced with the decision whether or not to do something that lies outside of my comfort zone. The point isn't doing random out of the comfort zone exercises that trigger some kind of pain but to actually choose those experiences that have the right kind of pain. But of course distinguishing those kinds of pain and then actually engaging in the action that's healthy pain isn't something to be fully learned in 10 hours.

I took the last workshop with a person for whom it was their first radical honesty workshop a week ago. I attended with my girlfriend and we used afterwards the framework with in our communication with each other to good effect.

As far as recommendations go I would estimate that radical honesty workshops are more effective than PUA workshops at the goals for which people visit PUA workshops.

As far as the book goes, I haven't read it personally and can't recommend it from personal experience. I have a friend who read it and found it very useful as far as his social effectiveness went. At the other hand I would rate his understanding of the framework as more superficial.

For the general rationality movement I think it would think it would be positive if more people would study radical honesty.