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So Many Tips, So Little Time -- Making Other People's Tips and Techniques Work For You

by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.

Harry Truman is credited with saying: "Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, 'on the one hand...on the other.'"

Like Truman's economists, today's advisors, coaches, counselors, self-improvement gurus offer a wide variety of tips for solving problems or making enhancements. Just look at the diet field for example. On the one hand, expert number one will say, "carbs are bad, don't eat them." On the other hand, expert number 2 will say, "carbs are your real energy food. Fats are bad, don't eat them."

Why do so many advisors give so many different tips -- often opposite from one another -- for the "perfect" way to solve a problem or do a job? Why do we all keep looking for more and better tips. Don't any of them work?

We keep looking for more tips and trying different things for the same reason that there are many thousands of recipes for how to cook chicken. They might all work. But not for everyone, everywhere, every time.

To quote another President, Abraham Lincoln said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."

So, in relation to tips and techniques for improvement or solutions, I say you can do it some of the ways most of the time, all of the ways some of the time and none of the ways all of the time.

Even something so seemingly simple as a small rule of grammar usage is actually more complicated than at first glance. Remember this mnemonic: "I before E, except after C or when sounded as 'ay' as in neighbor and weigh." It works as a general rule, but there are exceptions to that, too, and you just have to memorize them as you encounter them in practice.

There isn't any one perfect way to solve any problem or make any improvement. No "magic bullet." When Fleming discovered penicillin, everyone thought it was the "magic bullet." But like other medications, it had side effects, some people were allergic to it, and it only worked on one class of infections -- bacterial. And in recent years, it's been discovered that over-use has built up stronger bacteria that are harder to kill.

Tips and techniques are popularized because they've worked in practice. But they don't always work. Think about these possibilities:

• Not everyone can do the technique. For example, it may take more time or skill than they have.
• Not everyone wants to do the tip or technique. It may seem silly. It may offend their sense of morality. It may be uncomfortable.
• People who can do the technique may not always be able to do it. Physical, psychological or emotional circumstances may have to be right for it to work, including the right frame of mind. Have you ever tried to learn to meditate in a room full of screaming kids?
• The tip might not apply to the specific problem. It might cover many problems that are similar, but there's just something different in your particular context.
• The technique might need to be adjusted. A step, condition, pre-requisite, tool or material may have been left out of the instructions unintentionally, or was not needed in the original circumstances under which it was formulated.
• And, of course, the tip may not work for anyone but the idiot who's teaching it.

One last thing: tips and techniques don't necessarily work right away. The secret is practice and experience. Any tip or technique has to be used consciously, intentionally and repeatedly to be of lasting value. Just like anything else you learn.


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