Here’s a Tip: Start Thinking for Yourself

People love tips. A list of tips is the easiest way to make the front page of Digg, attract dozens of back links, and acquire hordes of RSS subscribers. The tips don’t even need to be new or insightful, they just need to make sense and cover an interesting topic. Who doesn’t enjoy useful information in an easily digestible format?

The problem with tips is that they’re too delicious. People become obsessed with prepackaged information nuggets and stop thinking for themselves. When an article focuses on theory, no matter how brilliant it is, people complain that the information isn’t “useful”. The definition of “useful” has become so narrow that it only includes information that applies directly to a concrete problem. This reluctance to master and apply conceptual knowledge is a symptom of intellectual laziness.

The internet, despite it’s advantages, promotes intellectual laziness. Information is everywhere, making it highly disposable. Tips are appealing because they can be quickly absorbed and applied without any independent thought. The downside is that conceptual information is neglected. When understanding a concept requires effort, we usually abandon it in favor of practical tips.

A good comparison is eating fast food vs. cooking at home. Tips are like fast food. You look at the menu, order, and eat; all within a matter of minutes. The benefits are ease and convenience, but the food lacks substance and nutrition. Conceptual knowledge is like a home cooked meal. It takes time and effort to learn how to cook, gather ingredients, and wash dishes, but the food is high quality and the preparation skills you acquire can be used repeatedly. Although tips are more convenient, they lack the longterm value of conceptual thinking.

Tips aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. On a list of 50 tips, how many are good? 5-10 maybe? And how many of those do you remember long enough to actually use? We read tips for entertainment more than anything else. Who do you think writes them? People who aren’t any smarter than you. The only difference is they made the effort to think for themselves and condense their understanding into a list.

If you really want to learn, start thinking for yourself. Consider it a life long investment. It’s hard to learn a concept, but once you understand it, that knowledge can be applied repeatedly. Resist intellectual laziness, actively pursue answers instead of passively accepting them, and you’ll be the one giving the tips.

  • http://www.succeedsocially.com Chris

    Totally agree. I think a big factor in improving yourself is being able to chart your own path and work through your problems on your own.

    If you respect the ideas of any thinkers/self-help gurus/whatever, it’s because they came up with their own solutions and concepts to their problems instead of just following whatever was the standard at the time.

    I think a big part of being able to do this is having confidence in your abilities to figure things out independently; You need to believe that your ideas can potentially be just as good as someone with a bestselling book or a popular website. You also need to see yourself as being roughly equal to the ‘gurus’, not that you’re a nobody and they’re some semi-divine genius. They’re human too, just a little further along than you in a particular area you care about. If you don’t do that, you’ll unconsciously dismiss a lot of your own thoughts for being ‘unworthy’.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Chris,

    You’re absolutely right about the “need to see yourself as being roughly equal to the ‘gurus’, not that you’re a nobody and they’re some semi-divine genius.”

    Humanity has a habit of turning brilliant people into gods. The average person has a more in common with the greatest geniuses than we’re lead to believe by the stories we get from the history books and through the media.

  • Wilson

    Interesting. A blog filled with tips about not taking tips. According to your logic, I can’t take the tip to think for myself. I’ll just have to keep feeding off of your knowledge.

    What if I take a practical tip and apply it to a specific problem in my life at the time? I routinely read tips to try and refocus and remind myself bad habits I have let myself fall into.

    It’s like golf, sometimes you just need someone to remind you not to take your eye off the ball and swing smoothly.

  • http://necessaryskills.blogspot.com Peter

    In an age of data overload it will be people that turn that into information through thinking that will design new perspectives and concepts for both personal and business use. The rest will simply follow along the new trend. Good post

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Wilson,

    I never intended to say that tips aren’t useful. I like reading them myself and benefit from them all the time. I just don’t think that they are an adequate substitute for independent thinking. Blindly following a tip will never be as good as understanding the conceptual reasons that tip works.

  • http://www.bravenewtraveler.com ianmack

    i agree, much of the “easily digestible” information on the web is fast food. but i tend to believe it’s more the result of the medium, rather than a willingness of the general reader to stop thinking for themselves. for instance, many people don’t like reading long articles/essays/books online. they prefer print books & magazines for learning in-depth, complex knowledge. the web, on the other hand, tends to be more useful as a task-oriented database “i need to do X so what’s the quickest, easiest way to get figure out how to get it done” – or as entertainment/distraction.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    That’s an excellent point about the nature of the online medium. I think our culture is going in that direction as a whole.

    People expect faster gratification and books and other print publications are going the way of the dinosaur. I read something the other day saying that 42% of college graduates never read another book the rest of their lives.

    http://newpairodimes.blogspot.com/2007/06/u.html

  • http://www.traviseneix.com Travis

    Okay, once again, brilliant and right on! So many are looking, so desperately, for the one-stop cure-all magic-pill solution. We hop from one scheme/plan/method/secret/teacher to the next hoping to “get it” and be done.

    The funny thing is there is an answer – effort, examination, experimentation and time.

    That will cure all woes. But, who is willing to do that?

    Ah, to heck with it, you’ve moved me to blog. I’ll continue the rest n my site.

    Thanks again!

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Glad you’ve noticed the same phenomenon, Travis. I look forward to seeing your more detailed response.

  • http://www.steve-olson.com Steve Olson

    This post is right on. When you stand in line at the local supermarket, look at the headlines on the tabloids, cosmo, people, or even good housekeeping, it is the same stuff permeating social media . Fast Food is a perfect analogy.

    It’s becoming ubiquitous.

    I disagree that it is a medium based issue. It is cultural. We like the same stuff relentlessly repeated again and again (how’s that for superfluous). People think they want surprises, but most are frightened by the unexpected. That’s why Starbucks and McDonalds do so well. No surprises. Little possibility of disappointment – but I don’t think people realize they have also reliquished the joy of being nicely surprised.

    John,
    The statistic about reading books is true. I find it sad, because I love books, even when I was a juvenile deliquent my favorite things to steal were books. Now my wife is in the book business, so the concept of book thievery doesn’t thrill her, but what is more disconcerting is the declining literacy of America. Every year it seems the book market becomes smaller. American culture values action, utility, and showmanship, and little value is placed upon art, quality, and thought.

    But young men like you are proving there is a market on the internet for artistic, quality, thinkers, as opposed to fast food tycoons.

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  • http://www.marksdailyapple.com Sara

    Huge props, John. Digg is like powerpoint for recess. I hope this post takes off.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Haha, thanks Sara, me too. I’m not holding my breath though.

  • http://www.mylifestartsatfortytwo.com Beth

    John;
    Thank you for this “thought provoking” post. For years I was a self-proclaimed Nightingale Conant junkie, trying to get to the secret that I seemed to be missing in my life. Whether it was to improve my selling technique, earn more money, save more money, or become a millionaire, I have the CD set. When I really started using the web, it became even worse.
    One day I figured out I all ready knew what these people were telling me. I just had to “do” it. It made all the difference in the world…

  • Xdroot

    John, this has to be my post of the week. It’s well written and extremely relevant. Kudos!

  • http://www.best-of-time-management.com/personal-development.htm Pamela

    So true. It’s always different to know things through experience compared to knowing them through tips. Things that we have learned through experience are hard to forget, unlike tips which we might forget anytime.

  • Aswin Paranji

    John,
    Eversince I read your article ’9 to 5 Office’ via digg , I started to like your writing style as well as your articles.
    I have your blog feed in my reader so that I dont miss your topic.

    The articles about ‘tips’ was good.

    Keep writing

    Feed the Mind with more information.

  • http://why-paisley.com paisley

    seeing the world thru my eyes is really the only thing i can do for sure… if i cannot express my own mind and my own thoughts on any given subject,,, you can be sure i will delve into it, and form an opinion… i love thinking things out thoroughly,,, i am always amazed at the process… thank you

  • Tell me my name

    “Here’s a Tip: Start Thinking for Yourself” – Thank you for telling me to do this….what else should I do?

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Work on your sarcasm.

  • Tell me my name

    I am.

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  • http://www.essentiallifeskills.net ZHereford

    Hi John,
    By writing this article are you following your own blogging tip on being controversial and stirring things up a bit?

  • http://www.MotivationalSpeakerSource.com Dave

    Great post. It’s a good realization for us that we must avoid too much of the easy way and continue with growing our own experience. We can’t blame anyone for this attitude if every a problem occurs which needs our experience.

  • http://www.zoomstart.com Shane

    Really great stuff John.

    I write a lot of concept pieces. And I try to throw a few tips into them here and there. I’ve been experimenting with writing a larger “tip sheet” a little.

    When you combine both, people get both the vision and the action items. It’s hard to do, but those are the kinds of posts I also enjoy reading the most.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    ZHereford,

    Haha, maybe I am trying to stir up a bit of controversy. It certainly never hurts. I also get a big kick out of refuting popular opinion.

    Shane,

    I agree. There is definitely a need for practical information . A blend as you suggested might be the best of both worlds. Like I said, tips are popular for a reason, but they won’t get you far if you don’t understand the reasons behind them,

  • http://practicethis.com practica

    how about this tip – “start doing it yourself”. I learned that practicing things is incredible way of learning – practice everything, just do it, fail, learn, do it, fail, learn…… and succeed. I like these endless lists of tips – I pick them make fast eval for sanity and go for doing. I started couple of days ago some experiment of practicing each day some tip and post about my results. One tip for making things done and another from romance list. What I quickly and unexpectedly discovered is that my work/life balance started to improve – I hope it is a trend :).

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    practica,

    You’re right, “start doing it yourself” is the is best tip I can imagine. No matter how much reading and thinking I do, I never learn much until I try something myself..

    Your experiment of trying different tips and posting the results is a great idea.

  • http://www.secretofunlimitedprosperity.com karenlim

    Before we start relying on tip, I think we should first take 100% responsibility in our life.

    If we don’t take responsibility , it is likely we end up blaming that the tips do not work.

    I wrote an article on why taking responsibility can change your life:-
    http://ezinearticles.com/?Law-Of-Attraction—Discover-How-You-Can-Use-It–To-Take-111%-Responsibility-In-Your-Life!&id=581555

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  • http://www.chessiq.wordpress.com Chessiq

    I like the way you think. One of my favorite blogs. I just wanted to add that until you exert effort, you never really “know” and appreciation comes from knowledge born of experience. You can read Shakespeare and you may wonder how he could think and come up with the stuff he wrote but you try to write a play, that’s when you really appreciate how great Shakespeare was. I think it goes for everything: building wealth, being a CPA, creating music masterpieces or CHESS gems.

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  • Lisa

    Do you have a list of tips on how to do this?

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  • http://blog.successdynamic.com SK

    In the day fo Quick Fix, tips in bullets points is useful so long as the person who read it use it. Sometime, a lengthy article may just confuse the readers if the writer is unable to explain clearly or put forward the message. Then again, some tips may be misinterpret wrongly by the reader. It all depend on individual ability to comprehence and apply.

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  • http://www.howtoattractmoney.com/Special.html raj

    love your website, can you show me where to find information on manifesting money? thank you.

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  • http://poweressence.com Stuart

    Sounds similar to the Self authority stuff at http://Poweressence.com. Good for spreading the word.

  • oleksandr

    well,yeah,i am one to agree here,because i made an effort to google approximately the words in the title of the article.i used to think intensely some time ago,when i needed it,because i was in very need of something,but once its gone i stop thinking,i block any incoming info and so do people that never were made to think,so now i am trying to find some ugly shit on the net for it to make me think.any opinion (tip:),on how to actually find a stimuli inside yourself in order to start thinking?I’ll be very gratefull!

  • http://www.ido-doi.com Stella Aghenie

    You will have times in your life when you will feel like you’re the most unattractive person to walk the Earth. You will need somebody to pull you aside and say – you will not reach higher with your hands in your pockets. You can set many records, if you do guarantee yourself that you will do what you promise yourself, and listen to your dreams, to self improve faster

  • http://mathews-imeandmyself.blogspot.com masuba

    you are what you think. that makes sense. this article about tips a and there are no tips available shows its left to the conscious human to know his own life tips far a better living from his past experiences.glad i found another tip to boost my confidence in commenting on this article feel free you are yourself

  • http://masculinefreedom.com Ivan Dyn

    GREAT advice. This is why my website is all about deeper info. Tips are indeed only useful to solve a superficial problem, but to chance your life you’ll need more than that. Actually I’m reminded of the notion of giving away responsibility. This is where laziness comes from, and success gets further into the imaginary world

  • http://thenegativepolarity.com jonel

    haha so true! we keep trying to make our lives easier with all our tools, but the result is that we are becoming weaker and dumber. i remember back when i didn’t know how to use a calculator. i could do small-to-medium computations mentally but now, i can’t do math as quick and easy anymore. if we rely to much on the easy stuff, we become weaker. thanks for a really great and stimulating article!i’m hyped to write a related one right now and i’m going to put a back link to this one for sure, i hope it’s enough for a “thanks!”.

  • http://customizedfatlossreview.net Jack’s Customized Fat Loss

    thinking about myself from time to time is a sign that i can be a person who can improve anytime and it’s for the better.

    - Jack Leak

  • http://screw9-5.blogspot.com/ Screw9to5man

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read an article on tips, where most of the tips are so fricken obvious or pointless. Things like “how to get more links to your website”. “Tip 1: Have good content”. Most of those tips are no help whatsoever. 

  • http://www.patriciagozlan.com/ Patricia Goz

    I totally agree too.
    this is the difference  I get as a coach to have my clients find the solutions to their issues when guided by constructive questions compared to when I used to  gove them the ready made answer.
    Well written article and congrats for your site!

  • http://twitter.com/Arabedross Ara Bedrossian

    I am on your page..literally and figuratively! 
    The tip is just that..the tip of the deeper mass of thinking and work. Tips are part of the group think. I just wrote my latest article about the dangers of this.
    I enjoyed this,
    Cheers.

  • Lyse Lauren

    Yes there is a good dollop of the ‘sheep mentality’ just about everywhere we look despite the hype about our freedoms and democracy. It would seem that too much of a good thing can lead quickly to inertia and the sense over being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that is available to us. Simplicity will prove to be the key to survival in the end…

  • powerfemale

    The internet will convert the human to the robot, we will read any solution then Take it without thinking :)

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