The Problem with Advice


On Med School Insiders, I provide advice. And following certain advice has helped me tremendously in my life, but listening to other advice has held me back. How should one navigate the limitations of general advice and carve out their own best path, which will ultimately be different from anyone else’s?

My relationship with advice is a bit… love-hate. It’s complicated. Seeking out high quality advice has helped me tremendously, but seeking out advice has also led me astray. In fact, I spoke about this well-intentioned but ultimately harmful advice on my personal YouTube channel, specifically how I was told that working on my incubator, Blue LINC, was a waste of time and would never work. A few months later, we raised money, got featured in multiple news articles, a podcast, and grew faster than we ever imagined. You can find the full story here.

The Problem with General Advice

The problem with general advice is just that – it’s general. Work harder, waste less time, wake up early. These pieces of advice are so commonplace they’ve become accepted as fact. To deviate from these words of wisdom must mean you’re a low achieving, lost individual, and doing something wrong. But that’s not necessarily true.

Let’s dissect these one at a time.

Work harder – if I followed this path, I would have ended up burned out, depressed, and miserable. My baseline trends toward certain workaholic tendencies. There’s some good that comes out of that, but definitely a lot of bad too. We all are at different places on the spectrum of work and play.

Waste less time – again, if someone is already super efficient and critical of their time, this isn’t helpful advice. Most people spend too long on social media and meme websites. Others need to let go a little and make an effort to relax more often.

Wake up early – but maybe you’re a night owl. I understand the appeal of both. There have been periods of my life – months to years – where I loved waking up early. And there are other times where inspiration strikes late at night, precludes me from sleeping, and that feels more natural.

Hopefully you’re seeing the issue. General advice does not take into account individual variation. What works for one person often does not work for another.

I had never placed a TV in my bedroom, as I was told that this is terrible for your sleep and productivity. But after I moved to Las Vegas, I did exactly that. As I was designing my new living space, I put a TV by the foot of my bed. What led to such heresy? Upon reflecting on things I want to work on, one of them was disconnecting, letting go, and relaxing more frequently. While the TV may not be the best for my sleep, it helps in achieving a more healthy and sustainable work-life balance, for me. I’m reducing the friction to performing leisurely activities.

Here’s some more well intentioned but misplaced general advice. “Be yourself.” What if you’re Stalin or Hitler. I’m sure they were being themselves, but what if your true self is sadistic, harmful, and not good to others? Rather than being yourself, be the best version of yourself, seek to minimize the negatives and optimize the positives.

As much as I see issues with general advice, I also appreciate its tremendous value. As an adolescent and student, I learned how to manage my time better, be more effective with my exercise regimens, and even learn to improve my study techniques. This advice allowed me to experiment, figure out what worked and what didn’t. Without general advice that I obtained from free resources like this blog, it likely would have taken me much longer to learn many foundational skills that were important to my success.

To a certain degree, I believe we should all seek out general advice. It’s free, readily available, and gives us starting points to experiment with our lives. Rather than being told what to do by a coach, the onus of responsibility is on you – how do you choose to change your life. How do you choose what advice to implement?

Assessing the Quality of Advice

There’s an abundance of general advice out there on the internet. With the explosion of self-development, we’ve seen a rapid expansion of both good and bad advice. Ultimately, it’s important to practice some judgment and critical thinking of your own when sifting through it. I suggest you look at a few key elements.

1 | Is it Evidence-Based?

First, is the information I’m receiving backed by evidence? That being said, not all evidence is created equal, and I’ve even gone over how you can assess the strength of a research study in a previous blog post.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when research studies are quoted without any attention given to the study design, limitations, or implications. More often than not, this is due to journalists with no scientific understanding summarizing “groundbreaking” new research articles, concerned more about clicks than actually informing the readers of the truth.

You see this time and time again. Look at the study about $75,000 of income being the plateau at which further increases in income don’t improve happiness. Look at the Mozart effect and how classical music makes your smarter. These, and other scientific misunderstandings and oversimplifications have been explored and debunked on my Research Explained series. This playlist dives into such topics, looks at the research evidence, and tells you the actual truth, what the current scientific literature says. Link in the description below.

Additionally, not every question you have has been addressed with sound scientific research. If that’s the case, if you cannot find a satisfactory conclusion to your question in the scientific literature, then you’ll need to keep in mind some additional factors.

2 | What Were Their Results?

Which bring us to the second point: credentials. Who is proposing this advice and what are their credentials in providing it? I don’t mean the person needs a PhD or an MD after their name, although that certainly helps.

If the person giving advice wasn’t able to achieve the results themselves that they are promising you, then where is their authority on the matter? I don’t give bodybuilding advice because despite reading dozens of books on the subject and practicing it myself, I haven’t achieved impressive results. I don’t give advice on political issues because despite doing my homework on topics that most people don’t, I haven’t reached a point of satisfactory expertise where I’m comfortable calling myself an authority on the matter.

But I do give advice on how to be a kickass student, how to crush the MCAT, and how to be a beast in college and medical school. That’s because I scored in the 99.9th percentile on my MCAT, or the 100th percentile for the statistically illiterate, and I hit the high 260s on my USMLE. I set the curve frequently in college, crushed my medical school coursework, and matched into one of the most competitive specialties.

Beyond looking at someone’s own results, you need to look at the results of the people they have mentored or worked with. Did they achieve world class results because they are genetically gifted, or was it because they understood the nuance of the skills they were learning? If it was the latter, then they should be able to replicate similar results in others. And if not, then they should at least be able to explain any discrepancy. Even if Michael Phelps was a great coach, certain students would simply not have the body type or gifts necessary to be Olympians with multiple world records. They wouldn’t be able to replicate his results.

3 | What is the Upside or Downside?

And third, what is the potential upside and downside from following the advice? I’m unlikely to eat mysterious foods or take radical supplements because there is potentially a large downside with relatively limited upside. However, I’m more willing to experiment with my own study methods or productivity strategies since the downside would be smaller.

That being said, I wouldn’t start a new sleep routine just one week before my MCAT, as that is higher risk. In investing, we call this phenomenon asymmetric risk – you want to take risks when the potential upside or gain is significantly larger than the potential downside or loss.

If someone asks you to supplement your studying with flashcards to improve your grades in school, that may not be the worst thing if it doesn’t work out, yet you do potentially have a lot to gain. But asking you to radically change your study habits and only use one studying technique may have a higher risk of backfiring. We want to take calculated risks. Maximize the upside while minimizing the downside.

How to Resolve the Dilemma for Pre-Med & Medical Students

If you’re a pre-med or medical student and you are looking for advice on how to be the most effective, successful, and happy version of yourself, then you’ve come to the right place. I recommend you first start reading these blog posts, as you’re already doing. This is high quality distilled advice from people such as myself who have the credentials necessary to be authorities in offering said advice. And the best part – it’s all free.

I was a broke pre-med and medical student. I had to pay for everything myself. I took out loans. I worked my butt off. I pinched pennies. I never ordered guacamole with my Chipotle bowl until after graduating medical school. For that reason, I appreciate the importance of providing high quality advice for free. I want to pay it forward and help you all through these free resources.

That being said, some of you may require additional attention. Let’s say after watching and implementing the advice within my videos and blog posts, you’re seeing improvements but not quite to the level you want, then 1-on-1 guidance may be necessary. But how do you know who to choose?

There are dozens of advisors and charlatans who are more interested in your business than your success. If someone wanted to be a doctor but barely got into medical school, would you trust them for help with your medical school application? If someone wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon but settled for something else, would you trust them in how to ace the residency application process? I wouldn’t either.

At Med School Insiders, our team consists of the best. Our advisors were at the top of their class, mastered the application process, served on admissions committees, and can help you maximize your potential. If you need help with the MCAT, USMLE Step 1, or any other pre-med or medical school test, look no further. Our tutors scored in the top percentiles and can help you do the same. If you regularly watch our YouTube videos, chances are you know how heavily we emphasize the importance of systems in generating desirable results. Our admissions and tutoring services are no different. We’ve painstakingly taken months crafting the systems in place to provide the best quality services. And our results speak for themselves. We have the highest satisfaction scores in the industry and our students’ success is second to none. You can see the results for yourself at here.


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