There are some pieces of advice that are undeniably good. Brush your teeth. Don’t start forest fires. Never surprise a moose. Good sense, good science, good psychology.
However, not all advice is equal, and I fear we may have bought into some good sounding ideas that are, in fact, weighing us down. Before we fully emerge from lockdown and rediscover our old habits, maybe there are a few we can leave behind. Here are 5 Bad Pieces of Advice you may have heard, but maybe want to toss overboard.
1. ALWAYS CLEAN YOUR PLATE
The Clean Plate Club was the earliest club we were eligible for, and all it took to join was stuffing ourselves at the dinner table every night, while also somehow saving room for dessert. The exercise was rounded out with vague reminders of starving children overseas and needing to grow up strong.
This may be the first piece of bad advice we’re given, and the one we’re stuck with the longest. The road to Dad Bods and Stretchy Jeans is paved with french fries and fortune cookies we probably should have left behind. Research has shown that early emphasis on eating for completeness rather than fullness causes dysfunctional eating patterns for life.
So what’s the right approach? The study referenced above puts it nicely: encourage moderation rather than overconsumption and emphasize healthful food choices rather than restrictive eating patterns. Easier said than done — I get it! I’m terrible at it, and I’ve got the jeans to show for it. But recognizing this bad piece of advice is a good start. And for those of us with kids, I know we can do better than membership in the Clean Plate Club. Let’s teach (and model) to eat until you’re full, and stop being afraid to leave that last slice of pizza behind!
2. SKIP THE AVOCADO TOAST
Few things have been as maligned as smashed avocado and sprouts on wheat toast — a frivolous, irresponsible waste of money that has single-handedly bankrupted millennials the world over.
Actually, hold on. Saving money is a good thing, but not all advice about saving money is equal. This kind of advice, whether it’s about avocado toast or lattes or Netflix, implies that your favorite things are a waste of money, and the only way to financial health is to deny yourself these petty pleasures. Unfortunately, simple pleasures, especially generational ones like trendy foods and streaming services, are easy targets for others to dismiss as wasteful. But cost is only one half of the equation; you also need to consider fulfillment. If a $10 avocado toast brings you joy, that’s probably a pretty good deal. What is frivolous to one person can be fulfilling to the next.
The other problem is that small pleasures usually fall into the category of diminishing returns. Until you’ve taken a hard look at your large expenses, denying yourself minor treats to save small amounts of money probably won’t help. Think of rent, car payments, student loans, childcare, medical costs, credit card interest, and insurance — you know, your actual biggest expenses. Work on those first, and give yourself permission to enjoy your favorite simple pleasures.
3. DEACTIVATE FACEBOOK
Ok look, Facebook and other forms of social media can be problematic. Cyber bullying, fake news, body dysmorphia, privacy concerns, and terrible food hacks are among the biggest problems. Except, come to think of it, no one seems to quit Facebook for those reasons, at least not with the usual flourish we’ve come to expect. Everyone I can think of leaves Facebook because they don’t like the posts that are appearing in their feed. They’re too political, too negative, too boring, too offensive.
Hey, I get it. When I log into Facebook (or any other social media), I’m not looking for arguments, attacks, or extreme content either. Except here’s the thing: your feed is made up of the people you added.
If you don’t like your News Feed, it’s your own fault for not cleaning it up. There, I said it.
If you don’t like someone’s content, unfriend them. Or unfollow them. Or reduce their frequency. Or block them from posts that will rile them up. (Yes, you can do that.) Or block all posts from their trashy sources. (Yes, you can do that too.) The number of options you have to deal with problematic people and sources is near-endless. In my experience, a few bad apples can ruin the experience, but about 15 minutes of applying the above solutions can fix it.
If you want to deactivate, go for it. But do it for one of the reasons you can’t fix. If you’re just tired of the company, ditch the riffraff and reclaim your social media.
4. FINISH WHAT YOU START
Stepbrother to Always Clean Your Plate, this nugget seems to target perseverance, endurance, and patience. These are good things, and there are times when sticking with something is worth it. High school and dental cleanings come to mind. But the older you get, the closer you are to the Big Finish, and the more valuable your time becomes. With that in mind, at some point you earn the right to start quitting things.
Personally, my favorite thing to quit is books. I used to push through every one I started, no matter how bad it was, but now I’m lucky if I finish one for every three I start. It doesn’t matter if I paid money for it, or have already invested time in it.
Life is too short to sit through stinkers.
I’d say this applies to media of all types, including shows, movies, and video games. It should apply to bad meals, but we’ve already been over my struggles with leaving food behind!
The flipside is that if you quit something, make sure you follow it up with something new, because we’re not talking about giving up here. Pick up another book, write another business plan, schedule another 5K. It’s a sobering thought to realize that every day your time is worth a little bit more than it was the day before, so make your time count and try to enjoy yourself while you’re doing it!
5. NEVER HIT BACK
I went and saved the trickiest one for last. Rule #1 in school is don’t hit back. Into adulthood this evolves into turn the other cheek. Does it hold up? Is there any wiggle room? Should we ever hit back?
Honestly, yeah, I think there are times we should hit back. To be clear, though, I’m not actually talking about the playground. Hitting back in physical fights is . . . problematic. It often escalates the conflict, spreads blame onto the non-aggressor, and increases the chance of serious injury. I do think there are times when it’s right to fight back, but wading into that is more than I signed up for in this article!
Instead, before you accuse me of bait-and-switch, consider how the above playground wisdom might be rubbing off negatively as an adult. Have you internalized an unbendable rule of nonaggression or developed an aversion to confrontation? If so, you might have trouble defending yourself if blamed unfairly, or speaking up when denied credit for something positive. Have you extended the rule to also deny proactive actions, like highlighting your accomplishments or leveraging your positive traits? Questioning whether it’s ok to outshine your competitors can easily screw up a job interview, college application, or team tryout.
I’ve been that person, and it left me frustrated, tired, and cynical. It’s one thing to pick your battles; it’s another thing entirely to never pick any battles. If you’re over-applying the rules of the playground, you may want to consider if it’s time to start hitting back.
My hope in writing this piece is that you’ll think twice about absolutes. Advice that arrives in the form of a hard-and-fast rule is just begging to be unpacked. Consider the source, consider the context, and consider the exceptions. If nothing else, hopefully you now feel more empowered to waste food, throw away books, and punch everyone you meet!
Meet our guest writer, Mohan Karulkar.
Mohan is an Albuquerque engineer, by way of Michigan, Illinois, and Maryland. He has two boys with his wife Lynette, and they’ve been married for 13 years. When he’s not designing batteries at work, he enjoys reading, photography, cooking, and quitting things. If you see him around town, feel free to buy him a beer or a strong coffee, since he probably needs one or the other after dealing with the boys.