How often have do you read conflicting advice from the self-improvement gurus?

Recently on Medium, I stumbled on an article by Benjamin Hardy in which he advocates waking up early in an article titled: “You Make Or Break Your Life Between 5–7 AM.

On the other hand, Aytekin Tank, another admirable productivity and self-improvement guru on medium, has an article titled: “Don’t listen to those productivity gurus: why waking up at 6am won’t make you successful

Confusing?

So, who’s advice is right?

To tell you the truth, this is an absurd question. 

Let’s see why.

The Two Categories of Self-Improvement Advice

“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” — Jim Rohn

There are two categories of advice when it comes to self-improvement:

  1. Principles
  2. Techniques

If you differentiate the two, you will no longer be confused by the seemingly contradictory advice. And still better, you will know which advice actually works. 

I. Self-Improvement Principles

Principles are the fundamental and universal rules that would work for anyone regardless of their personality, genes, or locations. This is how Ray Dalio — the Steve Jobs of investing world — defines principles:

Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behavior that gets you what you want out of life. — Ray Dalio

If applied consistently, principles would work almost equally effective for anyone. But, when you hear or read advice, how do you know if it’s a principle? Here are three filters that help me detect them:

  • Principles are often abstract ideas or guiding direction of what constitutes success. 
  • Principles do not contain specifics and details about how you should do things. They are concerned about WHAT and not HOW.
  • Principles are not novel or something extraordinary. They are often old ideas that have been rediscovered again and again throughout history.

Each area of life — happiness, financial, relationships, etc. — have their own principles.

  • If you want to be happy, you must educate the principles of happiness.
  • If you want to be wealthy, you must educate the principles of finance.
  • If you want to have success, you have to educate the principles of success. 

Here are some examples to have a better grasp of principles. 

Three principles of happiness

  1. Find your values and live in accordance with them. (Book, recommendation, authentic happiness by Martic Saligman)
  2. Focus on your ideals and aspirations, not the problems. (Book recommendation: Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius.
  3. Focus on today rather than projecting into future (Book recommendation: The power of now by Eckhart Tolle.)

Three Principles of Finance

  1. Save at least 10 percent of your money each month for investing. (Book recommendation: The richest man in Babylon by George S. Clason.)
  2. Ask the expert advice before investing.
  3. Choose investments with maximum profit and the minimum risk. (Book recommendation: Unshakable, by Tony Robbins)

A Success Principle 

This is one of my favorite success principles of all time which comes from the lovely Jim Rohn:

If you want to achieve more, you have to become more. 

Notice how simple, elegant, and abstract the principles are. they give you a birds’ eyes view of the direction along which you must move. But, they do not tell you HOW to do them. This takes us to the second category of self-improvement advice. 

II. Self-Improvement Techniques 

Techniques are the exact ways of applying or implementing principles. They are the how-tos.

And here’s the important catch.

In sharp contrast with principles, techniques are highly personal. The technique I follow to implement a principle or advice, might or might not work for you. And if someone, with good intentions, does not know the difference between principles and techniques, s/he may actually mislead or confuse you. 

Let’s say I want to embrace Jim Rohn’s principle of success, and I want to become more. I may go about this by starting to wake up at 5:00 AM every day and start watching tutorials of my choice. 

After a while, I start seeing results. My success here could be your doom if I enthusiastically and authoritatively preach it to you. 

Why?

In this case, for example, science shows that people fall into four different chronological types when it comes to sleep. Some are wired to function optimally early in the morning, some others have genes optimized for being night owls. 

My technique (waking up early and watching tutorial) is probably not going to work for a night owl and it may actually cause him/her despair rather than success. And this is the crucial point when it comes to self-improvement advice:

Principles are universal and work for everyone. But, the techniques to implement them are totally personal. 

So, if you want to reach the mountain pick of success in any domain of life, find the principles and follow them in your own way. 

And of course, to find your own way you can give the self-improvement techniques (wake up early) a chance to see if it works for you or not. If it didn’t work, instead of doubting yourself, you know you just need to use other techniques. 

Moreover, if you read or hear conflicting advice, you are probably dealing with a technique, not a principle. So, open-mindedly give it a try and see if it works for you. 

Your Turn

Have you ever heard a conflicting advice? Or have you ever tried an advice which didn’t work for you? 
I am very curious to know if you have stumbled upon effective principles or come up with your on principles which would guide your decision. Share your thoughts with me in the comments. 
Happy Thriving
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