The importance of context

I outlined in a previous post that advice can become more and more generic as it is repeated throughout the generations. The reason I gave, why generic advice doesn’t resonate with people is that it’s too much effort to figure out the way to get to your destination.

I believe that there is a second part in this equation which I didn’t touch upon before. And that is context. This means that advice can mean something completely different to other people since they bring their own experiences and memories into the mix.

I would say that context plays a bigger role in more abstract areas of life. For the bigger lessons in life. When the equations to solve the problem become more and more riddled with parameters and outside influences.

If you try to talk to a thin guy looking to pack on some muscle about the importance of the mental aspects of following a strict diet and workout regime, he will look at you like you’re from a different planet. Just give him the specific workouts that he should do.

If you bring up the same thing to somebody who has gained 20 kg pure lean muscle over the last years, he will totally understand and relate of what you’re talking about.

Does that mean that the guy in the first example is a fool or stupid, while the other is a go-to guru? No. They’re just at different stages in their journey. The latter only has a lot more experience under his buckle where specific workout routines and meal plans are no longer that important.

Robin Williams does a way better job describing what I’m trying to say in Good Will Hunting. For reference, I’ve stood in the Sistine Chapel – it’s very crowded. But still breathtaking. You cannot even come close to understanding what Michelangelo has gone through to paint the ceiling until you stood there, looking up. And even then, you’re only somewhat close to imagining it.

It is okay – good even – to start out wanting guidance. A very specific plan outlining exactly what to do and exactly when to do it. But when you’re actually in the act of doing and gather experience, you start to understand at a much deeper level than is possible using books, blog posts or videos on YouTube.

And with that you also come to understand that you cannot reach your specific goals and destination using a guide that somebody else has written. Because they have a guide that is written for themselves. How to reach their destination.

Set the course

Another important thing that I‘ve had to learn in the last couple of months is that, as often as you‘d want to have a guide or tutorial to deal with a certain problem you have, there is just nothing out there.

Imagine: you want to buy a new coffee machine. You go on the Internet to find out which one you should get.

About 2 hours later, you give up and close about 15 browser tabs you‘ve opened. There is just too much out there and no clear answer pointing to the one and only best coffee machine. The sheer amount of choices is overwhelming.

For me – and many others as well – this is paralyzing. Deciding on the right coffee machine can take months or years.

So what can you do?

What I‘ve tried to do is set a specific amount of time that I‘ll dedicate to research (no more than 1 hour). I‘ll try to narrow it down to 2-3 candidates and then spend a little more time to compare. Or I‘ll just decide by gut feeling to get any of the candidates and try out for a little bit.

Dwelling too much on making a decision causes fatigue and stress. Cutting through the mental fog by simply taking action can save you a lot of worries.

In the end, you have to set the course for your life by yourself. By giving myself some restrictions on my decision making, I can be more effective in putting things into action rather than wandering around aimlessly.

Ultimately, this fulfills an important second part in reaching your goals. Which is the how.

Take a difficult video game as an example. You’re trying to beat a certain section 100 times and fail. Now you have a couple of options on how to deal with the situation.

You can walk away and either give up. You can look for tips or cheat codes online to beat the section. Or you try it again and again until you beat it.

What do you think gives you the most satisfaction?

If you’re using cheat codes or a walk through to beat a game, you feel empty afterwards. There is no challenge to overcome and no chance to grow. You just feel like mentally crossing off a to-do item from you list.

On the other hand, if you beat the game by rising to the challenge, you feel a deep sense of accomplishment. It’s a world’s difference from being handed the win on a silver platter. Even though – on paper – you did reach your goal in either case.

Ultimately, you have to figure out your own way through life. Sometimes you can expect help and advice from others. But more often than not you find yourself trying to figure things out on your own. That’s also what all of the other people are doing. The ones who you think have it all figured out. They don’t.

When you read any self help or self development article or watch a video on the topic, there should always be a disclaimer that the author isn’t necessarily an expert on the topic. And more importantly, their word isn’t law. As I’ve talked about before, nobody really has all their shit together. People are just trying to work things out and share their experiences with others. That doesn’t mean that everything also has to be true for your life.

These experiences are so much grander than you can summarize in a couple hundred to a few thousand words. So much of the nuance and details are lost, that you cannot really expect to fully get a topic just by readings a few articles on it or watching a documentary.

But it might give you enough of an insight to help you on your journey and maybe try to explore for yourself.