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Advice is everywhere, from self-help books to IG reels to dinner-table discussions. But let’s face it, if advice were dollars, we’d all be millionaires by now. The paradox? We excel at giving it to other people and we’re even pretty good at seeking it out for ourselves, but when it comes to actually taking and sticking with that advice, we struggle. Why? I don’t really know. What I do know is that it’s a question I ponder all the time, and here’s what I’ve gathered.

The Neuroscience Perspective

The Brain’s Dueling Systems

Your brain is like a rock band. On one side, the limbic system—the drummer—bangs out raw emotions. On the other, the prefrontal cortex—the lead guitarist—strums out riffs of rationality.

Without deliberate practice, these two systems can clash. We often know rationally that we shouldn’t do something, but in the moment, we’re so overcome with emotion that we do it anyway (or vice versa).

Neuroplasticity & Habit Formation

Brains love familiarity. Your brain can adapt, but it prefers well-trodden neural pathways. It likes to operate on autopilot, repeating the same actions. Think about a familiar route you travel all the time. Your body follows it seemingly instinctively. This is your brain recognizing a familiar neural pathway and following it because it uses less energy.

Introducing something novel to your brain requires more energy to comprehend. Changing that route takes work, and your brain is inherently lazy when it comes to expending energy.

Stress and Decision Making

Thanks to cortisol and adrenaline, stress hijacks the brain, burying that well-intended advice into some deep recess reserved for “stuff to think about when you’re no longer stressed.”

Making any decision in fight-or-flight mode that isn’t “flee” or “fight” is extremely difficult. Add to the mix trying to follow a new piece of advice (thereby creating a new neural pathway), and you have an uphill battle in front of you.

The Psychological Perspective

The Shadow Self

In the early 20th century, Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, introduced the world to the concept of the Shadow Self. Your Shadow Self is the collection of your suppressed desires and fears. Your Shadow is like that cynical friend who scoffs at any advice that threatens its hidden agenda. This friend sucks.

The Shadow Self can persuade us not to take action on new things, and it can be very convincing.

Ego, Id, and Superego Plus Persona

In the mental theater, think of the ego, id, and superego as a trio of executives sitting at a board meeting, each with their own agenda. The id is the impulsive CEO, always pushing for immediate gratification. The superego is the stern CFO, focused on rules and morals. The ego sits in the middle as the pragmatic COO, trying to find a balance between these conflicting demands. Your persona is the company’s polished PR strategy, an external facade meant to meet the world’s expectations.

Taking your own advice often means grappling with this executive team. The id may reject advice that postpones pleasure, while the superego may be overly critical, dismissing advice that doesn’t meet its lofty moral standards. The ego then has to negotiate between these two while also trying to align with the persona’s public image. The problem? The ego is often swayed by whoever speaks loudest at the meeting, making it a struggle to heed your own well-considered advice.

Archetypes and Collective Unconscious

Now, here’s where the script gets really interesting. Imagine life as a blockbuster movie with archetypal roles: the hero, the villain, the mentor, the victim. These roles are burned into the collective unconscious, a sort of psychological DNA inherited from millennia of human storytelling. This collective backdrop often eclipses your individual script, steering you toward what’s socially celebrated rather than what your intuition knows is right for you.

Breaking away from these archetypes to follow your own advice often requires an act of rebellion—against not just social norms, but also against the ingrained beliefs of an entire species.

The Interplay

Emotional Rationalization

Our emotional limbic system often convinces the ego to ignore good advice, rationalizing it as unnecessary. It’s like a conniving defense attorney that justifies every bad choice you make.

Cognitive Dissonance

Ignoring your own advice creates mental friction, a dissonance we can’t help but resolve. That’s why we’re experts at justifying our actions post-facto. We simply can’t live with the inconsistency.

The Inertia Factor

All of this contributes to a more practical element at play here: inertia. Once motivation and inspiration wane, we revert to the mean: our comfort zone. It’s our psychological set point, guarded by both neurology and psychology.

The only way to move that “mean”? Discipline. The more disciplined you are, the longer you can stick it out in the discomfort zone until it becomes your new normal.

Real-world Implications

Knowing this blend of science and psychology can help you navigate the choppy waters of decision-making. Want to take your own advice? Understand the forces at play and use discipline as your compass.


Think back on a time you recently forwent your own advice. Which of the above elements were at play? Now that you know what’s happening behind the scenes, you can push through the inertia.

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