Three Reasons We Like Reading Common Sense Advice

Let's face it, a lot of what I write about (and Everett and Leo and Tim and Steve and Jeffrey) is common sense. In fact, there is very little written out there in the genre of personal development and simplicity that is truly groundbreaking material. Of course, sometimes I read something that feels like it is completely new but upon further reflection I can almost always categorize it under I-feel-like-I-knew-this-but-it's-nice-to-be-reminded. I'm not saying this to bring down the other writers I mentioned (or even myself). In fact, I think they are doing great things by taking those pieces of common sense and repackaging it into something that seems much less common. My point is to ask why it is that the basis of this field seems to be common sense and yet people still love reading about it?

  1. It gives us a sense of control: Reading something that you already knew, at some level, gives me a sense of control. Think about it, if you read or learn something that is completely separate from your experience and beyond your level of comprehension, you are unlikely to feel very good about it. The basis of learning is being able to tie new information to information we have already learned. Much of the "lifehack" literature is a rehash of our own experiences. We've all felt what it's like to be in "the zone," even if only for a few minutes. Almost all of us can remember a time we threw out a bunch of old stuff and felt better about it afterward. Common sense is within each of us and therefore is familiar.
  2. It is usually very easy to implement: Please note that I did not say it is easy to implement well or consistently. However, almost every piece of lifehack advice can be very easily implemented at least once. Check your email only twice per day? Sure, any of us can do that for a day. Reading advice that makes you think, "Well that doesn't seem too hard-- I can do that," can be very empowering. You can spend thirty minutes reading blogs like Zen Habits or Lifehacker and have a full list of things that you can immediately start doing without too much effort.
  3. It can create a huge change in the quality of our lives: Not only is the information at least vaguely familiar and easy to implement, it can create a huge change in our lives. If this point was not true then I doubt I would be writing this blog right now. If people are successful in implementing some of what they read in the personal development genre then chances are they have experienced a positive change in their life. That experience can become intoxicating and people embark on a search to find that next piece of lifehack advice that will give them the same "high" as before.

All three of these reasons for enjoying lifehack advice are not bad in their own right. The real problem comes when I begin thinking that reading about changing my life is the same thing as actually doing it. As long as I'm able to accept that reading about personal development can be valuable research and not actual development in itself, I don't see the harm in enjoying it. I know that I truly appreciate those that take the time to read what I have to say here but if this website ever became such a distraction as to keep them from applying what they read I would tell them to delete my RSS feed immediately.

Common sense is common. Applying common sense is very rare.