Why the advice you get doesn’t work

The best advice—or at least the advice I recall most vividly—that I ever got from my father was not about golf, school or business.

It was about how to talk to a girl.

Early one morning in our suburban living room, both of us in our pyjamas sitting on our floral coach, I told Dad about my predicament.

At my high school, there was this angelic black-haired girl with dark brown eyes and olive skin. I was completely head-over-heels. But I was in Grade 11. She was in Grade 10. I didn’t know her or any of her friends. I couldn’t just walk over and start talking to her. I had no idea what to say. What could I do?

“Are other guys interested in her too?” he asked.

“Oh yeah,” I said.

“Well, he who hesitates is lost,” he said.


“You better not waste any more time, or someone is going to beat you to her.”

“But what do I say?”

“Just ask her lots of questions.”

It took a couple of days to prepare my list of questions, but I put Dad’s coaching into practice. I not only managed to get the nerve to talk to her, but it led to a teenage romance.

Lest you think my Dad was a cardigan-wearing-pipe-smoking-Father-Knows-Best type who coolly solved all my problems, he wasn’t. On a golf course, he had a horrible penchant for offering swing advice within seconds after I smoked a drive into the boonies. Many times, I’d want to smoke him in the nose.

Today, in addition to well-meaning parents, friends, and books, we also get advice from Facebook, Instagram or TikTok, YouTube, blogs, and podcasts.

We’re awash in advice. If advice were like bits of plastic debris, I imagine that every beach in the world would be strewn with it.

Like the debris, the overwhelming majority of the advice we get is, if not useless, not that helpful. 

Whether it’s advice you receive in a golf lesson or another part of life, if you’re honest, you don’t follow most of it. Or you give up because you rationalize that it’s too hard, weird or just not for you.

Or you try to follow it but fail. You conclude it’s because you are inept, stupid, doomed to mediocrity, or _______ (fill in the blank with your fave self-diagnosed inadequacy).

What makes it worse is seeing others as we scroll who are rocking the advice we can’t hack.

‘How come I can’t do that? What’s wrong with me?’

Well, you’re fine. Like you, I get sucked in and feel pangs of inadequacy that I’m not doing enough or I’m doing it wrong.

It’s taken a long while, but I’ve concluded that most of the advice that I get is like donning a XXXL coat. It might cover me, but it doesn’t fit.

Most advice comes in the form of tips and techniques—smart stuff that you’re supposed to do.  Other people did it and it worked for them. So quite obviously this is what you should do too.

(I am aware some of you might be thinking: ‘O’Connor, aren’t you giving advice about the problem of following advice.’ You may have me there. But I’m going to bolt ahead anyway; at least this is free advice, and you know what they say about that.)

Here’s the problem with most advice: It worked for the person giving the advice. It applied to their unique circumstances. Not yours.

In Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, he wrote more than 40 times that you initiate the downswing by turning your lead hip (the target-side hip). What he didn’t emphasize was that your body also has to move laterally toward the target.

Hogan didn’t mention that he first moved his weight to his lead side on his backswing, before turning his hip to start his downswing. This is the key finding in a book that I edited on Hogan’s swing.

Although Hogan’s book is considered a golf bible, millions of golfers who took his advice to heart struggled with slicing and pulling.

Like Hogan’s advice, most of the tips and techniques doled out in the world are based on the advice-giver’s experience, not on the advice-receiver’s requirements.

Unfortunately, men can be notorious advice givers. Early in my marriage, Sandy would tell me about an upsetting situation at work. She wouldn’t even finish her story, and I’d be dispensing my five-point-fix-it plan. This never ended well.

In the first place, Sandy just wanted share how she felt about what was going on. Secondly, my advice was based on my experiences. I was just projecting my stuff on to her.

By reading—with encouragement—Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray, I began to understand the importance of listening and why most advice is useless.

Sitting in circles of men for 20 years deepened that understanding. Based on the ManKind Project model, the circles provide a confidential space where a man can talk freely and fully express about what he’s experiencing.

The circles have a strict rule against ‘fixing’ or ‘shoulding’.

In a circle, a man will usually begin by sharing what he feels about what’s happening, and then start in on the story.

He’ll will usually invite the other men to ask him questions to draw him out, or to share their experiences. He may even ask them for advice, but this happens rarely.

As the man talks through what’s going on for him, he gains a better understanding not only of his experience, but also of his patterns, behaviours, contradictions—his unique circumstances—which leads to greater perspective and clarity.

Not always, but most times he starts to discern and see possibilities that are open to him to move forward. In essence, the man gives himself advice that is tailored 100% to his unique needs and circumstances. It fits.

Interestingly, the basic structure of this kind of facilitation for golf and other fields has been validated by golf coaches such as Fred Shoemaker and Michael Hebron, and it’s had an enormous influence on my golf coaching.

I believe my Dad was dead-on with his—let’s go with—counsel to ask questions. In many ways, he was telling me to “Seek first to understand, then be understood,” as Stephen Covey wrote in his 1989 pre-internet best-seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I guess what my father and Covey offered could be construed as advice. The same with this blog, and anything similar that comes to you.

But if you pay attention to our own unique circumstances, you’ll be guided to our own answers. (Other people can help you big time if they are great listeners.) Listening honestly to yourself is easier said than done because it means you’ll have to own the good and what you consider not so good about yourself.

At least you’ll know that whatever you choose to do, there’s a better chance that it fits.

If you’re interested in exploring how coaching could serve you, please send an email to tim@oconnorgolf.ca and we can set up a complimentary 30-minute coaching call,

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!


  1. Great article Tim, well written and so true. Hope you and your family enjoy a wonderful holiday season!