Twitter acquired Threader! Learn more

Julian Shapiro
+ Your AuthorsArchive @Julian I deconstruct how things work—like writing and storytelling—and share my learnings along the way. Writing: Work: Jul. 22, 2021 6 min read

A funny lie of adult life is pretending we'll act on advice we collect:

I don't revisit bookmarks.

I rarely re-open Google docs.

I don’t re-read Kindle highlights.

Until today, my friends. I finally realized how to turn notes into action:

This thread shares my framework for acting on advice.

And it shares the best advice I've come across:

A major cause of advice laziness is misclassifying what advice is.

We treat advice the same way we learn someone’s name: Briefly acknowledge it then assume we'll remember it.

But a name is trivia—a factoid.

Advice, meanwhile, is an instruction set for how to live. It’s complex knowledge—like the textbook lessons learned in school.

To implement that knowledge, you need to understand it, practice it, and sometimes memorize it.

For example, I recently came across this advice:

• “In a year from now, you'll regret not having started today.”
• “You can be twice as rich by deciding you need half as much.”

Before I had a framework for incorporating that advice, my reaction would be:

"That's clever."


"I'll write that down."

Then I'd never look at it again.

We'll fix this shortly.

A second cause of advice laziness is we don’t know how to navigate advice *overload.*

That's what this thread is about.

My solution is to treat advice like I can only remember a few pieces at a time.

Meaning, whenever I encounter wisdom that's important, I ask myself:

"Is this more useful than one of my few, memorized principles?"

If so, I swap it in for one of them.

I keep doing this to curate the ultimate list of decision-making principles that resonate with me.

I call these my Starting Principles.

They're my shortcodes for forcing myself to act thoughtfully in everyday situations.

From experimenting with friends, we've discovered a limit to the number of principles we could easily commit to memory and recall throughout the day: 6.

(This is purely anecdotal, and I'm not a behavioral psychologist.)

By committing 6 high-level principles to memory, something happened:

We removed most of the friction that made advice unlikely to be acted on. We no longer had to look at our notes.

That left one more obstacle for acting on advice:

Building the self-control to pause when facing important decisions.

Goal: Run decisions through our memorized Starting Principles to assess what they suggest.

Mix and match them until we gain confidence in a path forward.

The idea of Starting Principles comes from sports:

In tennis, starting principles might include gripping the racket correctly and repositioning yourself on the court after a swing.

When you screw these up, all your other moves are compromised.

I believe the same concept applies to your mind.

When you lack sound Starting Principles—or forget to use them—your downstream decisions throughout life can be suboptimal.

The process behind Starting Principles is therefore quite simple:

1. Write your 6 principles on a sticky note.

2. Look at them every morning for a month until they’re memorized.

3. Practice them until they become reflexive.

4. Over time, collect more advice and iterate on your 6.

Here are Starting Principles I love:

"In a year from now, you will regret not having started today." —Karen Lamb

"You can be twice as rich by deciding you need half as much." —Sahil Lavingia

"What would this look like if it were easy?" —Tim Ferriss

“To suffer before it is necessary is to suffer more than necessary.” —Seneca

“Half doing something is an expensive way of not doing it.” —Angela Jiang

“Setting incentives is a superpower.” —Sam Altman

(There's a bigger list on my website.)

And now for principles from me:

• Luck is a function of surface area.
• In your career, prioritize what compounds.
• You escape your local maximum by remaining curious.
• Success isn't an end state. Success is having the freedom to pursue the continual grind you most enjoy.

Age-old principles:

• Compete with yourself, not with others. There will always be someone with more.
• Honor your word. People remember.
• There is no value in winning when the game doesn’t matter to you.
• We create our own stress due to our perception of what we must do.

Now for the big question:

How do you know when advice makes for a good principle?

When it changes your behavior for the better.

If you insert a principle into your 6 and it doesn’t change how you behave/feel, it was advice you were already following or not relevant to you.

So don’t let it take one of your precious 6.

These 6 have power: When you swap in a new one, you refine your identity.

These become your intuitions for what the right thing is. They influence how you treat others. What you work on and value.

And, therefore, who you become.

I find this process freeing.

Because you now have a foundation to more confidently navigate the world.

You’re less frequently equivocating or winging day-to-day decisions.

You can justify your behaviors more clearly.

So, the big, big question: Who do you want to become?

Here's how I personally think about it.

I believe we’re attracted to principles that map onto past experiences. That's part of what makes advice "ring true:" it makes sense of what we've been through.

This means we can influence who we become by being more strategic about the experiences we pursue.

When we pursue relationships, adventures, and passions, they form a body of experiences that principles are cemented within.

And so you can strategically collect experiences:

1. Pursue a broad variety to avoid getting trapped in a small bubble of Starting Principles.

2. Pursue life experiences with real stakes, so you build scar tissue around lessons learned, which thickens the emotional cement that future principles sink into.

This gives you *conviction,* which makes you more likely to act on your principles.

When you spend all day watching Netflix, fewer principles have an opportunity to emotionally resonate. Your foundation is weak.

Perhaps this explains why children have a hard time following advice: they don’t have life experiences to map onto yet. It can't resonate emotionally.

If you want to avoid a childlike relationship with advice, and if you want to be less intellectually lazy, this framework suggests that you live a bit more.

Experiences have momentum. Start with a few to hopefully bootstrap drive.


Conviction emerges from exposure.

General idea:

1. Write your 6 principles on a sticky note.
2. Look at them every morning for a month until they’re memorized.
3. Practice them until they become reflexive.
4. Over time, collect more advice and iterate on your 6.

Something @SahilBloom taught me about how Twitter works:

If you retweet this, only a small % of your followers see it. But if you quote tweet, a lot more see it. Interesting.

So if you want to boost the distribution of a thread you like, quote tweet it I guess!

I've published my bigger list of Starting Principles here: 

If you reply with your favorite principles (and where you got them from if they're not original), I'll add the ones I like!

You can follow @Julian.


Tip: mention @threader on a Twitter thread with the keyword “compile” to get a link to it.

Follow Threader