When is it smart to dump the rulebook?
October 17, 2013 1:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm asking for examples of situations where you have had better, or just as good, results by not following the commonly held 'right' way to do something...

I recently read that doing some general stretching before running might be unnecessary or even a bad thing. The sentiment in the linked article is echoed by many anecdotal comments underneath it. Mind blown. As an experiment, I ditched all but a couple of my stretches before running and after a few days have felt no real difference.

I realise the no-stretching thing may be hokum, but it got me thinking that the premise would make a good Askme question. I want to see if there are examples where the same principle of 'throwing out the rulebook' works in other areas. Are there situations where the accepted wisdom during or preparing for a task, (not just running, anything) could be debunked? I'm not really looking for professional knowledge tips, more like everyday situations, everyday tasks here, if possible. Another example I will tentatively add: stringently measuring the ingredients when cooking (the alternative being that some cooking can benefit from adjusting as you go resulting in an improvement to the final dish). Finally, any Mefites wanting to say "Never! Never dump the rulebook you lemming. What are you thinking?" I more than welcome also.
posted by 0 answers to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I never bother salting pasta water. Any difference it makes in the boiling point is negligible, and yes it adds flavor but if I'm going to be covering it with sauce, who will be able to distinguish the salt on the pasta from the salt in the sauce?
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:19 PM on October 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

There are lots of examples where standard practice is on the very, very conservative side - for instance, every car manual will tell you to disconnect the battery for every service or repair, even when it's not really required.

I never add dryer sheets to my laundry. I don't often use shampoo (I have very short hair). I put plenty of "air dry only" things (like bike shorts) in the dryer. None of it ever seems to make any difference either way.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:23 PM on October 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Also, there are a variety of legal situations in where you might be better off by breaking the law. If driving in the carpool lane will keep you from being late to an important job interview, it's probably worth the risk of a ticket.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:28 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I type 110 wpm and don't even come close to using the "correct" fingers.
posted by something something at 1:31 PM on October 17, 2013 [16 favorites]

I've come to find that cooking is an art of understanding tolerances, and knowing what ingredients do to the mix. Look for recipes of any common recipe, and you're bound to find the same general ingredients, but a range of quantities. I first noticed this with banana bread.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:34 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Barnett's Bicycle Institute tells you to install a bicycle tire so that the pressure rating is adjacent to the valve stem. That actually makes sense. Tradition, however, is to install the tire so that the tire's label is adjacent to the valve stem. Doing it the "correct" way in my bike shop results in the customer telling others that we don't know how to install tires, because the label wasn't next to the valve. We just do it the traditional way all the time now.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:38 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wash silk shirts in the washer. Then I iron them dry. My Mom used to keep them in a ziplock in the fridge until she was ready to iron and wear them. Hence the plaintive refrain at our house, "There's nothing to eat! All we have in the fridge is baking soda and shirts!"
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:38 PM on October 17, 2013 [12 favorites]

In general, with skin and scalp problems, and acne and so on - sufferers get blamed for the problem, and also blamed for the solution. When this occurs, that's usually a sign that conventional wisdom is bunkum.

When I was a child, the conventional wisdom was that washing your hair every day would damage it by stripping it of oil. You were only supposed to wash your hair once a week, or at most twice.

The problem was that I had, and continue to have, very very very oily hair.

I then found myself in a bind where people were revolted and disgusted by my filthy hair, and would yell out "can I fry chips in your hair?" but would also express horror that I was trying my hand at washing it twice a week. "Nooooo! Then you'll be stripping it of all the oils!!!"

In other words - be clean, but God forbid you should get that way by washing.

After a while I figured out that even twice a week wasn't enough, and by then it was becoming more commonplace to wash hair every day, even though it was still widely considered harmful and was definitely considered an extreme, neurotic, obsessive level of self-grooming.

I started washing my hair once a day, and that was nearly enough. Of course the conventional wisdom by then was "if you overwash you will strip your oil glands and cause them to overproduce and therefore you are bringing the problem on yourself so you should wash less often and then you won't be so greasy you are a fool to yourself tel3path" but, of course, all that did was result in my still being dirty.

Whatever the rules on washing, the stigma on being dirty on a daily basis in public, tends to remain unchanged.

I went off BCP briefly a few years after that, and I started having to wash my hair twice a day :-( And by then, it was even acknowledged by a few experts that some people do need to wash their hair twice a day, though most would say "nooo you're overstimulating the oil glands" but you know, fuck them. I went back on BCP and back to only having to wash hair once a day.

By now, I think, it's commonly accepted that if you are washing your whole body once a day, you shouldn't leave out the top of your head unless you have some compelling reason to do so.

Oh, and dandruff shampoo. Same thing. Head and Shoulders is paint stripper, and it does completely massacre your hair. But at the same time as I had massive grease problems, I also had massive dandruff problems. I'm talking thick crusts and snowfalls of dandruff.

Shortly after I went off the BCP, the dandruff got correspondingly worse along with the greasiness, but I hadn't yet figured out I needed to wash twice a day. So my cousin asked her hairdresser friends "her hair looks oily when it's not, what can she do?" And they said "it's the dandruff shampoo, you should only be using it once or twice a week." So I used just normal shampoo the rest of the time. And within two days, the crusts and snowfalls of dandruff had taken over again.

So, in addition to going back on BCP, I also started using Nizoral shampoo not Nizorelle that's out on the counter, Nizoral which is an OTC medicine and you have to ask them to give you from behind the counter - it had been prescription-only but it was just around that time that it changed to OTC. After the initial treatment phase with Nizoral, you only need a maintenance dose once a week. I have been using Nizoral once a week for 15 years and in all that time I have not had one single speck of dandruff.

So... there was a grain of truth in the advice, dandruff shampoo does massacre your hair and it shouldn't be used more than once or twice a week. But, if you are grease city and you are shedding dandruff like Pig-Pen, it probably isn't because you are using *too much* dandruff shampoo.
posted by tel3path at 1:42 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this is what you are looking for, but a lot of couples sleep better with non-traditional sleeping arrangements. Some people have separate bedrooms. My fiance and I share a bed just fine but we have separate blankets so we don't fight over them in the middle of the night!
posted by radioamy at 1:43 PM on October 17, 2013 [10 favorites]

Yeah a lot of this is risk tolerance and so it will vary according to what folks are okay with (as opposed to stretching which is one of those "Hey we did it with SCIENCE" things). I usually ask myself what the rule book is trying to accomplish and if by abandoning it I am hurting myself or others.

- eating candy off the ground - I love candy and it's only hurting me so whatever, I eat it, Maybe I will die of rotten candy disease. I have had a life full of good floor candy.
- tossing away batteries into the trash - you can totally do this (and I sometimes do and hate myself for it) but it's bad for the waste system and they can sometimes explode and blabla, it's not just me it affects others

You can get in a circle about this. My favorite one is this

- don't litter
- it's okay to toss out apple cores and banana peels from your car wind because they're biodegradeable
- it's NOT okay to do that because wildlife come to the sides of the road to eat those scraps and gets hit by cars
- survival of the fittest, evolution, etc

So some of this depends on how deep you want to get. I've been interested in the "You don't need eight glasses of water" people and the "If you're taking benadryl to sleep it's more placebo than actual effects" people (now I'm stuck in a research hole tracking that down)

Other obvious types of examples

- I don't ever dry clean stuff that says dry clean only
- I don't do a "strand/patch test" when using fabric dye or hair coloring
- I don't lock my car or apartment door when I am at home
- I don't make a full backup before upgrading my operating system
- I eat food and use medicine past its expiration date
- more things I won't mention in public
posted by jessamyn at 1:45 PM on October 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Any given one of us can potentially do anything any way and have success. The 'right' way to do a thing becomes the right way to do that thing because doing the thing that way gives a predictably correct outcome, or an outcome that presents the least liability for the rulebook maker.
Your example, stretching before exercise, is a controversial subject. It's been conventional wisdom that stretching helps prevent injury, but iirc there were some notable studies that indicate it has no bearing on the rate of injury. does that make stretching a good or bad idea for any individual?
sometimes breaking the rules, like skipping measurements in cooking, is just born of laziness and carries little risk if the outcome is bad; sometimes breaking the rules, like, i always stop taking my antibiotics as soon as i feel better (rather than taking the whole prescription) and it works fine for me, carries serious risk (like the development of resistant bacterial strains).
A lot of the answers you are likely to get will fall on the low risk end of the scale i would hope.
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:46 PM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think the interesting question is times when the standard "correct" and taught method is obviously inferior to other ways of doing things.

My favorite example is car mirrors. The standard way taught at least in the USA to arrange your mirrors is terrible and creates blind spots. Which is why you have to be taught to always check your blind spots. You can easily arrange your car mirrors for a complete view around your car and doing so makes changing lanes and such much easier. I still check over my shoulder because its been ingrained in me that I WILL DIE if I don't, but my mirrors show me if there's going to be a car there before I do so.
posted by Justinian at 1:49 PM on October 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Speaking of dumping the rules, I would say that when dating, it's best to completely ditch The Rules. That shit is toxic.
posted by bumpkin at 1:53 PM on October 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Jessamyn brings up a good point about "dry clean only." I read that clothing manufacturers often put this as a default for delicate-ish things. There are a lot of items that you can just wash cold or hand wash and hang dry, although some things you still need to dry clean.
posted by radioamy at 1:59 PM on October 17, 2013

Man this is an interesting topic and I keep coming up with more things!

Traditionally in hetero dating, the man is supposed to make the first move, etc. Well in all my major relationships I have made the first move, and it's always worked out well. I've been with my fiance for 7 years, and if I hadn't kissed him I don't think he would have made a move.
posted by radioamy at 2:00 PM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Apples to Apples --> Cards Against Humanity

The latter is basically a no holds barred, throw the rules of society out the window version of the former..... and if you dump the rules that come with it you can basically make your own version of it that is even better than the rulebook version.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:01 PM on October 17, 2013

Growing up we had a set of "house rules" (namely putting penalty payments in a pot awarded when you landed on Free Parking) for playing Monopoly that were really fun. I tried playing it by the strict rules and it was a drag.
posted by dgran at 2:10 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Unless you know you have a nutrient deficiency, skip the vitamin supplements (via MeFi).

My hair experience has been the opposite of tel3path's: I have always had chronically dry itchy flaky scalp issues, but I've also had dry hair. I wash my hair twice a week with dandruff shampoo and conditioner, and my scalp has never been happier. Also, as a child I heard "brush your hair 50 times a night to get rid of tangles." Turns out that's horrible advice for any wet hair, especially wet curly hair like mine.

If you wear makeup and contact lenses, put your contacts in after you've put your makeup on to minimize debris getting stuck on your lenses.

If you're cooking a soup or stew with chopped celery, don't bother separating the stalks from the leaves. Celery leaves actually add a nice flavor, so you might as well chop it all up in one go.

Salt is not, in and of itself, bad for you. Our bodies need salt, particularly iodized salt, for proper thyroid function. Excess salt is only bad for you if you are hypertensive.

Similarly, fat isn't always bad for you, nor is cholesterol.

Okay, this one's counterintuitive. We lead lives of convenience in which our amenities are at arm-height. We go to work and sit in chairs all day. This can make our bodies pretty inflexible; can you do a "third-world squat"? Inflexibility and lack of moving our bodies can lead to problems down the road. Thankfully, you can quickly become more flexible by gently increasing the amount and range of motions of your day-to-day-life. Take the stairs now and then. Design your environment so that you often move and bend. I squat down instead of bending to get tupperware out of drawers, and in weeks I went from total desk jockey to... well, a flexible desk jockey. And my back feels better even though I didn't think of myself as having back problems.
posted by nicodine at 2:41 PM on October 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Seconding cooking. Recipes typically call for far less seasoning/spices/herbs than what actually tastes good. Season to taste!
posted by Rykey at 2:47 PM on October 17, 2013

People give all kinds of terrible advice to children/teenagers for dealing with bullies when, in basically every single case, punch them as hard as you can in face and accept the consequences works better.
posted by 256 at 2:51 PM on October 17, 2013 [13 favorites]

You can ignore stop signs in parking lots since the police aren't interested in moving violations on private property. But be observant, don't hit anybody.
posted by Rash at 3:12 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lots of parenting advice is worthless. I have thoroughly enjoyed the work of Rima Apple on this ("Perfect Motherhood" and "Mothers and Medicine" both detail some appalling mainstream advice from the last 100+ years).

Even the tiny Wikipedia article on toilet training makes clear that the advice has and continues to wobble all over the place. I thought it was probably a scam and that I didn't have to do anything except provide access to appropriate facilities and an example to follow, and had a kid who self-'trained' in a day on the young side of things.

A sort of pap made from white rice is really widely recommended for babies but it is probably a bad idea. Pablum was a great idea -- "a breakthrough in nutritional science: it helped prevent rickets" -- but that was in an era when a lot of babies got watered down cow's milk homemade formula and one was also told to give them bottles of orange or tomato juice to make up for the missing vitamin C, etc. "Baby food" is often poor quality and it is not necessary or useful.

I put shoes in the washing machine -- nice shoes, leather shoes -- I would balk at washing a very structured formal shoe, but anything that wouldn't be destroyed by an accidental detour through a puddle comes generally benefits from soap and water.
posted by kmennie at 3:13 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oven temperatures. The printed numbers wore off my oven dial ages ago and I think they were pretty meaningless anyway since it's gas. I go "all the way hot" for roasting vegetables and cooking pizza. "medium hot" for baking, and "almost off" for slow cooking things like pork roasts. Everything comes out great.
posted by cilantro at 3:43 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

"all the way hot"
"medium hot"
"almost off"

Trivia: this idea has been quantified -- when you see instructions to bake something in a "quick oven" or "slow oven" etc, that corresponds to a fairly agreed-upon range.

posted by kmennie at 4:06 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is specific to science, but: the experiments that your colleagues or boss tells you are stupid/pointless/ridiculous/etc are almost always the ones that lead to the best results.
posted by corn_bread at 7:09 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

When you're walking on some country road without sidewalks, Dutch traffic law requires (or used to require) you to walk on the right-hand side of the road. The sensible thing to do is to walk on the left-hand side of the road, since that way you can see any oncoming traffic and can step aside when needed.
posted by rjs at 10:17 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

At least out here in West England, if you follow most traffic directions, including driving directions on Google Maps, they have you take a route which avoid going through many small towns and villages, sometimes even doing a half-circle around them. This is because most of those places don't want traffic through their town.

The fastest way to your destination is to go through that town/small road. It is usually faster even though it annoys the residents.
posted by vacapinta at 1:49 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about being exposed to a little cold weather. Unless we're talking about real extremes (frostbite or hypothermia), you'll be fine. You won't be even a tiny bit more likely to catch a common cold or pneumonia if you go out and get a little cold or wet or both. Those people who go swimming in winter for exhilarating fun aren't dropping like flies. In fact, getting outside in the winter is healthier for you (in terms of infectious diseases) than staying inside with all the other people sharing confined spaces.
posted by pracowity at 4:14 AM on October 18, 2013

You really shouldn't stretch before running. You should never stretch cold muscles as you risk tearing them. You should always warm up before doing any stretches.

Other rulebook: well, I had always believed that a woman should NEVER ask out a man. Askme convinced me differently, I asked out a guy I was interested in, and it's the only good relationship I've ever been in: our first anniversary is coming up.
posted by windykites at 10:26 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you are going to break the rules, you're likely to get better results if you understand why the rules are there.

Like "wear your seatbelt" -- well, 99.99% of the time you might be just fine and save a little time without wearing your seatbelt. But there are good reasons why it might be worth it to take the time to do it. However, if you have someone beating their fists against your car window that might be a good time to break the rule and drive off without taking the time to put your seatbelt on.

tel3path, it seems like the rule you broke was the one on not telling people you aren't washing according to the socially accepted timeframe. People usually don't talk about that one.

Sometimes it's difficult to tell what the rules actually are, because people don't like to talk about them.
posted by yohko at 3:04 PM on October 18, 2013

« Older Mom went to hospital with difficulty moving legs...   |   Party games suck, right? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.