Last week, speaking as an elder of physical culture, I wrote a list of ten fitness tips for younger readers: the things that every young to middle-aged man or woman should know about training. Some were things I learned along the way. Some were mistakes I made. And some were big wins I figured out early. At any rate, people found it helpful, and quite a few asked for a follow-up—this time around general life advice.
Note: I’m no life coach. But I do have a nice life, one I figured out on my own through trial and error and with a good deal of hard work. I speak just for myself, but maybe some insights will resonate. (And I hope you’ll share your own hard-won wisdom below.)
What should you keep in mind as you look forward to a long, well-lived life?
1) “Prioritize Sleep Above Everything.”
Don’t get romantically involved with someone who wants to stay up until 2 A.M., whether it’s watching Netflix or partying.
Don’t sign up for the 5 A.M. CrossFit class (unless—big maybe—you’re a natural early riser anyway).
Don’t relax with late night T.V. after a long day.
This isn’t easy. It’s not. It’s harder for people coming up now than it was for me. I didn’t have digital devices vying for my every waking moment or corporations whose expressly stated purpose was to compete with your sleep. That sucks, but it’s also reality, so you have to make it a huge priority—the biggest in your life.
The older you get, the more precious sleep gets. Your cognitive function, your memory, your physical preparedness, your metabolic health, your mental state, your emotional resiliency—everything depends on you getting a good night’s sleep. When you’re young, you believe you can skip sleep and feel okay. Don’t believe it. The damage is accumulating.
2) “Don’t Worry If You Don’t Know What To Be When You Grow Up—But Never Stop Looking.”
I didn’t figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was 40. And I changed my mind about it ten years later. Before that, I bounced around from gig to gig, career to career, consistently thinking I had found the thing, throwing myself wholeheartedly into it, and then having my hopes dashed when it didn’t work. But I didn’t give up. And I always learned something from my forays. I always picked up a skill, made a connection, or figured out what I wasn’t good at. It all paid off when I threw myself into the Primal Blueprint, Mark’s Daily Apple, and, later, Primal Kitchen®.
Having a life purpose is one of the biggest predictors of longevity. Sure, there are dozens of longevity biomarkers you could look at, but one of my favorite (and one of the more malleable) positive predictors is having a life purpose.
3) “If You Want To Have Kids At Some Point (and You Have a Suitable Partner or Incredible Support System), Have Them.”
This dovetails with the last one, actually. Kids are kinda like “insta-purpose.” That said, they’re not for everyone. I’m not saying everyone should or has to have kids. But if you want them, you should have them. It gives you purpose. It gives you a lifelong project. And no matter what people say, it’s fun, awesome, and incredibly rewarding.
It also doesn’t get easier the older you get. Some aspects might. Financially, perhaps, you’ll probably be better equipped as an older person to pay for kids. But as far as energy goes, probably not. Hence, the importance of an all-in partner—or barring that—a committed support system you can genuinely count on for the little things…and the long haul.
4) “Deal With Your Stress.”
I don’t care who you are: Humans aren’t built to handle unending stress. It breaks us down, ruins our sleep, destroys our relationships, and kills our health. It also makes life very unpleasant. It snuffs out fun. It colors every interaction, every waking moment.
5) “The Sprinting/Chronic Cardio Dichotomy Applies to Everything, Especially Work.”
Whenever possible, work like a sprinter.
Do: You go hard for a week or two, doing long intense hours as needed to knock out that project, get your product launched, complete your to-do list, or whatever else needs doing. Then deload. Take a rest. Go camping, go hiking, read some fiction, watch a movie.
Don’t: You procrastinate, letting the project linger and languish for weeks on end. It haunts your days and nights, sitting in the back of your mind rapping on the window, never giving you a moment’s true rest.
Do: When the day begins, you get moving, do a solid 2-4 hours of deep work right away, then take a walking break and leisurely lunch. Come back for another 2-4 hours, then break. Go home.
Don’t: You never really get going, never spend more than five uninterrupted minutes working hard throughout the day. You avoid deep work, instead flipping back and forth between social media, your phone, and your work. You skip lunch because you’re never caught up, and you end up taking your work home with you where, again, you limp through it with half-focus. You just spent 14 hours “working” without much to show for it.
Apply everywhere as needed.
6) “Listen to Your Gut.”
This doesn’t just apply to those physiological warnings we get when an injury is about to occur in the gym, the ones I spoke about last week. It also applies to matters of life, business, personal growth, and love. Just know that there’s another wrinkle to this: the second voice that arises and says “don’t trust your gut, it’s more complex than that.” Life, business, and love are often more complicated than training, so take it on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes the gut is misguided, but it’s always got an insight.
Don’t always trust your gut unquestioningly. Always listen to it, however.
7) “Invest in Yourself.”
Anytime you’re making a decision, whether it be large or small, ask if the outcome will contribute to your growth and development. Will it give a valuable skill? Will it help you make interesting connections? What will you learn?
That’s how I’ve always approached business. I left a comfortable and well-paying job to start Primal Nutrition in 1997. At the time, I had a wife and two small children, and no money in the bank—but I had a vision of how I wanted to live my life. I wanted to be on the cutting edge of a health movement about which I was incredibly passionate. While some might have said that it was a risky move given my circumstances (and it was), I knew deep down that it was what I needed to do to feel fulfilled. I also knew deep down that it would succeed eventually on some level if I stuck with it. I knew it was a good investment.
Exercising regularly is an investment into your future self’s ability to stand up from the chair and chase youngsters around. Eating a healthy diet is an investment into how much health care you’ll be consuming thirty years from now. Putting profits back into the business instead of paying yourself a big salary is an investment in future profits. Regular date nights are investments into your relationship.
Whenever you can, make the good investments.
8) “Be Serious, But Don’t Take Life Too Seriously.”
This is one of those truths that looks like a paradox if you think too hard about it but works quite elegantly in real life.
Be serious about the things you care about: your work, your relationships, your family, your passions, your free time, your food, your exercise. These all matter. These are all sacred artifacts of a life well-lived, to be treasured and cared for.
But don’t take things too seriously. Don’t flip out because your kid spilled some paint or your partner left socks on the kitchen floor. Don’t develop an inability to laugh at yourself. Don’t beat yourself up because you ate a French fry.
Those are the 8 life lessons I wish I knew from the start. Well, maybe not from the start—learning these lessons from experience is far more powerful than having them handed to you. But maybe these will give you a head start—or some food for thought along the way.
Take care, everyone. What would you tell your younger self about life, love, business, and everything else? Thanks for reading.
About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.