What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self?

It’s a question I’ve posed to clients and seminar attendees in the past: what direction or wisdom would you share with your younger self if you could go back ten, twenty, thirty years (or more)? The idea obliges us to think about the whole of our journey thus far – how we’ve viewed health or success, how we’ve valued our well-being against other commitments, how we’ve weighed instinct against authority – among endless other inquiries.

The fact is, life teaches us. I’m not talking just about the assemblage of data – more information gathered, more studies skimmed. I mean the self-knowledge acquired – sometimes through hard-won means – as well as the priorities that have come into focus over time. It’s often about the lessons learned through a variety of epic mistakes and frustrating dead-ends. Beyond the neat world of “good life” theory exists the full dimensional backdrop of living feedback.

So, I’d invite you to think for a minute or two about that younger version of yourself.

What was your concept of health way back when?

What value did you place on self-care and self-actualization?

What challenges were you facing?

What was competing for your attention/priority?

How did you think you were supposed to cultivate your health and happiness?

What self-judgments did you have then?

What kinds of actions did you take or resist and why?

What would you say to that person now?

What concepts or encouragement would you want to share?

What perspectives do you wish you’d known back then that you hold now?

What knowledge do you think would’ve made the journey easier?

What do you think he/she needed to hear more than anything else to claim health, vitality and well-being?

As you consider those possibilities, let me offer a few of my own….

If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

So often we give up on things that present too many hurdles too soon, forgetting that most people will encounter those same hurdles to achieve the level of success they desire. I gave myself this advice when I started Mark’s Daily Apple in 2006. It was a labor of love for the first four years. After those first years, however, the blog audience began to reach a critical mass that enabled me to branch out to books, events, certifications and other opportunities that might never have materialized if I had given up a bit earlier. There were plenty of days when my faith was lacking, but I’ll always be grateful I held on through the rough part and allowed things to come to fruition.

Always invest in yourself first – it offers the best return possible.

Whether it’s investing in a gym membership to get healthier, a night course to become savvy at accounting, a cooking class to better attract a mate or plowing hard earned dollars back into your own business, the returns are often multiples of what you’d make investing in the stock market (which isn’t to say you shouldn’t do that where appropriate as well). In 1984, I put $10,000 on a credit card to do a course in personal development that I felt strongly about (I had no savings at the time). It scared the crap out of me to invest in myself that way, but I have benefited from that training every day of my life since. (Unfortunately, by the way, the course no longer exists.)

Don’t put off being happy for some future date when the stars might be better aligned.

There is almost always an opportunity to find some amount of joy in the moment, no matter what your current circumstances. During a trip to a small, impoverished village in South Africa a few years ago, I was impressed by the overwhelming sense of joy these people exuded on a daily basis despite what we might perceive as dire circumstances. It struck me that this was an attitude that was culturally induced. They looked for opportunities to be happy over the smallest “wins.” I suspect that much of our Westernized attitude is also culturally induced – ushered more in the direction of worry, fear and guilt. I try to do a little gratitude exercise each day, when I simply reflect for a few minutes on what makes me happy in that exact moment.

I recognize of course that the perspective comes with experience. We gather evidence through our lives confirming or discounting a certain belief as we perceive it. And yet…

I wonder what it would mean if we could take certain viewpoints on faith earlier in our lives. Maybe we did. The fact is, the times I did – when I stepped off the cliff and held to a particular path despite no existing evidence – those were the times I experienced the most fulfillment and success. The evidence came later. The times when I valued my own vision and invested in myself – I never regretted it. It might have taken a while for the real purpose or payoff (not always both) of a choice to become clear, but it did.

And I think here we find the real power of this exercise. Most definitely, our advice, when shared, might help someone else – someone younger or not. We can boost people’s faith by offering our own experience of what we chose to do and how we held on seeing it through. We can put a human face and story to what might feel like unrealistic goals in others’ minds. Our experience can embolden others in ways we might never anticipate.

But there’s more. Just the process itself of surveying our own past, can offer us something in the here and now. So much of our lives are spent just getting through the day, keeping up with the routine. There’s nothing wrong with this as a general rule. Be in the moment by all means. However, we do well to step back for a while now and then – not to plan, not to imagine new goals (although that’s good, too) but to assess the overarching narrative of our lives.

What have we been attempting to flee, to grow out of? What have we been moving toward, hoping for? Where have we shown up for ourselves (and others), and where have we retreated? What has motivated us in our lives? What has been the persistent stumbling block – the theme(s) we always seem to be fighting. What have we managed to accomplish in spite of that? How have our efforts and small wins poised us for better things – for the next thing we might imagine now.

Are you still gathering more perspective? Let me throw out a few more pieces of retrospective advice friends and clients have shared over the years.

  • Let yourself rest more. Seriously, there’s plenty of time.
  • Find something you really love to do as a way to move every day. Make it something you look forward to – a want rather than a should.
  • Learn to cook. No, really. Learn to enjoy it. Enjoy experimenting with it. Value your time in the kitchen in a way the culture doesn’t encourage as much anymore. You’ll be healthier for it – and a [email protected]$$ host.
  • Pretty much 90% of what you’re stressing about will mean nothing in ten years – most of it nothing in 10 days. Learn to let it go.
  • Play more. But don’t make it an official, planned, self-conscious exploit: “Hey, I’m going to play now!” Just stop taking your life so seriously. Look for ways you can make everyday life more in the spirit of play – exercise, parenting, work, cooking, etc. Loosen up and embrace your inner fool.
  • Tithe your time – to yourself, to your own joy.
  • Look for a job that doesn’t take all your time and energy. Think about the conditions that will make or break your happiness here: long commute – no, long vacation time – yes.
  • Meditate – not because it’s supposed to be “good” for your health as you get older but because it will help you enjoy your life more exactly where you’re at.
  • Don’t think of health in terms of components – like add-ons you can incorporate one after the other. Give up the divisions in your life. Live from a healthy center, and make everything else – all your other – choices reflect that value.

And now the floor is yours. What has your path taught you? What wisdom would you share with your younger self if you had that opportunity? Or what perspective do you want to pass on to those here who might be younger – or who might just be ready for a redirect, a transition to something better and healthier in their lives?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Have a great end to your week.

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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.

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71 thoughts on “What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self?”

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      1. Because I spent so many years of my life trying to be lean… while eating pasta (and other grains). I just wish I had known how much I was sabotaging my efforts with something that only tastes good because of all the other stuff you put on it.

  1. QUIT DRINKING SO MUCH. It’s NOT cute. It’s also going to make you pack on 50 pounds and date a lot of losers.

  2. To me: Remember back in high school when the teacher asked you what you’d be doing in the year 2000, and your head swum because you couldn’t even fathom living that long? Well, its now 2015, and you’re still here…and still without a plan. The future is closer than you think, so use the time wisely while you prepare for it.

    And for god’s sake, DON’T BUY THAT CAR! Walking’s good for you. PUT THAT BREAD DOWN! Home Ec should’ve taught you how to bake with coconut flour instead of the microwave, but they knew not what they did. DROP THAT SODA! You wonder why your mouth is full of caps and crowns. AND DON’T GO TO FAST FOOD JOINTS EVERY CHANCE YOU GET! If you didn’t buy that car, you wouldn’t have been able to go through the drive-thru window, and you wouldn’t have put yourself on the road to gaining over 50 lbs.

  3. I would tell my 14 y/o overweight-almost-obese self: “Join the wrestling team, YOU WILL LOVE IT”

  4. Stop worrying about what other people think and do what YOU want to do! The only opinions that matter are the people that matter to you. I still have to remind myself of this on occasion now.

    And also, stop eating low fat yoghurt.

    1. This! Everything Josh said, plus: Don’t be afraid to look like an idiot. Make mistakes, get messy, laugh it off. Put down the mac & cheese for chrissake.

  5. 30 yrs ago I was well on my way to blimping up. I had just started on my learning about health, diet, and exercise. I’d encourage my younger self to cut the ice cream, pizza and soft drinks. Move away from high intensity sports like racquetball, and invest in some good weights and learn how to use them.

    1. True, but that is applicable to any important person. For a man definitely the wife trumps all

    2. …but place your wife too high on a pedestal and she’ll see you as a pushover and resent you, and leave you also – its a fine balance called the minefield of marriage..

  6. Work out every day. It doesn’t have to be a killer workout every time but don’t continue to live life weakly. Also, work hard, save money, and travel after high school. You will not regret it.

    1. Ah yes, travel. Happiest times were going on 6 month trips to unknown lands and coming home completely broke. I’d never trade that.

  7. I’d tell myself: Save money, travel more, and eliminate wheat/sugar and toxins from your diet and your environment. Find a way to have the career you’d love, instead of working at a job you hate, just to pay the bills.

    My life/health would have been quite different if I’d done those things. Perhaps not better, but quite different.

  8. I would tell myself that I don’t have to go to college just because everyone is doing it or because it would make my parents happy. I would tell myself I should quit my back-ruining minimum wage job ASAP. Anyway, I don’t need to buy that car to go to college because I don’t need to go to college! I would also tell myself that a sitting job is NOT better for my back.

  9. Probably the only thing I would have listened to is Pascal in Big Night Night: “you must BITE your TEETH into the ASS of LIFE….and DRAG IT TO YOU!!!”

    That’s pretty much what I was doing then, and why I’m here at 51, biting my teeth into the ass of life AND the pork belly.

  10. To save money. Invest more. Dont buy so many clothes. And dont think working to burnout is a good thing to do to provide for family. Everybody is happier with a happier healthier mom who makes not as much money. More money will not make it better, not alleviate stress or make you healthier or your marriage better. . .beyond what ever your basic needs are. Oh and paleo is the best. Oh and its called midlife crisis for a reason;) I feel gratitude that I’m 41 pregnant with twins and getting ready to be the mom I always had in me but denied due to workaholism.. here’s to keeping on the wagon. Oh and that 41 is Not old…

    1. Best wishes! I had my twins at 40 after a gap of nine years (straightforward home birth) xx

  11. I love the idea of speaking to our younger selves, and you are right 90% of what we stress about won’t matter enough to give it the attention we do. I would tell my younger self that it is OK to take risks. I might fail, I might succeed, and I might even enjoy the journey.

  12. I regret that I relied on CW much longer than was good for me and trusted what it told me. My bad. By the time I started doubting, there was a lot of ground to cover! I realize my parents were doing their best and doctors were following their training, my gym teacher was miserable and just trying to earn a living, and the internet hadn’t been invented yet. By the time I realized I needed to think for myself it was too late for some things. We do what we can with what we have and live in the present, take one day at a time, look for the joy and the opportunity to make others’ lives better.

  13. Stop obsessing over the calorie count of food and focus on quality. Skinny can sometimes mean sickly. No one cares the size of your thighs but rather the size of your heart. Meditate. Laugh often.

  14. To my teenage self- you’re on the right path, baby. You will make big, giant mistakes. Love those mistakes. You will get hurt, by other people and yourself. It will make you stronger than you can imagine. You will hate your body, and hate your mind. That will pass. Your heart will break, but you’ll find love baby doll, and it will come from YOU.
    Be happy NOW.
    Keep going. Life hasn’t gotten easy yet, but it never will. Love that. Love the challenges. Love the bad days. Love the people that stick by you. Get outside, be in the sun, feel the earth. Don’t be afraid to be afraid. Revel in that fear, and let it move you to scary places. That’s where the magic happens.

    Thanks for the article, Mark. It came at such a great time in my life. What a great practice <3

  15. Don’t live your life the way other people think you should, or the way society dictates. Instead, make your choices based on which one best supports your expression of your soul. If you don’t, you will spend the next 15 years miserably trying to make up for your gloriously unfulfilling life with hobbies, until you finally realize that to truly be happy, you have to tear the train tracks of your life out of the endless tunnel they’re in, blast a hole through the side of the mountain, and reroute them up to the summit. The train is approaching the tunnel now, hitting the switch to send it up the mountainside might tick off the people who say “trains go through tunnels!!”, but don’t let them sway you. Your train doesn’t go through a tunnel. Your train goes to the summit. They’ll get over it and you won’t have to make such a Herculean effort later to be happy.

    Oh and P.S., this guy is your soul mate, go find him BEFORE you decide to marry someone!!

  16. I lost 30 lb one summer in high school eating Zone, walking the dog and swimming.

    If only I had been foreseeing-enough to start more weight training and eating better in college! It’s ok not to drink 4 beers just because it’s Dollar Pint Night at Sudwerke. It’s ok not to eat a whole bag of chips or the whole slice of carrot cake from the Co-Op (one of my faaaavorites).

    AND: Self!! Keep biking everywhere once you leave college! Little did you know you’d only live in Baltimore for a year, then move to Seattle where it’s socially acceptable to bike again!

    AND: FOOD (and stress) were causing your horrible cystic acne!!! Just because I shopped at the Co-Op, didn’t mean I was making healthy choices (only when I grilled, I suppose). Butter is your friend, but loaves of fresh bread are not!

  17. That’s an easy one for me. I’d want to know about the low carb Primal lifestyle. It could have done even more for me than save my life if I knew about it sooner.

  18. I’d tell myself to stop missing out on fun with family & friends because you don’t think you have the time or money. You have enough of both to go have some fun & make some memories!
    Do you really remember studying extra or working an extra shift? …OK, maybe you actually DO remember it, but do you remember it fondly? Or do you remember it with the regret that you could have been part of something more meaningful?

    So there you go, self. Got it?

  19. Enjoy and embrace the good and wonderful about the present, but always look at choices through an evolutionary lens.

    I always embraced evolution and thought it was wonderful that I was a human animal. I’m an animal and I just happen to be human. That was always wonderfully cool to me.

    But I never applied it correctly and not at all in terms of food choice and then beyond that lifestyle. It now seems so blindingly obvious.

    Good food choices are the backbone of a good life I’d tell myself. Other things are important but it is such much easier to be in the present, patient, energetic, joyful, all these mental things once you are eating correctly. Food, real food, and in my case LCHF no grains, is the backbone of a good life.

    And I’d have more compassion to those around me. It is hard for people to be optimal to you when they are struggling so mightily in mind and body with SAD, even a quality real food SAD if their body and especially mind is lacking for good high quality natural fats.

    1. Couldn’t agree any more about true health being the backbone of a good life. I personally think health should be the number 1 priority because you can not enjoy anything if you are not healthy.

      And unfortunately I’m starting to become so agitated around people that eat crappy because their brain is so slow and they are mush. They are not optimal! They have no energy. They can’t think straight.
      Grain brain!!

  20. I’d tell my younger self to, well, stop fighting myself.

    During my 20s and the first half of my 30s, I spent so much time and energy exhausting myself through chronic cardio and misguided eating patterns. I was convinced I “needed” to do it that way (despite clear messages from my body and mind that this constant struggle was not truly working and was not sustainable).

    Now, at age 40, I have so much more ease around exercise and eating. My body weight and composition is pretty much the same as in my younger years…but without the constant cardio, misguided eating, struggle and exhaustion. I wish I had learned to work WITH my body and genes rather than against them way, way earlier. But now, at least, I’m in a position where I can help others discover this wiser, healthier approach sooner…and can do so from a place of really getting where they’re coming from.

    1. And on the flip side, don’t be afraid to say no. If people really respect you, they will not stop being your friends when you say it. And if they do stop being your friends, it was better to weed them out anyway.

  21. Your lifestyle needn’t be dictated by an “all or nothing” mentality – balance and self-forgiveness should reign first and foremost.

  22. Never stop walking. I was skinny until I stopped walking several miles a day. You only have to gain 3 pounds per year to become morbidly obese if you gain those pounds each year for 30 years.

  23. Don’t be a pansy – major in the thing you wanted to go to college to learn, not the one that’s easier. Put in the work.
    I would also bring back a copy of TPB from the future and told myself to eat and exercise like that while I still had the metabolism and hormones to quickly look like a greek god. This would also have helped avoid a later bout with depression.

  24. Never get married. Hint: your wife will have the right to know where you are, what you are doing, and interrupt you with questions, at any given time. The stress of that will severely harm nearly every good thing in your life, especially your health. This is not because marriage is a bad thing, per se, or because you made the wrong choice of partner, but only because it does not suit YOU.

  25. Wonderful post, and good exercise in self-reflection. It can be very powerful to take time to understand where we are compared to where we have come from, and it’s always enlightening to me to think about those “if onlys”. I try not to dwell on them too much, though, because each thing I’ve done has gotten me where I am, and I’m pretty content with that at the moment.

    I could probably write a long book to my younger self about all the things I could do differently, with encouraging words to boot. But, I’m lucky enough to have found the PB at 25, so I’m mostly looking forward to a long, healthy life.

  26. Live life with no regrets and treat everyone like you would like to be treated. AKA the Golden Rule. I started a technology company right out of university in my early 20’s. My father advised me not to and that I would fail because I did not have any experience. We had this heated conversation at the local Mongolian BBQ. When the fortune cookies arrived with the check, the one I opened read, TRUST YOUR OWN INSTINCTS. The one my father opened read, DON’T BE SELFISH WITH YOUR ADVICE. My company grew every year, enriched many employees, and allowed me to retire before I turned 50 years old.

  27. I would tell myself: Stop putting so much effort into being a good person. Being perfectly polite will also make you perfectly sensitive and estrange you from your family, and being perfectly informed will only make you frustrated with your inability to convince others and estrange you from yourself.

    1. I good youtube video on this is by Elliot Hulse – he talks about being “kind” but don’t be “nice”, nobody likes “nice” people because they are weak and easily pushed around, people resent them, its different to being a “kind” person.

  28. Advise to younger self: buy shares in Apple, Microsoft and Google

  29. I guess I would be honest with myself and say to a younger me, life is going to be tough. You will be dealing with a great amount of constant stomach pain. You will also deal with a good amount of constant fatigue. All is not bad though. There will be positives in life. Do your best, remain inquisitive trying to improve your health, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, keep a sense of humor, keep wishing you had been born with an instruction operation book, stay away from people that bring you down, and avoid the spaghetti with hamburger meals in the early 2000s. Those meals are torture, and will eventually send you to the ER!

    1. If that operation to transplant that guys head onto another body works, then that may not be the case anymore – lol

  30. I see a lot of regret in these comments, which is nice be it is something we all share. I actually did start taking good care of myself, from the time I was about 18 onward. I’m happy with who I am in areas I could control. I traveled in places I wanted to visit, a lot, and I had a lot fun doing it. If I would tell myself anything different, it might related to career, but I don’t really care about that other than for money, which is why I made the choices i did in the first place. I guess as a single 35 y/o male, I’m slightly lonely, but that has more to do with the type of people I meet, not that I don’t meet people. Funny, with personal things, I don’t know I would change much, if anything.

  31. I would tell my younger self, ‘Relax, because it will all be fine’.

  32. Put down the packet of biscuits – back away from the soft drink (soda) – and hunt down the person who invented Doritos.

  33. Ok so you are going to age….just don’t let an old person move into your mindset……think young and push your comfort zone every day!

  34. To my 12-23 year old self: Nothing is worth normalizing a high pressure mindset. Nothing is a competition that is not explicitly stated as such. Yoga isn’t a punchline, try it immediately. You can get the same results in school and work with half the effort. You can get superior athletic results with a third of the effort. Power lifting through puberty can affect your joints and tendons for life – focus on body weight exercise instead. Counting calories isn’t worth it. Fat is good for you. Avoid sugar and absolutely do not eat grains. Any beverage with calories is a treat. Ask someone out on a date the minute you know you are interested. You never need to do any exercise you hate. Prioritize travel and seeing family. Sleep is always more valuable than staying up all night for anything else. Talk to strangers. Try not to be angry about things you can’t control. Realize that your judgement of others is a poor coping mechanism for your own lack of self confidence.

  35. Now here is the question for the week…….
    What will your future self come back to tell you today?

    buy more Apple stock?

  36. I am glad about so much of what I have done, but “regrets, I’ve had a few,” yes. I have done most of my best learning when things have been hard so you can’t ever shy away from that. Taking today’s knowledge back 30 years? I would buy two more rental houses to complete our retirement income. I would not eat grains based on what I know these days? I would get professional help for the darkest days, I always wanted to tough it out and I did, but there were big costs for that. If I could go back just 8 years I would skip the English riding lessons, I just don’t weigh enough to stay attached to the saddle and gravity wasn’t working for me. Two years of being an equestrian failure wasn’t worth the fun of hanging out with a horse. And last but not least, I would care a lot less about how I was perceived (if that is even possible).

  37. Do things that cultivate feeling alive and wide awake in life.

    Don’t use food as a balm or bandaid.

    Fill your life with good people who make you laugh or think or try.

    Be nicer to yourself. Appreciate who you are now-I look back on photos of my younger self, and I think how lean and strong and fit I looked. But at the time, I remember just thinking I was fat. Total waste of time.

    There is an upside to everything and always a reason to feel lucky. Find those reasons to balance the negatives that life will smack you with.

  38. Stop seeking external validation and recognize that you’re pretty okay just as you are.

    Oh, and stop relying on allergy pills by dropping certain foods. I want all the money I dropped on Dimetapp back.

  39. I’ve realized that(to a large extent) the average American doesn’t like the advice Paleo types give out and to lead by example is my best way of starting out a process of effecting someone.

  40. If I were to speak to my younger self,I think, in the long run, for the best possible return on a Past Investment? I would tell myself to constantly move out of my comfort zone in the most creative and imaginative ways possible. I would not try to carve some cliche out of my own self perceived greater wisdom.

    I would I believe, ask myself to help other people to a greater extent than I previously did and seek to improve myself from a younger age.

    There are points I would no doubt mention, sports I would have loved to participate in from a younger age and foods I should have ate during my teens (more veggies).

    But overall, I would be content to know, having given myself the intended advice, that I perused each and every goal to the best of my current ability – without fail.

  41. Stop chasing guys in school and concentrate on school work. You will not be able to rely on a boy to take care of you, so learn to take care of yourself. An education will bring you into contact with higher quality guys anyway.

  42. @Admin

    I would let myself know: Stop putting such a great amount of exertion into being a decent individual. Being superbly respectful will likewise make you impeccably touchy and alienate you from your family, and being consummately educated will just make you baffled with your powerlessness to persuade others and repel you from yourself.