Nine Life Lessons from my Twenties

I turn 30 today and although I have so much to learn and many mistakes still to make, I feel my birthday gives me license to share some personal thoughts with you all.

This is not my version of the path to happiness or enlightenment, but simply the best lessons I've learnt to achieve my goals. I think these kind of lists are great, I read a lot of them, but it's important to recognise three things: One, take it with a pinch of salt, as they are only simple explanations and some of the nuance may be lost in the writing. Two, not all advice/methods will apply to everyone. Three, if you read something you think is good advice for you, try to action it straight away. Merely reading things will change very little - it's all about the action.

Okay, are you ready? Let's go.

1. Nutrition

Every list should start with nutrition. Everyone knows, "You are what you eat" but I like to emphasise, "If you shove shitty food down your throat, you feel like shit." I don't yet know what the perfect diet for me is - it's been a five year experiment of trying to find the right balance and I'm still not there. So I have no idea whether you should be on paleo, vegan, keto, or 5-2. You're going to need to figure it out for yourself, but I have learnt a few things I'd like to share:

  • Eat less sugar. Everyone studying nutrition agrees with this one so give it a go. I try and do three to five "no sugar days" each week. This means looking at ingredient labels a fair bit because sugar is added to everything. 
  • Eat less complex carbs. These make me groggy as fuck, so I've reduced my intake of bread, pasta, rice, etc.
  • Time restricted eating / intermittent fasting. This has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve lifespan. It basically means don't eat/drink anything most days for 12-15 hours (overnight). It's not too difficult to do.
  • Drink more water and less booze. My main issue with booze is that it's already loaded with sugar and then seems to lead to poor food choices.  
  • There is also your microbe biome to consider as well, in your gut and everywhere else. Don’t take antibiotics unless you have to. They are indiscriminate killers of healthy and unhealthy bacteria. I've always heard you should go on a probiotic course during and after a course of antibiotics. 
TLDR: Poor diet choices lead to poor health and generally feeling like crap.

2. Exercise, motherfucker

I used to think of myself as a brain on a body, almost as two distinct items, walking around without the body impacting me too much. It was almost like an inconvenience that my
consciousness was trapped in this meat vehicle. I never considered the impact exercise could have on my thinking and wellbeing. Well I was wronger than wrong. You have physical requirements and these must be met or you're going to struggle mentally as well. If I feel low, I often exercise, as it boosts my mood and gives me energy.

We don’t all have to do Cross Fit, but go for hikes in the countryside or swim in the sea. It's always calming to work out in nature and puts you and your ego back in place. I find watching the sea crash into rocks, and then seeing how these rocks have been shaped over hundreds of thousands of years, puts my tiny day-to-day concerns in their rightful place. High intensity exercise has helped me reduce my aggression/anxiety and cycling to work is my favourite way to commute. 

TLDR: Build exercise into your routines and focus on it daily, even if it's a rest day. You still can stretch you lazy good-for-nothing :P

3. Sleepy sleepy

I used to view sleep as wasted time. Why sleep when I could be doing other things like partying, reading, or writing? There is some truth to this, but the importance of sleep on wellbeing and ensuring you make the right choices the next day is paramount. Poor sleep leads to poor diet and exercise choices.
I still don't enjoy sleep that much (I don't like switching off my consciousness!) but I ensure I get what I need.
The topic I am skirting around with the above three points is about brain chemistry and free will. I don’t believe we have that much free will. I think we are mostly the sum of our habits. Our choices are unconscious and built on routines rather than "in the moment" choices. For example, eat a chocolate bar and you receive a lot of great mouth pleasure. You feel fantastic for a period and then the insulin kicks in. This hormone regulates blood sugar and causes an eventual slope that makes you feel lethargic and crave even more sugar. You aren't choosing to eat that next candy bar, your hormones pretty much have a gun to your head pushing you down that delicious, slippery slope.

TLDR: Sleep for the right duration, at a similar time most days, and the one I recently learnt: at the right intensity. No more blue lights late at night.

Talking about our lack of free leads me nicely to:

4. Build routines to achieve your goals

You need clear goals in life. Whether they are simple, like "be healthier, lose some weight, look better naked" or complicated, like "start my own company, change the world." You have to define what you want before you can start building routines to help you achieve it.

I use daily lists to define what I need to do and have triggers that spark new routines to hopefully turn them into habits. For example, I'm trying to learn Spanish so I have two triggers I'm using. The first is when I go for a shit, I use Duolingo and do ten minutes on the app. So most days I'm doing those ten minutes of Spanish learning. The second is when brushing my teeth, I listen to "Notes in Spanish" - a podcast that is helping me learn. So that's another five minutes a day. This fifteen minutes a day of otherwise wasted time is now utilised, and this adds up to over 90 hours a year of Spanish learning. It's not nothing.

We are the habits and routines we have, so if you want to change your life, start focusing on building positive ones that align with your personal ambition. Also, recognise the negative ones, and the best way to remove a bad habit is to track it. If you're trying to save money, write down every time you spend a penny (literally, not figuratively). The same goes for losing weight - write down everything you eat. As soon as you start tracking, you can start to improve.

TLDR: Build routines that achieve your goals using triggers and tracking to ensure you do them!

5. Constantly learn

Learning is one of my favourite uses of time and we are all lucky enough to be alive in a time when learning is easier than it ever has been. We don’t need to trek to a library or travel hundreds of miles to speak to an expert. There are so many reliable sources on the internet and thousands of podcasts and books just a click away. You can now hear an expert in any field talk for hours about their craft in a podcast. It's an amazing time to be alive!

Don't believe you aren't capable of learning maths, anything else. I used to think I couldn’t learn a language but that was the wrong fixed mindset. Skills are learnable and having a growth mindset is useful for acquiring news skills. I just stick with it, practise every day, try my best to learn, and don't get too annoyed at Katie's ability to learn the language with seemingly half the effort. Learning Portuguese was harder than most things I've tried, but I can now get by and slowly I am learning to speak Spanish. 

TLDR: Learn everyday, little and often. It takes time to learn but it's humbling to start something fresh and it feels good to push your abilities.

6. Challenge your opinions

Hearing words and opinions that offend your ideas is great. You shouldn’t want to hide away from these challenging conversations. I love hearing someone say something contradictory to my beliefs. It makes me confront my own ideas and try to explain/realise the flaws in my or someone else's thinking. We all suffer from cognitive dissonance so we can't always realise where our thinking is flawed. But if we constantly challenge our ideas we should get better at noticing these errors in our logic and get to some kind of truth. I find that most arguments are simply language games that occur when words or ideas are defined differently between groups or individuals. Different nuances are at the heart of most disagreements. Conversation is often the best way to learn where you are mistaken or to try and show another individual where their logic is flawed. 

TLDR: Hunt out the flaws in your thinking by understanding other points of view.

7. Be grateful

Gratefulness is positively correlated to happiness. Everyone enjoys happiness, so be more grateful. Especially to your family, as you never know when loved ones will leave this earth. Be grateful for the privileges you have not earned and also for the ones you worked hard for. I do struggle with this one and can find that when I'm grateful, I'm less productive but definitely happier. One thing I'm trying to do more of is to be honest with people and express any positive opinions I have to show my appreciation of them in that moment. Don't hold back expressing positive thoughts. Do hold back negative ones that aren't useful or are poorly timed.

TLDR: Be thankful for existing and utilise your time on this earth!

8. Thoughts are not facts

The amount of conversations I've had with people without opening my mouth is amazing. I constantly argue my viewpoint against a person IN MY HEAD. I put words and often fear into my head when considering what others might say if I spoke to them about a particular subject/idea. Yet, most of the time, this isn't how people respond. I find we are so scared of imagined conversations that we don’t actually have them. You never ask for that pay rise and you never ask if that person loves you.

Another similar thing I do is have a thought about a situation, normally negative, and then believe it to be true. Such as someone not replying to a text, leading me to think that they don't like me. It then takes evidence for me to shift this negative opinion. In reality they were probably too busy or forgot to respond. Don't assume malice when ignorance/laziness is more likely. Thoughts about people and situations are not facts. They are merely thoughts. Believing them to be true is as crazy as believing everything in your Facebook feed. How do you overcome this?

TLDR: Build the mantra, "Thoughts are not facts" into your thinking. You'll still have the thoughts, but try to disregard (most of) them using the mantra.

9. Don't expect people to change

It's incredibly difficult to change someone in the way you want to. You can lead a horse to water but don't expect it to drink. It might just shit in that thirst-quenching puddle instead. The most control you have is over your own behaviour.

Lead by example and try to coach others along the way. But don’t expect your 90 year old granddad to stop using that racist term when he has been using it his entire life. It's unrealistic to expect older people to have the same morality and ethical values as the youth. Indoctrination and closemindedness takes its toll on every generation.

TLDR: You can only change yourself and try to help others along their journey.

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment, share if useful, and give me some feedback. Do you agree/disagree? What makes your list?