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What advice would you give to your younger self? Is it too late to learn from your past mistakes?
As you grow older and wiser, you might wish you could tell your past self the things you know now. Maybe you regret not going on that date all those years ago, or maybe you wish you made a career change. Even though you can’t change the past, it’s never too late to start making better choices.
Here are six pieces of advice your younger self should’ve heard, but that you can still heed today.
1. Be Confident in Yourself
Confidence is believing so strongly that you can do something that you’re driven to actually do it. The belief stems from mastery—you know you can do something because you’ve worked hard and pushed through past difficulties and failures.
- For example, when Katty learned to kiteboard, it was challenging. The kite would drag her around, she’d fall, she’d get frustrated, and she’d get sore. After a few years of practice, she figured out how the sport worked, and now she can do it confidently.
Confidence is contagious—once you’ve mastered something, this gives you the confidence that you can master (or at least try) something else.
Confidence is important for three reasons, according to The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman:
- If you don’t have it, you won’t act, even if you have the desire and skills to do so.
- It’s more important than competence (provided the gap between competence and confidence is small). Humans admire and respect people who display confidence, and when people genuinely believe they’re good at something (even if they’re objectively not) they naturally give off nonverbal cues and behave in ways that make them seem confident. Keeping your head down and working hard isn’t as visible.
- It contributes to emotional well-being. Being confident offers more rewards than workplace or personal success. Confidence contributes to making you feel engaged, rewarded, accepted, fulfilled, and purposeful.
How to Build Confidence
The confidence code—the building blocks of confidence—consists of three principles:
- Don’t overthink.
- Be authentic.
Practice adhering to the code using the following techniques:
Technique #1: Fail fast. Failing fast is a business strategy that involves trying lots of ideas, expecting that most of them will fail. This is useful as a confidence-building strategy because it inherently involves the same cycle of repeated attempts, failure, and risk-taking necessary for building confidence. Additionally, it combats perfectionism and inhibits overthinking because the cycles are so fast there’s simply no time.
Technique #2: Act, even when you’re uncertain. If you stay inactive in your comfort zone, you won’t improve or gain confidence. If you act, the worst thing that will happen is that you fail. You don’t have to take massive action—it’s fine to start this strategy with baby steps. For example, if you’re not confident about attending parties solo, first, go to a small event where you know people.
Technique #3: Don’t take things personally. When someone criticizes you at work, remember that this criticism is directed at your work, not you. Also, recognize that women face some obstacles men don’t and this makes things harder for us. We’re not incompetent or less capable; our lives are harder and we don’t have access to the same resources.
Technique #4: Become more comfortable speaking up. You can improve your confidence and speaking abilities by using whatever speaking style is most comfortable, focusing on others, and avoiding upspeak (when the pitch of your voice rises at the end of a sentence, making it sound like you’re asking a question and are uncertain).
Technique #5: Don’t rely on external sources of confidence. There’s nothing wrong with comparing yourself to others and enjoying external validation, but it’s dangerous to rely on this as a source of confidence. You’re less likely to act if you fear the action will make people stop praising you, and you’ll be crushed when you don’t get enough praise.
2. Live in the Moment
The second piece of helpful advice to your younger self is to live in the moment by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is key to seizing control of your life, says Who Will Cry When You Die? by Robin Sharma. If you focus fully on the task at hand, you execute it to the best of your ability. You gain more control over what you do and your impact.
Sharma recognizes that it’s hard to concentrate because our world is full of distractions. But you possess the power to concentrate: Learn to control your thoughts and focus. If you can’t, your attention will constantly shift, and you’ll never progress toward your purpose.
How to Live Mindfully
Sharma recommends five specific strategies to build your ability to be mindful:
- Meditate. Meditation increases your ability to concentrate and be present, says Sharma. He recommends developing a regular meditation practice.
- Read mindfully. Read something physical (like a book or magazine) and mark in the margin of the text whenever you become distracted, advises Sharma. This shows you how often you get lost in thought and lets you practice coming back to presence.
- Take mindful walks. Go on walks without a destination and without thinking about your life’s worries, advises Sharma. Be aware of your surroundings and bring your attention back to them when it has wandered.
- Plant a tree. Sharma proposes that you plant a tree to become more mindful of the passage of time. The changing leaves will keep you connected to the cycles of nature and ground you in the present.
- Mindfully de-stress after work. Finally, after work, mindfully de-stress before engaging with your loved ones, urges Sharma. Sit outside your home for a bit or take a quick walk to disengage from work and be more present with the people you love.
3. Embrace Change
People often mistakenly think that significant change takes a long time. There are a couple of reasons why so many people perpetuate this falsehood, says Tony Robbins in Awaken the Giant Within:
- People often spend years trying—and failing—to make changes through willpower. However, willpower doesn’t alter the neuro-associations at the root of your behavior. As long as those neuro-associations are intact, the behavior they cause will ultimately persist.
- Our culture perpetuates the idea that profound change must take a long time. The flip side of this is the belief that if you can change quickly, you must not have really had a problem in the first place. For example, smoking is a notoriously tough addiction to break—so if you go from being a regular smoker one day to quitting the next day, the people around you are likely to be skeptical either that the change will stick or that you had much of a smoking habit to begin with.
However, change doesn’t have to take a long time, and you don’t gain anything by prolonging your change—in fact, the opposite may be true, because procrastination delays achieving the goal of change you’ve set for yourself. So your piece of advice for your younger self is to embrace any type of change that comes your way.
In reality, it takes just one action to initiate a change, and transformation can happen in an instant—you just have to commit to the change and do it. However, you must put in sustained effort to make that instant change last. In fact, you must condition yourself to make lasting changes to your thoughts and behaviors by making a change, reinforcing it, and then training your nervous system to maintain it. The conditioning process requires that you adopt certain beliefs:
- Something absolutely has to change. You need this level of certainty to support a true commitment to change. Stop saying that it “should” or “could” change.
- You are the sole person responsible for your change. Don’t look for anyone else to do the work for you or to blame if the change doesn’t stick.
- You have the power to make this change.
How to Alter Your Beliefs About Change
Once you have the beliefs to support your change, follow these six steps to condition your change:
- Determine exactly what you want and identify the pain you’ve associated with making this change. For example, you may want to lose weight but associate the process with the pain of hunger and the physical pain of exercise.
- Create a sense of urgency to change. What consequences will you face for not changing, and what benefits will you gain if you do change?
- Disrupt your pattern. Every time you catch yourself slipping into your old pattern, do something unexpected to snap out of it. Over time, these disruptions will distort and weaken the neural pathways responsible for your old behavior.
- Create a positive pattern to replace the old, negative one. If you don’t, the change won’t last and you’ll revert to your old pattern or a new, negative one.
- Reinforce your new pattern so that it endures long-term. Rehearse your new response in your mind to strengthen the new neural pathways and create a reward system to reinforce your new pattern.
- Make sure your conditioning is successful. Imagine a scenario that would trigger your old response and see if you still react in the way you used to.
4. Invest in Friendships
Friendship is the one thing that everyone—scientists, philosophers, and happiness experts—can agree is a major contributor to overall happiness and life satisfaction.
There are several studies that back up the importance of strong, meaningful friendships—they make activities more enjoyable, lower your risk of depression, and can even boost your immune system. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin discusses two resolutions that can reinforce your existing friendships and help you make new connections: cultivating a friendlier spirit and pursuing new connections.
How to Strengthen Friendships
Here are two keys way to strengthen friendships that will last a lifetime:
- Cultivate a stronger friendship. Strong friendships don’t depend solely on the motions of companionship—you have to cultivate a positive, supportive mindset that lends itself to building and strengthening relationships. To do so, you need to stop gossiping and practice generosity of spirit.
- Gossip is tempting because it does have social benefits. It makes you feel closer to other people and it helps you understand the values of the group you’re in. But, benefits aside, gossip is mean-spirited and detrimental to your happiness and the happiness of others.
- When you’re generous toward your friends and offer them support, it often gives you just as much happiness as it gives them—when you do good, you feel good. The most simple and accessible way to be more generous toward your friends is to practice your generosity of spirit. There are four significant ways to do this.
- Pursue new connections. Making new friends throughout your life is important for several reasons—they provide you with greater feelings of connection, they offer new sources of support, and they can introduce you to new perspectives and interests.
- It’s easy to get comfortable with the friends you have and become a bit resistant to widening your circle. To combat this tendency, Rubin established a friend-making goal—in each new social situation she encountered, she set a goal to make three new friends.
5. Follow Your Passions
Another piece of advice to your younger self is to focus on what makes you feel energized and excited. You should determine what really interests you and push yourself in it.
To choose a passion to pursue, The Happiness Project says to focus on the interests you currently enjoy. As with leisure, it might be helpful at this step to think about what you spent your time doing as a child. Or, you might think about how you spend your free time on the weekends or focus on what you’re thinking about when you daydream.
This exercise is helpful because it takes your focus away from who you wish you were and the image of yourself you’re trying to project to others. Instead, you consider who you actually are and what you actually want to do with your time.
Once you’ve chosen a passion, take an all-in approach—this stops you from hemming and hawing about how to get into it. When you’re forced to leap right into working on your passion project you find that you can commit yourself to it without a ton of planning or preparation.
One way to go all-in on your passion this month is to set an ambitious goal. For example, Rubin committed to writing a 50,000-word novel in one month. For you, this might look more like training for a race, committing to creating five album-ready photos each day, or completing your website by the end of the month. Having a clear goal in mind helps you engage more meaningfully with your everyday life in three ways.
- With a goal in mind, you can more easily put aside activities that don’t feed into your passion and don’t contribute to your happiness, such as watching television or scrolling on social media.
- Setting, working toward, and accomplishing a large goal not only boosts your confidence and excitement for your passion but also creates a significant feeling of growth—a key component of happiness.
- Frequently thinking in the context of your passion for a whole month can push you to view the world through a new, interesting lens. For example, a passion for painting might make you notice the colors around you more. A passion for food blogging may push you to try new restaurants and discover new neighborhoods.
How to Pursue Your Passions
Making time for your passion takes some discipline—but the time commitment feels less oppressive when you consider that you determine how to pursue it. This sets a few key guidelines:
- You decide what counts as meaningful work toward your passion.
- You choose how other people fit into your passion and how you might work with them on it.
- You commit to cutting back on activities that don’t fall under the umbrella of “meaningful work.”
Engaging more fully with your passion is to find a new way to express it. This expands the horizons of your activity and naturally creates learning opportunities—keeping your passion fresh and interesting. There are a few ways to express your passion differently:
- Try a new medium: For example, a painter could experiment with surfaces other than canvas or make pigments from natural materials. A writer who mainly deals in poetry could write a series of short stories.
- Learn a new technology: Rubin learned how to use several new websites to create bound books, turning several of her scattered ideas and photos into bound collections. If you’re a writer or photographer, perhaps you could start a blog or a website.
6. Say Yes to Things
In Year of Yes, screenwriter and producer Shonda Rhimes describes herself as highly introverted and shy, making fame a difficult adjustment for her personality. But she realized that hiding herself from the world and letting her introverted personality and social anxiety dictate her life was not making her happy. To improve how she felt, she knew she must commit to being seen and heard by others, even though it was uncomfortable. She discovered the more she pushed through anxiety, accepted compliments, and walked with her well-earned swagger, the more comfortable she grew with being seen and heard, and she began to feel like her authentic self. Drawing from her own experiences, Rhimes’s piece of advice to your younger self is to say yes to things that are reasonably outside your comfort zone.
How to Make Yourself Seen by Saying Yes
It’s ok to have some conditions before you agree to do something that scares you if they help you face your fear (not if those conditions are excuses to avoid your fear). For example, before agreeing to do Jimmy Kimmel Live, Rhimes insisted that the show not be live. This compromise helped her ease into the experience of doing something that terrified her.
If you’re speaking in public, you can calm your anxiety by tapping into what you have in common with your audience and how you might identify with them. When giving her Dartmouth commencement speech, Rhimes realized that the moment was not about her performance but about passing something valuable to the graduates—wisdom she wished someone had provided on her graduation day. Because of this realization, she was nervous before the speech but did not have a panic attack, which was a triumph for her.
Even though you can’t change the past, you can use what you’ve learned to create a better future for yourself. These pieces of advice to your younger self may also come in handy to people who look up to you and are feeling lost in life.
What other advice to your younger self would help others? Let us know in the comments below!
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