I recently turned 28 years old 🥳
So I thought I’d do a roundup of the best life advice I’ve gathered during my 28 years on this planet. 🌍
☝️1. Set Intentional Defaults
Most of the time, we just do the same stuff we’ve always done. All day, every day.
In other words, your defaults govern your behaviour.
So, setting new defaults can be pretty powerful. I also find that ‘switching my defaults’ feels less like hard work than ‘building new habits’.
Here are some examples of setting intentional defaults:
- Deciding to keep your phone in another room during family meals, to be more in the moment.
- Stopping work at 6pm.
One intentional default I’ve been setting myself is to walk from my flat to the studio every day. I’m basically training myself to see this as the ‘new normal’ in my life.
😊 2. Lower the Bar
On to my next piece of life advice: lower the bar.
This is my best strategy for dealing with procrastination. Usually, if I’m procrastinating it’s because I’m setting my standards too high, being a perfectionist.
Here’s something Seth Godin says in his mini-article ‘Write something’:
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s simply a fear of bad writing. Do enough bad writing and some good writing is bound to show up.– Seth Godin
If you think you have writer’s block and you can’t write anything good, show me all the bad writing you did. Chances are, you haven’t done any bad writing because your standards are so high. And that’s why you haven’t created anything yet.
When you find yourself unable to start, that’s your cue to lower the bar. Just try to embrace the thought that ‘this thing is going to suck’. And that’s okay. Because once you get started, it’s way easier to continue going. And you’ll usually find that whatever you created wasn’t actually that bad.
💩 3. Embrace Mediocrity
I also think we should straight-up embrace mediocrity in lots of areas of our life.
But in reality, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything. We have to embrace mediocrity in some parts of our life, so we can actually focus on the handful of things that really matter to us.
I’ve embraced mediocrity in a couple of ways at work. I don’t take this website as seriously as I could, for example. Or TikTok. And I’m not very active on LinkedIn. Instead, I focus on writing my book, making videos, and teaching people how to be YouTubers.
It’s all about setting priorities, and accepting that you can’t do everything perfectly.
🎧 4. Work with Background Music
This makes studying, working, and household chores way more fun. And life in general starts feeling higher energy.
When I was living in Cambridge I had my Alexa smart speaker set up, and I’d roam the house blasting Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. Something about having music on in the background just really, really energises me.
And when I turn on music at work, it’s like an injection of energy into the room that makes me feel way more creative. So I massively recommend blasting the tunes when you get a chance.
🌟 5. Quantity and Consistency = Quality
This next piece of life advice won’t be new to anyone who’s into personal development, or read books like Atomic Habits.
But it’s worth saying again: quantity and consistency generally lead to quality:
🖼️ If you want to get good at painting, do 100 paintings.
🎬 If you want to get good at making YouTube videos, make 100 videos.
The things you create might well suck, but you’ll get better at making them. Put in the reps.
I made this mistake when I was dabbling with songwriting. I’d be very precious about a single song, and try to perfect it. And to this day, I’ve written maybe 0.5 songs, because I never embraced this attitude of quantity leading to quality.
To get good at something, just show up consistently, and don’t worry too much about the outcome.
👨🎨 6. Quantity and Consistency = Creativity
Quantity and consistency also lead to creativity. For the last 25 years or so, Seth Godin has published a short article every single day on his blog. That’s just wild.
I think the more you consistently do creative things, the more creativity starts flows from inside you, and you get more inspired. Ed Sheeran says this about songwriting, and Neil Gaiman about writing: creativity is a bit like an old tap. You have to turn it on and let all of the crap flow out first (sometimes for a long time) before you get a flow of clean water. You have to get all the junk out of your system.
🙏 7. Send Thank You Notes
My seventh piece of life advice is quite simple, but massively underrated.
Basically, send thank you notes, especially physical ones. It’ll feel really good, not only for you, but also for the person you’ve just thanked. So I have a long stack of thank you cards with stamps and envelopes, and I try to post those off whenever the mood strikes. I haven’t yet found a postbox that’s close enough to my house that it’s super low friction… But there’s something about sending a handwritten note that feels amazing.
🛩️ 8. Planning ≠ Doing
At some moments of the day, we should be the pilot. We’re just planning what to do with our day. But then for the rest of the day, we should be the plane. Just executing on the orders of the pilot, without think too hard about why we’re doing this stuff.
Think about going to the gym and not having a plan. You’d just do a few random exercises, then sit on your phone and scroll, because it’s too much effort to plan and do at the same time. But, if you come up with a plan before going to the gym, you can just be the plane once you arrive, and execute on the pilot’s orders.
🧘 9. Choose to be Satisfied
Like a lot of other high-achieving productivity bros, I tend to finish the day feeling like I haven’t done enough. Wondering if I could have been more efficient, more productive, and spent less time scrolling through social media.
But this weird pattern of dissatisfaction just makes me feel bad and leads to negative spirals. It also ignores the reality that I usually get something done on any given day.
So, what I’ve realised is that I can make the choice to feel satisfied with the progress I’ve made. The situation won’t change, but I’ll have different, better feelings about it.
⚡ 10. Move Towards What Energises You
Whether it’s work, hobbies, or relationships, we should gravitate towards the things that energise, instead of us drain us. This is a useful mental model for almost every situation.
Let’s say I’ve been invited to a party and I’m thinking ‘meh, I don’t really feel like it’. The question I ask myself is ‘will going to this party energise me, or will it drain my energy?’ Sometimes, even if I don’t really feel like going, I’ll drag myself out of the house because I know it’ll be energising. And I’ll usually have a great time. But if I know the party will drain me, it’s easy to opt out.
It’s just one question, but pretty powerful: ‘will this energise me, or drain me?’
🏰 11. Fantasy Fiction Books are Amazing
My next piece of life advice is to try reading more fantasy fiction.
Fantasy fiction books are absolutely amazing. Everyone who I’ve recommended the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson to has absolutely loved it and become a Brandon Sanderson fanboy for life. In fact I had a chat with the man himself on my Deep Dive podcast.
If you’re looking to get into audiobooks, Stardust by Neil Gaiman is a good call – he narrates the audiobook himself as well, and he’s an amazing narrator. So, if you’re looking to get into fantasy fiction, I 100% recommend those. I actually have a video where I discuss my favourite fantasy books.
🛀 12. Don’t Wipe Your Face with a Bath Towel
Very solid life advice: always wipe your face with a different towel to the one you use in the shower. The one you use in the shower goes into weird places, and you don’t want that on your face. It’ll cause you to break out in spots and stuff.
I’ve actually found that my skin’s a lot clearer since I started using dedicated face towels. And if I’m out and about without access to face towel, I’ll sort of pat my face dry with my hand once I’m out of the shower.
🧴13. Have a Skincare Routine
I’ve been chatting a lot to my friend Usama, who’s a dermatologist based in New York.
💉 As a dermatologist, I think 95% of the truly scientific skincare tips that you should know can fit into one Tweet thread. All Instagram/YouTube/TikTok skincare education videos just repackage a few core principles with different dances/ brand names. Let me prove it… 🧵 1/
— Usama (@usamasyedMD) January 22, 2022
And he said that basically, the earlier you start caring about your skin the better it’ll look over time. So now I have a proper skincare routine.
In a nutshell:
🧴 Wear sunscreen every day of the year, ideally SPF 50.
💧 Always moisturise, especially after showering.
🪄 Look into retinoids, they’ll help your skin stay plump and young-looking.
🚿 Use a good cleanser, but that’s a bit more optional.
People have even started commenting on how nice my skin looks since I started doing this about 6 months ago. Here’s a whole video I made on my skincare routine:
⏰ 14. Wake Up at the Same Time Every Day
My next piece of life advice is to try to wake up at the same time every day.
There’s a lot of compelling evidence that says that long lie-ins and irregular sleeping will mess up your sleep rhythms. So it’s best to power through and get up at your usual time, even if you didn’t get enough sleep the previous night.
If you stick to a regular waking time, you’ll fall into a good rhythm and naturally feel like going to sleep/getting up at the same time every day. That’s because your circadian and adenosine rhythms are syncing up – check out this Huberman Lab podcast episode on sleep for more detailed information.
On days where I stay up late and have a lie-in the next morning, I have less energy during the day than if I’d just woken up as normal, but with 5-6 hours of sleep.
📚15. Keep a Kindle (Not a Phone) on Your Bedside Table
I’ve been doing this for a while now. And since I’ve mentioned it in my videos, a lot of people have got back to me to say that it’s changed their life as well.
Basically – don’t keep your phone by your bedside table. Keep it across the room from you, and instead have a Kindle on your nightstand. There’s no option for scrolling through Twitter or Instagram. All you can do is:
- Read on the Kindle on warm light mode
- Go to sleep
🚫 16. Don’t Press the ‘Try Harder Button’
If I’m struggling to get something done, I usually find myself wanting to press the try harder button.
The try harder button is basically where you tell yourself “I’m going to try harder, I’m just going to be more disciplined, I’ll have more grit and determination.” But it almost never works, because it’s broadly unsustainable.
It’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re Superman, and that tomorrow we’ll have this incredible amount of willpower and discipline. But that’s never going to happen.
It’s usually better to figure out how we can tweak our systems or environment so we don’t need to try. Atomic Habits by James Clear is the bible on how to do this.
📈 17. Monetising Your Passions Is Fun
People often say that you should never monetise your passion – don’t open a bakery just because you like making pies.
But actually, monetising your passion can be really fun, especially on a small scale. For example, I used to be a close-up magician. I spent the first two years of my magic obsession just practising in front of a webcam or a mirror. But it was only when I tried to monetise it, and went outside of my comfort zone to book my first restaurant gig (an absolute disaster) and perform at parties that I took my magic (and social) skills to the next level.
Monetising my hobby made it more fun by raising the stakes.
📉 18. …Except When It’s Not
But monetising your passions can sometimes take away the fun. I’ve spoken to a bunch of YouTubers who really enjoyed videos when they were part-time. But then when they switched to doing YouTube full-time, suddenly it became a job. And when money becomes a motive, it can crowd out your other more noble or interesting intentions (like ‘living a creative life’ etc).
The solution here is to diversify. Try not to make your passion your only source of income, and find other outlets for your creative interests (ok, hobbies I guess) that are less high-stakes.
👵 19. Aim to Retire Early
This life advice is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. Something Naval Ravikant says is:
Retirement is when you stop sacrificing today for an imaginary tomorrow. When today is complete, in and of itself, you’re retired. You retire by saving up enough money, becoming a monk, or by finding work that feels like play to you.
So if we agree with Naval’s definition, retirement sounds pretty good. And there are three ways of getting there:
- Make so much money that you can just be retired because you don’t have to work anymore.
- Spend so little money, that you can retire to live a monk-like existence.
- Do work that you love so much, you’d do it for free.
What I’m trying to do is some kind of combination of all three. Make a lot of money, lower my expenses, and do work that I find fun.
🌅 20. Enjoy Each Day on its Own Merits
I think it’s really important to enjoy each day on its own merits, rather than seeing it as a stepping stone to something greater. Like, ‘if I spend all day grinding at X task, then I’ll be able to do Y’ (what Naval talks about above, ‘sacrificing today for an imaginary tomorrow’.
I saw this a lot in medical school. Studying medicine can be really hard, dry, and boring. But people think that when they become a doctor, then life will be fun. When they actually do become a doctor though, life is generally a lot less fun than in medical school.
So I think it’s important to change your mindset, to try to enjoy each day and the present moment on its own merits. It’s good to work towards your goals. But in some ways, it’s an even better feeling to say ‘I know this day was good’.
👋 21. Take the Social Initiative
This piece of life advice will give you superpowers – always take the initiative in social situations.
I’ve always been the one to organise events, invite friends over for a board games night, or make the first move in a romantic situation. There’s always an element of vulnerability here, because you have to open yourself up to rejection. But people love to be asked to hang out, and whenever I’ve taken the initiative, I’ve always felt “oh, wow, this is amazing.”
This thing would not have happened if I hadn’t organised it, and taken the social initiative.
💑 22. Invest in Your Relationships
In How Will You Measure Your Life, Clay Christensen notes that most successful people chronically under-invest in their personal relationships.
He talks about how his year of MBA graduates were all super-smart and built high-flying careers. They were successful by any traditional metric. But at their 30-year reunion, Clay said that loads of them seemed depressed, and several were separated from their families. Some were even in prison.
So Clay asks, why did so many of these smart bright people go down unhappy paths? He concludes that most of this comes from a failure to invest in relationships. We should build better bonds with the people we love.
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⌚ 23. Default to Non-Work
One thing Clay says – that I’m trying to remind myself of more often – is that it’s wise to default to non-work activities when you have a spare hour.
Work leads to immediate, tangible benefits. But while putting that same effort into relationships doesn’t have that immediate payoff, it’s a long-term investment that gives compounding interest.
So recently, whenever I’ve had a spare hour in the evening I’ve tried to spend that time talking with friends, messaging, and going for walks. Not ploughing more energy into my work life.
🏋️ 24. Exercise in the Morning
I tend to feel way more energised when I’ve done some kind of exercise in the morning.
It’s a massive no-brainer, especially if you exercise outdoors, because:
- It wakes you up, gets the blood flowing.
- You have more energy for the rest of the day.
- You feel less incentive to do unhealthy stuff for the rest of the day.
- You don’t need to workout in the evening when you’re tired.
🤔 25. The Sting of Rejection is Better than the Pain of Regret
The sting of rejection is almost always way better than the pain of regret. So shoot your shot. It can be a bit meh dealing with rejection, but it’s a lot better than always wondering ‘what if’. This is some of the best life advice I’ve ever come across.
My friend Evie even keeps a spreadsheet of all the rejections she gets in life, treating it like a game to get as many as possible.
Because if you’re not getting rejected fairly consistently, you’re not really pushing yourself to succeed.
😡 26. Even Your Favourite Books Get One-Star Ratings
I heard someone say once that when they’re procrastinating they look through Amazon and Goodreads for one-star reviews of their favourite books.
There’s something very therapeutic about that. It helps you see that everyone’s taste is different, and even the books you think are frickin’ amazing have their haters and one-star reviews.
As it gets closer to the release date of my book, I think this is something I’ll have to inoculate myself against. All I can do is just show up, be authentic, and write something that I find interesting.
🚆 27. Work on Trains
I travel on trains whenever I can, mainly because they’re a great place to get work done. In fact, trains are a bit like time travel. It’s like being at your desk at home, but you’re also travelling effortlessly towards your destination.
And when I arrive, I’m just like “damn, I’m in Edinburgh now. And I’ve just made good progress on my work for the last four hours. How’d that happen?”
⚔️ 28. Journey Before Destination
My final piece of life advice is to always focus on journey before destination. That’s a quote from Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series.
You have to have a destination of some kind: there’s no journey without a destination. But once you’ve set a destination, it’s usually best to forget about it, and focus on the journey. Enjoy the present moment. I talked about this in a recent Deep Dive podcast with Sahil Bloom:
there’s a reason I love the phrase ‘journey before destination’ so much.
— Ali Abdaal (@AliAbdaal) August 4, 2022
If you liked this article, here’s a whole ‘best life advice’ video I made. Enjoy 😊