“I’d go back to my younger self and, ‘Lighten up. Take it easy. Relax. Don’t be so anxious about everything. Try not to have today stolen from you by anxiety about yesterday or tomorrow.’” ~Bill Nighy
I believe there is great power in looking back at our past to learn from our experiences, mistakes, and regrets.
The Spanish philosopher George Santayana remarked, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” I might add that the history we need to study the most is our personal history so that we don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again in our lives.
If I had the option to go back to my past, this is the advice I would give my younger self.
1. Express yourself freely and work to overcome your shyness.
In the past, there were many opportunities that I didn’t take and many friendships that I failed to make because I was shy and often felt uncomfortable and self-conscious. Some people would interpret my shyness as rudeness, so it was crippling to me in many ways.
Advice to myself:
Make a conscious effort to interact and express yourself freely around others, no matter how uncomfortable it may make you feel in the moment. If you struggle, take deep breaths to relax yourself and calm your irrational thoughts.
Nobody is judging you and analyzing you as thoroughly as you may think. Everybody is too absorbed in their own world to spend time caring about every little thing you say and do.
Try to do the opposite of what a shy person would do in any given situation. Easier said than done, I know, but if you do that long enough, you’ll start creating a new identity for yourself in your mind. That’s really all you have to do to overcome being shy. The more you do it, the easier it gets and the more confident you’ll become, and soon it will feel natural.
2. Stop fighting your negative feelings.
For the longest time, I would try to resist and battle my negative emotions, like anxiety, hoping they would go away somehow. If I felt that familiar knot in my stomach and started thinking anxious thoughts, I’d tell myself I should be positive because our thoughts create our reality.
A couple of years ago, I finally realized that the way to free yourself of negative emotions, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, is to accept them.
The more we try to fight our feelings with the underlying thought “I shouldn’t be feeling this way,” the worse we feel. However, these feelings pass much faster when we allow ourselves to feel them without judging them or thinking that they shouldn’t be happening.
Advice to myself:
Let go of the need to try and fix your negative emotions with your mind.
Accept your unpleasant feelings and focus your attention fully on the sensations these emotions invoke instead of thinking thoughts like “I shouldn’t be feeling this way,” “This shouldn’t be happening.”
When you do this, you will find that the unpleasant feelings dissolve much more quickly, and you will stop making things worse by feeding them with more energy.
View your feelings as visitors, for they always come and go. Like most visitors, all they want is your attention and acknowledgement, and once you give them what they want, they will be on their way.
3. Embrace uncertainty.
In college, I spent a long time desperately trying to figure out my future, wishing for clarity on what I should be doing with my life.
Many of us have a compelling need to have our whole lives all figured out. We hate not knowing where life may take us, and we seek the comfort of knowing what the future has in store for us.
But no amount of mental analysis of our future can provide us with the answers. And that’s okay, because we don’t always need to know what we will be doing a year from now.
Sometimes the only thing you can do is trust in life. Because when we are not trusting, we automatically start worrying, because that’s our mind’s default tendency.
Advice to myself:
Know that it’s okay to be confused and not have all the answers. Learn to be okay with not knowing and make room for surprise and mystery, because that’s a big part of what makes life exciting and interesting.
Most of your fears and worries about the future, if you closely examine them, are nothing more than mental fabrications and do not exist anywhere else than in your mind. Most of the things you worry about won’t actually happen, and even if they do, you might learn and grow from those experiences. Hence there is no need to take your fears so seriously and get worked up over them.
4. Stop trying to run away from discomfort.
Our mind tends to prefer the known and comfortable and likes to seek out the easiest way to feel good.
We’re often hesitant to do things that require effort or make us feel uncomfortable, since our natural tendency is to avoid feeling any discomfort.
But many of the things that are beneficial for us and worth doing in life will require enduring some kind of discomfort. To run away from discomfort is to run away from growing and evolving as a person.
That’s exactly what I did for most of my life. I avoided meditating, exercising, journaling, and spending time alone without technology—habits that have all had a positive impact on my life—during the times when I would have benefited from them the most because I felt resistance whenever I tried to get started.
I also avoided being vulnerable with other people. But I’ve noticed over the last two years that if I stay with the discomfort of interacting with new people instead of running away, as I used to do, the interactions ultimately become rewarding and enjoyable.
This is true of most things—reward lies on the other side of discomfort, but first we have to push through.
Advice to myself:
The mind can be very persuasive and convincing and come up with an endless list of reasons to procrastinate or avoid feeling any discomfort. But don’t let your mind deceive you.
Discomfort often points toward what you should be doing, not what you should be avoiding. Be willing to dive deep into discomfort and learn to embrace it. It will help you more than you know.
5. Accept yourself and stop judging yourself.
When I was in college, I used to judge myself a lot because many of my interests, such as spirituality and metaphysics, were very different from all my friends’ interests.
It was a few years later that it finally dawned on me that I needed to stop looking outside for validation and permission to accept myself.
Once you learn to accept yourself, it doesn’t matter what others may or may not think. Other people’s opinions may bother you fleetingly, but you will need to live with what you think about yourself every day, so don’t make it hard by judging yourself.
Advice to myself:
You don’t need to judge yourself or feel embarrassed about wanting to spend your free time journaling, meditating, reading books, or enjoying spending time alone by yourself.
Don’t feel compelled to be like everyone else, and there is absolutely no reason to be apologetic for following and doing what lights you up.
Because the truth is, it’s okay to be different and unique. Imagine how boring the world would be if we were all the same.
If you could talk with your younger self, what would you say? What do you think you would have done differently? What advice would you have for them?