40 Principles to Live By on my 40th Birthday

Today I’ll be living a day previously unimaginable, because where I grew up, it wouldn’t have been possible to imagine such worlds exist. I’ve been from the poor house to the White House. Here is what I’ve learned along the way to help you dream and live big.

  1. Surrender feelings of self-importance. With apologies to Carlos Castaneda for the blatant ripoff, this is the most important lesson you will learn. It’s not about you. Get over yourself. Incidentally, it amazes me that people complain about their friends without thinking, “Hey, I’m the one who surrounded myself with these people.” It’s only about YOU when you can blame OTHER people for “mistreating” you. What a racket.
  2. View yourself as the most important person in the world. If you are not healthy, wealthy, and wise, how can you leave an impact on the world? If you’re mindset isn’t in order, how can you be a good parent, pastor, teacher, public servant, or even informed citizen. Make yourself great.
  3. Become comfortable with paradoxes. 20 year old men are chomping at the bit to correct the obvious contradiction between 1 and 2. Get used to holding simultaneously contradictory thoughts. For example, free will is a myth, and if you live as if you have free will, your life will improve. If you live as if free will is a myth, you’ll be miserable. This has been scientifically proven. But wait, if free will is a myth, how can you live as if you have free will? Exactly.
  4. Look for the sentiment expressed by a person rather than the literal truth. When someone says, “Live as if today is your last day,” they don’t mean you should go out and exact revenge on your enemies without fear of consequences, or spend all of your money, or do something reckless as if you’re Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. What they mean is to make every day count, because it might be your last day.
  5. You are the product of your habits and your friends and family. If you don’t like who you are, look inside for your habits, and outside at your family and friends. You may need to cut out some negative forces in your life.
  6. If you have the choice, be as fit and healthy as possible. Not everyone has this choice. I’ve gone through life fit, fat, and jacked. Your life will fundamentally improve if you lose weight, go to the gym and lift weights, and follow a basic skincare routine. This isn’t even debatable.
  7. Read old books to understand the news. I’m great a social media because I never had social media during my formative years. If you think today’s headlines are bad, read what the newspapers were saying during the Vietnam War, WWI, or WWII. The news exists to create a state of frenzy, and yes I realize some will say my own journalism contributes to this climate. (See lesson 3, above.)
  8. Seek meaning and fulfillment, not pleasure. I’ve had every pleasure imaginable. Nothing feels like the look of your newborn daughter or son. It’s not pleasurable in the ways we typically think of a good feeling. It’s a deep sense of connectedness.
  9. Seek community. We belong to a hive mind, or what Howard Bloom calls the Global Brain. Community and connection have been taken away from you by design. Atomization is suffocation. Find your community, form deep and meaningful connections — which means to stop making it about you (lesson 1, above).
  10. Learn how to breathe. Breath controls mood. An anxiety attack happens when you lose control of your breathing. The Wim Hof breathing method course has ended any fear I ever had of public speaking. You cannot be afraid if your breath remains even, with you fully in control.
  11. Accept that you can’t change others, and move on quickly from the negative and toxic. Changing yourself is hard, changing others is impossible. “Talking it out” rarely works, as character is destiny. Cut people off when they mistreat you, or simply when the vibe doesn’t work. Every minute spent with a drama monger is a minute you’re not connecting with deep people and having meaningful connections.
  12. Character is destiny. Your actions become your habits and your habits become your character. Fighters fight. Weak people quit and strong people survive and thrive. Even if a challenge you set is arbitrary, meet the challenge because small victories, like small surrenders, add up.
  13. Seek small victories. Comparison is suicide, as Ralph Waldo Emerson told us in Self-Reliance. Your victories are yours, and it doesn’t matter how they “size up” with anyone else’s. (Plus, I’ve met the obscenely rich and famous. For the most part they are bland people who struck it big one time, which isn’t hating on them, but they are petty and nasty like everyone else.)
  14. Play the odds unless you have an edge. This goes for investing in the stock market, dating, and living generally. Certain rules (don’t day trade but instead dollar cost average into the market, don’t quit your job to follow your passion) are going to lead you to the best outcome frequently enough that it’s folly to break those rules.
  15. There is no singular life purpose. You — whatever this “you” is — will change over time, and so will your preferences. Convincing people to seek their life purpose has led millions in the wrong direction. Stay busy, be useful to others. A sense of purpose will arrive.
  16. Write every day. This might be a journal, blog, or book. Writing allows you to process your emotions in a healthy way. Plus, you don’t really know what your ideas are until you can articulate them precisely.
  17. Read fiction like it’s non-fiction. Fiction isn’t “fantasy,” because characters and their actions represent the author’s view of humanity. Bonfire of the Vanities is ostensibly the great American novel. Read it and tell me if it doesn’t sound like a non-fiction work about current affairs. Snow Crash imagines what humanity could be like in a future time. Catch-22 uses stories to help us laugh at human irrationality. Cormac McCarthy shows you the dark side of humanity in Blood Meridian.
  18. Make One Big Move a year. In 2017 I decided to become a journalist. In 2016 I moved into films. In 2015 I published my first book. Your move is your move, but make each year count. Maybe it’s time to lose some weight, start a side business, or simply read a book (remember those rules about small victories).
  19. Think big, start small. How did I get to where I am today? I wrote terse posts on a Wordpress dot com blog and trolled with some friends on Twitter. Get out there, make your voice heard, but don’t expect to take over the world in a day or even a year. A decade is more like it.
  20. Treat failures like preparation for success. Even success is preparation for success. No one says, “I’ve made it,” and stops. The same is true of failures. Successful people view failure as preparation for great endeavors.
  21. Stop rejecting yourself. In my coaching talks, people give me 10 reasons why they can’t do something, and all of these reasons are completely made up. Give the world the opportunity to reject you. My own writing, which I hesitated publishing, often ended up being my most popular. My “genius” writing flopped. When you’re writing or selling or performing for other people, they get to have an opinion about what’s good.
  22. Each day say to yourself, “My heart is filled with love and overwhelming abundance from the universe.” If this feels silly, that’s your own fault. That is your Inner Judge stopping you. No one has to hear you. The only person judging you is yourself, and even those judgements are from other people. Try it every day for a week, then let me know what happens.
  23. Tip well. Stinginess is another word for greediness. Greedy people make poor life decisions. Get into the habit of treating people well, and you’ll find the world treats you well.
  24. Make as much money as you possibly can without compromising your ethics. Money matters. I’ve been broke and flush with cash. A certain amount of money frees you from the anxiety that one bad review will cost you your job. Likewise, live frugally, and never grow into your pay raise, or financial windfall. Money can’t buy happiness, but a lack of money can bring you unhappiness.
  25. Get started today. Today is the youngest you’ll ever be. It’s November, and a change of years is arbitrary. Waiting to January is confessing that your success isn’t important enough to seek out today. Consider the message this sends to yourself.
  26. Tell people in your life why they matter. When a memory surfaces about a person or event, write that down. Send a note. That this seems “corny” or “weird” says more about our debased, self-indulgent society than it does about the feeling in and of itself. We are told to fear and avoid intimacy, as human connection leads to deeper meaning, which gives the advertisers less to sell you.
  27. Being nice to people doesn’t cost you anything, and the gains you make are as close to free money as you’ll ever receive.
  28. Read Gorilla Mindset. Hey, if you made it this far down into the article, you’ll love my book.
  29. Fail early, and move on quickly. The average multi-millionaire has been fired from 5 jobs. OK, I made that up, but few people hit it big on their first try. A big mistake people make is believing that their current circumstance is going to magically change. Get out of bad relationships and bad situations as soon as possible, charge those “losses” to the game, and move forward towards your life vision.
  30. Run your life as a one man or woman corporation — You, Inc. The jobs are all going away. Even if you have a job, you need to work it like you’re an entrepreneur who is seeking to create value rather than collect a paycheck. James Altucher has some great books on this subject, such as Choose Yourself and The Rich Employee.
  31. Align your habits and vision. If your life goal is to be a gossip, then spend hours a day fretting over drama and pettiness. If you have a different life vision, check in regularly. Ask yourself if what you’re doing in this moment will bring you closer to your life vision.
  32. Get a proper mattress. It amazes me that people don’t pay more attention to how they spend 30% of their lives. Buying a mattress is probably the most important purchasing decision you’ll make other than your house and car. (And it’s probably more important to have a proper mattress than the “ideal” car.)
  33. Thank 10 people a day. We live in a time of overwhelming abundance. You can learn any subject you like, connect with similar-minded people online and in real space. You probably don’t realize how good you have it because you’re focusing on problems rather than opportunities. Thank 10 people a day for what they do — this could be the people who make your coffee, your family members, or even your personal heroes. We have hundreds of interactions with people each day. If you can’t find a reason to be grateful for 5% of those moments, the problem is with you.
  34. Love is great, compatibility is what lasts. Romantic love, like degeneracy, is a modern invention. In any relationship you’re going to spend hours with the person, and love wears off like any other drug. Shared values on issues that matter is what makes a relationship last.
  35. Accept your partner for who they are today, not who you (delusionally) think you can turn them into tomorrow. Change is hard. How much have you improved your own life? Think about what a struggle it is to move yourself, the person you have total control over, into the right direct. In what world do you believe you can change others?
  36. Have children, or don’t. This is impossible for me to speak on. I partied and lived a fun life before my first daughter was born. I certainly don’t regret waiting. Others wish they had had more sooner. Parenthood is the most important decision you’ll ever make. Choose wisely, and don’t think you should have children with the first woman you love (see above).
  37. Ask what your prize is for “winning” an argument with your friend, partner, or love one. Arguing with loved ones is a stupid game with stupid prizes like bitterness, resentment, and hurt feelings. Arguing is about validating your feelings, which is a failure of your own mindset. If you feel like bringing up some point, keep a list throughout the day and wait until the end of the day to bring it up. Chances are you’ll look at the list and realize how petty it is.
  38. Travel with your children. Americans are terrified of traveling with children, which is common in the rest of the world. It’s silly to think you can’t travel or take a trip because of your children. Prepare well, check out a travel check list, and read the mom blogs. It’s not a big deal. And if you’re an adult whining because there’s a child on the plane, grow up. Bring some headphones and learn how to occupy your time.
  39. Put your phone in airplane mode at the gym or on a hike. We are all addicted to social media and the news, because politics is our new national religion. I’m not going to be a giant hypocrite and tell you to “tune out.” But I do as a habit have my phone in airplane mode at certain times each day.
  40. Embrace aging. 50 is not the new 30. Our society is youth obsessed, even though America’s youth have the highest levels of anxiety in generations. When I talk to young people, I am glad to be 40. Their world is a mess and we should try to help build a better world for them rather than wear cartoon super hero t-shirts, like a Marc Cuban wannabe. Also, yes it sucks that you have to work harder simply to maintain what you have — whether that’s a body or mind. Get over it, because if you do nothing, you’ll rot from the inside out.

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Mike Cernovich is a journalist, author, and filmmaker. You can buy his best-selling book Gorilla Mindset on Amazon today.

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