42 is the answer to life, the universe, and everything, according to Douglas Adams in his book Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy. It is also the critical angle of light reflecting off glass and is also the value of the “Hubble Constant”, a measurement of how quickly objects in the universe are receding from each other. Thanks, science.
So when this mystical number became my age, I half expected some sort of enlightenment to descend upon me like magic dust falling from the sky, but alas I can confirm I remain slack-jawed and mostly clueless.
Ironically, one of the lessons learned is enlightenment probably doesn’t exist, we are, after all, works in progress that mistakenly think we’re finished.
Nonetheless, I have picked up a thing or two in my time on planet Earth, and I’d like to impart them here.
These are my opinions, my findings, but I’m sure if someone gave me this article when I was 20, it would have helped me immensely.
So, in no particular order, here are 42 things I learned in 42 years.
1) Stop trying to be comfortable
This is probably the most insidious problem humans possess, we are hard-wired to crave comfort, but it is only through discomfort that we can grow mentally, physically and spiritually. We pathologically avoid discomfort but we can forge our greatest selves in its flames. The more we embrace comfort, the more intimidating life will become. The bigger your comfort zone, the smaller your life. There is only bitterness at the end of the comfortable road.
“Nothing that’s really of value comes without some pain or sacrifice.” — Dorian Yates
2) Negativity is the mind’s natural state
Your mind is a worry machine to spot problems and keep you alive, it doesn’t care if you’re happy. Understanding this can bring great relief. There’s nothing wrong with you, it’s how we’re all wired. But you must consciously work at separating yourself from ‘negative automatic thoughts’. Don’t judge the thoughts, just understand they’re not you. In fact, thank your brain for trying to keep you safe. Acknowledge its endless chattering worry and don’t identify with it.
“Feelings are just visitors, let them come and go.” – Mooji
3) Consistency is the key to anything
We talk about passion, discipline, focus… At the root, they’re just consistency. We become what we repeat. Everything good or bad in life compounds way more than you think and will show up in your future. Wherever you go, there are your (compounded) choices. Make sure what you’re doing today will serve your future self. I cannot exaggerate how true it is that everyone reaps what they sow. No-one escapes this universal rule.
4) Regrets mostly come from not doing things
This is a well-worn adage but it’s taken me 40+ years to truly understand. My main regrets aren’t mistakes and cringe-worthy fuckups, even those that have haunted me for years eventually gave me strength and wisdom. However, the travelling I didn’t do, the girls I didn’t approach, the confrontations I didn’t face, all became the real regrets. I wish I listened to that old adage when I first heard it.
5) The mind and the body are linked
Stretching and smiling makes you feel positive. Exercise does the same. Hangovers depress. The sun brightens your mood. Big carb meals make you sleepy. We all know it’s possible to change your mental state by changing your physical state. Understand the unique relationship between your mind and body to control your state and muster the energy to do the things you want to do with your life.
6) Sleep Is crucial
Sleep isn’t optional, it’s a fundamental must. Consistent sleep as a fixed routine will serve you so well it will be like a superpower. Ignore the motivational zealots who say sleep is an afterthought, the mountain of science is against them.
7) Always listen to your intuition
Life provides myriad pressures to conform. It’s imperative you work out who you are and what’s best for you, else you’ll be fulfilling other people’s desires for the rest of time. The remedy is to listen to your intuition, it never lies and will never lead you astray, it’s just hard to hear sometimes. Hone your skill in feeling what it instructs, it’s your personal compass leading you through life’s chaos. Feeling is always closer to the truth than thought.
8) Maintain friendships
Your mental health relies on meaningful connections with others. It’s easy to say no to invitations, to stay in, to please yourself, to let comfort win, but friendships will die one forgoing at a time. I’ve seen friends not make the effort and fall off the map. It’s never a good scenario. So turn up, be there, inconvenience yourself. People don’t remember what you say to them, they remember how you made them feel. It is always worth it.
“Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, for the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.” — ‘Everybody’s Free (to wear sunscreen)’ by Baz Luhrmann
9) All anger is self-anger
The world is an angry and divided place, seemingly more so now than ever, every difference is magnified. Social media rewards victim mentality and fuels them vs us attitudes. Yet the real fight is always inside. Anger is an expression of insecurity, fear, and loss. It is a message to do the inner work. Concentrate on fixing within and all else will follow. No happy person goes on Twitter to call other people idiots. Trust me.
10) Be open to therapy and healing trauma
Therapy helped me so fundamentally that there is a stark before and after version of me. Confronting your past is scary but it is necessary for good mental health. All trauma, large or small, needs to be processed. No trauma can be kept under lock and key. Therapy is a leap of faith, a slow-burning solution, a cathartic unravelling of the mind, like a pair of twisted up headphones pulled from a pocket and untangled. The process is an anti-trauma that seeps into your bones over months and years, healing you with one small, potent epiphany at a time. It’s scary and intimidating but your biggest fears carry with them your greatest growth.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” — Joseph Campbell
11) We all fool ourselves
Religion has shown me there are ostensibly learned individuals who will happily create physiological blind spots to justify believing in things patently untrue; Adam and Eve, talking snakes, flying horses to heaven, or merely bizarre and bigoted rituals. This isn’t an anti-religious rant, it’s merely to point out humans aren’t logical. We’re all flawed idiots looking for answers. So we lie to ourselves to avoid pain and truth. Be wise to the fact you’re not wise. It helps in the long run.
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” — Richard Feynman
12) The truth will set you free
The last few points all boil down to this: The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. The truth never goes away. It will tap you on the shoulder at night and whisper in your ear in the day. Sooner or later you’ll have to face your truth, and the later you face it, the more painful it will be. That career you claim to like, that person you claim to love, that excuse you use to avoid responsibility. Truth will slowly push all of it aside. A single drop of truth is napalm, it will destroy your cosy prison and set you free. Be as ruthlessly true about your life as you can, but don’t expect it not to hurt.
13) Don’t be afraid to be on your own
People are so afraid of being alone, they’d rather be unhappy and with someone than be by themselves. Don’t rush anything. Don’t panic about a timetable. Don’t think you have to have everything planned out. It will all work out in time. Love yourself and love will gravitate towards you. We don’t attract what we want, we attract what we are. Life has an odd way of evening things out in the end.
14) You’re not doing sex wrong
On the topic of relationships, don’t worry about your sex life. I always had this worry I wasn’t doing it right, or everyone was doing more of it than me. A bit like recycling. The truth is no one is having fantastic, porn-style sex and you’re not missing out. All that matters is you’re having sex how-and-when you like. The only thing we need from sex is gratification and connection. Don’t sleep with people to impress others, win affection, or any other reason that isn’t true to yourself. If you do that then great, you’re doing fine. Stop worrying about being a stud, a slut or any other hang up.
15) No one knows what they’re doing
Don’t assume everyone else has got it figured out. I very much struggled with this one. I’ve always been confused about life whilst everyone else seemed so certain. As the years have trickled on, I’ve realised no one knows what they’re doing. People who waxed lyrical the most about their great jobs or relationships often abandoned them over time. As mentioned, the truth will never leave you alone, don’t worry about the blowhard friend or work colleague, they lie awake at night worrying about the same things you do.
16) The worst days are often the best in the long run
I’ve had terrible days; health scares, parents dying, wives leaving, humiliation at work or in the street, moments of truly no money. These become mental scar tissue and make us resilient, or they catalyse change. In time, the poison becomes the medicine. This doesn’t mean it’s good that bad things happen, but surprisingly, they become pillars of strength that underpin your character. When you have a truly awful day (and they will come), take solace that it will ultimately make you stronger. The hardest days will yield your heartiest harvests.
17) No one wins against drink or drugs
I’m not saying don’t take drugs or don’t drink, just respect the fuck out of both of them because they sure won’t respect you. They’re not your friend and you can’t play with fire. They will consume you with a smile and take away everything you love if you let them. They will lead you to your grave if you’re naive enough. I’ve seen it with family and friends. Everyone thinks they have a handle on substance abuse, no-one does. Go into it with eyes wide open.
18) Don’t waste time
Time is the only resource you can’t save up or buy. It gallops on with steely fury as we watch box-sets and scroll through social media. If you don’t plan to use your time, it will be eaten up by other people. Wasting time feels fine when you’re 18, but blink and you’ll be 35 with no discernible skills and reality will hit you like a ton of bricks. Please make use of this wonderful time on Earth. As mentioned, everyone eventually reaps what they sow.
19) Sometimes other people will make you feel small
Bullies exist in all forms and attacks are often subtle but potent. It’s not you, it’s them. People hurt so they attack others. As mentioned, all anger is self-anger. The happier you appear, the more some will want to drag you down. Be aware of this pattern and separate yourself from such characters. Allow yourself to breathe and grow. Focus on your own life, not their ad hominem attacks. You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.
20) Champion your friends
The flip side is don’t tear people down either. A confession: I spent the longest time hoping some of my dearest friends got knocked off their perches because I was jealous. In the last few years, I’ve learned to root for them instead, because I realised a rising tide lifts all boats. If a friend climbs a mountain in an amazing country, gets a jet-setting job, or is simply happy in their relationship, I’m happy for them because it pushes me to strive for more. Surround yourself with happiness and success. Other people’s successes are not your failures, they’re a stepping stone to your own success. Besides, genuinely celebrating friends’ achievements with them feels great.
21) Progress equals happiness
Humans need progress in their lives. So create goals to ensure progress. Goals will allow you to measure progress and will make you happier. I know this sounds dry and boring, like a to-do list, but getting better at anything feels good. Use this reward mechanism to work on the things that will compound over time to give you a great life. If you don’t have a plan for your life then someone will make you fit into their plan, their progress, not yours.
22) Forgive your parents
I had a terrible relationship with my father, an alcoholic who blamed me for his woes. I never got an apology, but I’ve learned the person who hurts you can’t heal you. This is why freedom is forgiveness. I’m not there yet and consequently, I still get angry about things from 30 years ago. Saying this, I’ve done significant work to forgive him. The older I get, the more I see he was in pain and didn’t have the support network to heal. He too was angry at his parents and where did it get him? Break the cycle and do the work, your past doesn’t have to be your future.
23) Stop taking things personally
Everyone is fighting battles you know nothing about. People don’t care about you, everything is about them. It’s impossible to be happy if you’re consistently offended by other people’s opinions or actions. Let them slide, take the burden of their emotions off your shoulders. Be kind and don’t worry about the rest of it.
24) Don’t judge others
Judgement is delicious but toxic. Let other people live their lives how they wish, even if you don’t agree with them. The gossip about the person who got drunk and was sick at the work Christmas do, the woman who had an affair, the petty drug dealer in your neighbourhood, the neglectful parent. Everyone fucks up. You will too. And when you do, you’ll wish for mercy and understanding. To err is human. No one leads a sin-free life. Having a moral compass is helpful, but expending energy judging others won’t help you or them.
25) Congruence is paramount
Work to ensure your actions, words and thoughts are as aligned as possible. Listen to that voice inside that will guide you. It doesn’t lie. Don’t act against your personal principles. This is paramount. The more you live in conflict with yourself, the more pain, confusion and frustration you will feel. Your life is a work of art expressing who you are, make it beautiful.
26) Nature always delivers
Move around outside every day. This isn’t just about fitness, it’s about nature. We need to get the sun on our face, we need to feel the cold, we need to walk with our bare feet on the ground and have the wind chill our skin now and again. Don’t hide from nature, it will give back with mental and physical health.
27) Read books
Don’t worry about what you read, just read. It will make your mind work, it will feed your imagination, it will improve your concentration. When you read, you’re borrowing someone else’s brain, looking at the world through their eyes. There’s an ocean of knowledge and epiphanies waiting for you on those unread pages. Don’t withhold them from yourself just because you can’t be bothered.
“Studies show there is a direct relationship between your ability to read and your success in life.” — Bernard Marr in ‘Big Data in Practice’
28) Quit more
The more miserable periods in my life have been the result of not quitting. I took pride in not quitting, so I stayed in terrible jobs, toxic relationships, and lived with crappy housemates. I thought quitting was for losers but the people I envied most were those who tried new things and found a life they enjoyed through trial and error. They didn’t care about quitting as I did. They cared about happiness.
29) Action cures anxiety
The quickest and most effective way to change your mindset is by showing yourself what’s possible. Action is the key. Achieving things in the face of fear will demonstrate who you are. You will be able to say “I’m the type of person who can do this because I’ve done these sorts of things before”. The way you conquer self-doubt is by doing things that make you uncomfortable. Fear begets fear and courage begets courage. There is no shortcut. The only way out is through.
“You need experiences that kill off the weak parts of you and force you to mature.” — Ed Latimore
30) Focus on pleasing outcomes not pleasing actions
Seek pleasure all you like, but it’s where you derive your pleasure from that’s key. Immediate gratification is transient, delayed gratification lasts. Getting drunk and not going to the gym is a pleasing action. Getting in great shape from your gym visits is a pleasing outcome. Focus on your outcomes and your life will get better.
“As a general rule, the more immediate pleasure you get from an action, the more strongly you should question whether it aligns with your long-term goals.” — James Clear
31) Stop making up opposition
For years I saw myself as a rebel. I rebelled at school, university, against popular culture, against political institutions and in the corporate world. Rebellion became my identity. It took years to admit I was constructing opposition in my head so I had someone to fight against, so I could blame an invisible hand for scuppering my progress, relieving me of personal responsibility for my circumstances. Beware of this delicious trap we set for ourselves.
“Starting at school you have fought against authority. And now you are so used to it, you create authority to fight against.” — Shekhar Kapur
32) Don’t fight for your limitations
How many times do you hear people passionately argue about why they can’t do something, or why they have it harder than everyone else? We pour endless energy into defending our excuses because it’s easier than pouring energy into taking action. The truth is there is no easy path. All paths are challenging and all lives difficult, so stop fighting for your limitations because no one cares about them.
‘Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them.’ — Elizabeth Gilbert
33) Acta non verba
This translates as “actions over words”. You’ll be judged by what you finish, not what you start. Everyone in life likes to talk a good game, but it’s what you do, not what you say that matters. The more congruent your actions are to your words, the more trustworthy people will find you. The harsh truth is nobody cares about your efforts or your excuses, only your results. History doesn’t remember those who nearly did something. If you start something, strive to finish it. Don’t aim for perfect, aim for progress. All else is noise and bluster.
“It matters not how hard you work, no one cares, it matters not how committed you are, it matters not how much you have sweated and bled, the gods are unmoved by your commitments, all of your principles are worthless. Fortune, no fortune, God, no God… Did you get there? Or Not?” — Kapil Gupta
34) If you don’t risk anything, you risk everything
Life is risk. In fact, life is so risky, none of us get out alive. You have to embrace a certain level of risk if you want to achieve an iota of what you’re capable of. Certainty often translates as mediocrity. You don’t know what will happen if you throw your whole self at your dream. Commit. Find out. Embrace risk. When you try to avoid feeling anxious, you’re not living. You are never ready for what you have to do. You just do it and that makes you ready.
“The need for certainty is the greatest disease the mind faces.” — Robert Greene
35) Embrace failure as a tool for learning
We think of failure as the opposite of success, but it is in fact, part of it. Failure means you showed up. Every successful person in history has failed more times than they have succeeded. Failure is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of courage, tenacity and growth. Attach your ego to learning, not winning and meet failure head-on.
36) This too shall pass
When you’re younger things seem permanent, but everything changes, everything moves on. Time heals, obscures, forgets. If you’re going through hard times, they won’t last. It’s difficult to believe in the drama and emotion of the moment, but life goes on and it sweeps the past away with it. Don’t panic if you feel you’re at a dead-end, the landscape will change and new opportunities will present themselves. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.
37) Hard work delivers if you work on yourself
They say hard work is its own reward, but it depends what you’re working on. Working for a year on completing a video game isn’t going to reward you in the long run. Those who work on themselves become the people who fulfil their potential. Most people stop working on themselves the moment they leave school, successful people don’t stop learning. Work on yourself and invest in learning and knowledge. The time will pass anyway, you may as well use it wisely. There is no better investment.
“A big secret is that you can bend the world to your will a surprising percentage of the time — most people don’t even try, and just accept that things are the way that they are. People have an enormous capacity to make things happen.” — Sam Altman
38) Happiness is a choice
Happy people are more or less happy despite their circumstances. It’s a choice, a mindset, a way of life. As mentioned, the mind loves to worry, it’s trying to keep you safe, but it’s not conducive to happiness. We have to actively choose happiness each day, we need to become happy to be happy. This sounds counter-intuitive, but there is no other way.
“It’s your job in this life to work out how to have a good time.” — Joe Rogan
39) Your willpower will never beat your environment
Ensure your environment serves your goals and dreams. This includes friendship groups, your peers, your living arrangements, your temptations. Discipline will only go so far. If you’re trying to compete in bodybuilding but your friends drink and you live in a party house, you’ll succumb to temptation. People overestimate their willpower and underestimate the impact of the systems and environment they operate in. Optimising these is a secret hack to fast-tracking success.
40) Let go of cynicism
I’m British. I’m Generation X. We tune in and drop out. I was born sarcastic and cynical, it’s in my blood, but over the years I’ve found it has kept me from truly enjoying the deeper things in life. Walking around with detached irony is just another way to not commit to anything, to avoid vulnerability and to hide behind a “cool” mask. Drop the act. Be the nerd. Love the things you love. Let your passion drive you, not an over-hyped self-awareness that separates you from joy.
41) Success is feeling good about who you are when you’re alone
You will obsess about success from the moment you sit your first school exam. It never goes away. Am I earning enough? Am I attractive enough? Am I popular enough? Am I smart enough? Here’s the thing, you are enough without any of those things, just don’t sell yourself short. Only you know what that means. True success is feeling good about who you are when alone. You are your own yardstick, live up to your own standards, nobody else’s.
42) Everyone’s advice is bullshit
And finally, this. Everyone’s advice is bullshit, including mine and this article. What a plot twist. Here’s the truth, only you know you, everyone else is offering up their warped version of life. This doesn’t mean all advice is worthless — talking things through with people is helpful, creating a model of the situation in your head as you explain the problem. Receiving advice helps you understand how you feel about something, even if that advice is bad. It’s much like flipping a coin, only when you get the result do you really know how you feel. Do not listen to those who advise in absolutes, but rather take on board advice from all quarters and then choose what feels best for you. I repeat, no-one knows you like you.
“When someone tells you something is wrong, they’re almost always right. When someone tells you how to fix it, they’re almost always wrong.” — Ryan Holiday
I thought this list would be hard, but instead, I had to leave out many points I thought equally as relevant as the 42 here.
This might make life seem a more complicated than it need be, but actually it’s rather simple. If I had to boil down this advice to a couple of points, I’d say listen to your intuition and come from love, not fear and you’ll do fine.
Just don’t work against yourself, or sell yourself short. Instead, back yourself and believe in who you are and the world will open up to you.
Thanks for reading.