The Future is Bright
February 12, 2020 10:21 AM   Subscribe

What’s the most important change you’ve made to your life as you’ve gotten older?

Recently I had lunch with a friend who revealed he had suffered a heart attack—he was healthy and exercised/ate well and had no family history. It came as a bit of a shock to me. He talked about the changes he was now making to his life, and one of the things he reinforced to me was the importance of getting a full night’s sleep. It sounds idiotic that this was so revelatory to me now, because OF COURSE I know sleep is important...but I guess as someone who’s relatively young I just keep taking for granted how vital it is. I keep trying to stay up and get more stuff done instead of realizing that sleep is an essential component of my future health.

This and other things have really put things in more perspective as I’m entering my mid-30s. I need to start thinking more about how to best set myself up for the future in terms of health/relationships/etc...I think more and more about how to live slower/better vs live faster/with more hustle.

As you’ve gotten older, what’s the most important change you’ve made to your life—or most important piece of advice you’ve followed—that has made a big impact?
posted by sprezzy to Grab Bag (44 answers total) 107 users marked this as a favorite
Water. So much more water. I didn't realize that I was perpetually (and usually still am, TBH) dehydrated until I had to go to the hospital and get fluids.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 10:23 AM on February 12, 2020 [21 favorites]

Therapy. My entire life would be different if I had had a chance to get professional help with my issues when I was younger.
posted by corey flood at 10:25 AM on February 12, 2020 [26 favorites]

That I’m allowed to just say no to things and go home and lie on the sofa instead (huge when it comes to stress reduction and the fact that everything just gets so much more tiring and takes longer to recover from once you pass 40).
posted by penguin pie at 10:27 AM on February 12, 2020 [27 favorites]

I've started a sport that I enjoy (running).

It keeps me active and feeling young (excluding the 1-3 days after some long races where I feel like an old man and get winded walkiing the dog). To better "fuel" myself, I'm generally making better food choices. While many aspects of my sport can be done individually (which is good as an introvert), there is definite social opportunity that I enjoy. There are others in my running groups who seem to do a higher percentage of socialness than I do, so one can pare up/down as desired.
posted by nobeagle at 10:31 AM on February 12, 2020 [6 favorites]

Stay hydrated, as Kitchen Witch says, and stay loose. Being limber goes a long way. Also, applied metaphorically, something I learned from riding a motorcycle: train your gaze on the furthest point of the curve and don't "ride the front wheel."

Last, but not least, forgive yourself, even if you truly believe no one else will.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 10:33 AM on February 12, 2020 [11 favorites]

Acceptance that you will never get your shit together.
posted by ShooBoo at 10:44 AM on February 12, 2020 [41 favorites]

I don’t have just one. These have all been really important:

Therapy and finally facing some old monsters (takes years off!)

Getting in shape and then staying in shape

Becoming financially literate and understanding that managing your money well is a form of self-respect

Prioritizing sleep

Prioritizing important friendships and family relationships that make my heart sing

Letting go of relationships that don’t make my heart sing

Minimizing drugs and alcohol

Dancing my ass off when I can (at weddings, unexpected nights in bars with good music)

And still working on the water but! (It’s so boring to drink water!)
posted by namemeansgazelle at 10:46 AM on February 12, 2020 [11 favorites]

Be kind to yourself and others. Don't let people talk you into doing things you know are not right for you. Put money in an IRA every year, don't wait till you're 50 like I did.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:47 AM on February 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

-Cleaning and upkeep on my home every week
-Decorated my home in a way that is happy and pleasurable for me
-Quit/reduce drinking alcohol
-Learned when to say no to events so my schedule stays calm and not stressful
-Figured out a couple go-to healthy, tasty meals that are easy and quick to make

(A lot of these are learning to do small things in consistent ways to save myself having to do large things once in a while. I find I prefer the consistency.)
posted by sallybrown at 10:50 AM on February 12, 2020 [6 favorites]

I used to save things for "a special occasion" or "for when I really need it." The expensive bottle of wine, some fancy soap I'd been given, a nice serving bowl I got as a wedding present, a gift card, whatever. Now I try to use them as often or as soon as I want instead of waiting for an imaginary perfect moment or a 'good' reason. I was always making the case that another time might be MORE special, or I might need it MORE later, so I stopped arguing those points to myself and just use up the nice stuff.
posted by castlebravo at 11:03 AM on February 12, 2020 [47 favorites]

1. Being up for taking medication for my various issues. This was something I had a hard time with due to 1) bad experiences with antidepressants in high school and 2) the stigma of psych meds, especially for sleep. I got that sorted and then developed RA, which has given me the perspective that life is always a science experiment only you're experimenting on yourself.

2. Giving myself space to enforce dealbreaker conditions on relationships, including friendships, and paying attention to red flags, despite not having a lot of dating options. Sometimes history isn't everything, especially when the other person is not viewing it the same way.

3. Always make art, always keep discovering it.

4. Dying in debt to a bank means you win.
posted by bile and syntax at 11:03 AM on February 12, 2020 [11 favorites]

Downsizing. So glad I gave up a two story home with basement and big yard that I'd lived in for 40+ years and moved into a condo. Wasn't easy to sell, donate, throw away so much stuff but I'm so glad now, six years later, that we did. For all the Tsuris we went through to accomplish it, we don't miss a thing. In fact, since moving, we've continued to dispose of things.
It's comforting that when tempted to buy some new thing, I automatically think: Why? Where would I put it?

By coincidence, my husband's health has taken a terrible turn in the last year and we wouldn't be able to live independent lives except we downsized some years ago.
posted by tmdonahue at 11:06 AM on February 12, 2020 [15 favorites]

I have embraced the knowledge that “No” can be a complete sentence. Life changer indeed!
posted by bookmammal at 11:12 AM on February 12, 2020 [7 favorites]

Walking. 20+ minutes every single day.

Do more, bike swim run a bit, skate, all or more but get in that non stop brisk walk.
posted by sammyo at 11:13 AM on February 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

namemeansgazelle: Dancing my ass off when I can (at weddings, unexpected nights in bars with good music)

"Dance like no one is watching" may sound corny, but I interpret to mean "stop caring about what other people think, especially when you're having fun," and also "find things that make you happy, and don't let others stop you."
posted by filthy light thief at 11:23 AM on February 12, 2020 [8 favorites]

I value sleep. Being well-rested helps with every part of my life. Just saying no to one more spin around the blogosphere, one more check on facebook or Recent Activities on MeFi when I start feeling drowsy.
Exercise really helps this. If I play (volleyball, ultimate) or work out (indoor cycling, treadmill run in the winter, outdoors the other seasons) I find that I am ready for sleep and sleep more deeply.

I know there's no making up for lost sleep, but I do allow myself to sleep in a bit on the weekends as well, to bank some hours regardless of whether it helps.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:29 AM on February 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

62-year-old here...
• As Kitchen Witch says, much more water. I cut-out pop of any sort decades ago, and my water intake has become pretty much my only daytime drink.

• I strive to avoid succumbing to the 24-hour news cycle. That is, I keep my exposure to current events to something more like an executive summary. This is for my own mental health and, hopefully, blood pressure. And, honestly, I don't find I miss any important events. But, I have missed-out on all the noise. I have a friend who also works from home (like me) and keeps CNN on all day, and also spends much time every day at political websites. I just can't.

• Spend more quality time with your best friends. This includes just hanging and doing nothing much.

• Read. Especially fiction you never got around to. I just started reading Dracula and it's been an unexpectedly enjoyable read.

• Do more hard crosswords. Helps keep your mind sharp.

• Exercise as you can. Walking is always a good thing.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:38 AM on February 12, 2020 [11 favorites]

I took the time to understand what work was inherently meaningful to me and why. I'm still working on it, but I think when I look back in 5 years that I'll be very happy I did this.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:40 AM on February 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

Develop an exercise habit that you enjoy and will willingly do on a regular basis.
posted by gnutron at 11:41 AM on February 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

Getting up early (and then correspondingly going to bed earlier to get enough sleep). I've never been a morning person, but started getting up earlier last year in a period of high work stress. It took about 6 months for the habit to stick but now I really love it and can use the shift in schedule for things beyond work whether it be me things (exercise, hobbies) or non work chores that I hated doing late at night and would procrastinate on adding to my stress (paying bills, taxes, budgeting, etc.). It really means I get more out of my day, since by the time the kids go to bed I don't want to do anything and was just spending that time zoning out, surfing online, reading things I didnt' really need to read. Nothing that nourished me or got me towards goals. Might as well just be sleeping.
posted by snowymorninblues at 11:52 AM on February 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

Being willing to have hard conversations in a relationship, rather than steering away from them. It feels like work—sometimes hard, scary, even embarrassing work—but it's like going to the gym: You always feel much better after.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 12:40 PM on February 12, 2020 [13 favorites]

Make a concerted effort to stay in touch with your friends/family. Notice the ones that are one-sided (where you do the majority of the work) and evaluate if they're still worth it. My circle has gotten smaller over the years but also so much richer.

I've also tried to be much more diligent of taking photos randomly rather than only at gatherings/events in my life. Those day-to-day shots sometimes have a lot of story to them and are so fun to look back at later in life.

I made it a goal to do more non-screen reading and it has been such a joy to wander the library stacks and pick a few books at random and see where they take me. Feels much less frantic and distracting than reading a screen and getting sucked into multitasking.
posted by Twicketface at 1:09 PM on February 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I give fewer fucks, but they're deeper.
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:09 PM on February 12, 2020 [22 favorites]

I have given myself permission to be exactly who I am.
posted by WaywardPlane at 1:25 PM on February 12, 2020 [13 favorites]

Getting in control of my mind, my thoughts, my emotions, and developing a sense of detachment from things that tend to trigger emotional blowouts. It's a process, and I don't know if full mastery is possible, but even a little bit of this work has big implications for my mood and my day. Like, a 180-degree difference, going from being fully ashamed and guilty over missing a work deadline to calmly planning how to meet the next deadline without any drama.

I've engaged with the Vipassana tradition, which is great, but I've also recently gotten into thought work, and I think that's actually the better foundation before you add on a meditation practice. This podcast, Unfuck Your Brain, is amazing. There are others in this genre, and they're probably similar. I just can't emphasize enough how helpful I've found it, and how I wish I'd discovered it earlier in my life.
posted by witchen at 1:30 PM on February 12, 2020 [7 favorites]

I used to save things for "a special occasion"

I concur this is stupid and pointless. As an example, there was a perfume I loved as a young woman, I collected and prized the bottle, lotion, bath salts. Moved often with them carefully stored. Until one day I noticed they had degraded, and the scent wasn’t really for me anymore. I should have used them while I enjoyed it!
posted by JenMarie at 1:45 PM on February 12, 2020 [10 favorites]

I used to think small talk was pointless and shallow drivel with shallow people. As I’ve gotten into my forties I’ve started chatting with anyone and to my surprise people are fun and unexpected if you give them an opening and random little interactions can totally brighten a day or I can learn something new.
posted by sestaaak at 4:01 PM on February 12, 2020 [13 favorites]

I have three big ones:

-prioritizing sleep, as so many wise posters above say.
-deciding to stop auditioning for nasty people, even if they are my only living first-degree relative. Praise and blame are all the same anyway.
-adopting the mantra “less but better” as a cross-cutting way of life.
posted by rpfields at 4:18 PM on February 12, 2020 [7 favorites]

Replacing "is it correct / exemplary?" with "is it better than it was before?" Took a while and a fair few attempts before it stuck but now I get more practical stuff done, acquire more skills (as one does by doing a thing), and feel accomplished on a regular basis. Even get to be helpful to others on occasion with much less self-imposed anxiety.

("Look how I've made [thing] better, Self! Why, had I not acted, [thing] would still be not quite as good as it is now! Is that not a reason to be pleased!", I say, and Self, having exhausted all snark and rationales, simply and without protest... Agrees. ;)
posted by to wound the autumnal city at 4:57 PM on February 12, 2020 [19 favorites]

I got a doctor to listen to me instead of meekly thanking them for their time and sending me off with no answers and feeling no better.

After years of pain and hobbling and limping and PT and shots and more PT and yoga and chiropractors and acupuncture and cupping and glucosamine and CT scans and MRIs and going from one doctor to another, I found the top-rated hip replacement surgeon in Boston, made an appointment, had him look at me and I said, "FIX MY HIP because nobody should live in this much pain."

He sent me down the hall for a CT scan and 25 minutes later while looking at them he said, "You have literally zero cartilage and your bone is wearing off. When can you come in for a hip replacement?"

Find the doctor who can actually fix your thing and force them to listen to you.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:13 PM on February 12, 2020 [17 favorites]

I’m also only in my early-mid-30s, but in the past two years I finally started sleeping 8-9 hours a night instead of 5-6 hours a night, and it turns out to have been the one key change I needed to make a whole bunch of other healthy changes feel way more achievable.
posted by somedaycatlady at 5:17 PM on February 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Here's my list (can't pick just one:)

Got properly diagnosed and medicated for my very severe inattentive ADHD. WOW. My entire life, every aspect of it, is easier, better, and more enjoyable.

Went to therapy to sort out my childhood trauma.

Ended my terrible and hurtful and sick relationships with my biological family.

Started working out and doing Pilates, which has had a huge impact on my fitness, energy level, sleep, interception, proprioception, eating, and general health. My cholesterol points are all now firmly in the average range, whereas 4 years ago they were significantly elevated.

Allowed myself to jump headfirst into my own eclectic spiritual practice which has opened the door to new experiences, deep friendships, self-knowledge, and self-love.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 7:05 PM on February 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Eat less. I don’t have my old metabolism any more and I finally realized that getting resentful about it didn’t work. This is the new normal and I can no longer even contemplate putting away an entire pizza. If I don’t eat too much, I sleep better at night, and at 68 I desperately need sleep yet what sleep I get is often fitful.
posted by Peach at 7:24 PM on February 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

adopting the mantra “less but better” as a cross-cutting way of life.

Adopting the mantra "less but butter"

Butter, which I deprived myself of when I was younger, is a small but great joy
posted by erattacorrige at 8:14 PM on February 12, 2020 [10 favorites]

Understanding that in all things not financial, doing whatever costs me more makes me a better person and improves the lives of those around me.
posted by dobbs at 10:33 PM on February 12, 2020

Started a simple but effective weightlifting routine. It's amazing how good it feels to be strong, and it made my back pain go away!

Started to really dial back on consumerism. I spent my 20s and a big part of my 30s in debt with no savings. Mind, it was just a small amount, like 3000€ but I just didn't have any plan to pay it back and kept this stupid debt for years with 12% interest. And even though I was single with no kids I saved exactly 0 money. After reading MrMoneyMustache, a financial independence guru, I just stopped spending money on shit I didn't need, started to bike to work, and voila, managed a savings rate of 60% of my income almost right of the bat. And it felt so good! My quality of life improved immediately and I didn't miss any aspect of my reckless spending days.

I got a kid, and for me that was an amazing thing. Should have done that much sooner, so much joy!
posted by SweetLiesOfBokonon at 12:19 AM on February 13, 2020

I'm coming up 50.
Went vegetarian, now more or less (about 95%) vegan. Didn't lose weight, feel great though.
Gave up the booze, now teetotal. And now sleep like a log, which I never used to. Massive improvement.
Avoiding processed snacks and sugary foods. This is helping to lose weight.
Exercising more again, just walking and an elliptical, but lots of it. This is helping to lose weight and is good for my mental wellbeing.
Health-wise I'm thinking 20 years ahead about the fit and active 70 year-old I want to be, and making choices that make that person more likely.
I make much more effort to spend time hanging out with my best friends, and with my wife.
I accepted that we're all just making it up throughout adulthood. Anyone who says otherwise is a big fibber.
I make sure to enjoy smaller things and savour every nice moment. Life doesn't need to be full of dramatic bucket-list stuff to be full of joy.
I wait a couple of weeks at least before buying anything non-essential. I spend less and I think I get more enjoyment from what I do buy.
I've started to give back to a hobby I enjoy (helping teach scuba), it's nice to be part of a community.
I stopped being a perfectionist (with a bit of help from a therapist). It's OK for things to be just OK! (This does not apply to pre-dive checks.)
I decided to like "me", and be more "me", and care much less what other people think. It's fun.
posted by dowcrag at 7:37 AM on February 13, 2020 [8 favorites]

Did you ever hear that saying that goes something like: if you constantly fail to put something away, its trying to tell you that you picked the wrong home for it? If you never bring your shoes back to your bedroom closet, where you decided to keep them, but instead you kick them off at the door, their real home should be somewhere near the door - in a basket under the table, in a closet near the door, whatever.

That advice, but applied more broadly to life, has been a game changer for me. Figure out what you want and need, but don't fight yourself to get there. That's where so many of us fail (me included!) Set up your life, as best you can, so that those things you want, whatever they are, become the easy, default options. It takes knowing yourself and making some changes, but it makes all the difference.

A few examples from my life, that are similar to others above, were making and sticking to a budget, waking up early, exercising, reading more, and eating healthy. The trick is making these things easy and enjoyable for you, which will be the personalized part. Find an exercise you LOVE doing, and you will do it so much more. Find a way to budget that you actually stick to (it was YNAB for me, which now that I think about kind of follows this advice - don't restrict yourself into failure, but roll with the punches).

I always liked BEING up early, but hated GETTING up early (or anytime really). This won't be everyone's solution, but I ended up buying a sunrise alarm clock and now I (almost) enjoy getting out of bed! It's so much more relaxing than my damn phone blaring at me every morning. Or - maybe you decide you just aren't a morning person and stop fighting yourself to become one.

I starting taking public transportation more often - this one actually takes a little MORE effort on my part, because the commute is a little longer and I have to time it, but I get more walking in, and read or study on the train, both of which makes my day start off better, and bonus I knock out my reading goal first thing. And now that my mornings aren't as stressful - see: sunrise alarm clock above - getting to the train on time isn't as hard as it used to be.

I simplified my cooking routine and now cook many more healthy meals that I actually enjoy. I used to fall into the trap of - new! amazing! perfectly healthy! meal EVERY NIGHT. All the food blogs that need new, unique content to stay alive make this an easy one to fall into. No more! I slowly built up a recipe of easy, healthy meals that I enjoy, kept them on an app on my phone, and just pull it up and pick a few every week at the grocery store. I still try out new recipes to keep it fresh, but not nearly as often.

The point is to figure out what you want and make it work FOR you, instead of AGAINST you. Take all the great advice above as a starting point, decide which ones you want, and personalize it into the default of your life.

And finally, not related to the above - I committed to try X new things per year. Anything I wanted, usually a class in the city, or sometimes free lessons online or something I could just go out an try on my own. It's fun, keeps my body/brain trying new things, I get out in my community and meet some cool people, and gain an appreciation for the skill and dedication of the people who are experts at whatever I'm attempting to learn. Challenge yourself, in a way that's enjoyable for you.

But even that's personalized to me - not everyone would like that. In the middle of all this exercise and budgeting and whatever boring life stuff, just make sure to have fun along the way.
posted by sillysally at 7:49 AM on February 13, 2020 [9 favorites]

Exercise. Every goddamn day whether you feel like it or not.

Eat real food. At least once a day. Take the time to sit for at least half an hour and just eat something nutritious while you aren't looking at a screen.

Saying no to things. There are too many things. That includes obligations, fun with friends, and physical possessions. Sometimes you just have to say no.

Realize that everything is incremental. We are all slowly dying at the same time as we are learning things and improving ourselves and etc. But barring sudden life-altering events, most progress and most setbacks are gradual. You won't see weight loss from a new diet right away. Neither will you see cognitive decline from failing to exercise your brain over the course of six months. But over the course of a couple years, you can gain or lose an immense amount; over a decade, it becomes quite stark. Keep up with the things you know how to do, and keep working at the things you want to change. And realize that some things have already peaked.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:55 PM on February 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

I take a nap any day I can. Off to take one now.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:58 PM on February 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Better posture through isometric exercises and what I call posture walking. That is just brisk walking while being very aware of my posture and the way I'm moving my body.
posted by Melsky at 11:52 PM on February 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Finally saying no to an automatic life of bands and touring between construction jobs.
Grabbing on to temp job opportunities in media/tech world eventually landed me a job I truly enjoyed that wasn't wrecking my body daily. It took two years before I landed a full time position, but it was worth it, and it was in education which introduced me to a world of like minded people I didn't even know existed.
posted by Harry Caul at 10:48 AM on February 14, 2020

I cut out all refined sugar.
posted by aniola at 11:27 AM on February 14, 2020

being selfish - selfish with my time and energy and learning to say no to things that don't offer me any benefit
posted by megan_magnolia at 1:55 PM on February 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

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