I’ve been drinking a lot during lockdown. With no one to see and nowhere to go, it’s been easy to reach for my wine glass every afternoon if nothing but to just have something to do.
I started watching Taylor Tomlinson’s Netflix stand-up special one afternoon (wine glass in hand) and she said something that struck me:
“But I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself, you have to work on yourself in your twenties ‘cause if you don’t then you’ll turn thirty and all the shitty parts of your personality will solidify, and that’ll just be who you are now. Your twenties are an opportunity to fish trash out of the lake before it freezes over.”
In between bouts of laughter (because her delivery is absolutely hilarious), I had a sinking feeling of dread when I considered all the bad habits that I felt comfortable engaging in because I was still “young.”
When I thought about it, I didn’t want to be the lady in her thirties who coped with her stress, anger, and boredom with cigarettes and booze. It might be “edgy” now, but it won’t be edgy when I’m nearing forty and my doctor’s haranguing me about my high blood pressure. And those are only a few among a laundry list of bad habits that I like to engage in.
I’ve always told myself I feel fine — I’ll just stop when I get older and I actually need to, but I realized that if I waited until I absolutely needed to, that means the damage would already be done by that point. And considering that the lifestyle choices made in your twenties directly affect your health in your forties I realized that I needed to start making the effort to turn around the habits that would only serve to harm me.
Moderate alcohol consumption:
I had the unfortunate luck of picking up a drinking habit during my time as a bartender. I’ve been drinking a lot throughout my twenties and while I know it can’t be good for me, I found safety in numbers because everybody else around me was doing it. Plus, I got quite good at toeing the line between drinking to the point of being hung over and drinking to the point of feeling a little groggy but otherwise fine the next day.
But I knew I was drinking more than was good for me. Research has shown that people who drink more than 100 grams of alcohol (about seven standard glasses of wine) have a lower life expectancy at age 40 than those who drink less than that.
But notice that I say moderate alcohol consumption, not no alcohol consumption. Though some studies say that there’s no safe amount of alcohol to consume, I think it would cause more people undue stress to try and eliminate it from their lives completely. There’s a social component of enjoying alcohol and as long as consumption is moderate it can bring other benefits to your life.
Move more (and I don’t mean exercise):
Blue Zones are five locations in the world where people live longer and are healthier than the rest of the world. If you think that exercise is part of their daily routines, you’d be wrong. Rather than exercising, blue zone inhabitants naturally move more.
Their environments are structured in a way that requires them to move more to go about their daily lives (about every twenty minutes to be exact). They lack many of the modern conveniences that have allowed us to live extremely sedentary lifestyles. They garden, they walk, they do household chores without machines.
While there’s nothing wrong with exercise, it can seem like a fruitless endeavor because you’re not working towards anything in particular besides exercising just for exercise’s sake. People who exercise vigorously can also fall into the trap of being very active for perhaps an hour a day while being very sedentary the rest of the time.
For those who don’t enjoy exercise or who don’t have the time, incorporating more movement into your life might be an even better way of staying healthy than hitting the gym.
Develop a healthy relationship with food:
I’ve always hated the question of “do you eat to live or do you live to eat?” because it ignores the importance of what everyone’s main priority should be: to have a healthy relationship with food.
Too many people view food as an inconvenience or as an emotional outlet when it should be none of those things. Food nourishes us, it fuels us. It gives us an opportunity to gather with friends and family.
When food starts to play a larger role in our lives, that’s when our relationship with it can become unhealthy. A salad isn’t inherently good just as a slice of pizza isn’t inherently bad. Certain food restrictions aren’t inherently life-changing just as having no food restrictions isn’t inherently life-ruining. Subjective values like these should never be assigned to food.
As with most things in life, the most important thing we can to cultivate a healthy relationship with food is to enjoy a vast diversity of it in moderation. Hara hachi bu is a Japanese term that means “eat until you’re 80% full.” I wrote an article about what exactly this means and how to implement this practice in your life:The One Habit That Can Free You From Restrictive DietsIt’s not about counting calories, dieting, or restricting what kind of foods you can eatmedium.com
Ditch people who negatively affect your life:
I’m not religious but I can concede that the bible holds nuggets of wisdom that are timeless. One such nugget is in Proverbs: “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”
The people we surround ourselves with have a lot more influence on us than we would like to admit — and I’m not just talking about teens being “peer pressured” into trying drugs or ditching school. As adults, we adopt a lot of our values, goals, and outlook on life based on those of our closest confidantes.
As naturally social creatures, human beings will always seek affirmation and belonging with their tribes. Makes sure that the tribe you surround yourself with is one that reaffirms your choice to live a good life, whatever that may mean to you.
Find a purpose(s) and work towards it (and no, money is not a purpose):
Science has shown that those who have a purpose in life live longer than those who don’t. Finding your purpose (or purposes) may be a lifelong endeavor, so beginning to contemplate what you want out of life when you’re young is an important exercise.
Many of us get caught up in the idea that chasing financial success is the only purpose we need because it will improve many other aspects of our lives. While it’s true that money gives us a baseline standard of living with which to achieve further actualization, we won’t have a purpose to pour our resources into if we never seek to find it.
A true purpose is a conscious choice that you make that is driven by love — it’s not something that is expected of you by your family, peers, or larger society. A true purpose is something that brings you contentment whether anyone else knows about it or not.
Many of these concepts need to be prioritized throughout your whole life, not just in your twenties. But starting early is helpful in laying a solid foundation upon which you can build a good life. We’re much more malleable to change in our youth than in our old age. While enjoying a brief time of self-discovery through bad habits and experimentation is acceptable, those of us nearing the end of our twenties should contemplate whether we can really push off the hard work we need to do for later.