30 Things I’ve Learned in 30 Years: My Annual Birthday Reflections Post

If you’ve been following 12 Minute Athlete for a few years, you probably know that every year I do some sort of reflection post on my birthday. You can find past years here, here, and here.

You know how your parents used to complain about how quickly the year passed by, but as a kid time felt like it dragged on forever?

Well, I finally get it.

Honestly, I don’t know where this year has gone. It feels like New Year’s was just yesterday and yet here summer is already gone and I turn another year older tomorrow. 31! If I hadn’t kept track of the year I was born I swear I wouldn’t believe it, since in so many ways I feel about 17 (or maybe 20) still.

As fast as time has gone, I do feel like I’ve grown a lot this past year. After last summer’s pretty scary car crash_, I’ve made my health even more of a priority and feel stronger and healthier than ever (and SO much better than when I was actually 20). I’ve read and learned a ton_, made relationships a bigger priority, traveled a LOT, and moved to one of my favorite places on earth.

Looking at it that way, it’s been a pretty good year. But like most driven people, I’ve had many, many times this year when it’s felt like it’s not enough. I’ve struggled to get 12 Minute Athlete to where I want it to be, have often been frustrated with my fitness progress in different areas, want to travel/learn/do/accomplish more… but, I guess that’s how things go. All I know is I’m doing my best, and I guess that’s all I can do for now.

Anyway, as usual I’ve put together some key lessons I’ve learned on my time on earth. If you’re interested, great—if not, here’s a workout to go crush 🙂

Thanks for being so awesome you guys. It means a lot to me.

And now, here are 31 things I’ve learned over the years:

1. If you don’t even try, you’ll never have a chance at succeeding. I used to be one of those people who didn’t want to try anything new because I was afraid I’d fail at it. This fear held me back for a long time in all areas of my life, including my fitness/health, my career, and my relationships. Luckily, after a lot of soul searching, I realized that this was no way to live. Yes, trying new things is scary. Yes, you might actually fail at times. But you also might succeed, or at least learn something important along the way. The risk is worth it.

2. Working towards a fitness goal rather than a weight loss one is much, much more motivating. Even if your short-term goal is to lose weight, setting and working towards fitness and athletic goals is a much more motivating way to get and stay fit in the long run. Whether you make it a goal to do your first handstand, finally be able to do a front split, or even to rock your first half marathon, the best kind of goal to make is something that you’ve always wanted to be able to do.

3. Healthy food makes your body feel like a superhero. If you’re just getting into the habit of trying to incorporate more healthy food into your diet, it’s not uncommon to regularly feel like you’re always compromising taste. But the more you eat healthy, the more you’ll start to feel just how incredibly AWESOME it makes you feel. Before long, you’ll start actually craving it, and you’ll notice immediately when you eat something less-than-healthy and just don’t feel quite as awesome.

4. There is no one “right” way to work out. Yes, I obviously love HIIT and bodyweight training, but if you can’t get enough of Olympic lifting, or CrossFit, or Zumba, or marathon running, or some other crazy form of working out, by all means, keep doing it! Ultimately, whatever gets you excited to get moving on a regular basis is what you should be doing.

5. Just because you’re not a “natural” at something immediately doesn’t mean you can’t get good at it. I used to live my life this way, constantly afraid of taking risks. If I tried something and wasn’t immediately good at it, I would quit right away in order to spare myself the shame of being bad at it. But living this way pretty much guarantees you’ll never get good at anything new. It keeps you from growing as a person and equals a life living in fear. People are rarely a natural at something the very first time they try it—keep working hard and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

6. Success is not a straight line. As much as us driven people want to make constant gains and always move forward at a rapid pace (whether in fitness or in our careers), life doesn’t usually work that way. You will have setbacks, things will stall at times, and sometimes, things just won’t work out the way you hoped or expected they would. But that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Keep moving forward, don’t give up, and you will succeed in the long run.

“You have not failed until you quit trying.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

7. Being extreme rarely works in the long run. Whether it’s your diet (I see this a lot), your choice of exercise, or your exclusion of [you name it], being all or nothing is generally a limiting way to live and rarely works for most people forever. Living by the 80/20 rule (or 90/10 if that just sounds too lenient) leads to a much easier, happier life for most of us.

8. Learn to listen to your body. This is one of the most important things you can ever do. If you feel it needs rest, rest. If it needs something healthy, eat some vegetables. The more attuned to your body you become, the better it will function.

9. Most things that seem impossible actually aren’t. If you’d asked me three years ago if I thought I would be able to hold a freestanding handstand for over a minute, I would have laughed at you and told you there was no way—my arms are too long and I never grew up doing any sort of gymnastics. But despite my limitations, I kept working at them and I’m proud of how far I’ve come today. Always keep going after your dreams and don’t limit yourself.

10. Confidence comes from within. This is a really tough concept to understand when you’re younger, since it always feels like we’re waiting on other people to continuously boost our confidence levels and tell us we’re on the right track. But the most confident people are confident not just because others believe in them, but because they believe in themselves.

11. Good food is worth spending money on. I used to be super cheap when it came to getting what I actually wanted to eat, often leading to me getting something less healthy than I actually wanted to try and save money. Now, if something is a couple of dollars more I always get it, especially if it means extra vegetables. Because your health is always worth it.

12. Experiences are way more important than stuff. I’ll be forever grateful to my parents who were always focused on giving me memories and experiences rather than just a bunch of crap I didn’t need.

13. Food is NOT the enemy. I used to feel guilty about every single thing I ate. I think I subconsciously believed that if I could train myself to exist on just water and air, I would be a much better, more intelligent, more attractive person. Well, I’m happy to say that although it took a long time, I’ve finally gotten over that ridiculous notion. Food is literally fuel for your body. It powers your brain, your body, and your workouts. It is not the enemy.

14. Different food approaches work for different people. Some people do really well on a Paleo diet. Others thrive being vegan, or following a mainly pescatarian diet. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was six years old, and although fitness people like to give me grief about it, it works for me. People know their own bodies better than you do, so don’t push your own diet beliefs onto them.

15. Read everything you can get your hands on. Business books. Fiction. Self-help and motivational books. There are SO many good books out there, and they will all change you if you let them. Some of my recent favorites are Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, Explosive Calisthenics by Paul Wade, Power Eating by Susan Kleiner, and The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. Like I said—all different types.

16. Don’t discount the opinions of the people you love. We all do this—we say something doesn’t count because our mom/spouse/best friend said it. But why would we care more about the opinions of strangers than of the people who know (and love) us best? Listen to your loved ones, they are the ones who will always see your true potential and never give up on you.

17. Failure doesn’t mean the world is going to explode. Part of the reason I used to be so scared of trying new things is that I was so incredibly afraid of failure. I really thought if I didn’t succeed, the world would end. I now know that’s (obviously) not the case, but it doesn’t mean that failure doesn’t still suck at times. Yet imagine a life with no failure… you’d never accomplish anything!

The only way to learn and grow is to pick yourself back up and try again.

18. Being “cool” sucks. You should never stop doing or liking something just because you think others will judge you and think it’s uncool. Set your own standard of cool!

19. Comparison isn’t worth it. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you will never become someone else. So rather than constantly comparing yourself to other people, you should focus on bringing out your own strengths. Embrace who you are and be the best you you can be.

20. Learning to celebrate your accomplishments is a really important skill. And yet, it’s one of the hardest things to learn for most of us. I’m still working on this—it’s so easy for me to move from one thing to the next without taking any time at all to celebrate what I’ve accomplished. But I’m working on it.

21. Being an introvert isn’t that bad. Sure, we’re sometimes envious of the extroverts who appear so natural at parties and don’t have to go sneak in a back room every 45 minutes just to recharge. And those people who just light up the room and make everyone laugh in an instant, those people are pretty cool too. And yes, it would definitely be nice if we didn’t have to think things through so much and could actually make a spur of the moment decision. But if being an introvert means we have fewer, yet deeper relationships, are good listeners, think (sometimes for a long time) before we speak, and can lose ourselves in a good book for days, it’s not such a bad way to be after all. Check out this post I wrote for Mindbodygreen about how I manage it.

22. Don’t buy into health fads. There will always be some company out there trying to sell you the magic pill for health and fitness. Don’t buy it. There is no magic pill, only hard work, healthy eating, and consistency.

23. I really believe that everyone can find some sort of exercise they enjoy. And trust me, this is coming from someone who when I was younger would have told you I hated all forms of exercise. I like HIIT because it’s short, efficient, and I can do it anywhere. But if HIIT isn’t your thing, just keep trying things—take up rock climbing, learn to dance, join an ultimate frisbee team, just do something!

24. Building strength and gaining skills takes (a lot of) time. Way more time than you think it will actually. If you’d told me when I first started that it would take me a good two to three years of practice before I could be even semi-consistent holding handstands, I would have thought you were crazy. Remember that whenever you’re struggling with your pull ups, or handstands, or whatever skill you’re currently working on. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen with time and consistency.

25. Boxing is the absolute best way to take out frustration. There is just something so incredibly satisfying about punching (or kicking) something as hard as you possibly can. It’s hard to be angry after you’ve beat a punching bag to a pulp. Also, it’s surprisingly helpful for hangovers (in case your’e wondering).

26. Chocolate is a wonder food. If you don’t like chocolate, well… I’m not sure if I can trust you 🙂

27. Eggplant sucks. There’s no way around it. Yes, this is my own opinion as I am aware that many of you may actually enjoy the taste and texture of eggplant. But although I’m proud to say I’ve gotten over my dislike of spinach, mushrooms, and onions, I will never, ever like eggplant (I know, I know, I’m stubborn).

28. Walking is good for the soul. Living in places like Europe, New York City, and San Francisco have helped me to develop a deep love of walking. I walk a lot during the day—often around 10 miles—and it really helps me to slow down (something I’m not always good at otherwise) and think. It’s my way of meditating, and I often get some of my best ideas when walking to a coffee shop or taking my dog out for a sniff-fest.

29. Dream big. Don’t let your own or others’ limitations hold you back from going after what you really want. Following your dreams is scary, but living a life full of regrets is even scarier. Dream big and hustle hard. There’s really no other way to live.

30. Keep some perspective. A couple of things happened since I turned 29 that really changed my outlook on life and forced me to really have some perspective.

First, my super healthy mom got diagnosed with breast cancer last year. It was a total shock for our entire family because we have no family history of it and she did pretty much everything right in terms of taking care of herself and staying healthy. Going through that experience with her really forced me to think about what is actually important in life and what doesn’t matter at all. Thankfully, she’s now cancer-free and doing well, but it changed my outlook forever and there’s barely a day that goes by that I don’t feel incredibly grateful for her.

Second, my grandma passed away this summer. We weren’t as close as some grandparents are to their grandchildren and had our differences at times, but thinking about her life and how quickly it can pass by made me really cherish life and want to live every moment to the fullest.

Lastly, my husband, dog, and I got in a really bad car crash just a couple of months ago. We all could have died, but thanks to a lot of luck and our healthy bodies we all made it out OK with minor injuries. I feel incredibly grateful every day since for life and health, and the experience has forever changed my perspective.

31. Follow Einstein time.

I first heard about the concept of Einstein time in one of my favorite books, The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. As Hendricks describes it, basically it means that “YOU are where time comes from-you can make as much of it as you want!”

Or think about it like this: an hour with someone you love feels like a minute, and a minute on a hot stove feels like an hour.

Essentially, you can control how time flows, instead of the other way around.

I’ve used this in so many ways, whether I’m running late to an appointment (because I always am), or just wish I could make time last longer because I’m enjoying the present moment so much. It’s a fascinating concept and one that I’ve found makes a big difference in my stress levels.

Of course, it all really comes back to living in the moment, right? It’s hard to do, but it sure makes life more enjoyable.

Carpe diem—here’s to another year.

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