What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self?: What Research Shows, and What You Have to Say

Photo of Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy via Wikimedia Commons

Almost everyone has advice they’d gladly give their younger self, so much so that Clemson University psychology professor Robin Kowalski and doctoral student Annie McCord, were moved to initiate a systematic study of it.

The first of its kind, this study compiled the responses of more than 400 participants over 30, whose hypothetical younger self's average age was 18.

The study’s data was culled from a survey conducted over Amazon’s crowdsourcing marketplace, MTurk. Respondents spent 45 minutes or so answering hypothetical questions online, receiving $3 for their efforts.




Money-grubbing, data-skewing shirkers were held at bay by question 36.

(Play along at home after the fact here.)

Kowalski and McCord’s findings, published in the bimonthly academic Journal of Social Psychology, echo many recurrent themes in their other survey of the same demographic, this one having to do with regret—the one that got away, blown educational opportunities, money squandered, and risks not taken.

Personality and situation figure in, of course, but overwhelmingly, the crowd-sourced advice takes aim at the fateful choices (or non-choices) of youth.

Some common pieces of advice include:

  • “Be kinder to yourself.”
  • “Always know your worth.”
  • “The world is bigger than you think it is and your worries aren't as important as you think they are, just be you.”
  • “Don't worry if you look different, or feel you look different, from most other people. There is much more to you than what others see on the surface.”
  • “Don’t get so caught up in the difficulties of the moment since they are only temporary.”
  • “Don’t dwell on the past. Just because it was that way doesn’t mean it will be that way again.”

There’s not much research to suggest how receptive the participants’ younger selves would have been to these unsolicited pearls of wisdom, but 65.7% of respondents report that they have implemented some changes as a result of taking Kowalksi and McCord’s survey.

Dr. Kowalski, who’s come to believe her “laser-focused on school” younger self would have benefited from some intervals of rose-smelling, writes that the better-late-than-never approach “can facilitate well-being and bring us more in line with the person that we would like to be should we follow that advice.”

If you want to double down, share your advice with children, preferably your own.

And for those who can’t rest easy til they’ve compared themselves with Oprah Winfrey:

Be relaxed

Stop being afraid

Everything will be alright

No surprise there.

READERS—WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELVES? Add your advice to the comments section below. (The author’s is somewhat unprintable…)

For inspiration, see the Advice to My Younger Self Survey Questions here and the related survey dealing with regret here.

via Big Think

Related Content:

Stephen Fry: What I Wish I Knew When I Was 18

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

Bertrand Russell’s Advice For How (Not) to Grow Old: “Make Your Interests Gradually Wider and More Impersonal”

36 Artists Give Advice to Young Creators: Wim Wenders, Jonathan Franzen, Lydia Davis, Patti Smith, David Byrne, Umberto Eco & More

Brian Eno’s Advice for Those Who Want to Do Their Best Creative Work: Don’t Get a Job

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Her monthly installment book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, will resume in the fall. Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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  • Frisco Davis says:

    This is going to be very specific. When Christy says “It’s either me or the band”, choose the band.

  • Shilpa says:

    I have no regrets, really, I mean it!

    I don’t want to advice my younger or older or present self, I have always been authentic and take pride in being so :)

    Contentment is my crown and self-assurance my glory!

    Sharing a quote:

    “My crown is in my heart,

    not on my head,

    Nor decked with diamonds and Indian stones,

    Nor to be seen:

    My crown is called content.”

    – Henry VI/Shakespeare

  • Christopher Denny says:

    Travel more. Take more chances. Fuck more.

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