What advice would you give your younger self? This is the first study to ever examine it.

A new study shows that most people have advice for their younger self that tends towards a few important areas.

Then and Now. Flicker/Adam Levine
Flicker/Adam Levine
  • A new study asked hundreds of participants what advice they would give their younger selves if they could.
  • The subject matter tended to cluster around familiar areas of regret.
  • The test subjects reported that they did start following their own advice later in life, and that it changed them for the better.

Everybody regrets something; it seems to be part of the human condition. Ideas and choices that sounded good at the time can look terrible in retrospect. Almost everybody has a few words of advice for their younger selves they wish they could give.

Despite this, there has never been a serious study into what advice people would give their younger selves. Well, until now.

Let me give me a good piece of advice

The study, which was conducted by Robin Kowalski and Annie McCord at Clemson University and published in The Journal of Social Psychology, asked several hundred volunteers, all of whom were over the age of 30, to answer a series of questions about themselves. One of the questions asked them what advice they would give their younger selves. Their answers give us a look into what areas of life everybody wishes they could have done better in.

Previous studies have shown that regrets tend to fall into six general categories. The answers on this test can be similarly organized into five groups:

  • Money (Save more money, younger me!)
  • Relationships (Don't marry that money grabber! Find a nice guy to settle down with.)
  • Education (Finish school. Don't study business because people tell you to, you'll hate it.)
  • A sense of self (Do what you want to do. Never mind what others think.)
  • Life goals (Never give up. Set goals. Travel more.)

These pieces of advice were well represented in the survey. Scrolling through them, most of the advice people would give themselves verges on the cliché in these areas. It is only the occasional weight of experience seeping through advice that can otherwise be summed up as "don't smoke," "don't waste your money," or "do what you love," that even makes it readable.

A few bits of excellent counsel do manage to slip through, though. Some of the better ones included:

  • "Money is a social trap."
  • "What you do twice becomes a habit; be careful of what habits you form."
  • "I would say do not ever base any decisions on fear."

The study also asked if the participants have started following the advice they wish they could have given themselves. About 65 percent of them said "yes" and that doing so had helped them become the person they want to be rather than what society tells them they should be. Perhaps it isn't too late for everybody to start taking their own advice.

Kowalski and McCord write:

"The results of the current studies suggest that, rather than just writing to Dear Abby, we should consult ourselves for advice we would offer to our younger selves. The data indicate that there is much to be learned that can facilitate well-being and bring us more in line with the person that we would like to be should we follow that advice."

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