Most of us spend our 20s figuring sh*t out: our careers, our relationships, ourselves. And we're going to make plenty of mistakes along the way.
That’s more than OK—no one's perfect. Plus, mistakes build character. As someone recently told me, “Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.”
But as I edge toward 30, I've started to want to do more things right and fewer things wrong. Maybe now's the time to start thinking of life as less of a big, messy experiment and more of a strategic game to be played.
After reflecting on my own experiences, reading books and articles about others', and listening to advice from some very wise people, I came up with 29 habits that probably aren’t doing us any favors. While they may not be the worst things you could do, holding onto them could be holding you back from the relationships, career, health, and happiness you deserve.
I’m still trying to break plenty of them myself—it's definitely a learning process. The good news? No matter what age you are, there’s no time like the present to start letting go of certain habits so you can keep crushing it in your 30s, 40s, and beyond.
29 Habits to Kick
1. Flaking out on plans with friends.
If you agree to brunch or dinner with a friend, don’t cancel a few hours beforehand—unless you have a super valid reason. Stressed and exhausted? That’s an even better reason to keep your plans. Research shows hanging out with a friend can boost your mood and decrease stress. Very happy people. Diener E, Seligman ME. Psychological science, 2002, May.;13(1):0956-7976. (Caveat: If the friend in question is dragging you down, maybe it’s time to break ties completely—which doesn’t mean rescheduling and cancelling all over again.)
2. Spending too much money on cheap clothes.
The tank tops and ripped jeans at Forever21 are tempting, but blowing $200 on a pile of clothes you’ll only wear once or twice isn’t a good way to spend your paycheck. Invest in some higher-quality items (and I don’t mean designer) that’ll last you way longer. You may actually start to enjoy getting dressed while saving money in the long run.
3. Obsessing over online dating.
So the person you’ve been chatting with for three weeks still hasn’t asked you out? He or she probably isn’t going to. Accept it, move on, and look up from your phone—you can talk to the cute guy or girl in the coffee shop. Also, let's stop chasing after people who speak in a virtual monotone, giving only one-word answers. There are plenty of people out there who are a lot more fun to talk to.
4. Being too afraid to ask for a raise.
A 2015 study found that almost 60 percent of workers don’t ask for a raise, mainly because they felt uncomfortable asking. We all need to work hard to prove our worth, but we should also be paid what we deserve. Asking for a raise (that you've truly earned) isn't that scary—here’s some advice that’ll help you feel prepared and calm your nerves.
5. Skimping on skin care.
Yeah, you should wash your face at night. No, you shouldn’t pick at your pimples (unless you’re doing it the doctor-approved way). While you don’t have to pay up for special facials or laser treatments, you should invest in some high-quality products that are right for your skin (and use sunscreen every day).
6. “Forgetting” to call older relatives.
Your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other older and wiser relatives deserve to hear your voice every so often. Stop making excuses to put it off until tomorrow. Pick up the phone, ask how they are, and tell them what’s new in your life. Not only will you make their day, but chances are, you’ll also feel better in the process.
7. Overusing the word “sorry.”
No need to apologize for responding to a text two hours later. Or for staying in on a Friday to save some money and get some sleep. The more I read about our culture's apology epidemic, the more it irks me when I hear "sorry" tossed around in casual conversation. We could all stand to cut back. Bonus: When you do need to apologize, saying sorry will carry more significance.
8. Feeling guilty for your success.
If you land an amazing new job or start a business, something weird may happen: People might put you down. It sounds cliché, but odds are, they’re jealous or feeling insecure. Don't let this make you feel bad, embarrassed, or apologetic about your success. Own it and forget the haters. The good people in your life—the ones who build you up and offer support—will be nothing but happy for you.
9. Staying with a partner who makes you feel anything less than awesome.
We know it's not always sunshine and rainbows; inevitably, there will be bumps in the road. (Here's how to tell if your doubts are deal breakers or totally normal.) But overall, your partner should make you feel happy, secure, beautiful, and loved—and if those feelings haven’t surfaced in a long time, it may be time to rethink the partnership.
10. Taking “no” for an answer without trying again.
There are going to be things you can’t do anything about (and that’s an important lesson in itself). But when it comes to issues you really care about—at work, in your relationship, anywhere—don’t just accept the first “no” that someone gives you. Ask again, backed with a reasonable argument and without complaining. You never know ’til you ask (again), right?
11. Not saving money.
Whether it’s a 401(k), IRA, or savings account, socking away cash is one of the smartest things a 20-something can do, experts say. In your 20s, aim to save 10 to 15 percent of your paycheck; in your 30s, try to put 15 to 25 percent in your savings account. Set up a monthly automatic transfer to make it easy and check out these 94 painless ways to save more money.
12. Not cleaning your shower until it’s covered in mold.
It’s gross, and it’s not that hard to clean. (I found a toothbrush works wonders on shower tiles.) Same goes for not dusting until dust bunnies take over or not washing your sheets until they start to smell bad.
13. Arguing with your parents.
We know, parents can be frustrating at times. But acting like a sullen teenager, either IRL or over the phone, isn’t going to help. They’re not going to be around forever, so treat them with respect—even when they’re asking when you’re going to settle down for the 50th time.
14. Smoking (or tanning)—at all.
These are two of the worst things you can do for your health. There’s no excuse. Social smoking is still smoking, and a base tan still counts as sun damage. Does artificial UV use prior to spring break protect students from sunburns during spring break? Dennis LK, Lowe JB. Photodermatology, photoimmunology & photomedicine, 2013, Dec.;29(3):1600-0781. Need help quitting? Here are some useful tips.
15. Waiting around for The One.
It's tempting to swipe endlessly on apps, but if you’re not actually open to giving someone a chance (even if they don't look like the guy or gal of your dreams), then you’re not going to find someone. Newsflash: Soul mates aren’t a real thing, so stop waiting for the face of your future partner to magically appear.
16. Not pursuing something you love.
17. Constantly running late.
This is a tough one to work on resolving—trust me, I know. But if you can nail the whole being-on-time thing, you’ll be well on your way to a better, less-stressful life.
18. Checking your phone at the dinner table.
Whether you’re with friends, a date, or your family, it’s not cool. Whatever is so intriguing on your phone can wait. And texting while driving? Really not cool. Seriously, stop.
19. Living vicariously through social media.
Amazing vacations, gorgeous homes, and luxurious clothes—Instagram is full of major life #goals. A little peek can be motivating, but the more you absorb other people’s lives, the worse it can make you feel about your own. Don’t let scrolling be your only escape. Put down the phone and make things happen in your own life that make you feel (almost) as glamorous, whether it’s whipping up a green smoothie, visiting a museum, or planning a weekend trip.
20. Sending regrettable texts after 2 a.m.
Let's be honest: Doing anything past 2 a.m. is probably not the best idea. But sending nonsensical texts to that person you’re seeing or phone-bombing your ex isn’t good for anyone.
21. Never (like, ever) exercising.
We’re not talking running a marathon or punishing yourself with heavy weights. If you think you hate working out, find something you love. With the massive amount of fitness trends out there today, we promise it’s possible to find a workout (from barre to yoga to P90x to dance cardio) that you actually look forward to doing. And you don’t need a gym to get fit—these bodyweight workouts prove it.
22. Complaining about getting older.
Thirty is not old. So stop saying it is. People are living longer than ever these days—into our 80s, 90s, and beyond—so you easily have at least 50 more years to live it up. And not to be morbid, but celebrating your 30th birthday is a lot better than the alternative.
23. Never buying groceries.
24. Saying yes to a second date you don’t want to go on.
There’s no law that says you have to go out with that person again. If you find yourself dreading a second go-round or would simply prefer to stay home and binge-watch Netflix rather than see him or her, that's totally fine. (Note: If you're unsure or just didn't feel a spark right off the bat, it could be worth another try.)
25. Skipping doctor appointments.
Especially skin checks with your dermatologist or check-ups with your PCP or OB/GYN. See your dentist twice per year and other doctors as often as needed. Don’t put it off—it could save your life, after all.
26. Blacking out.
We’re all for happy hours, rowdy birthday dinners, and epic nights out in general. But it’s really scary—and unsafe—to wake up one morning without remembering how you got home the night before. (Here’s what really happens to your brain when you black out.)
27. Fighting with your siblings over small stuff.
They’re your flesh and blood. And they’re likely the ones who’ll help you cope and deal with the loss of a parent or other family member. While you may have disagreements—and some major dramas—we'd all be wise to let the little things go.
28. Not giving back to others.
Even if it’s not a consistent thing, make time to volunteer. Serve food at a shelter, mentor a child in need, visit folks in the hospital, or try any of these ways to give back (that don't involve writing a check). It will help put your life in perspective and make you realize that even your worst days really aren’t that bad.
29. Waiting for “real life” to start.
This is it. Check in with yourself about your hopes, dreams, and goals on the reg, and if you haven’t asked yourself lately what kind of life you really want to live, do it today. Then start living it.