11 lessons most people learn too late in life, according to psychologists

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Life is an unpredictable journey full of lessons. But, isn’t it frustrating when you realize certain things too late in the game? 

There are some life lessons that most people tend to learn the hard way, and unfortunately, often too late.

These are lessons that could have made a world of difference if only they were learned earlier.

What if we could identify these lessons now and save ourselves the regret? Well, according to psychologists, there are indeed some universal truths that we tend to grasp a bit late.

In this article, we’ll explore the 11 lessons most people learn too late in life, hoping to give you a head start.

Because let’s face it – life doesn’t come with a manual. But, with some psychological insights, we can certainly make it a smoother ride.

Let’s get started. 

1) The importance of self-compassion

Often, we are our own worst critics. This is a lesson that a lot of people learn too late in life. The harsh inner voice that chastises us for every mistake, every failure, can be incredibly damaging.

I’ve seen many individuals struggle with self-esteem issues because they’re simply too hard on themselves. They forget to show themselves the same kindness and understanding they extend towards others.

It’s essential to remember that we’re all human, and mistakes are part of our growth process.

Embracing our flaws and being kind to ourselves can make a significant difference in our mental well-being.

Dr. Kristin Neff, a renowned psychologist who has done extensive work on self-compassion, once said, “With self-compassion, if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you.”

Self-compassion is not a luxury, but a necessity. Treat yourself with kindness and patience – it’s never too late to start.

2) The value of living in the present

I’ve always been a planner, constantly thinking about the future – my career, my family, my retirement. But I’ve learned that while it’s important to plan for the future, it’s equally important to live in the present.

Many people, including me, have spent so much time worrying about tomorrow that we forget to live today. We miss out on the beauty of the moment, the joy in everyday interactions, and the thrill of the unexpected.

A few years ago, I decided to make a conscious effort to enjoy each day as it comes. And I can tell you, it has made a significant change in my life.

As famed psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” This simple yet profound quote has been a guiding principle for me.

It’s never too late to start living in the now. The present moment is all we truly have – let’s make it count.

3) The necessity of letting go

We can’t control everything. This is a lesson that, admittedly, took me a long time to learn. For years, I tried to manage every aspect of my life, from my relationships to my career and even the outcomes of my favorite sports teams!

But the truth is, life is unpredictable. Things change, people leave, and circumstances evolve. And the more we try to control these things, the more we set ourselves up for disappointment and stress.

Famed psychologist Carl Jung once said, “What you resist persists.”

This quote hit me hard when I first read it. It made me realize that by resisting change and trying to maintain control, I was only prolonging my own suffering.

Learning to let go has been liberating. It doesn’t mean not caring about outcomes, but rather accepting that there are things beyond our control.

It’s a lesson that may come late for many of us, but it’s never too late to embrace.

4) The power of vulnerability

As a psychologist, and frankly, as a human being, I’ve found that being vulnerable is not a weakness, but a strength. However, most of us learn this too late in life.

We spend so much time trying to project an image of perfection and strength that we forget it’s our vulnerabilities that make us human and relatable. When we open up about our struggles, we allow others to do the same, creating deeper connections.

One psychologist who has extensively studied vulnerability is Dr. Brené Brown. She famously said,

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.”

This quote resonated deeply with me. It reminded me that displaying vulnerability doesn’t mean I’m weak; instead, it shows my courage to embrace and express my true self.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. It’s a lesson I learned later in life, and one I hope you’ll grasp sooner rather than later.

5) The paradox of seeking happiness

Here’s a counterintuitive lesson that many of us learn too late in life – the pursuit of happiness can sometimes make us less happy.

Sounds baffling, right? But let me explain. When we make happiness our primary goal, we can end up feeling frustrated and dissatisfied when every moment isn’t brimming with joy. Life is a mix of emotions, and it’s unrealistic to expect constant happiness.

Esteemed psychologist Viktor Frankl once said, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” This quote points to the idea that happiness is the by-product of a life well-lived, not a goal in itself.

Instead of relentlessly chasing happiness, perhaps we should focus on living authentically and making meaningful connections.

Happiness, then, will naturally follow. It’s a lesson that might seem counterintuitive at first but holds profound wisdom.

6) Ego can be our greatest enemy

In my personal journey and through my exploration of Buddhism, I’ve realized that our ego can often be our greatest enemy. It’s the ego that creates a false sense of self, separates us from others, and leads us to act out of self-interest.

The ego convinces us that we are separate from the world around us, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness. It fuels our desire for power and recognition, often at the expense of our relationships and inner peace.

In my book, Hidden Secrets of Buddhism: How To Live With Maximum Impact and Minimum Ego, I delve deeper into the concept of ego in Buddhism. The book explores how we can live impactful lives while keeping our egos in check.

Carl Jung once said, ‘Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.’

This powerful statement reminds us of the importance of self-reflection over external validation, encouraging us to confront and understand our egos rather than being led by them.

Through mindfulness and meditation, we can learn to observe our egos without judgment or resistance. We can recognize when our egos are driving our actions and choose a different path.

7) The importance of emotional intelligence

In our journey through life, we often emphasize intellectual abilities, leaving our emotional intelligence on the back burner. But, as I’ve observed in my practice and personal life, emotional intelligence is an essential skill that many people unfortunately learn too late.

Emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage our feelings and those of others, can significantly impact our personal and professional relationships. It helps us navigate social complexities, manage behavior, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results.

Famed psychologist Daniel Goleman, known for popularizing the concept of emotional intelligence, said, “In a high-IQ job pool, soft skills like discipline, drive and empathy mark those who emerge as outstanding.”

This quote underscores the importance of emotional intelligence in our lives. It’s a lesson I wish more of us learned earlier in life. But remember, it’s never too late to start developing your emotional intelligence.

8) The reality of failure

Here’s a lesson I’ve learned from my own experiences: Failure is not the end; it’s just part of the journey. Yet, many of us dread failure and see it as a sign of our inadequacy.

We live in a society where success is celebrated while failure is often frowned upon. But the truth is, we learn more from our failures than from our successes. It’s through failing that we discover resilience, adaptability, and perseverance.

One psychologist who has spoken about the importance of embracing failure is Dr. Guy Winch. He said, “When we experience failure, our self-esteem takes a hit and we often start doubting our abilities.” But he also emphasized that “Failure is not an indication of future performance.”

This quote helped me to see failure in a new light – not as a setback, but as a stepping stone towards growth and success. It’s a lesson I wish I’d learned earlier in life, but one I’m grateful to have embraced now.

9) The illusion of perfection

Here’s a raw and honest truth: Perfection is an illusion. Yet, it’s a lesson many of us learn far too late in life.

We live in a world that often glorifies perfection, making us believe that we need to strive for flawlessness to be worthy or successful. This constant pursuit can lead to stress, dissatisfaction, and a feeling of never being ‘good enough.’

Psychologist Thomas A. Richards once said, “Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

This quote hit home for me. It made me realize that striving for perfection was not only unattainable but also harmful to my mental health.

Let’s embrace our imperfections and understand that it’s okay to be imperfect. After all, it’s our flaws and mistakes that make us human and allow us to grow. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but an invaluable one.

10) The trap of comparison

This might sound counterintuitive, but comparing ourselves to others can actually hinder our progress. Many of us fall into the trap of comparison, often without realizing it.

Whether it’s our career, physical appearance, or social life, there’s always someone who seems to be doing better. This constant comparison can lead to feelings of inadequacy and disappointment.

Psychologist Leon Festinger proposed the social comparison theory, stating that we evaluate our own abilities and opinions by comparing ourselves to others. We all have a drive to evaluate ourselves, and the most fundamental way we do that is through comparison.

While comparison in moderation can provide motivation and benchmarks, it becomes unhealthy when it fuels self-doubt and discontentment.

The lesson here is to focus on our own journey and growth rather than being preoccupied with others. It’s a lesson that might seem counterintuitive at first but is crucial for our self-esteem and mental health.

11) The wisdom in forgiveness

On a personal note, one of the lessons I’ve learned, albeit late in life, is the power and wisdom in forgiveness. Holding onto grudges and resentment can be emotionally draining and can hinder us from moving forward.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or condoning the negative actions of others. Instead, it’s about releasing the negative emotions that bind us to past events. It’s about finding peace and closure.

When you forgive, you wipe the slate clean, so to speak. The person who hurt you no longer owes you anything.

Forgiveness is more for myself than for the person who wronged me.

It’s a lesson that took time to learn, but one that has brought immense peace and freedom into my life.

Conclusion

Life is a continuous journey of learning and growth, and sometimes the most valuable lessons are the ones we learn a bit too late. But remember, it’s never too late to change our perspectives or adopt new philosophies.

These lessons, from understanding the transient nature of life to recognizing the importance of self-compassion, are all stepping stones on the path to a more mindful and fulfilling life.

If you found these insights valuable and want to delve deeper into the wisdom of Buddhism and mindfulness, I invite you to check out my book, “Hidden Secrets of Buddhism: How To Live With Maximum Impact and Minimum Ego”. It’s a comprehensive guide that aims to help you navigate life with a balanced ego and a mindful approach.

Remember, every day is an opportunity to learn, grow, and become a better version of ourselves. Here’s to a lifetime of lessons learned, not too late, but just in time.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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