10 Most Important Things You Need To Learn To Say To Make Your Life Better

image - Flickr / Carmen Jost
image – Flickr / Carmen Jost

I switched sides with my 12-year-old and let her drive the car. “Uhh, really?” She was nervous when I suggested it.

I showed her where the brake was and where the accelerator was then let her at it. We were in a big empty parking lot. In 5 years she’s going to get a license.

The car jolted forward, then stopped. Then jolted forward and stopped (don’t tell Claudia please).

I said, “Hit the accelerator a little and then just rest while it moves and then slowly hit the brake.” She started to get better. Then I said, “Turn the wheel a little,” and we started to go in circles.

Then I put the car in reverse. We went in circles in reverse.

Then I said, “Okay, now we have to go.” She said, “This is fun! I want to do more!”

And I said, “No”.

You have to know when to set boundaries.

“No” is the first word you need to know. I should know because I wrote a book about it.

I could’ve just said, “Warren Buffett said that the difference between really successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people say No to almost everything.” But I wanted to share the story about my 12-year-old driving.

You don’t have to say WHY you are saying “No,” either. I used to think I needed to explain else people might not like me. But people like you more when you put up the velvet drape to your private party.

Sometimes people can get past your “No.”

They can describe the value they will bring. Not that any of us are so special. But there needs to be a reason to say “Yes.”

You don’t need any reason to say “No.”

My mother told me to say “I’m sorry,” to my grandfather after my grandmother died.

“But I didn’t kill her,” I told my mom. I was 9. If my grandfather thought I killed my grandmother then maybe he would hate me. What the hell?

The subtleties of language are really confusing. And generation after generation we pass these things down to our kids and their kids and so on.

This is why learning the 10 most important things is critical. It helps you unlearn all the bad stuff.

“I’m sorry,” is often an important thing to say. Like if someone you love says you were a jerk and you don’t understand you can start off, “I’m sorry you feel this way,” instead of being defensive.

Being defensive is very offensive.

“Hi, I’m James.”

I’m shy at parties. It seems like I’m always there by myself and everyone else knows each other and they are all talking and laughing.

So I pretend I slip into “alien mode.” I’m the alien occupying James’s body at a party. Then I can do anything. I can take off my clothes and do a Jackson Pollack painting with my pee on the cake.

But maybe better is to just go up to people and say “Hi, I’m James”. And then they stop talking to each other and they introduce themselves and then you can say, “What did you guys do today?” Or you can say “Why does everyone think ‘The Wire’ is such a great TV show?”

I guarantee they will laugh at that. Then you can start talking and the party will be more fun.

“I can help you with this.”

Often the way I get someone to come on my podcast is I find what’s important to them and start off by saying, “I can help you with getting the word out about X,” where X is the most important thing they are working on.

Then I describe how I can help them. The number of people I can reach, the way I would promote X, etc.

I really do want to help them. Because their success will help the world (hence the reason I like them in the first place) and their success will also help me.

Even if you don’t know directly how it will help you, trust me it will help you.

This morning someone told me how coming up with 10 ideas a day helps him. He was always used to having one boss his whole life. He didn’t know what it meant to have multiple streams of income.

So he reached out to famous people in a particular sport and said, “I can interview you and get you in one of the best magazines for the sport.”

One person, a world champion at the sport, said “yes”. The interview went great. And a well known magazine paid my friend to publish the article.

Life becomes like magic when you keep saying, with explanation to back it up, “I can help you with this.”


When I was dead broke I wish I had said “help” to more people. When I was scared about my family and losing my home I wish I had said “help” to more people.

Some people don’t want to help you. Some people are cruel or are busy or they want to see you suffer. Or sometimes they need help themselves. That’s ok.

But some people want to help you. And sometimes you need it.

We are mammals. Every mammal lives in a herd. The reason we live in a herd is because a lion can kill any one of us, but a lion can’t kill the whole herd.

This is for 200 million years.

“Help” is the only word mammals really knew for 200 million years.

The first impulse a baby has, seconds after it’s born, is to ask for help. To eat. To be clean. It does this by crying.

Many people want to help you. Many people want to give advice. They like feeling needed and they care about you. Maybe they love you and you don’t know it.

So why do I always feel ashamed to say it?


Sometimes during the day I almost feel like a robot.

I’m walking around and suddenly my body goes “hunger” so I go in a store and buy something and don’t even look at the cashier because he’s a robot also. He takes my money and we both go on with our lives.

What if I tried to connect with the cashier. Notice he’s alive and say “Thank you.”

Nothing in the world will change. But maybe the connections between two of six billion humans will go slightly on fire for a second.

One time I even asked out a cashier and we went out on a date but that’s another story.

“Thanks” is admitting you can’t do everything by yourself.

Here’s what I do every day. Maybe it might be fun to try it.

I find someone who has helped me in the past 20 years. Maybe I haven’t even spoken to them in 5, 10, or even 20 years.

A few weeks ago I wrote to someone I haven’t spoken to in 20 years. I had to track down his email.

I wrote him “Thanks” and why.

He was surprised and happy. He wrote me back. A flood of happy memories came back of the class he taught me (a writing class).

“Thanks, Reg.” There I did it again. Now I’m happy.

“This is great because X, and what if you also try Y”.

The above line works with all constructive criticism.

A friend of mine works in the port-a-potty business. He has to clean the shit every day at any event where he delivers his public toilets.

“You know what is the common theme of all shit?” he said to me.

And I really had no idea. I couldn’t even possibly guess.

He said, “All shit has undigested vitamin pills in it.”

The vitamin industry is a $30 billion industry. But humans are not made to digest vitamin pills. We simply can’t do it. It’s like asking you to eat a penny and digest it into protein.

Constructive criticism works like that. You may or may not be wrong or right. But if something looks like shit to you, find the vitamins in it and pull those out. Then try to make it better.

Never say anything negative in a constructive criticism. Else you just wasted words and hurt someone. Two very bad things.

Because people are often insecure about their status in the herd, they feel they can move up in status by criticizing someone. This is like trying to eat vegetables by eating a lot of potato chips.

The secret of much success is the ability to give constructive criticism. It’s a rare ability.

Now go invent a way to digest vitamins.

“You look beautiful.”

I grew up with two sisters. I have two daughters. I’ve been married twice. Most of my friends are female.

Sometimes people say you can praise too much.

I don’t believe this. We’re only here a very very short time. For the next 15 trillion years we’re going to be dead. But for the next 0-100 years we’ll be alive.

So tell people they are beautiful during the short amount of time it will mean something to them. Or, tell them some other sincere compliment. Everyone has beauty inside of them.

In a well-written novel, for instance, even the most evil and ugly characters have some amount of beauty buried inside their grief and anger. Otherwise the novel will be flat and bad.

To be a good human means to find the gems inside the grief that distorts the faces and lives of so many people.

When you put in the effort to find the gem, you make the people around you better. That’s the only way the world becomes better.

War never begets peace. Peace brings peace.

“I need to be by myself”

Dan Ariely has research that we are at our peak productive times about 2-4 hours after we wake up.

If you wake up at 6am then you have the most energy from 8 to 10am.

Do the work you love most and that requires the most energy during those times. You need to be by yourself during those times.

The rest of the day you can do follow up emails. Dumb meetings. BS stuff. Whatever. But be by yourself and do your hard work and study during your productive hours. Don’t waste it on web surfing or gossip or whatever.

I’m writing this now 3 hours after I woke up. In the first hour I read. Then I write this. After my productive time I’ll do some social stuff with a friend, then I’ll rest and make phone calls. That’s a productive day for me.

“It’s so good to see you.”

Else, why are you seeing them? Only get together with people you really want to be with, work with, hang out with, whatever with.

The words, “I wish I had spent more time with people I hated” have been spoken by people on their deathbeds zero times in the history of the planet.


I put it in brackets because this is not a word.

When we wake up in the morning, the universe slices off a tiny piece of energy and gives it to us.

We have the whole day to “spend” it on things.

We can increase the energy a little by eating. We can increase the energy a little by being around people we love. Or by being creative. Or by not doing draining things (complaining is draining. Blaming is draining. Comparing is….wearing (I had to think about that a little).

But at the end of the day we are tired again and need to sleep to rejuvenate.

One thing that always helps me find my energy is by being silent sometimes and doing nothing. Right now I’m looking out over 10,000 windows in NYC. It makes me feel silent at the majesty of it all.

Other times I like to sit and forget who I am. I’m nobody. We’re so busy all day being somebody that sometimes it’s nice to be nobody.

Silence is a deep well we all share and drink from together. All the creative ideas of the universe are hidden in this well. If you are silent enough then you get to share in all the creative ideas of everyone else in the world by drinking from this well.

This is the secret of art.

Shoot. I feel like there are other important things to say that have helped me in my life.

But maybe this sums it up.

I think I’m going to tell Claudia how beautiful she is. Then I’m going to write a thank you letter.

Then I’m going to be silent for awhile. And if I’m lucky, I’m going to help a friend invent a way to digest vitamins. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated.

Keep up with James on Twitter and jamesaltucher.com

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