7 Life Lessons from Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee by Chris Zielecki

Bruce Lee had a lot of good advice – and not just about martial arts.

It’s no secret – after over a decade of practicing and eventually teaching Jeet Kune Do, and being involved in parkour for nearly as long, Bruce Lee is a huge role model for me.

It’s not just his discipline, martial arts skill and fitness that inspire me though. Bruce Lee was fascinated by philosophy (it’s even an enduring legend he was a philosophy major, although technically he majored in drama) and it shows in his interviews and writing – he had a lot to say on how he best thought to live a good life.

In that spirit I’ve collected seven of his lessons here for you to make your life better.

1. Simplify Everything

“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.” – Bruce Lee (Tweet This)

One of, or arguably the only, foundational tenet of Jeet Kune Do is to keep what’s useful and discard what’s useless.

In Jeet Kune Do it doesn’t matter how much you personally like a certain strike, lock or other technique – if there’s an objectively better, simpler, more efficient way of doing the same thing you ditch the old one and embrace the new. Tradition is subservient to utility.

This is a lot like how the scientific method works. If someone is wrong about something they’re overjoyed to be proven wrong, because it means progress.

You can embrace the same values throughout your life, both in terms of the physical and mental. For starters, an easy way to simplify the physical side of things is to look around at all the stuff you have and ask yourself if trying to go a little more minimalist wouldn’t be a good idea.

When it comes to the mental side of things, embrace the idea that being proven wrong is a good thing.

Stop clinging to old ideas, habits and ways of thinking just because they’re what you’ve always been used to. Stop feeling like you have to save face or get defensive. Hold on to concepts and positions you can legitimately defend but as soon as they’ve been shown to be illogical or that there’s a better way, abandon them without remorse.

Don’t think of your life as a building being built, think of it as a statue being chiseled out of marble – you need to keep chiseling away until you have something beautiful or you’re just going to be left with a chunk of rock.

2. Live for Yourself

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” – Bruce Lee (Tweet This)

The more you try to build your life around the expectations of others, the more you set yourself up for unhappiness and disappointment.

Whether it’s feeling like you always have to buy the next best thing or get the latest piece of technology or feeling like you have to follow the standard track of college and a steady job and a house in the suburbs – if it’s not what you really want don’t do it!

I don’t want to go off on a non-conformist rant here, because non-conformity in and of itself is not purely a good thing. I can’t tell you how many people I see on a day to day basis though who seem to be going through the motions because it’s what society, family or whoever expects of them. Figure out what makes you happy and pursue it however you best can.

On a side note, this goes both ways. Don’t try to pressure people into a path they don’t want to follow just because you don’t like it or it’s not what you expected of them.

3. Don’t Wait, Act

“To hell with circumstances, I create opportunities.” – Bruce Lee (Tweet This)

If you’re always waiting around for the right opportunity it will never come.

To paraphrase W.B. Yeats, don’t wait to strike while the iron’s hot – make it hot by striking. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do figure out how to accomplish it and get started. Sure patience is a virtue, and good things do come to those who wait, but better things come to those who get off their asses and get them on their own.

It’s easy to delay things by saying it’s not the right time, or the circumstances just aren’t good right now. Nine times out of ten this is just fear talking. People use this as a way to avoid failure by never trying.

Stop that.

You need to take control of your own life and work toward whatever it is you want. You can’t get where you’re going by standing still, so quit wasting time – shut up and do something

4. Be Mindful and Positive

“As you think, so shall you become.” – Bruce Lee (Tweet This)

Now to clarify here, I’m not talking about any of that ridiculous “law of attraction” stuff. I give everything in The Secret as much credit as I do the Tooth Fairy. If you’d like to make a positive claim about it feel free but I’m going to need some evidence.

That being said, while it isn’t going to magically bring you good fortune (“Accio winning lottery ticket!”), your state of mind will strongly influence your own actions and influence your mood and attitudes.

If you’re always dwelling on how terrible things are, how you’re a failure or not good enough, how you’d love to accomplish some goal but you know it’ll never happen – then you’re going to sabotage your own efforts.

One of the biggest determining factors in whether someone succeeds or fails at a goal is whether or not they give up. When you focus on the positives and keep a good outlook you’re that much more likely to be able to persevere. As long as you don’t quit you’re guaranteed to accomplish your goal eventually.

Well, or die trying, but in that case it won’t really be important to you anymore.

The key is to be mindful of your internal monologue and aim to be positive, supportive and confident.

5. Always Fight Bias

“Take no thought of who is right or wrong or who is better than. Be not for or against.” – Bruce Lee (Tweet This)

I don’t take this to mean that you should be indecisive about everything, that would be a bad idea. What I take from this is that you should not let flawed reasoning, bias and personal opinion color your decision making – if someone or something is objectively right then they’re right, whether you like it or not.

I see this as largely complimentary to point number one. If we allow ourselves to fall into all the common mental traps that lead us to make flawed, biased conclusions then it’s impossible to properly determine and excise the things that are holding us back.

Do your best to approach every conflict objectively and dispassionately. Make a habit of stepping outside of your preconceived notions and looking at issue from the opposite viewpoint of what you instinctively gravitate toward.

A good exercise that I employ is to regularly seek out authorities on a subject who hold a position contrary to my own and read as much of their arguments as I can with an attempt to be as objective as possible.

This encourages you to question your reasons for coming to your own decisions and correct them if they’re faulty.

6. Learn About Yourself Externally

“To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person.” – Bruce Lee (Tweet This)

We are terrible at coming up with accurate models of ourselves in our own heads.

It’s not necessarily for conscious reasons – people just have a subconscious tendency to picture themselves a certain way and then delude themselves into thinking that’s accurate. It’s very easy to overestimate your good qualities and underestimate the negative things about you because, when it comes to evaluating yourself, you’re by definition the single most biased person in existence.

Instead aim to learn about yourself through observation of your actions and interactions with other people.

You may think you’re a super kind or thoughtful person, but don’t just take your own word for it – critically examine how you treat other people. Are you really as thoughtful as you thought you were?

One of the best judges of a person’s character is to observe how they treat someone or something from whom they have nothing to gain and nothing to fear. You should hold yourself to the same standard in order to determine if you actually exemplify all the traits you desire.

7. Be Yourself

“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself.” – Bruce Lee (Tweet This)

I know. Everyone tells you to be yourself.

It bears repeating though, because it’s easy to lose yourself and start acting like someone else. Check every now and again by asking yourself if what you’re doing is what you really want to do or if you’re doing it for the sake of others.

I don’t need to tell you how or why to be yourself, but it’s on you to keep yourself on the right track.

There are way, way more quotes and more lessons from Bruce Lee on how to lead a better life.

Do you agree or disagree with the ones here? Have one you’d really like to add? Share it in the comments!

Photo Credit: Chris Zielecki

Adam is a former English teacher turned personal trainer and writer. He’s addicted to learning, parkour and martial arts. In addition to being a voracious bibliophile Adam’s fascinated by anything related to health, fitness and language. When not studying or training he can usually be found curled up with a good piece of fiction. You can e-mail Adam at Adam@RoadtoEpic.com