The YOLO Mantra

Published by Thriving Erin on


Two months ago I wrote about the danger of the “Once I Have” mindset. This mindset is dangerous because it allows us to justify inaction. We convince ourselves that we haven’t actually given up because it’s not that we’re never going to take action, it’s that we’ll start tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that.


On the other side of the spectrum is the YOLO mindset which can actually be just as dangerous. Where the “Once I Have” mindset can justify inaction, the “You Only Live Once” mantra can justify any number of bad decisions. Now the YOLO mantra can be a motivator to overcome fear in the moment and can inspire us to take risks we otherwise wouldn’t, but in today’s culture of quick fixes and instant gratification YOLO has too often become a justifier for essentially just doing what we want without concern for consequences.


“But wait, isn’t part of thriving intentionally, choosing to do what I want and not getting caught up in other things and other people’s expectations?!”


It is. Kind of.


Learning to live and thrive intentionally is about knowing what’s important to us. It’s about setting goals that will get us where we want to be, and it’s about building habits and thought patterns that establish a new way of living. It’s not just about doing what we want to do, it’s about becoming who we want to be and getting where we want to go. It’s a lifestyle with a long-term plan and if we are honest with setting these goals, doing things we like will be a natural part of the process. The YOLO mantra is about breaking from these long-term goals and values. It’s too often a justification for giving in to impulse and peer pressure. This is not about whether something is innately a good or bad decision. This is about the decisions we make being bad for us and our situation because they don’t line up with the goals and values we have established for ourselves. We give in to the pressure of the moment because it is easy and satisfying for a moment and we lose sight of where we’re going. When we realize that life is short and take intentional steps to create the life we want, this is good. But when the YOLO mantra becomes a justification to make bad decisions we are only hurting ourselves.



The YOLO mindset can also be incredibly limiting, it’s based on the idea that “this opportunity will never come again!” To put it bluntly, this is ridiculous. Life is long, opportunities are endless for those looking for them, and not knowing what’s around the corner should excite, not terrify us. There is a level of implied fear when we defend our decisions with the YOLO mantra. It’s a subconscious fear that we are not in control of our lives and this may be the best our life ever gets.


Now I’m not against seizing the moment and taking advantage of great opportunities when they arise, but I am against making decisions that we have to defend or justify to ourselves. If you’re making decisions that have to be justified by the mantra of YOLO, then you most likely already know they’re bad decisions. When we make good decisions we don’t defend and justify them, we simply make them and continue forward.


The YOLO mantra is the exact antithesis of living life intentionally, it is about giving in to peer pressure, and our fear of missing out in the future. The best way to combat this is to have long-term goals. In order to overcome the pressure and fear that sometimes comes with different opportunities, we need to have a clear vision of where we’re going. If there is not a goal at the end that gets us excited, we will not be able to turn down the choices that provide temporary enjoyment.


For example, where I live, one of the most popular things to do is to go for brunch on the weekend. In fact, many of my friends do it 2-3 times a month. The food is great, the alcohol is included, and the venues are beautiful. The only problem is that the cost averages about USD 125 per person. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, but for me, it does not fit into the long-term financial goals I have set for myself. Now if I hadn’t set financial goals, wasn’t budgeting, and didn’t have a clear vision of what things I value enough to spend significant money on, then I may be tempted to say, “wow that’s expensive, but you know what, you only live once!” If I had a vague idea that I wanted to save money, but didn’t really know how much money I was spending and saving everything month, I wouldn’t be able to stand up to the peer pressure and fun.


At the end of the day, the most important thing is that we know who we want to be and where we want to go. This is different for everyone and so if you haven’t figured this out you will forever be pulled in various directions by people who have figured out where they’re going. Don’t use YOLO as an excuse, use it as a motivator to live intentionally, to not waste time in this life being aimless. When you set a goal that gets you excited, your need to justify action with the YOLO mantra will disappear because you’ll be confident in where you’re going.





Tamara · February 12, 2019 at 3:38 am

Erin, I loved playing with these 3 ways of being as I read along with you: Living Intentionally, YOLO, and “Once I have.” The main distinction that I noticed through your post is where one’s attention is focused. In Living Intentionally, it’s focused on the way-out destination: The important goals and values. In YOLO, the focus is on what feels good in this moment. In “Once I have,” the focus is on the current obstacle I need to get through to get to the next thing.

I found myself making a nerdy matrix to add additional things to compare about the 3. For example, I added “Patience Level” to the list, which was interesting. What other distinctions could you draw about each of them? Also, could you think of some common examples of people acting in each of those frameworks?

Great post!

Helen Lim · February 11, 2019 at 6:05 am

Hi Erin, you make great points. I got to thinking about how YOLO is used more often with a lack mindset where the underlying feeling is how this opportunity won’t ever be here again. With that, your advice to know your long-term goals and direction really helps with making the judgment call and decision about what is important.

On a similar note, when you mention the subconscious fear of not being in control of our lives that is a tipping point for moving past YOLO because knowing you’re in control changes how you show up for your life which is then living life intentionally.

Are there experiences you’ve been through that were pivotal for you to understand the insights in this article? Are you able to better use YOLO today?

Maria Xenidou · February 10, 2019 at 11:06 pm

Hi Erin, thank you for sharing a very insightful blog. I enjoyed reading your insights and assertions. I found your personal brunch story a great example to demonstrate peer pressure. I would love to read more examples from you, your friends, and those you observe to complement the other points you make. The call-to-action to leverage YOLO to live our lives intentionally is excellent. Thank you. I wonder if there is any connection between YOLO and living in the present moment. Or is this already included in the part about being intentional? Thanks again, Erin. I love reading your blog and you always get me thinking about something new.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *