Willie Nelson: 10 Tips to Live Life ‘The Willie Way’

Sometimes life can get us all down, but country star Willie Nelson has some great advice for achieving contentment by living life “the Willie Way.”

From his book The Tao of Willie: A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart — an autobiographical collection of advice on life — here are ten tips for staying on the road from the family man and legend of outlaw country.

Willie Nelson performs with his acoustic guitar, dressed in black and wearing a cowboy hat, holding one finger in the air
Willie Nelson | Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Tip #1: Live life by the cowboy way

As Nelson writes, “The cowboy way springs from common sense and from a strong sense of right and wrong, without regard for consequences.”

To him, that also means earning respect “through the positive quality of your actions” and not projecting blame for your own problems onto others.

Tip #2: Drink cool water

Though Nelson understands the appeal of a cold beer on a hot day, he recommends reaching for another drink when feeling parched — water. He reminds us all to drink more water if not already getting the recommended amount. And according to Harvard, that’s four to six cups daily for generally healthy people, but varies depending on the individual.

“The bottom line is,” Nelson writes, “you should drink water when you’re thirsty.”

Tip #3: Breathe

Nelson gives a lot of well-deserved credit to the simple act of breathing. “When I was very young and just learning music, my grandmother taught me that voice control depended on breathing from way down deep,” he writes. “Through deep breathing, you strengthen your lungs, your vocal cords, and every other part of your body, including your heart.”  

And deep breathing has been beneficial for “Shotgun Willie” Nelson in more ways than singing and staying alive. “Deep breathing can work wonders for your physical, mental, and emotional state,” he offers.  

Tip #4: Meditate

According to Nelson, meditation is one of the best ways to get in touch with his inner thoughts. “Sit. Listen. Breathe. Dream. Renew,” he suggests.

And he says, “When you come back to the thoughts of your body … all you need to do is remember to take a part of a simpler you on your journey through the world.”   

Tip #5: Let it go

One thing Nelson recommends not doing is going “through life pissed off about traffic and jackasses.”

“It’s not a perfect world,” the marijuana enthusiast points out, “and sometimes you just have to let your anger go.”

And one way of achieving that anger-free mind state is letting “the jerks of the world” serve as an example of what others shouldn’t be. He writes, “If someone’s a jerk, that’s their misfortune, not yours.”

Tip #6: Some lessons come twice learned

According to Nelson, some important lessons may be learned more than once. These are things like patience, honesty, and wanting less and giving more.

But almost above all, he reminds readers not to forget one lesson — the benefits of laughter. “There’s nothing better for your mind and body than a great laugh,” he writes, adding, “except for great sex, of course.”

Tip #7: Avoid feeling the ‘nothing I can do about it now’ feeling

Once something is said, it can’t be unsaid, and Nelson recommends an easy way to avoid the regret of already spoken words. “Keep your words sweet,” he suggests. “You may have to eat them.”

Most people have to learn this one the hard way, including Nelson. “Understanding regret has been one of the hardest lessons there is,” he notes.

Tip #8: Get on the road again

Something Nelson does to enjoy life a little more is stay on the road. “Even when I was a kid, I liked the idea of being on the road,” he shares. “My buddy Zeke and I used to hop freight trains to nowhere.”

Music gave Nelson the freedom to move around the world, which inspires his songwriting. He notes that when it comes to inspiration for life, “The road is filled with possibilities.”

Tip #9: Take care of the physical and the spiritual

While Nelson has many tips for staying mentally fit, he also emphasizes the importance of physical fitness. “If I didn’t work to keep in good shape, I couldn’t tour the way I do, or sing nearly as long every night,” he admits.

And for Nelson, that could mean yoga, jogging, or even martial arts. Notably, he received a black belt in Tae Kwon Do at 69.

Tip #10: Sages are ‘real people’

While navigating life, Nelson thinks, “All of us need true sages to lead us through the world.”

And like the Tao philosopher Sun Tzu, he likes to think sages are “real” people. By that, he means people who “comprehend what is beneficial and what is harmful,” among other things. Those individuals might harmonize with nature or improve their own health through calmness. And while he didn’t name names, it sounds like his old friend Dolly Parton might fit his description.

To sum it all up, Nelson — now 88 — concludes The Tao of Willie with a simple message. The key to a life of contentment is finding the happiness in your own heart. “Open your heart,” he writes, “and give love a try. You’ll be amazed at what happens.”

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