Thinking of life hacks as tools, not habits.

Newsletter #16

Over the years, I’ve started and stopped many different life and productivity hacks. From waking up early to exercise, not using my phone before sleeping, meditating, becoming vegetarian and more.. 

At first, I used to feel guilty about trying, but not sticking, to most of them. But I don’t anymore. These days, I’ve come to think of hacks as tools, not habits.  

Before we go further, I’d like to mention that I’m using the term “life hacks” very broadly. Let’s take it to mean things that a person does to improve their life that’s optional and relatively easy to start.

Here’s why I reframed my thinking

Life hacks really interest me. So when I hear of or think up a new one, I always want to try it. 

But it’s unrealistic to expect myself to follow 50 different tips a day, while also constantly adding new ones.

While unrealistic, that would be the expectation if I thought of these hacks as habits. Unfortunately, failing to maintain a habit would lead to me feeling disappointed in myself. Worse still, I might come to think of myself as a person that’s not good at following through on stuff. I generally try to be mindful of having too many negative self beliefs, so spiraling like this is exactly the sort of thing I make effort to avoid.

Instead, I’ve come to think of life hacks as tools. This means I try a hack for a period of time. If it’s working well, I might continue to use it. And if not, I’ll file it away for when I need it. This approach is low in guilt, and high in learning and usefulness.

For example, I meditated 15-20 minutes a day for a few months in 2017. But after awhile, I stopped. Had I thought of meditation as a daily habit I was trying to build, stopping would’ve meant failure. 

Instead, I reframed meditation as a tool. This turned out to be a good thing, because, some weeks ago, a need for my meditation tool arose.

I had micro scratches in my eye due to dry eyes. They were really agitating me and I felt myself getting tense and irritable. After considering my options, I chose to meditate for twenty minutes. By the end, my eyes had calmed down significantly and so had my mental state.

By reframing meditation as a tool, it became something handy I could implement when needed. If I thought of it as a failed habit, it would never have come to mind. In all likelihood, I’d probably avoid thinking of it because it’d remind me of all my other failures.

To spell it out, this means that thinking of hacks as tools doesn’t just prevent negativity, it also actively adds value to my life. 

Here are some of the tools I’m employing right now

  1. Going out for breakfast every day. Even when I was employed, I loved going for breakfast to start the work day. 

    Now that I work for myself, breakfast is even more important. It gives me a nice incentive to get out of bed (and the house). Both of which are very important as it can sometimes be hard to motivate myself!
  2. Walking + leaving my phone behind. I don’t play competitive sports anymore, which means I no longer have a regimented exercise schedule. However, I know that exercise is good for me, and try to do it when I can. Yesterday, I walked 16km through MacRitchie reservoir on a whim. And on a further whim (is there such a thing?), I also left my phone at home. It was nice to spend 2 hours alone with my thoughts. Two hacks in one! Woop!
  3. Timing everything. Since starting this with the women’s team, I’ve been timing all sorts of things. From meetings, to my walk yesterday. This isn’t something I just picked up, but a tool in my toolbox that I’ve recently started playing with again. It really gives one the sense of how long things truly take versus feel. Better yet, countdown timers are the best unbiased arbitrator of time. If people have agreed that a meeting should only take 15 minutes, and the timer goes off, that’s an objective party saying we should wrap up. Much better than someone yawning and making eyes at the door. 

I know my interest in life hacks will never go away. So, rather than limit myself to a handful of habits I obsessively follow, this reframing of hacks into tools has allowed me to keep exploring with less guilt, while also improving my life.

If you have any life hacks you think I should try out, let me know! Separately, I would also love to know if you think of life hacks as tools or habits. 

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