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6 Signs Your Lifehacks Aren’t Working

6 Signs Your Lifehacks Aren’t Working

Frustration

    Upping your productivity isn’t an exact science — and it isn’t something you can do overnight. Instead, you will probably need to try out a few things, see what works and throw out what isn’t working for you. Of course, to get rid of things that aren’t working, you have to recognize the warning signs before your productivity hacks turn into problems. Here is a spotter’s guide to a few of the problems I’ve run into, or heard about, when implementing new lifehacks.

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    1. The To Do List Shuffle

    Shuffling tasks from list to list, categorization to categorization or due date to due date, as well as making lists just for the sake of making lists, are hints that you aren’t actually getting anything more done than before you implemented lists into your life. I’ve been guilty of this myself: I’ll wind up spending all my time on organizing my tasks into some very nice lists, rather than, you know, actually completing my tasks. This issue is not something that you can simply tweak: it’s a willpower issue for most of us. The only cure seems to be focusing on completing tasks rather than rearranging our to do lists.

    2. The Energy / Inspiration Blues

    Have you started finding a bit more time in your schedule — but you also find that you’re too tired or uninspired to move on to your next project? Lack of motivation can be a crucial sign that something in your grand scheme just isn’t working, and you can’t fix it with a shot of caffeine. Part of being productive is having the energy and motivation to finish out the day’s schedule. Luckily, I’ve known many lifehackers to up their energy and inspiration with fairly minor tweaks to their overall system: changing diet, exercise or sleep schedule can have immediate effects — although simply making a little room in the day’s tasks for a few minutes of relaxation may be enough.

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    3. The New Time Sinkhole

    As we change our schedules and habits, we often pick up new ways of using our time — which aren’t always good. This warning sign often goes hand in hand with ‘The Energy / Inspiration Blues’: when we finish certain tasks, we don’t want to move on to others, for any number of reasons. Instead, we find other ways of filling our time. Some people work on perfecting their solitaire skills, others spend their days ‘networking’ on Facebook — there are thousands of ways to fill newfound hours, and it’s just going to take work to find a schedule that not only helps you to be productive but also prevents you from losing time to such sinkholes.

    4. The Worry Wart Wiggle

    Most lifehacks are intended to take worry out of our lives. So, if you find yourself still worrying day in and day out about small problems, your lifehacks are probably less than successful. A little worry is normal in the beginning, as you build confidence in your system (and yourself) but if you’ve got some long-term wiggling going on, you may need to focus on just why you aren’t so sure that your lifehacks won’t fail miserably. If you don’t have confidence in the way you do things, your current method just plain may not fit your lifestyle for some reason or another.

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    5. The Prioritizing Pickle

    In every facet of my life, I’ve struggled with prioritizing. Are certain parts of my shopping list more important than others? Will I get through the day if I don’t run all of my errands? What parts of a project does a client have to have, and which just sound like a good idea? Most productivity hacks focus on automating as many tasks in your life and prioritizing the rest. Important stuff is supposed to be the first done. But if you don’t have a clear way in which to decide just which stuff is ‘important,’ your system is standing on pretty shaky legs. If you keep finding yourself puzzling over just where in your queue a task belongs, it may be time to sit down and think about the implications for your productivity.

    6. The Feeling of Frustration

    If you find yourself feeling frustrated with any hack you try to make a part of your life, it’s okay to give up. Not every trick works for every person, and if any hack you try isn’t making your life easier, I have to recommend dumping it faster than expired milk. For each success story with a given method for increasing a person’s productivity, I can list off ten people who just couldn’t shoehorn that style into their lives — and that’s perfectly legitimate. Move on, and figure out what actually fits comfortably into your lifestyle.

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    These days, it feels like there are more hacks for every part of a person’s life than there are people. And, while options are great, some people seem to get feelings of inability if they can’t make each one work in their lives. When something doesn’t work, people tend to run into the above signs but try to persevere on through the problems. Warning signs show up for a reason, though. If you run into any of the above warning signs — or any other issues that give you pause in your productivity process — take a step back and figure out just what isn’t working for you. Remember, you have different needs from everyone else (including productivity gurus)!

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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