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How to Develop a Lifehack

How to Develop a Lifehack

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    Image by Ennor

    We benefit from the experiences of many on this site who have provided us with their hacks. It’s easy, fun, and makes my life a little better. Sometimes I get caught in a receiving mode, waiting for the next hack to come and enhance my life. I sit, waiting for an elegant solution.

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    Thinking about the word “lifehack” makes me think I shouldn’t be perpetually stuck in this receiving mode (which is why I’m excited about this opportunity to give back). A hack, by definition, is not an elegant solution that efficiently solves my problems. A hack is something quick and dirty to get the job done.

    Excuses Not to Develop a Hack

    Sometimes I get stuck waiting for an elegant solution before I try anything. The problem is that I don’t know the most efficient method until I actually try something. For example, some say the best way to sleep is for 20 minutes at a time spread throughout the day (polyphasic). Some say it’s best to sleep 8 hours. Some say drink a cup of coffee and take a nap (caffeine nap). With so many conflicting opinions, how do I tell which is best for me?

    For all the research I can do, there is no way to tell the best way for me until I actually try something. I fear that if I try and fail, I will have wasted all that time for nothing. What if I gain weight, instead of lose weight? What if I have less energy than before? What if I hurt myself? There are a million excuses not to do something and many are perfectly reasonable, yet I am still stuck doing nothing.

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    Seeking efficiency and reliability is not the spirit of a hack. A hack is quick and dirty. A hack is a venture into the unknown. It’s learning to do something in a way unintended by the design. It’s far from ideal because it’s engaging reality. Developing a hack is not the most efficient way, but we may discover that it is a better way.

    So how do we develop a hack?

    Step 1: Be Filled with Wonder

    Life is filled with routines that help us efficiently get through the day. We run our own personal programs on autopilot and often ignore everything else. It takes an intention to find something new to break free from our normal cycle.

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    If you ever watch people on hikes or even just walking by on the street, they are often so focused on their destination that they don’t notice their surroundings. Although, if you are along their path and stop to watch a bird or something interesting, they can break free to see what’s out there.

    To develop a hack you must be on the look out for something beyond what you normally see. Question the design. Could it be made better? Can you make it better? Curiosity will naturally lead you down a journey as you seek the answer. It will require effort, but you will be willing to pay the price to see what happens.

    Step 2: Be Adventurous

    An adventure is about the experience. There is danger and you may fail. Although you may not end up without the desired outcome, you will always have new experiences. If you do not explore, you cannot find your own path. Do you really want to follow someone else’s rules, intentions, life?

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    Be challenged by the problem. The creation of the hack is just as much about pushing your own boundaries and abilities as it is about the creation for others to enjoy. If you don’t find yourself being engaged by the problem, then it probably isn’t worth your time. The reward of a hack is knowing that you have engaged the unknown and emerged triumphantly.

    Explore. Discover your own paths. It may not be the most efficient path, but it will be yours. When you learn to develop your own hacks, you become the designer. You determine your own intentions, rather than following the intentions of others.

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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!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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