From its first appearance in the early days of Web 1.0, people have defined the term “lifehack” in different ways.
For some, a lifehack is an unknown technique brought to the attention of the public through the Internet. They are often smart, save time, create organization and increase happiness. For others, a lifehack is an unethical way of cheating the system. Discussions on Reddit burn over the right and wrong aspects of getting free food in hotels or evading parking fines.
Either way, Oxford Dictionary Online added the word in June of 2011. Before that, HackCollege appeared in 2006 and Lifehack.org itself appeared in 2005. The Internet brims with all kinds of lifehacks, some of which are poorly understood. Others create the opposite of the intended effect. Yet others can be downright destructive.
Let’s examine the darkside of lifehacks and explore the alternatives. And if you think I’m being picky, just read this post in the voice of George Carlin and smile a little at the cantankerous parts.
1. It Takes 21 Days To Form A Lifelong Habit.
Sounds like a sweet deal, right? Put in 21 days of writing, jogging, eating well and you’re set for life.
Not so fast, Sweetie-Pie.
The 21-day habit change myth has its origin in a book by Maxwell Maltz called Psycho-Cybernetics. It’s a self-help classic from 1960, but that doesn’t mean it’s loaded with truth.
In fact, the “cybernetics” part comes from the idea that the same programming used in guided missiles can change human behavior. By making the right choices, you can “close the loops” of various processes and “set and forget” things that you do. Kind of like how you learn to drive a car and can then daydream your way from home to work without having an accident. But Maltz applied this idea to habits almost as an afterthought. He first came up with the idea in the context of self-image following plastic surgery. As a plastic surgeon himself, he noted that people needed approximately 21 days to adjust to the name face they saw in the mirror.
Since then, the 21 Day Habit Formation idea has been a meme repeated countless times around the globe.
Real research by scientists like Phillippa Lally has shown that it actually takes between 66 and 90 days to form a habit. Even then, this is no guarantee that good habit will stick to you harder than a crack addiction. A lot depends on your age, the nature of the habit and your overall health during the process. Plus, it seems that it doesn’t need to be every single day. 80% of the time tends to do just as well as daily application.
So as a good rule of thumb, plan to spend 12 weeks on any new behavior you want to use to “hack” or improve your life.
2. Spaced-Repetition Software Will Help You Learn.
In truth, spaced-repetition based around flashcards can help. However, this approach doesn’t work equally well for everyone.
Worse, the rote learning at the core of spaced-repetition software can be a harmful waste of time.
Above all, there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually learn anything. Repeating something from memory, after all, doesn’t mean you’ve synthesized the information. And more than synthesize what you’ve memorized, you want to be able to use it to create new knowledge. For reasons we’ll talk about shortly, you’re much better off creating your own index cards by hand. And you should do this alongside listening to and reviewing recorded lectures and reading books that put the information in context.
3. You Can Learn A Language In 3 Months
There’s no doubt about it. You can make amazing strides in learning a new language in a short period of time, but this short time span comes from Benny Lewis, author of Fluent in 3 Months.
Huge respect to the guy, but if you read the book, you’ll find out that the title comes from the immigration policies of most countries. After three months, you’ve either got to leave or go through the process of getting a visa. Thus, Lewis worked at getting as fluent in the language of the land as possible in that short period of time before moving on.
You should definitely read this book and make use of its techniques. Just make sure you have a good idea of what “fluent” actually means. And just as “lifehack” has many meanings, the definition of “fluency” is not universally agreed upon. Language learning enthusiasts use the word “fluency” in many ways.
Spend some time thinking about what fluency means to you and work towards that goal before you get started.
4. 10,000 Hours Of Practice Will Make You A Master
Like the 30 days to form a habit myth, the belief that you need 10,000 hours of practice to become a master artist, musician or athlete is dangerous.
The truth is that you can hack practice in many fields. This means learning about “dedicated practice.” It means breaking down large actions into component parts and then getting really good at them before tackling the whole. On guitar, for example, instead of trying to learn an entire Metallica song in one go, you learn just one part. Then, when you’ve gotten it down, you add another.
You also don’t practice a song by going back to the beginning and starting again every time you make a mistake. Rather, you stop and analyze that mistake and practice just that part until you smooth it out. Then you resume playing it in the context of the entire song. You can apply this principle to just about anything you’re trying to master, including language learning, and it won’t take 10,000 hours.
That said, if you love what you’re doing, you’ll wind up spending at least that much time on the activity anyway. So dedicated practice is a cool way to get results quickly and find out if you really enjoy the effort (not the time) you’ll need to put into it.
5. Procrastination Is Bad
Feel good guru Eckhart Tolle says in the Power of Now that the worst thing about procrastination is that no one bothers to enjoy it.
Face it, people. Procrastination is going to happen. Plan and prepare for it.
Accept it. Make it your friend. The sooner you take that knife of guilt out of your heart, the better. Stop pushing procrastination away and you’ll find yourself making it less of a barrier in your life by default.
6. The Internet Is Addictive
As with many myths, there’s some truth to this one, but as with all the ways people give themselves a headache over procrastination, lifehacking your way out of spending so much time online may not be the solution.
For example, chimes that remind you to stand up can be ignored. Software that locks your computer for five minutes every hour can be disabled, and rest assured that you will ignore the chimes and will disable the software. It’s normal to cut phony fixes like these
out of your life.
Instead of these lifehacks, try making appointments that you can’t cancel. Pay for a course that would be a great loss if you didn’t go. Have a walking partner that you meet with every couple of days.
And as the famous saying goes, never eat alone.
7. Cramming Everything Into Evernote Is A Good Thing
Hey – there’s no doubt about it that Evernote is the king of its kind, but what are you losing?
It turns out, quite a lot.
Richard Wiseman presents research on the positive effects of handwriting in his book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot. You don’t need a whole whack of science to figure out why handwriting is such a good cognitive exercise. For one thing, it uses far more muscles. It also requires hand-eye coordination that typing for some of us doesn’t use in the same way.
It’s not just hand-eye coordination. It’s the wealth of fine motor control exercise needed to write legible letters. You also exercise memory to remember the sizes, slants characteristics of letters and punctuation. All this healthy body and brain fitness is lost on Evernote and similar technologies.
But does that mean you need to chuck your favorite apps into the trash?
No way, Jose.
It just means that you will benefit a great deal by incorporating handwriting into your daily life ,and it’s easy to do.
Send a postcard to a loved one or friend. Write in a journal. Dash out a poem.
You’ll be glad for it.
8. The Internet Is Shortening Your Attention Span
Have you notice how articles on the Internet are getting longer instead of shorter?
It’s because people actually read, that’s why. When they’re interested in a subject, they want information about it by the pound.
Sure, there is evidence to suggest that we don’t read the same on line as we do from books. That’s why so much online writing has involved to have 2-3 sentence paragraphs. Sometimes there’s just one sentence long. Like this one.
Either way, online writing is evolving, and as it grows with the needs of readers in the 21st Century, keeping your attention on valuable content means length.
You just can’t learn enough to improve your life in a 500 word blog post, and if you do feel that your attention span is suffering, here’s what to do: Take active steps to increase your own attention span. The following exercise will extent your focus and improve your ability to learn.
It’s easy to do.
When I was in school, they called it U.S.S.R. Not, not that U.S.S.R. Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading.
Just open a book, either on paper or Kindle and read at least 10 pages every day.
If it’s a novel, really focus in on what characters look like and the settings. If it’s non-fiction, create questions in your mind as you read.If it’s a personal development book, think about how you’re going to apply the ideas in your own life.
You’ll amaze yourself by just how much you learn and how your focus and attention span improves in just 10 pages a day, and if that seems like a stretch to you, get started with just 5.
The point is to get started and keep going. Those two actions combined are perhaps one of the ultimate hacks you’ll ever use.
9. The Internet Is Free
At the core of so many life hacks lay the idea that the Internet is free. This is one of the most seductive myths on the planet, but the Internet isn’t free and neither are the devices you use to plug in.
So if you really want some hacks in the “Internet is free” department, get a job reviewing technology. Makes sure the publication supplies you with devices. These can range from smart phones to laptops. Also, if you work at home, you can usually deduct the costs of the hardware, software and online connections you can use.
Old school lifehacks, but lifehacks all the same.
10. The Big Brother Is Watching You Hack
You can find all kinds of hacks that will keep you out of the eyes of the NSA and other organziations that want to cramp your online lifestyle. Some of these are okay, others not so okay.
The reality is that the ulimate lifehack is not evading criminal behavior. Let’s look at this lifehack demystified. To hack it is simple. Just be doing things online that are worth the attention. You draw the public and private eye of the government because you’re creating helping people. Create more value than you’re taking and you won’t need to hide.
11. The Zig Ziglar Lifehack Demystified
On the matter of creating value for others, there is one word of caution.
Zig Ziglar famously said that if you help enough other people get what they want, you’ll get what you want.
But is this really true?
The reality is that you can bust your ass helping people who only want to take advantage of you, and if you’re doing it for free, they might not take the value you’re creating seriously.
Just as the Internet is not free, neither is the help you offer people without cost. No matter what you do, you will always spend either time, money or energy. Often all three.
The real lifehack in this area is to define how you can help people, but make sure that the value you give receives proper recognition. Also, take care of your health. You won’t be helping others for long if you’re burned out, broke and unhealthy.
12. Burning More Calories Than You Eat Will Help You Lose Weight
That would be awesome, wouldn’t it? Too bad it doesn’t work.
The real way to lose weight is to eat the right things at the right times and in the right amounts according to your body type and your fitness. In some cases, you may even want to eat more calories to increase the amount you can burn. When it comes to fitness and weightloss, there are some principles that are universal, but always need to be geared towards you.
In other words, calibrating your diet, rather than generalizing it is the real lifehack you should use. Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Body is a must-read book for more information about doing this.
13. Success comes in Sevens
We all know the titles of the books by heart. “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” be Stephen Covey is just one of many to put a number to what works. However, the reality is that no one habit (or three, seven, nine or 2500) is going to get you real results unless you take action.
Action should not be a habit. It should be a devotion. The action you take should always involve things that give you energy. Because anything you do that takes energy away is worse than a bad habit.
Now that you know that the secret of success cannot isn’t contained by numbers, let’s move on to …
14. You Can Do Good Research Online
Have you ever heard the phrase, “according to research conducted online”? It should make you cringe. Why?
Because less than 15% of human knowledge exists online. Millions of books and journals never have and probably never will join the ranks of digitized reading and research material. This means that the only way to do effective research remains visiting a library and looking at books.
Not only will you find materials that cannot be found online to deepen your research and intelligence. You’ll also be able to practice the old school form of hyperlinking by looking at all the books surrounding the one you want. Instead of just pulling down one book, pull down ten. And as you skim through them, pay extra attention to the indexes at the back. Use these too find yet other books that probably aren’t online either.
In this way you’ll learn, grow and have a cutting edge over those who do their research only online.
15. Memorizing Shopping Lists Will Improve Your Memory
You’ve probably seen posts on the Internet about using Memory Palaces to memorize information.
Most of them tell you to practice using your shopping list. Like carrots and milk and stuff. Really?
The only meal you’re going to make out of that recipe is … boredom!
Here’s what to do instead:
Learn how to use a Memory Palace. Then think about something you could practice memorizing that will make a positive impact on your life. Even if it’s just the lyrics of a song that would make you happy to sing along with, work with that.
Once you’ve got it and understand the technique, you’ll see how this miraculous lifehack applies to memorizing anything. Then, and only then, will information never be dry, dull or boring again.
16. You Can Pick Up Chicks Wearing Funny Hats And Doing Card Tricks
Pick-up Artists and their lifehack culture is hilarious. You’ve probably come across one of their hyped-up sales pages selling programs that teach you how to get women.
Two of the major lessons you’ll learn from them involve learning card tricks and “peacocking.”
First of all, you’d better learn some damn good card tricks if you’re hoping to get a girl into bed. I mean, seriously. When was the last time you saw a girl turned on by finding a duplicate of the Queen of Hearts she picked in your pocket? You might as well recite your memorized shopping list to her.
“Peacocking” is the idea that if you wear a hat that stands out or some kind of crazy hairdo, you’ll stand out. It’s kind of like the idea that you can lifehack your way into mating season.
Here’s what to do instead:
Learn how to spot whether a girl is attracted to you in the first place. It’s not that hard to do.
There’s a bit of controversy around what I’m about to tell you, but decent science demonstrates that hidden sex signals exist. Like when a woman sweeps the floor with her eyes after looking at you. Or shows you the open palm of her hand after sweeping back her hair.
If she doesn’t like you, she might look up and to the left or right. Or she may put her hand against her chin with the knuckles out to symbolically bar you.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Go out and watch the world and see for yourself. When you can interpret the signals right, you won’t have to do card tricks or wear a funny hat. “Hello” will do.
17. Positive Thinking Will Solve All Your Problems
Personally, I’m a huge fan of positive thinking. It has literally changed my life. However, like so many cures sold at the pharmacy, happy thoughts can also be poisonous.
The truth is that grief, sadness and critical thinking about the realities of life are all healthy. You can put yourself in real danger if you try to slather these over with the icing of positive affirmations and happy slogans. The real lifehack is to embrace unhappiness and sorrow when it arrives. Invite it in and hold it close to your heart.
Call it Emotional Martial Arts. In most versions that’s exactly how you weaken your enemy: by bringing him closer to you, not pushing him away. By the same token, you can work on not getting too involved. Kind of like how a mother comforts a crying child without entering the problem itself.
Don’t get your ego involved. As Bruce Lee once said, “No self, no enemy.” Above all, realize that one day, you’re going to die. Most problems are temporary and don’t really matter. Look them realistically in the eye, solve them and move on. That’s a lifehack that will rarely fail and you can smile to your heart’s content as you dance in victory.
18. You Can Be Original
Have you ever thought about what “original” means? Don’t worry. There isn’t a quiz at the end of this post.
But here’s a concept that can improve your life: Original means “of origin.”
That means that one of the most original things you can do is to go back to what already exists. Study it. See how you can improve it. Make it your own, and never, ever let “originality” get in your way.
It’s not that there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s that until you’ve seriously studied everything that does exist in your interest area, you have almost no chance of being unique.
19. Visualization Will Help You Achieve Your Goals
As always, there is some truth to this, but the fact of the matter is that most people get it wrong.
Like people who want to build muscle. They picture a version of themselves buff and ripped and already at the end of the journey. What’s the problem with this?
Easy. They’re setting the goal too high.
Here’s what you should visualize instead:
Getting down on the floor and doing one push-up. Just one. And then do it.
In fact, try to do just one pushup – I bet you’ll fail and wind up doing more than you expected. The next day, visualize yourself doing five. And try to do just five.
The point is that visualization can help you, but what you see in our mind has to be realistic. It should be a stepping stone toward what you want to achieve. Not a leap to the top of the Empire State Building.
20. Lifehacks Make Your Life Easier
This is the most pervasive lifehack of all. Why?
Because you don’t want life to be easier. You want it to be more interesting. More productive. Geared toward getting better results. But easier?
Never forget that “ease” makes up over half of the word “disease.” Instead, go for the lifehack of constant challenge. Look for hacks that make you work smarter instead of easier.
Choose lifehacks that take all your hard work and streamline them into superior outcomes. Then write this line from the playwright Howard Barker on to your soul: “Because it was hard, we were honored.”
And come back and re-read this post from time to time. It will keep you in good stead when the fluff gets too much and you need to have some of those many syrupy lifehacks demystified.
Featured photo credit: Factory workers on the job via shutterstock.com