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Why Do We Always Slack off?
Life Hackers, have you ever paused to think why hacking your habits and behavior occupies you from time to time? Or why doing things better and faster will always earn you the respect of those around you?
Let’s take a minute to take a closer look at our evolutionary past and and the first human hackers.
In the past, we were part of a hunter/gatherer society; all were working to get an edge in an unforgiving environment. The tools we used and the techniques we invented gave us an advantage over rivals and made our existence more bearable, sometimes even triggering the next evolutionary leap.
Take for instance the story of fire…
In the beginning (about 1.7 million years ago), humans discovered they could use fire. They didn’t know how to control it at first, but little by little they learned its advantages, how to manipulate it, and ultimately even how to create it from scratch (no pun intended).
Before we knew how to create fire, we used to “harvest it” from our environment which required a great deal of effort. It doesn’t grow on trees; quite the opposite, it sets them ablaze. Tribes would fight each other to own it and would invest considerable time and effort to maintain it.
…And then, someone found how to create it themselves.
Just imagine the Eureka moment in which humans learned how to create fire and were able to reproduce the process. Imagine the ensuing era and the leap we’ve all made as a result. Those same feelings/hormone surges/thoughts the cave men and women felt back then are the ones you’re experiencing today when you hack a need.
Hacking was a trait that was developed in us through years of trial and error, or in other words, evolution. It was a trait driven by necessity. One can argue it is the key to our evolution. For me, hacking is much more than just about inventing or changing the functionality of a tool or behavior; hacking is about me masting my environment, but I, as most of you, also find myself slacking from time to time (i.e. not doing the things I need to do when they need doing). This brings up an important question: if my ancestors developed the hacking trait, why do I experience behaviors today that hold me back? Or, in other words, why do I slack?
Well, two reasons that come to mind:
#1 Distractions over time
From the discovery of fire to maintaining it, and eventually creating it at whim took time; a lot of time. Why? The first hackers had an unstable environment with many threats and distractions, and it was a challenge to simply survive; we just didn’t have the brain capacity and ability to focus only on fire creation.
Just as our ancestors struggled with their environment, we too are constantly battling our environment. Granted, there isn’t a saber-toothed tiger roaming our backyard to distract us, but the seemingly constant distractions over time eventually break our willpower and lead us to slack.
We must learn to commit and focus. Distractions will never go away, so we must learn to control them, and fend them off so we can hack and make our leap forward.
#2 Our success is the reason we fail
Minjung Koo and Ayelet Fischbach from the University of Chicago explain in their research that the reason we slack is because we can’t focus in the “here and now”: we are often distracted by things that we’ve done or the benefits we’ve derived from those accomplishments, which they call “to-date thinking”. Instead we should be focusing on the job we need to do or “to-go thinking”.
You might say that we start as good hackers, accomplishing a thing or two, only to finish as slackers. We pass time by reading about other people’s hacks, trying to copy rather than invent new ones. That’s why serial entrepreneurs are scarce (they don’t stagnate on past success) and repeat Nobel Prize winners are rare; the discovery of maintaining fire postponed the discovery of how to create it.
What’s it to you, you ask? Don’t rest on your laurels, and keep the saber-toothed tigers at bay!
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