How to Hack Your Life

By most statistical measures, New-Year-vibes are beginning to fizzle out mid-way through the month, as roughly a third of us give up on our resolutions. They start to drop off and we look sheepishly over our shoulders at them cast off along the path and then we start to rationalize. . .

Our goals were overly ambitious to begin with, perhaps, or we had other more pressing concerns on our plate, or maybe it is the case that New Year’s Resolutions are just silly, sentimental things cooked up by our too-optimistic imaginations anyways and by the way, who says it needs to be January 1st for me to start reaching toward a goal?

Luckily, there’s a way to protect yourself against this mid-month malaise. I like to call it “hacking your life”. And whatever your roster of New Year hopes and dreams are, such a strategy actually involves shifting your attentions up and away from single-minded pursuit of these goals.

Let me explain: If you have a goal of eating healthier, for example, you’ve probably been schooled (via popular culture, the American education system, you name it) in how you go about accomplishing this objective. The go-to strategy normally goes something like this: You break down this actually somewhat vague, watery idea of “eating healthier” into smaller, more specific, and more actionable goals.

If you get this far, you have a meticulous and (probably) strict plan laid out that you now have to source the energy to power through for, yikes, the entire year. Understandably, this is hard to do. The problem in this classic scenario is that people often burn up all their motivational zeal on the planning of their goals so that there’s precious little left over for the execution aspect. (Which, I should make a disclaimer, motivation itself is never a sufficient fuel to rely upon if you’re looking to stay committed to your goals, but that’s besides the point.)

In any case, you can overlay the same format onto scores of other standard New Year’s Resolutions: To spend less money, to get more sleep, to start exercising. In a lot of these situations, the reason so many people abandon their goals at some point in the calendar year (and overwhelmingly, this is in January or February) is because they’ve failed to really establish and cling on to the why of what they’re trying to accomplish.

After all, it’s been feverishly drilled into us that we need to be diligent in crafting up these elaborate means of reaching these goals (and don’t get me wrong — that is necessary and important for success) but we’re missing out on a different component that has to do with the why.

And this “special component” might not be what you think. Most people tend to think that success is a two-parts recipe of motivation and discipline. As in, a) you need to be fired up and b) you also need to work hard. But I think there’s actually an ingredient to add to this formula that not only do many people not utilize, but that can actually reduce the amount of perceived exhaustion-expended in the process of goal-striving. So, what is it exactly?

I’d boil it down to this: The logic of energy conservation. Basically, to hack your life, you try to make it as easy as possible over the long-term. This taps into the why part of the goal-setting equation that is often more glossed-over than it should be.

Take the healthy-eating example again: You think you would feel better if you ate healthier and you’d probably look better too. But in the back of your mind, you’re framing this “project” as just that — a bit of a temporary project. You’re subconsciously aware that you could (and just might) abandon it at any point and that you could probably just as well cycle around to picking up that same ambition once another year rolls around.

But in that process, you’ve expended a lot of energy and resources. If you dropped your goal, not only have you not accomplished anything very tangible, but now you’re likely grappling with feelings of shame that have taken a toll on your mental energy and you’ve possibly been identifying with being someone that gives up on goals which further drains you of the resolve needed for your next stab at the unaccomplished.

Practically speaking, you’ve spent time thinking about your healthy-eating aspiration, worrying over your own unreliability, and possibly burning up any remaining energy on a series of unsuccessful new starts. But you fall into this pattern by way of thinking that goals come in waves of years so is there really much to lose by waiting until the next new year rolls around?

But there is actually quite a bit to lose. Such a perspective is too short-sighted. Contrast this with the hack-your-life perspective which might involve you coming up with the following rationalization: To make my life as easy as possible over the long-term (that is, the rest of my life) I ought to start eating healthy now because the benefits will compound the more I carry this new habit into the future.

People can become so hung up on the ethos of motivation and discipline — both of which while important are, practically speaking, energy-draining. What they really need to do is appeal to the logic of energy conservation, of self-preservation.

Over the long-term, people run into life obstacles, or their stamina frays, or they become overwhelmed with the tasks stacking up on their to-do lists. All of these reasons just mentioned are the cause of death for heaps of New Year’s Resolutions and well-meaning goals. But all of these hurdles could be survived along with the goals if individuals made overall self-preservation their ultimate intention.

To “hack your life” you have to figure out how to allow your goals to survive through everything that clutters their course. You have to figure out how to conserve the most amount of mental energy possible.

Appeal to logic: If you start eating healthier now, you’ll be ‘x’ amount of times better physically, mentally, confidence-wise etc. next year and if you continue, the effects will only magnify — it’s like compound interest.

If you have your eye properly affixed on the long-term (and I really do mean long-term, as in, the rest of your life) then you might find that you’re not as starved for the classic components of motivation and discipline as you once were because, beneath it all, you are fueled by the cool-headed logic of own energy-conservation and self-preservation which is an understanding that clicks with most people, it makes intrinsic sense.

You might think that an overarching objective of making your life “easier” doesn’t sound like anything to be proud of. And while it might not be thrilling, it’s actually an excellent goal to have. The more you move towards it, typically the more mentally relaxed, organized, and clear-headed you feel instead of exhausted and overwhelmed. The more you have the energy and resolve to accomplish your goals and move forward in life.

So, don’t miss the third, oft-forgotten component of the goal-achieving trilogy (necessary disclaimer: there is no such official trilogy, I made it up. . .) It is, to hack your life, try to make it as easy as possible over the long-term.

You’ll be surprised how clear-headed your vision for your health, financial, relationship, and career goals can become as a result of committing to your lifelong “self-preservation” rather than the single-minded pursuit of individual goals. This in itself is the key.

There’s motivation, there’s discipline, but there’s also logic. Remember, tap into the why of your goals and stretch them out to the ultra-long-term. To play the game of life well (and who knows, maybe even win it?!), it pays to have an ultra-comprehensive strategy and a knack for conserving your own resources. Perhaps you could call it working smarter, not harder. Don’t we all want to do that?

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