5 Amazing Life Hacks You’ve Never Heard Of
Life Hacks are ten a penny with entire websites designed to share them with the world.
The only problem is that many have zero basis in science and simply don’t work.
Here are 5 that absolutely do work – if that is, you can be bothered to implement them properly.
1. Life Hacks – Hacking Procrastination
If I had $100 for every client that told me they worked better the nearer they got to a deadline, I’d probably have bought a small island in the Caribbean by now and be lunching on tasty crustaceans with Richard Branson.
The reality of the situation is almost everybody works better the closer they get to a deadline and there’s a very good reason backed by lots of hard science.
I feel sure you are familiar with the flow state, right?
It’s also referred to by some people, especially athletes, as being in the zone.
It was made famous by the co-founder of the positive psychology movement, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, and delivered to the world in his seminal book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (al)
Very briefly, it is when you are performing at your peak level. Often, time seems to stand still, things seem to be incredibly easy and life is quite frankly, a breeze.
Some people erroneously think that stress is absent from flow, but nothing could be further from the truth.
What is actually happening is your are experiencing just the right amount of stress to heighten all your senses, improve concentration levels, get blood flowing to your brain and boost your overall performance.
You need a certain amount of stress just to get out of bed in the morning and without it you cannot perform adequately.
When people procrastinate up to deadlines it’s frequently because they’re not stressed enough by the consequences of inaction.
Note: It can also be because they have tipped the other way and are way too stressed to work. If you get too stressed, your senses actually start to shut down, you memory worsens and you turn into gibbering wreck incapable of even basic tasks.
As human beings we are terrible at predicting how we will feel about future events, especially if we push them to the back of our minds.
I have a class to teach next week that I’ve not even started preparing yet. That’s because I’m writing this and other stuff and have not really thought about what I want to do.
However, I know if I do not do it by the early part of next week I will be screwed because I’m rammed with clients.
So here is what I will do to get my ass moving, and here is what you can do too.
Take 5 minutes out of your day and relax.
Then close your eyes and focus on what will happen if you don’t do whatever it is you want/need to do.
Hear what you would hear and see what you would see if things go badly. Then let the negative emotions arise that you know you will encounter close to a deadline.
The important thing here is not to go too far. We want your heart rate up a tad, a slight feeling of uneasiness accompanied by a desire for that not to happen.
Because, and this is the key, that is EXACTLY what is happening when you’re working like a whirling dervish up to a deadline.
It’s just that normally it’s happening at an unconscious level and largely out of your awareness and control.
Go do it, but please do not take it to the point where you feel like a drug smuggler about to be cavity searched.
2. Hacking Anxiety
There is an expression in Gestalt Therapy that suggests, ‘Anxiety is excitement without the oxygen’
Whereas it’s quite a cool expression, t’s not entirely true.
We do have a tendency to forget to breath during highly anxious situations, but this is just the brains way of saying, ‘Look sunshine, this situation is so serious I’m going to remove even the need to breathe for a moment so we can use all our resources to deal with it.’
Remembering to breathe when you are anxious is obviously helpful, but it isn’t miraculously going to have you feeling cool, calm and collected.
Having said that, if you have control of your breathing by slowing it down and extending the exhale to help aid the parasympathetic nervous system in its job of relaxing you, you can definitely reduce the fear you may be experiencing.
Learning to meditate can most definitely help with anxiety, but that cannot really be described as a hack.
There may another option though. One that if used in conjunction with breath control really can reduce your anxiety levels and it’s so simple it’s almost ridiculous.
For as long as I can remember I have been telling clients that the worst thing they can do when under extreme stress such as giving an important talk, is to tell themselves they’re being silly for feeling anxious. Or that they should just calm down.
It simply doesn’t work because the fear is coming from a much deeper part of the brain. A part that deals with survival.
It sees the talk as a threat to your survival and it’s a stubborn sucker and can rarely be rationalized away.
In fact I’ll go a stage further. Not only does it not work but it can make things worse.
Telling yourself you’re being silly just creates internal resistance.
You saying one thing at a conscious level when you’re brain is thinking the complete opposite at the unconscious level just creates cognitive dissonance and exacerbates the matter.
Research around emotional and anxiety reappraisal by Professor Alison Brooks Wood at the Harvard Business School suggests that there may be a much more cunning way to reduce the anxiety. And it’s not a million miles from the expression taken from Gestalt Therapy.
Just tell yourself that you’re excited.
Yep, that’s it.
I said it was ridiculously simple.
Because so many of the symptoms of excitement and anxiety are similar (increased heart rate, heightening of senses, elevated blood pressure, the release of cortisol and adrenaline etc) this is way less likely to be rejected by your brain as being spurious.
Will it always work?
Maybe not, but it sure is well worth trying out next time you find yourself in such a situation.
3. Hacking Goal Setting
Goal setting isn’t hard, it’s not hard at all.
What can be tricky, if you don’t know what you’re doing however, is making sure you’re setting the right goals.
You want goals that will motivate you, inspire you, and rather counterproductively, goals that if you maybe don’t hit, won’t devastate you.
You can never be sure that you’re goals will be met, but, if you adopt my SMARTER method, rather than the traditional SMART approach, then you can set goals that are in alignment with your values and have intrinsic value.
Here’s how you do it:
Is your goal specific?
Could anybody read it and understand what it is you’re trying to achieve?
If the answer is no, then you need to rethink.
Don’t move on unless you know and average 10-year-old could understand the basics.
Unless that is you’re a particle physicist working on the grand unified theory, in which case you can make it a 12-year-old.
It is also measurable?
Do you know at any one point in time where you are in the process?
It’s very tricky to know if what you’re doing is working if you cannot measure it.
Leaving aside the Law of Attraction nonsense that was peddled by The Secret, goals have to require you to do something other than staring at a vision board.
A goal that requires no action for you isn’t a goal, it’s a wish.
Asking yourself if your goal is realistic isn’t the same thing as asking yourself if it’s hard.
I expect you to be setting hard goals because they are the ones that give us the most satisfaction.
All realistic means is, is it literally possible?
Me running a 4-minute mile when I’m 55 and was never the best of runners is not realistic. Whereas me running a 7-minute mile is realistic if I trained like a demon and really committed.
It would still be tough and maybe I’d come up short, but if it’s remotely possible, then it has to be realistic.
Few people who don’t work in sales realize that time is one of the biggest killers of deals.
But, I’m not talking about not enough time, it’s often too much time.
People respond to deadlines (see above) and when there isn’t one they will often let things slide because there will always be something more important and/or urgent.
Set a timescale for your goals. You can always move it of absolutely necessary, but if you don’t have one it will probably slide and slide.
Okay, so there you have SMART goals in a nutshell, but let’s make them SMARTER and more likely to stick.
I’m not talking about running off to the Amazon Rain Forest to save the Peruvian Black Spider Monkey, or even protesting the building of oil pipelines – I’m talking about your ecology.
If you’re married with small kids, then having a goal be the first person to hop on one-leg round the world backwards, juggling several barnyard animals and it will take you over two-years, is probably a major issue.
Similarly, investing all your life savings and 401k into opening a high risk business when you’re close to retiring could be problematical.
I’m not saying either of the above situations mean you should cancel your plans, just that they need to be taken into account and dealt with up front.
I said that goals aren’t hard to set, but that it can be difficult setting the right goals.
Your goals have to have intrinsic value and that is the ‘R’ or reward of SMARTER.
In other words, they need to fulfill you as you work through the process so that if you don’t hit them you still enjoy the journey.
To be certain of this they need to be aligned with your core values.
Far too many people think any big hairy audacious goal is a good goal, but that simply isn’t true.
What happens when you set goals that are big for the sake of being big, then when you hit them you don’t get the deep sense of satisfaction you get when they are based on your values.
People that do this often end up as serial goal setters moving from one to another not understanding why they feel underwhelmed.
4. Hacking Happiness
There are a LOT of quotes on Pinterest. Some are great, some ok, and some downright awful.
And the ones that fall in to the latter category are often those that are obsessed with never looking back.
Quotes like: “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way” and “The past has nothing new to teach you”
Technically speaking you may not be going backwards, but I certainly wouldn’t like to think I was never allowed to reminisce about good times spent with my parents, great nights out or even really cool client sessions.
There’s an old joke that nostalgia aint what it used to be, but it can actually be very useful in helping us feel happier with our lives.
Look Back With Pleasure
Work conducted by neuroscientist And Buddhist teacher, Rick Hanson, has shown that dwelling on positive events for a few moments when we’re feeling down uses the same part of the brain as was used when we first formed the memory.
And you don’t even have to go back far in time to get the same beneficial effect.
When something good happens to you – you get a compliment, something makes you smile, a friend makes you laugh, you hear good news etc. Hold that thought for about 15 to 20 seconds.
Then the next time it happens do the same, and keep doing it.
Don’t worry, you have the time because if it’s happening so many times per day you can’t squeeze it into your calendar then you don’t need this process anyway and you probably aren’t reading this blog post.
And then do the opposite for negative events, replace that thought with a happy one.
By doing something so simple you start to retrain your brain to be velcro for positive events and teflon for negative ones.
This cannot stop unhappiness visiting you from time to time, nor is it designed too because it’s part of life.
It will though, help you become an overall happier person and give you a greater control over your negative emotions.
All for 20 seconds of work – not even hard work at that.
5. Hacking Short-Term Motivation
We could all do with some short term motivation from time to time. The kind of burst of enthusiasm that drags us off the couch to go and do some epic shit.
Well fortunately for you (and me) NLP (neurolinguistic programming) has got your back with a process called anchoring that is explained sceintifically by the phrase from neuroscience that says ‘neurons that fire together wire together.
In other words, if you do two things together over and over eventually your brain will associate them with one another.
Here is how you do it.
Make sure you won’t be disturbed and then relax and close your eyes in a comfortable situation, preferably lying down.
Last thing at night or first thing in the morning when you’re in bed can be great times as your unconscious is more likely to be open and receptive.
Decide On Your Required State
Think about the specific state you want to anchor and thus be able to tap into when things aren’t going according to plan.
For our purposes we’re going to go with calm because it’s one of the easier states to anchor.
Having said that, you can anchor almost any state when you learn the process although ones such as calm, motivation and enthusiasm work best because they are very easy to create and have very obvious characteristics.
I talk a lot about anchoring confidence as it’s a state many people would like to be able to access more often.
The downside is that confidence is a very subtle state and people often confuse it with arrogance or chest thumping.
By all means you can definitely anchor confidence, you just may have to work a tad harder and get a deep understanding what confidence really feels like for you.
If you don’t know what any state feels like to you, then you cannot replicate it and therefore you can’t anchor it.
Using as many of your senses as possible (not just visual, the word visualization is a misnomer) really step into that state and allow the feelings to build and build.
Feel yourself becoming more and more chilled and calm as you imagine a place or setting that is always likely to create that state in you.
Set The Anchor
When you are fairly sure you have almost peaked and couldn’t be any more chilled, set the anchor.
To set the anchor, choose a small action that you can do any time to associate with the feeling.
You could perhaps tug your earlobe or put your thumb and forefinger together, etc.
As long as it’s something you can replicate each time and not something you have a tendency to do habitually, it’s fine.
Hold it for 2 or 3 seconds and then let go
Break Your State
Now do a break state which involves thinking of something completely unconnected to the process to take your mind off what you just did.
The reason why we do that in so many NLP processes is because otherwise you will have some residual feelings of calm that you carry over and we want a fresh start each time.
Fire The Anchor
After 30 seconds or so of wondering whether Kanye West is as bat shit crazy as he seems, fire the anchor.
You do this by replicating the action you chose for your anchor exactly as you did it when setting it.
Under normal conditions I’m not big on faking it till you make it approach because for many things it’s fucking useless, but in this case it can be really useful.
Fake the response that you are looking for to speed up the process because to begin with the anchor will either be weak or nonexistent
Rinse and repeat
Now do the entire process again and again and again until eventually your unconscious mind starts thinking:
“Hang on a minute, that gesture means we now feel clam so let’s chill out boys and girls because apparently there’s no need to worry.”
And there you have it, 5 lovely life hacks than can calm you down, pump you up, chill you out and have you happier than a cat that just snagged the job as night watchman at the cream factory – if that is you use them.
If you have any cool life hacks that you use, please do share them in the comments!