Given that I had to search for exactly what a life hack is, I might not seem the best person to write about them. However, now I know the answer, I could tell you about…
What’s that? Oh you want to know the exact meaning too?
Well okay. Apparently, it’s “a strategy or technique adopted in order to manage one’s time and daily activities in a more efficient way.”
So, now we’ve got that out of the way, I could tell you about how I keep all the dairy products on one shelf of the fridge, the veg on another, and so on, and all the time that saves because you won’t have to go hunting through the fridge for stuff. But then I’d also have to tell you that my family totally ignore the system so instead of saving time, I waste it rearranging stuff and reminding them that there is a system, blah, blah. (Yes, they’ve also glazed over by the time I get to blah, blah, so there’s no point using actual words.)
So okay, I won’t tell you that life hack, because the only way it would work is if I kick everyone else out of the house, and honestly, in spite of their inability to put things on shelves in any order, I love them.
My life hacks are a bit different to some. They’re unlikely to make you into an efficiency robot, but they will save the time and energy that you expend on the following daily activities:
- beating yourself up
- getting pissed off at people for not following your life hacks and then beating yourself up for it
- ruminating on all the times you forgot to follow life hacks (i.e. did things stuff inefficiently or not at all) and why that makes you a worthless piece of blah, blah
- beating yourself up, yet again
Because, let’s face it, for most of us, those activities take up way more time than, say, rearranging the fridge, and what’s more they truly slow down the efficiency with which we complete tasks. (I move the cheese onto the correct shelf; it takes 2 seconds. I move the cheese and tell myself I’m an idiot for caring, take the cheese out and eat some hoping to feel better, and when that doesn’t work eat chocolate instead – it requires some time.)
Or take this morning. I’m working on a novel that lately has been going slowly because one character was eluding me, and needed extra research. But last night, I saw a notice on Facebook from Kristi Campbell, inviting people to join her in writing about their favourite life hacks. And this morning, the ideas that kept coming into my head were not for my novel but for this post. However, I thought I should get on with research. Except, instead, time disappeared as I got sucked into the rabbit hole that is the internet. Okay, time didn’t literally disappear, but I’m not sure I really, really needed to know all about the four guys making posters out of idiotic things our Brexiteer politicians have said, or that there’s a cat somewhere that likes to wash its owner’s hair.
Eventually, I realised the knot in my stomach was getting tighter the more I read about stupid political statements or watched cute fluffy things.
So I stopped.
Which brings me to:
- Life Hack Number 1:
Pay attention to your body, particularly to how it feels.
That will save you bucket loads of time that you would otherwise have spent doing things you don’t really want to do. Your body is your emotional barometer, and lets you know when the weather is turbulent – so listen to it.
- Life Hack Number 2
Notice the emotions and thoughts that are creating your body’s sensations.
Let yourself get a clearer sense of the emotions racing through your body and then notice what’s driving them. For instance, this morning, I noticed an urge to keep procrastinating, even though it had been making me feel annoyed at myself. My thoughts went something like this: I’m not good enough, I waste too much time, never get things done, blah, blah, blah…
Here’s the silly thing: feeling not good enough because I’d been procrastinating was what made me want to procrastinate. By telling myself off for doing what I didn’t want to do, I was making myself want to do it more.
That, my friend, is the power of the mind to make us feel like shit.
When you aren’t happy with your own behaviour, punishing yourself makes you more likely to carry on doing it – because you want to escape your pain. In The Little Book of Big Change, Dr Amy Johnson explains that while this might look like self-sabotage, it’s a “misguided attempt at self-love. It’s you doing the best you can in the moment to feel better, driven by love for yourself and a deep desire for wellness… You’re caught up in habitual thinking that doesn’t feel like a fleeting thought.”
She also explains that this habitual thinking comes from our fairly dumb lower brain. Well, I shouldn’t call it dumb, because we need it for survival and it produces the drives for food, water and so on. But it gets confused and behaves as if our habits, good or bad, are necessary for survival.
I’ve been telling myself off for procrastinating since I was maybe ten, and you know what – it hasn’t worked!
Life Hack number 3:
Stop Punishing Yourself!!!!
How? I hear you. It can seem almost impossible, which then leads to punishing ourselves for punishing ourselves.
However, even though at times it seems our brains are hard-wired for self-destruction, it is possible to stop. The following are suggestions all work for me, so maybe they will work for you.
Hale Dwoskin, an amazingly kind and gentle teacher whose Sedona Method retreats and courses I thoroughly recommend, says that we often inflict punishment on ourselves in the hope of avoiding external punishment. But we rarely know when to stop, and so we go on attacking ourselves. He suggests we ask this question:
“Could I decide I’ve been punished enough?”
Even if your answer is, “No,” you will most likely feel a little relief. If not, ask yourself again. You could also add:
“Could I let go of wanting to punish myself in the future?”
If need be, let your mind’s eye picture the young child who began believing the way to force change was through punishment. Would you let go of punishing her or him? (Incidentally, research in prisons backs up what Hale says: prisoners are more likely to reoffend if punished rather than rehabilitated.)
When you begin to think about punishment in this way, it’s easier to see that doing something that prevents you working towards your true desires is actually a form of punishment. So could you decide you’ve been punished enough? Could you consider being kind to yourself instead?
A second way to stop punishing yourself is to ask the following question. (I also learned this from Hale, but many wise teachers use similar questions.)
Am I that behaviour (or thought or feeling) or am I aware of it?
It’s usually easy to see that you are not the thought: “I’m a lazy idiot,” or “I really have to play solitaire/Tetris/World of Warcraft for five hours instead of doing my tax return.”
And that, in itself, is often all you need to do to feel able to let yourself off the hook, and in turn to do the things you’d really like to do.
Amy Johnson stopped binge eating when she realised that she wasn’t the urge to do it. It was also a big part of how I stopped playing solitaire – every time I felt the urge, I paused, noticed that I wasn’t the urge and that all I had to do was let it pass. I also reminded myself that really, truly, I had had enough of punishing myself, and yes, I could decide to stop punishing myself that way again in the future.
So to recap, instead of burning yourself out trying to come up with strategies to be ever more productive, use the following emotional life hacks. I’ve added ones that stretch beyond ending self-punishment in being self-affirming.
Emotional Life Hacks
- Pay attention to your body, particularly to how it feels.
- Notice the emotions and thoughts that are creating your body’s sensations.
- Stop punishing yourself.
- Notice when you have done the things you think you should – you could even write these down. (What you focus on tends to grow, because of the way our brains form pathways. If you’d like a more detailed explanation of this, I recommend The Little Book of Big Change.)
- Breathe. (Otherwise, you’ll die and that’s really a waste of time!) But honestly, take time to notice your breathing, particularly when you think you haven’t got enough time or haven’t done enough or whatever other story is driving your panic. If your breathing is so shallow that your shoulders and chest move, focus on slow breathing into your abdomen and your body will start to calm. As it does, your thinking will calm too, and we are far more effective at any task when our thinking is calmer. To help even more, make your out-breath longer than your in. (For more about the benefits of abdominal breathing, try this article from the BBC.)
- Give yourself love for being exactly as you are – remember, your “bad habits” are just the mind’s attempts to make you feel better right now. Therefore, giving yourself a little love means you don’t need to indulge those habits to feel better!
- Remind yourself you are not those “bad” habits or the thoughts that drive them, you are the beautiful life force that is aware of them.
PS, after I’d finished writing this, I went back to the novel and it’s going much better now – ideas coming faster than I can write them!
PPS: This post contains links to Amazon, so clicking on them and buying anything does bring me some income – at no additional cost for you. If you do buy through these links, thank you!