I’m not in the business of life hacks. Something about “hack culture” smacks of bypassing the longer-game challenges of life and trying to outsmart them.
Pro tip: Human life is highly intelligent and doesn’t need outsmarting. You might though.
I won’t be offering hacks here, but I’m all for fresh ideas, rarely used tools and new data to work with. I’m all for a curiosity mindset and experimenting with your life to learn new ways of thinking, feeling, being, and doing.
And when it comes to learning – and unlearning – habits are where it’s at. Mental habits, emotional habits, habits at work, habits at home. Learning to practice good habits is the building block of the success you’re after.
One of life’s little f-overs, sadly, is that learning new habits is hard. Muah-muah. It takes time and practice, not being great – or even good – right away. It’s tedious and easy to give up on.
Practicing a new habit and replacing an old one also requires some motivation. But motivation, as you’ve probably experienced firsthand, is crafty. It’s unreliable with a mind of its own.
What if you had a couple of tricks that didn’t depend on feeling motivated or just turned it on its head?
Here are two that do just that…
1. Make your environment matter
In “Atomic Habits,” James Clear says the key to learning positive habits is designing your physical environment to signal a new behavior so you “take back control and become the architect of your life.”
I love the thought of being the architect of my own life. As an interior design junkie and former home stager, I know firsthand how small, intentional changes in a physical space can lead me – or a home buyer – to take the action I want. If my meditation cushion and yoga mat weren’t on display in my office at all times, I’d have a much harder time dropping into a 5-min reset or down dog, a habit I’m committed to as a calm-inducer.
Clear’s point is that by arranging, re-arranging or changing altogether your surrounds, you visually cue a new response, reducing sole reliance on feeling motivated. You engage your superpower of vision – sight – to compensate for feelings & thoughts.
Because waiting to feel motivated or until your only thought is “I can’t wait to go the gym!” is a set up to fail. And not the good kind you learn from.
Want to try this out? Start with a small habit you’d like to develop. Now create several environmental cues to visually remind you and trigger your brain to pick up the book instead of turning on the TV or drink the water instead of Diet Coke or take the dog for a walk instead of zoning out online.
“Sprinkle triggers” throughout your surroundings, as Clear says. The goal is to make it obvious. Make it easy on yourself. Easy to see and easy to do. A natural part of life.
2. Make friends with boredom
Or with misery. Boredom and misery maybe.
Contrary to our revved up, Tony Robbins-style, find-your-passion-and-never-work-a-day-in-your-life culture, boredom gets little air time. In fact, boredom gets pegged as the enemy, the kryptonite to living your best life and achieving success in work, at home and in love.
I’m not saying it’s necessarily a good thing; I’m not a fan myself. As a Gemini, I prefer a steady diet of variety, newness and novelty. Boredom is not tasty or sexy.
But when it comes to practicing new habits that lead to the success I want to taste, I have to deal with it. I have to ride boredom out long enough to get to my next level.
That’s the difference between an amateur and a pro. A pro isn’t necessarily smarter, better, richer, they’re just more adapted to tolerating boredom, to doing the same thing over and over, and to the misery of “I don’t feel like it but I’ll do it anyway.”
Try it this week with a new habit you want to form. Think of something you’ve been wanting to put into practice that you think will help you feel better, live better, work better, and be better. Maybe it’s a nightly gratitude journal or working out three times this week or maybe its saying something nice to your mate every day.
Once you start doing it long enough, notice when you start to not feel like doing it. Notice when the behavior starts to lose it luster, when the novelty wears off, when it starts to get boring.
THAT’s your sweet spot. THAT’s your un-hack moment. THAT’s your learning edge.
If you can tolerate that moment – the negative thought, the not feeling up to it, the physical tiredness – then you’re in the learning zone. Making friends – or frenemies – with that part of the habit learning process unlocks your motivation superpower.
That’s the beauty of it. You realize you don’t have to feel motivated to get motivated. Kinda cool, no?
Ok what have we learned here?
Change something in your physical environment to change your behavior, and
When you start feeling bored & less motivated by a new behavior, try hacking – ok fine, it works here – your mindset to act in spite of how you feel & what you think.
I think you’ll be surprised by the big difference these little changes will make.
Possibly a hacker after all,