7 Life Hacks That Aren’t Hacks At All

1. Document your life. – Spend no more time wondering how to keep a journal, searching for methods, or reading reviews on notebooks and digital note apps, just write. Write something down about this day, then do the same thing tomorrow, then the next day. Don’t tell yourself you need to start at the first of the year, or the month, or the week. Start on a random Thursday, and don’t stop.

I have written something about every day in my personal journal since October, 2012, and there is likely not a day that I wouldn’t remember if I read it. How did the habit start in my case? By writing a few bullet points about the day and nothing else.

Example (fictitious):

2015-11-05 – Saturday

  • Had lunch with John at Cracker Barrel.
  • Worked on Project until my computer broke and I had to fix it all afternoon.
  • Walked through the neighborhood and spent time reading Mark Twain before bed.

2015-11-06 – Sunday

  • Sunday dinner with Megan’s family.
  • Cowboys lost to the Eagles.
  • Talked to Bart on the phone before bed.

That’s all you need to remember a day when you’re getting started, especially if it’s surrounded by simple data points from other days. Start small and sustainable.

Nothing is as satisfying as looking back over a whole year and knowing how you spent your time.

(That’s one purpose of a journal. Another and significant purpose is to express emotions and quiet your mind. Do this as needed, but burn when done.)

2. Take time to reflect. – Once you document your life, stop and look at it. Are you spending your time like you want to? Many of us remain sedated in the rhythm of life and are afraid to take inventory. There is no more healthy thing you can do than to stop and ask if you’re doing now what you will want to have done. 

A second major benefit is remembering the good. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to think of only the negative things and how unnatural to recall the positive? Gratitude brings happiness but takes effort.

3. Develop a tolerance for pain, discipline, and consistency. – When we google “how to lose weight,” we’re actually looking for shortcuts to results without discomfort. Focus on developing patience with the discomfort and you won’t need shortcuts. Modern living is convenient and makes us think we can accomplish amazing things without sweat, but it’s a lie. Resistance is built in to meaningful progress. It will never eradicated, so it should be embraced.

4. Develop an intolerance for pleasure, procrastination, and indifference. – We cut ourselves way too much slack. Those who are disciplined have learned to envision the consequences of inaction while they are still invisible. We don’t remember that we’re going to die, not acutely. We will run out of time, but daily life hums us to sleep and we forget. The feeling only arises at certain moments, like when the seasons change or on New Year’s Eve.

We don’t often consider that life can change, sometimes very quickly, and the easiest time to start on a thing might be now. We waste many days in a vague motion with no clear direction, and we can’t see how this will be bitter in the end. We’re like cars idling through neighborhoods, looking at Christmas lights, taking it as it comes, when we should be like the lead driver in the secret service—our routes are memorized, our destination is certain, and absolutely nothing matters more than getting there.

5. Always remember you don’t know the full story. – Always in such a hurry to judge situations, we forget the most basic truth: we don’t know everything. We don’t know what has made a person the way they are. We don’t know why the man on the side of the road is begging or why a person was rude to us on the phone or why we smiled and said a jovial “Take care!” to the cashier and she didn’t even look up at us. What if she buried a family member yesterday? Well then, she has the right to be distracted. Every time you feel the judging instinct rise up (and if you’re like me, this is often), remember that you don’t know the full story.

6. Assume people know more than you. – Which also means expecting that they can teach you something. Think this about everyone, especially the people you’re prone to look down on or overlook. This is even helpful if your specific purpose is to teach the person. Knowledge is attractive when shared in humility.

7. Appreciate your friends for what they are. – Don’t make them what they aren’t. Don’t withhold yourself from them because they don’t fully fit your preference. One friend might be really good at certain kinds of conversations you like, but you may have another kind of conversation you don’t relate on. Don’t throw them away because of the part you don’t enjoy.

Fresh Starts vs. Momentum

Is a new year fresh start? Yes, but in exactly the same way that every other day of the year is a fresh start. In fact, it may be a worse time to start because it’s a holiday, and of course on holidays you’re supposed to eat too much, sleep too long, put work off, not workout, and take no action on your goals at all, even if you’ve been doing pretty much that exact protocol since Thanksgiving.

Take the hype out of January 1. There is no magic in that day that will help you commit to a habit. 

Starting is overrated in general. It’s emotionally charged and feels exciting, but since there’s nothing of substance in it, it’s no big deal to let yourself down. Momentum is where the power lies. It has substance, it’s a record of action, it’s the building of trust with yourself. Once you have it, you’ll do a lot more to not let yourself down.

I wish you well with whatever goal you pursue this year, but I also want you to know it doesn’t matter what date you start something as long as it’s today and not tomorrow.

A platitude before you go: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.

Discipline Isn’t Complicated

Discipline might not be easy at first, but it is simple. Sometimes we lose it because we complicate it.

Discipline it nothing more than the art of following through on pre-planned action without any regard to how you feel or think about it right now. It’s the art of harshly interrupting that voice in your head that wants to reason it all out again.

“I know you planned to work on this project at 10, but you also need to pull those weeds. … Are you sure this is the right workout for you this morning? Won’t this be an active day anyway? … But it’s Friday, can’t you have a cheat meal tonight? … You’ve been great at saving your money, should you treat yourself to one new pair of shoes?”

Shout loudly over those questions in your head before they can even finish. Don’t let the argument start. It’s just like any other argument in that there is no winner.

Ignore your thoughts and push your body into the action you already committed to. Close your eyes and jump. That’s discipline.

Avoid This Lie

I’m currently reading How to Own Your Own Mind by Napoleon Hill. I’ve been impressed with this book and it has become one of my favorites I’ve read this year.

There’s a statement he repeats throughout that has stuck in my head, and this is the lie that you should avoid. He claims in the book, and I agree with him, that the vast majority of humanity believe this lie and live all their days under its enchantment.

The lie: There is such a thing as something for nothing.

Many people believe this, and are disgruntled when they haven’t seen things they desire come about in their life.

The problem isn’t that their expectations are too high, it’s that their output—their willingness to take initiative, go the extra mile, concentrate all their effort into their task—is too low. They fail to realize that they haven’t conquered themselves. They’re standing in their own way.

There’s no such thing as something for nothing. Not in business, relationships, parenting, education, employment, career building, fitness, or any other area where we expect results.

How I Got Started as a Videographer

First love for photos.

The first time I remember having a serious interest in photography was when I was 15. Mom had a point-and-shoot Canon. I remember it cost $400. My current iPhone can unquestionably take better photos. I carried that camera around and took pictures of my life as a teenager back when we all had a Xanga account and posted everything we did there.

I realize that privilege surrounded me in that beginning phase. I had access to a camera. I had parents who trusted me with that camera. I had friends who had cars and drove me around and did fun things worthy of capturing. I wonder what my story would be if I hadn’t had this kind of access.

I saved up all my graduation money and bought my first serious camera—a Canon 30d with a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. I took this thing with me everywhere and took pictures of everything that moved and some things that didn’t. I crawled our tiny city late at night with a friend and experimented with long exposure and light painting. I played the role of second shooter in weddings. I shot my first wedding on my own.

I started thinking I might go to a specialized college for photography, but the dream was unclear, so I started working at a formalwear store sewing buttons on tuxedos and taking pictures of rain puddles in my spare time.

Feet to the Fire

During the time I was working at the formalwear store, my Dad was a pastor in our town and the church had a weekly TV program that aired in the local market. This show featured almost 30 minutes of new content every week, and it wasn’t the typical shot of the stage from the back of the room that many churches use. It was a fully produced show, planned, shot, and edited by a young woman who was a mass communications major.

Up to this point I hadn’t thought seriously about video and was focused only on photography. Dad brought me into his office and said that the woman producing their show currently would be having a baby soon and he wanted me to produce the show full time. This was a great opportunity for an 18-year-old kid without any college, though I didn’t realize this at the time. I quit the formalwear store and jumped into full time video production.

The reason this was such a feet-to-the-fire moment is that I had to start planning, scheduling, shooting, and editing a 30-minute TV show which aired weekly and was highly visible in the community. I had never made a serious video in my life up to this point. On top of that, I was in a social circle of creative friends who would be seeing the show and evaluating the work whether I wanted them to or not. The mere thought of this made my cheeks burn.

Repetitions

It was the best thing in the world for my skill to start publishing consistently when I wasn’t ready.  (This is exactly why I’m writing on this blog and shipping written content consistently, even though I don’t feel ready to do it.) 

It was good for it to be so public. If you know no one will see what you’re working on, nothing is at stake, and you’ll cut yourself a lot of slack and never do your best. It was good for it to be relentlessly consistent. If it doesn’t have to be done it takes much longer than it should. You can only spend so much time perfecting something when the deadline is approaching, and this is most important when you’re starting out and aware of how little you know. 

I was able to learn gain a mountain of knowledge in this position, including:

  • How to apply the photographic principles to video.
  • How to shoot footage.
  • How to plan content.
  • How to schedule groups of people.
  • How to build a set.
  • How to light a shot.
  • How to edit.
  • How to organize footage.
  • How to plan hard drive space.
  • How to back up everything I’ve made.
  • How to make animations in After Effects.
  • How to find the right export settings.
  • How to use a steadicam.
  • How to color grade.
  • How to shoot a multi-angle segment.

And the list goes on.

The most important thing I learned was to finish, publish, evaluate, and improve next time.

It’s vitally important to learn in public. (For further reading, see Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work.) When we keep everything we’re making private, we insulate ourselves from the criticism we need. You don’t need much criticism at the beginning. Here you just need encouragement so you gain enough courage to keep going. But once you get some repetitions under your belt and things go somewhat smoothly, criticism can save you from the arrogance that kills so many artists. Those who are most prone to arrogance are those who know a little and haven’t yet realized how much they don’t know. That’s when it becomes dangerous to insulate yourself.

Love for Video

Over time I began to fixate more on video than photography as a creative medium. It was also good timing. Right after I started, the first video DSLRs came out which put the power of a cinematic image into the hands of people with smaller budgets. On top of that, social platforms were revolutionizing media and providing an unprecedented home for video content. This trend has only increased and isn’t going anywhere soon.

Would I love video in another time period? I’m not sure. Maybe not. “Corporate video” meant something much different 30 years ago than it does now. I’ll never forget an old school ad executive telling me that in the 1990s, if his agency sold a video project for less than $250,000 the crew would be outraged because of how little they would be able to accomplish. 

All that to say, there’s never been a better time to be employed making videos, and this worked out well for me.

The need for video content is only increasing. High schoolers these days with an interest in making videos usually want to be vloggers and influencers, and this isn’t a great plan. Instead, they should learn to create great video content—learn to focus on the fundamentals of good lighting, good audio, good footage, and good editing. Storytelling is the key (this is actually what makes a great vlogger too). Figure out how to help businesses communicate well through video and you’ll be employable for a long time.

As the demand for video content continues to increase—and the means and methods available for creating it—I foresee that most businesses in the future will have a video content creator on staff full time.

More than anything, it’s about learning the skill within. Technology comes and goes, tools always get better, but great storytelling is forever. Learn how to tell a great story and you can ride the wave of change in technology forever.