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.

Moderation

Some things that add value can become detractors in a matter of seconds if done too much.

Vocal runs. – Do one and it could enhance the emotion. Do them constantly, and I become utterly dead to any emotion you hoped to spark in me.

Sharing achievements. – If you see a guy at the pool who takes his shirt off incidentally and you see his abs, you might have respect, but even the slightest hint that he wants you to see them and you’re done. Get out of here, Cary. If you hear that a friend wins an award, you might feel proud of them. If they tell you about it on four separate occasions, your interest vanishes.

Sharing knowledge. – A few tidbits here and there and I’m interested. Constant impartation or correction without me asking for it and I’m bored to a river of tears.

Worry. – A small amount helps keep us safe. It makes us double check our locked doors, or buy a life insurance policy, or ask a person who seems down if they’re okay.

Sugar.

Caffeine.

Alcohol.

*

Moderation is everything.

Should We Lower Our Expectations?

I don’t know what to do with the following observation, but it interests me:

Few things exert power over us like our expectations.

If you go to McDonald’s expecting your food in 5 minutes and takes 15, it’s frustrating. But if you went in and the cashier said before you ordered, “I’m so sorry, we’re running behind, and it’s going to be a 20 minute wait for your food,” and the food came out in 16 minutes, you would be pleasantly surprised.

There are reasonable expectations that should always be upheld, like the that another person should respect us and treat us with dignity, or that justice should be provided equally for all people, or that a qualified employee should have the same chance at a job as the next person. This kind of expectation should remain in place even if it’s not met.

There are unreasonable expectations that should always be laid down, like that you will get a lot out of a job or relationship without putting anything into it, or that you should be the one to call the shots in a friendship, or that every trip or weekend getaway should be increasingly lavish and Instagram-worthy. 

The tricky thing is that most of our expectations are somewhere in between. Who’s to say which ones are reasonable and which aren’t? 

It gets particularly difficult when your unmet expectations were originally set by the people not meeting them. The wife you marry decides she made a mistake and wants to leave. Your family member who once was a source of warmth and comfort and now is detached and self-absorbed. The friend you hit it off with for so long is suddenly absent.

If we could somehow learn to manage our expectations we could save ourselves a lot of heartache. 

I have no clue how to do this. I don’t even know if it’s possible. Does lowering your expectations make you a pessimist or does it set you up to be pleasantly surprised? There’s some unrecognizable voice in my head, maybe from some motivational speaker somewhere, that’s telling me this is the sure way to underachievement. 

Or maybe it’s a process and we can learn it like a skill. 

The bottom line is, unmet expectations are the source of all disappointment. For some relationships, the best thing we can do is drop our expectations entirely.

It’s Good to Humiliate Yourself

How do we get rid of blindness in ourselves? How to we gain a true perspective?

Step one is considering that you might be blind, which is hard, because we assume we have all our senses. We know ourselves better than anyone else does. Sometimes you have to take it on faith that the perspective others have of you, if they truly love you, is true. What distant acquaintances think of us is none of our business. Often, even people we love have opinions of us that need be ignored. But those people who have consistently proven their own commitment to our betterment—those who would lay down their lives for us—have opinions about us that matter.

The kicker is that sometimes these opinions will seem utterly untrue to you, especially if they are about your bad behavior. We tend to approve, or at least accept, all of our own behavior. We also think we know ourselves better than anyone else does.

The wise thing to do is to take on faith that someone else might see something about you that you don’t. I mean blind, unadulterated faith. Total trust, even when you are convinced it’s wrong.

It’s not faith in the statement about your character, which you can’t possibly conceive as true right now, it’s faith in the person making the statement, whose credibility you have proven repeatedly.

I said it’s the wise thing to do. It’s not the easy thing.

The easy thing is to trust yourself the most, to write off the feedback, to rely on your own senses.

Absolutely nothing in this world is as addictive as pride. It’s also invisible—to you. The more you indulge it, the less you think you indulge it and the less you consider that you may be full of it. It’s more blinding than a thousand bottles of whiskey, and it intoxicates in a similar way. Like being drunk, everyone around a prideful person can see the pride. The worse it gets, the more they see it, and the less the prideful person sees it. The prideful person’s confidence is sky high, but the whole world calls their bluff.

Pride is drunkenness.

Pride is debilitating for another reason: it destroys your empathy. How can you develop the habit of getting inside another’s perspective when the only one you ever consider is your own?

Pride warning signs:

  1. You haven’t been embarrassed about anything you’ve done in a long time.
  2. You have been told about a behavior in yourself multiple times, and still you can’t see it, so you defend.
  3. You avoid humiliating yourself to those you love at all costs.

When the people are safe, we should be eager to humiliate ourselves. Seriously!

It’s this process:

  1. You vividly see that what you’ve done is wrong and that it has hurt others.
  2. You throw away every atom of defensiveness, because remember, you’ve done something wrong.
  3. You own your actions completely, which also means empathizing with the people you have hurt, understanding their anger, giving them as long as they need to process, and actively seeking to make amends.

Ownership is magic. It only takes a little to ease the greatest tensions.

It’s when we say, “I’m sorry you felt this way about what I did,” or, “I’m sorry I did this, it’s just that you did _______ first,” that we start losing ground.

But when we say, “I’m so sorry for what I did, and I can’t imagine how much it actually hurt you,” or, “This is no one’s fault in any way but mine,” or, “I did this because I was selfish and inconsiderate,” that tensions begin to vaporize.

It’s not a method or a tactic. It must come from a willingness to keep your face in the dust as long as it takes. It’s shocking how much water can drift under the bridge when we demolish the dam of our own pride—when we consistently own wrongs, show willingness to humiliate ourselves, and remain open to the fact that we might not see ourselves truly. It can reverse a years-long trend of distance and apprehension in a relationship.

It takes a lot of work to get there. We are born defenders. By instinct we set up forts and load our cannons even towards the people we love.

But no one hates humility.


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On Forgiveness

There are at least two kinds of forgiveness.

One is what you extend to offenders you don’t know, distant acquaintances, or people you could cut out of your life with little consequence. It’s easy to hate these people, and that hate feels good for a while until it rots some part of your humanity.

There’s a second kind of forgiveness that you give to the people you really love. Because you love them, you know from the moment they start making amends that you will forgive them, but this doesn’t make it easier. In fact, love usually makes forgiveness hurt more.

Forgiveness is long and excruciating. You have to wade through the pool of black rage in your heart before you’re ready to say the words. Often, you have to keep wading long after you say it, but just because it takes time doesn’t mean you aren’t forgiving.

Forgiveness is intentional. The fastest way to forgive someone is to stop running from the cause of the hurt and look it straight in the eyes. The longer you avoid it, the longer it will take to heal. You have to take the knife of the other person’s transgression and push it into your heart until it vanishes. Eventually, your heart will dissolve the blade and the wound will heal, but it will never happen automatically, and it will never happen if you look the other way.

Here’s an image on forgiveness: It’s is like driving directly into a sunset on a straight highway. At first, the light is blinding and it’s all you can see or think about. It takes all your effort just to keep pushing into it. You put on sunglasses, drop the visor, look at the edge of the road, but the fact remains that the only way forward is to face the searing light.

Time slows down on this road. The 20 minutes you spend driving into it feels like 2 hours. Imperceptibly, the light begins to fade, then it’s less miserable, then there’s a balance and the road looks more blue than yellow. Before long, the sun sets and soon the light is gone.

I’m not sure forgiveness and grief are completely separate. Forgiveness is grief towards the object of your love, the widening of your arms to welcome back what was taken from you. Forgiveness and grief both take time, and when they decide how long they need, they can’t be negotiated with.

Last thing. This song captures exactly what it feels like to forgive. Go listen immediately.