Plan B Nation life hack #1 (a holiday survival tip)

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I love the idea of life hacks: practical shortcuts designed to ease lives burdened by overload and over-stimulation.

The life hack concept (like so much else) emerged from a digital subculture looking for ways to deal more efficiently with an incessant barrage of information. The goal: increased productivity and happier, more satisfying lives.

As described by British tech guru Danny O’Brien, who coined the term in 2004, life hacks are all about putting aside a larger problem to focus on a small fix that will get you through the task at hand.

In recent days, I’ve found myself reflecting on how this concept might be extended from the world of email and terabytes to the challenges of daily life.

In life (and especially in Plan B Nation) it’s easy to obsess about big questions with no clear answers. What am I doing with my life? Why do I keep having the same argument with my spouse, my child, my friends, my [fill in the blank]? What is wrong with me? What is wrong with them?

Such questions are likely to be especially freighted during the holidays. Hard as we may try not to, it’s easy to approach the season with out-sized expectations, both of ourselves and others. Moreover, we’re likely to be more exhausted than usual, closer to our snapping point. Those notorious holiday arguments, hurt feelings, and frayed nerves? This is where they come from.

Here’s one life hack that might help.

The larger problem: The holidays create a perfect storm of exaggerated hopes and expectations and (for many of us) depleted emotional reserves. This is particularly true for those of us residing in Plan B Nation, where anxieties about work and money can easily leave us feeling alienated amidst the festivities.

The hack: When you feel an urge to say something sharp or critical, stop and stay silent. Do this three times every day. Make this a practice.

I learned this strategy from a meditation teacher, who said that one of her students credits it for saving her marriage. One thing I love about the approach is its specificity. The practice isn’t to hold back forever and always. You only have to do it three times. That’s it. Then you’re done for the day.

One reason that I think the strategy works so well is that it shifts our focus. Instead of fixating on that infuriating thing someone did or said, we’re focusing on our goal—checking off one of the three things. This feels both empowering and satisfying.  In my experience, it can really help to diffuse a creeping sense of victimhood.

Twelve-steppers often joke that alcoholism is a three-part disease: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.  And the fact is the holidays do carry with them a new set of challenges. At the same time, we’re not powerless. There are resources we can call on. The trick is finding strategies that work for us—and remembering to use them.

If you try out this life hack, I’d love to hear your experience. In the meantime, best wishes to everyone for a healthy and happy season.

Copyright © Amy Gutman. All rights reserved.

6 thoughts on “Plan B Nation life hack #1 (a holiday survival tip)

  1. I like the simplicity and specificity of this too. I always think that if we can observe our impulses and refrain from reacting, we find a whole new relationship with others emerges. Some of my worst moments have been knee-jerk responses to such little issues. Thanks for this reminder.

    • Glad you liked it, Molly–for me, the “doing it three times” is really helpful. Before learning this little strategy, I would try to do this ALL THE TIME and feel bad because I was failing. But three times: I can manage that! And just three instances of holding back can really make a difference.

  2. As my mother always said. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” This hack can be applied to curb self-criticism, too. Happy new year!

    • Yup–as I said to Molly, above, this doesn’t work for me so well as a general rule because it makes me hyper-aware of how often I fail I like the idea that it’s a win if I manage to do this just three times.

  3. How about this hack: Instead of electing a President pre-selected by the party, a limousine liberal with an entitlement complex, next time choose someone not beholden to the DC establishment, someone young and vigorous who truly inspires you and helps you see that hope is the most potent engine for change. And then sit back and watch as the world is transformed before your eyes as the parties come together as statesmen (and women) and patriots, uniting in deference to our common ideals as a nation, ushering in a new era of progress and lifting us out of challenging economic times.

    No, wait. We tried that already.

    No, wait. This was supposed to be one of those times when I should bite my tongue and refrain from snark and cynicism. As Rick Perry said, “Oops.”

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