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

Snowman Bokeh  (Explored) 10,000 visits to this photo. Thank you.

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.