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.