My friends. Welcome.

I am graciously welcoming you to yet another deep learning session with your host, John. Settle in, relax, maybe get out a notepad, and give yourself a few pats on the back for taking this time out of your day to work on bettering yourself. You deserve to improve continuously, because it feels amazing. You deserve to feel amazing. Go you for doing this. Your future self is currently thanking you. 

Here's how it's going to go. We have some baby ones, and we have some BIG DADDY ones. We'll serve up the baby lifehacks first to those of us without much time today. For those wanting to take their self development to the next level, dive in feet first to the BIG DADDY LIFEHACKS. 

Without further adieu, let's get started getting better friends. 

10 baby lifehacks

  1. Start reading. Your life is pretty darn special, but it's pretty arrogant to think you can learn much by yourself - there are mountains of knowledge from other people waiting out there for you, crafted for your consumption. Go get it!
  2. Say hi to strangers. Despite what we tell ourselves, no one will get mad at you for doing this. In fact, everyone LOVES this. Especially old people. Make someone's day. 
  3. Give gifts. How do you expect to receive if you don't give? 
  4. Fast. Even for a day. It's pretty amazing to me that we haven't missed a single day of eating. Try it, just for the sake of trying something new. 
  5. Write stuff down less. Our brains will get smaller if we don't use them, and they will get bigger if we do.
  6. Practice indifference Preferences are an often a socially accepted way of hiding fear of uncertainty. 
  7. Make friends with an inanimate object. Why not? You can see my friend, Lizzie the Lighter here.  
  8. Be a hugger, not a (hand)shaker. The medium is the message. Be different and memorable.
  9. Go outside more. Make the extra effort. After all, outside is our natural habitat, right? 
  10. Laugh louder. It's contagious, and feels a lot better. Laughing is probably the best way to spend our time.

10 BIG DADDY LIFEHACKS

For those of us with a bit more time we are willing to invest in ourselves, I want to take a bit of time to talk about habit formation. Lifehacks are essentially awesome programs of behavior that make our lives better the more we do them. So, if we can understand how habits are formed, then it will be much easier to incorporate these lifehacks into our lives.

Sidebar on Habit Formation

1. Starting is infinitely hard. 

In theory, maintaining habits doesn't use any energy. So, since starting them uses more than zero energy, infinity happens. Because forming new habits takes infinite energy, it's important to allow ourselves time to adopt new habits. 

2. Adopting habits takes time.

If we are to change our habits, we have to not only adopt a new habit, but also drop an old one. It's a long process which requires a longer-term perspective (something us young adults aren't used to, since we are so young). If we mess up one day, it doesn't matter, since we're trying to build habits we will hold for years. Patience is key, and persistence is required. 

3. Pick habits slowly.

Because changing our habits takes so long, it is extremely important that we are careful about what habits we choose to adopt. If we choose to adopt a bad habit, it will be double hard to adopt a good, new one, since we will have to first unlearn the bad one we chose to adopt. If we're going to change one of our habits, we better be darn sure that the habit we are choosing to adopt will make us happier than our current version of that habit. 

Want more? Check this out.

Sidebar complete. 

Beyond habits, lifehacks are about adopting a mindset where we can search for better ways to live. There are ways to live life that make achieving our goals much easier. Like reading to get more perspective and slowness in our lives. Or avoiding white carbohydrates to lose body fat.

Before sharing my best lifehacks, I must share lifehack number zero: never stop learning. The best lifehack is the lifehack that allows us to create our own lifehacks (just like the best wish when given a genie in a bottle is for more wishes). We must be constantly working to explore new ways of living that do a better job of our reaching our goals, allowing for growth in our lives, and, ultimately, happiness. 

1. Cold showers upon waking.

The first thing we choose to do each day is probably our most important daily decision. When asked a long time ago about why I am so happy all the time, I explained that I "brace" myself when I perceive I may be exposed to something that could make me unhappy, which in high school was receiving grades back or engaging in any sport (losing used to make me unhappy). I would protect my happiness. 

Inspired by Tony Robbins, cold showers do exactly this: they help us protect our happiness. Tony calls it "priming". He explains that the most important thing we can do each morning is prime ourselves to be in the best state we can for the day. If a cold shower can put us in a good state, then all of our decisions throughout the day will be better. 

Cold showers prime ourselves by affecting our physiology. When our physiology changes, our mind state changes, effortlessly. I find it extremely difficult not to feel extremely awake in my mind after my body feels a cold shower. We can begin to experience strength in every moment of our days right from the beginning. Since time is the most important thing, waking up fully as quickly as possible after waking helps us use all of the time we are given in the most intentional way possible. 

Of course, facing the shower head each morning starts out as a scary thing, but if you can tough out this phase, it will become the most invigorating moment of strength for you each and every day. 

2. Meditation

Do you want to: 

  • Stop worrying?
  • Feel less anxious?
  • Feel more in control of your life?
  • Be able to be more present in each moment?
  • Finally be able to observe and influence your emotions?

Then meditate. 

The benefits to meditation are truly infinite, and there are simply way too many smart people endorsing the practice for us to question its value. So the question becomes, how do we adopt this awesome habit? 

We do it, first thing, every day (after our cold shower of course). 

Meditation needs to be the first thing we do so that nothing can get in the way of us finishing it. When we do it first thing, there is no one that can interrupt us, and nothing that can come up to force us to push it back later and later in the day until we don't get it done. It is the most important thing we can do each day, since it is a key part of priming ritual, and we must work to make it use as little willpower as possible. 

Starting Meditation Sidebar

They always say "the best workout plan is the one you follow." Let this be our guiding idea as we search for ways to incorporate meditation into our lives each day. After about a couple of years of trying, stopping and starting a few times, I have found a few things that make starting meditation easier.

1. Have an accountability partner.

When you're committed to someone else, you won't let them down. You both try to compete with each other, and it becomes a million times easier to do whatever you're trying to do. If possible, meet this person each morning for meditation, or at the very least, text them each morning once you have completed your meditation. 

2. Start small. 

Commit to a week or a month at first, since this is manageable, and doesn't feel as intimidating as committing to something for life. Commit to a length of time each day. 10-20 minutes is good. Make the decision once (e.g. 10 minutes a day for a month), and stick to it. Don't make the decision of whether you're going to do it each morning. That's exhausting. Save yourself 30 decisions, and make the commitment once

3. Observe your thoughts. 

Actually meditating is simple. You work to become aware of everything that is happening in the present moment, by first focusing on your breathing, which happens automatically, without you working to do it, and then you transition to observing your thoughts, which also come and go automatically.

If you're lost, here are some guided meditations: a short one and a long one

All that's left is to do it. Work hard to keep your commitment to do it every day, but if you miss a day, don't kick yourself. The goal is long term adoption of meditation as a habit, and it won't happen overnight. It will take a lot of time, effort, and pain (read: failure). I ask that you simply trust that, just like anything that causes us to struggle, we will be stronger people out the other end. 

What a beautifully straight back. Golden posture. 

What a beautifully straight back. Golden posture. 

Bonus lifehack: if you’re procrastinating on a particular task, get it done first thing in the morning. Wake up early (5 is a good time) and get it done before your day starts, before any other humans are awake to distract you.
— johnsamuelgray

3. Listening to songs on repeat

We have got to listen to the smart people! 

Listening to songs on repeat to focus is an age old habit I have been using for years. But I am not the smart one. Matt Mullenweg is the smart one (he founded WordPress, which powers over 27% of the internet). He listens to songs on repeat to get in the zone for coding. 

Listening to songs on repeat works for focus for a few reasons: 

  1. When we hear the song, we immediately get in the zone. It's a trigger. This reduces task-switch time, so we can work more efficiently.
  2. When we are more exposed to something we like, we like it even more. So listening to the song makes work an enjoyable experience. 
  3. It prevents me from being exposed to auditory distraction, so I can focus even in busy places. 
  4. It creates background noise so we can really focus, there isn't enough room in our head for that many things since the song is always there.
  5. It keeps us awake. 

Try it out. You don't have much to lose. Below are a few of my all-time favourites.

  1. Deorro - Five Hours
  2. deadmau5 - Strobe (Lane 8 Remix)
  3. whereisalex - I Wish You Loved Me

Here is a site that repeats songs on YouTube for you. 

4. Stop scrolling through social media. 

I like to be in control of my life. When I look through a news-feed on Facebook or Instagram, I feel entirely out of control. I am exposing myself to something that might lead me down a long rabbit hole, fueled by the instant gratification monkey in my head, a terrible decision-maker to determine how to spend time well. 

Normally, when we want to know something, we can go out and find it. If we want to know what a specific friend is up to, we can text them or call them and ask them. Scrolling is kind of like watching the news, it's trusting someone else to be our judge of what's important to us. As it turns out, the news networks, and the social media apps don't actually care about showing us what's important.

Instead, they care about showing us the information that is the most likely to make us keep watching or scrolling. These companies make money on advertising, which means that the more of our time we spend consuming information from them, the more money they make. It's simply a conflict of interest. You wouldn't waste your attention on someone who is only interested in talking to you for your money, so don't waste your attention on social media. 

Our time is really important. 

And wasting it on social media is mean to ourselves. We are so much better off using our time for other, important things that make us better. If you're stuck on where to start, try this list. 

Seeing our friends, exercising, making awesome food, listening to an awesome podcast, going to the bar with friends, watching a movie, playing catch outside, climbing tress, learning a new skill (like card magic, shuffle dancing, or gymnastics), reading a blog you like or a book, talking to your parents on the phone, calling up an old friend, reflecting on your past, planning for your future, going to the beach, walking in the forest, going to a yoga class, learning yoga from YouTube, going to a restaurant with friends, holding a competition with friends (like which team of 10 can finish a keg first), learning skateboarding, booking a trip somewhere you've wanted to go to forever, or laughing with your friends late into the night over a few drinks.

These are all much better ways to spend our time than scrolling on social media. 

Chances are, if we're finding ourselves scrolling too much, we are bored, without a big goal (see #10). The key difference between these activities and scrolling is that these activites force us to interact with our environment. Scrolling isn't human, it's "connecting" with others through tapping some glass. Real enjoyment and strength comes from deep connection with the world around us. 

Put the phone away, and go do something. Anything. 

For a deep dive on the ethics of designing technology to persuade us to use it more (i.e. be addicted to it), check this podcast out. 

Social Media? More like stupidest-thing-ever-cial media. 

Social Media? More like stupidest-thing-ever-cial media. 

5. Use the Cheat Sheet Approach

If you want things to change, it helps to look at somebody who is getting the results that you want, and see how they are doing it.
— Mr. Money Mustache

When we're young, it's usually a good idea to learn things for ourselves. When we are a beginner at anything the best teacher is practice. The best way for us to learn anything at first is to do it as much as we can and learn from our mistakes. 

While it becomes important later on in the learning process, it can also serve a role early on in the learning process. This is observing how other people are doing what we're doing. We must be careful to not lose focus from learning from our own experience, but often, observing how others have gone about the task to get inspiration on how to design our practice will help us get better faster than if we were all on our own. 

The best way to learn is a balance of asking others and learning from our own failures. We want to be careful not to rely on others to solve our problems, but we also want to be sure to not isolate ourselves when we are learning, since loneliness makes learning harder and take longer. 

6. Mindfulness 

Mindfulness is simply becoming aware of present moment. We can practice mindfulness anywhere, and it will always provide us with a more awareness over the situations we find ourselves in. 

It looks like us becoming aware of our surroundings, and fully noticing everything that's going on in the present moment. It is very easy for us to get lost in our streams of thought throughout the day, distracted from what's actually happening around us. Even if it's as little as noticing a pattern on a ceiling because we never look up, or as big as becoming aware of anger you have been holding in your neck for hours by taking a deep breath, mindfulness allows us to more easily solve our problems. 

The most valuable mindfulness use of mindfulness involves us creating space between our experience and our reactions. It is very easy to react quickly, without noticing emotions clouding our judgement, causing us to react in a less than optimal way. The more processing time we allow ourselves between experience and taking responsive action, the more likely we are to be aware of distracting emotions, which cloud our ability to make good decisions. 

Advanced Mindfulness Section

The most difficult mindfulness to practice is to become aware of our thoughts throughout the day. If you're curious to understand this concept deeper, listen to this podcast a couple of times. With enough practice and attention, you will be able to uncover that the illusion of a self that authors our thoughts is, in fact, an illusion. You will discover that thoughts, just like our experience, come and go, which means we can't be identical to them. And finally, after careful observation, you will fail to find a thinker of these thoughts, and be left without a self, just your experience. 

Bonus bonus lifehack: Listen more. By listening more, you are equipping yourself with the most possible information and can negotiate or respond most intelligently. Don’t rush into answering. You’ll notice people will continue chatting if you just keep silent because people inherently want to fill the awkward silence.
— Greg Isenberg

7a. Positive Psychology

There is this lovely lady named Carol Dweck with an incredible TED Talk that I highly recommend. In it, she shares this idea of a "growth mindset" where some people approach problems thinking either that they are able to grow enough to solve the problem, or that they cannot grow, leaving the problem that is currently out of their ability unsolved forever

Paired with the growth mindset is the placebo effect. This is the idea that our belief in something can actually alter the make-up of our brains or bodies. It is a fact of life that our beliefs matter, and adopting the growth mindset means we can use our beliefs to create positive change in our lives. One more related idea is the idea of effectuation, which is the opposite of causation. Think of effectuation just like the growth mindset in which we are forced to imagine a future version of our lives with a particular effect of which we do not yet know the cause. Effectuation is thinking of what we want to achieve without worrying what causes will get us there. 

7b. Gratitude

By focusing on what we are grateful for, we train our ability to recognize the positive parts of the world that do not require any changing. This is a very powerful tool to use in sustaining daily happiness and positive moods. It's as simple as thinking of three things we're grateful for upon waking up each morning (If you want to make this a no-brainer, invest in this journal). Giving thanks at meal-time is a convenient solution as well. The key is to incorporate gratitude into our lives as a daily habit. 

Gratitude and positive psychology teach us to focus on what we can control. They are tools we can use to create happiness for ourselves by focusing on what is currently great in our lives, and what desirable, achievable effects we can create for our future lives. Notice how stress and worry are nowhere to be found. 

Stress and worry are exactly the opposite of gratitude and positive psychology. Stress is feeling discontent with a part of our lives that requires time to change. Let's say we are stressed about whether or not a project is going to get done. Instead of feeling stressed, we simply make a plan to complete the project on time, trust ourselves that we will fulfill this plan, and divert our energy away from the stress and towards actually completing the project. 

For most of us, it is much easier to stress and worry than to be grateful and have a growth mindset. This is because stress and worry have become a habit. Once we can train ourselves out of this habit and into the habit of being grateful and having a growth mindset, this will be our new, much "easier" state of being. 

Bonus bonus bonus lifehack: watching the news may be the single source of your stress and worry. For Charlie Hoehn, it made him think everyone was going to kill him. His solution? Play. He realized he wasn't playing at all in his life. He wrote a book about it which you can get for free at his website here

8. Say less. 

If we speak for shorter amounts of time and fewer total instances of speaking, our words will become more rare, thus more valuable. For me this is perhaps my greatest challenge, since I have a default setting of being on "permanent send", constantly sharing my thoughts without thinking too much before releasing them to the world. 

Take Jay Alvarrez's YouTube channel. He has one million subscribers, but only seven videos. When we share less frequently, two awesome things happen. First, the quality of what we share goes up, since we have more time to make what we release to the world better, and second, everyone looks forward to what we share more, since it's usually better, and since they have to wait a long time to see it. 

In business, saying less is one way to increase perceived value. Creating perceived value involves presenting something in a different way that makes people value it more, while the actual thing remains unchanged. 

Saying less also forces us to clean up our minds. With fewer words coming out of our mouth, we will use less filler words, cleaning out our heads and causing us to think more clearly. The less filler words, the less "fat" in our speech and in our minds, the easier it is to create value. 

The best part about saying less is that it allows us to listen more. When we can listen more, we have a much better chance at learning than we do when we're talking. And, we become more attractive, since most people like to talk more than they like to listen (which means they will really like being around us). 

Monks are smart. Copy them. Listen more. 

Monks are smart. Copy them. Listen more. 

Bonus bonus bonus bonus lifehack: writing is probably the best way to hone clear thinking. By thinking on paper, filler words, poorly constructed thoughts, and things that don’t make sense become really obvious.  Try committing to writing something each day with a friend, whether it’s a random list of 10, a short story, or 500 words of anything, put some sort of constraint on it, and stick to it for a good amount of time. Beyond thinking clearly, you will also build your creativity, discipline, and habit-building skills.
— johnsamuelgray

9. Try fasting.

To be clear, I am DEFINITELY NOT supporting anorexia or any sort of intentional malnutrition to create pain for ourselves. A good diet requires daily attention, and straying from our diet habits is always something we must be careful with. 

After quite a lot of trying, fasting has turned out to be a very rewarding experience for me. By teaching myself that I don't need to be reliant on having food around all the time, on days where I fast, I feel extreme freedom to do whatever I want. Eating is the only thing that we have done everyday, our entire lives. It's sometimes good to switch things up just for the sake of it. 

I have found that I feel amazing when I fast. The strength that comes from the experience is difficult to describe. There have been studies that show possible connections between fasting and life extension, reduced risk of cancer, and fat loss (so why not try it, at least?). Another one of my favourite parts about fasting is that it takes away the decision to eat for more of the day. Normally, I am constantly thinking about whether or not I should eat, but with fasting mixed into my day, or for the entire day, this thought process is completely shut down, since I simply don't have the option to eat for some (or all) of the day. 

I encourage you to try it out for yourself and see if you like it! You can start out with intermittent fasting, which you can learn more about here. But there is really not much to it. Don't eat food for a good portion of the day, or maybe even the whole day (but still drink lots of water!). If you want, eating coconut oil, some macadamia nuts, avocados, or other fat rich foods are good foods to mix into the fast. Less than 500 calories of fat is totally okay. 

Finally claim control over your hunger and try fasting. I dare you. 

10. Have one, big goal. 

This hack works magic in so many ways. I've saved the best for last. Get ready. 

1. A singular focus makes decision-making easy.

When we have one goal, we can make all of our decisions in terms of that goal. Let's say we're trying to graduate university. Before we do anything, we need to ask ourselves whether it moves ourselves towards this goal more. If we're going out on a Friday night with all our friends with all our work done, then going out will probably provide us with a great release from the stress of the week, as well as energize us for the tough week to come. Going out on a Tuesday night with our friends when we have a paper due the next day probably won't help us graduate. 

We make micro decisions always in terms of a macro goal. 

2. Make the goal as big as you can. The bigger it is, the easier it is to achieve. 

Big goals are miles easier to achieve than little ones. First, the bigger the goal, the longer it will take to achieve it, which means the more small decisions we can skip. When we make little goals, we force ourselves to continually check in with whether or not we should be doing what we're doing. If we can fully commit to a big goal, the decision is made. If we're lucky, we won't have to make another decision again for years. See here for more on the "single decision" (number 8).  

Second, fewer people are pursuing big goals, which means less competition. The less the competition, the easier it is to win. Right? 

Finally, the bigger the goal, the more effort we're willing to put in. If we're trying to go for a 10 minute run, chances are we aren't going to try as hard (and likely not even make it out for the run) than if we're going for a 10k run. Even if we don't make it the full 10k, we will still make it much further than we would have with the goal of going for a 10 minute run. 

3. Once we figure out where we're going, it's much easier to get there. 

The hardest part in life is deciding on where we want to go. When we don't know where we are going, we will get nowhere. Without direction, we can't measure our progress, so we won't make any. We won't be motivated. Once we can decide on a goal we want, making decisions to get us to this goal becomes much easier.

Extra reading here.

Goal-setting is a secret hack of the world's greats. It is one thing I have come up time and time again among all the smart people I have observed. It has the side effect of making people really attracted to us, since most people don't know where they're going and like to latch onto anything that appears solid. Pick a goal, and stick to it. Make the decision, and with time, everything else will come.

 

BONUS HABIT: Important things first, unimportant things never. 

I find it's so easy to put things off. Especially when it's something is scary, I love to just put these things in a note on my phone to do "later". What I've found out, is that these things never get done. If we want something done, it is best to do it right when it comes up, or we let it go. This way, important things don't get lost, and most of our time gets spent on important things. It's an invigorating existence to spend most of our time on this we find challenging. 

All done. Congratulations, my friends. 

I commend you for investing this time into bettering yourself by learning more about the various lifehacks in the world that we can use to live happier lives. Of course, I am one person, and am probably wrong with most of these lifehacks. Let me just repeat that. 

I am probably wrong about most of the above. 

I am one person, who is very young, who has worked on this article for less than years. I don't know much.

But, what I do know is that all of the ideas above have helped me live better. Even though what's worked well for me might not work well for you, give some of the ideas above a try. You never know until you try. Seriously.

Even if you get one valuable idea from this post, I have done my job. In fact, if it has helped you even in the slightest, let me know here. I am super curious. 

If you want a much more in-depth list of lifehacks, check out the list my friends over at 80,000 hours made here

If you're looking for a few shorter (but still really valuable) lists, check out Greg Isenburg's lists here, here, and here

/johnsamuelgray\

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