The Life Hack Fallacy: Why You Keep Failing

Tips you may have discovered to increase your focus and productivity, before learning about the Life Hack Fallacy: 

  • Set a timer before performing your task.  Work for 20 minutes and then give yourself a reward, like spending a few minutes [*cough* half an hour *cough cough*] on social media.
  • Hide your phone in a lock-box while you work.  Every 20 minutes you can go check it.
  • Listen to the right music (Classical, right? Or was it supposed to be jazz…). 
  • Remove distractions, like your Playstation. 
  • Start multitasking!  Save time by addressing similar tasks simultaneously.
  • Stop multitasking!  It’s a lie.
  • Get more house plants.
  • Get rid of your belongings, especially house plants.

Tips that have led to sustained increases in your focus and productivity:

  • Selling your Playstation.

Every one of the above tips, in a vacuum, will fail you.  In fact, you could read every book on efficiency and productivity and still be no better off than you are now.  The reason: You.  All of these tactics are implemented with the tacit assumption that, left alone, you will fail.  Surely it’s this great new ‘life hack’ that will prop you up, right?  But when you begin your next task, no matter how motivated, you’ve left an escape hatch open in your wordless unconscious.  By the end, you tell yourself, “Well, I didn’t get much work done today, I guess those tips were useless.”  

Behind every dropped or fledgling habit, you start to find the word “try”.  “I’ll try to write a couple of pages tonight.”  “I’ll try to eat healthier tonight.”  This word is perhaps the most dangerous in our motivational lexicon.  Because within it is the assumption that you may well fail, as you have so many other times, that your best efforts won’t be good enough.  It is both the key to the escape hatch and your own implicit permission to use it.  It is the first step towards failure.  That is why no amount of quick-tips will prevent you from failing.  

We have to dig deeper. Not to find more motivation, but to excavate excuses.  What about this task is so frightening?  Is the project too large to imagine tackling it?  Do we doubt that we can learn new skills?  Does failure entail public humiliation?  Somewhere, you’ve placed an internal roadblock that must be cleared before going forward.  Because if it wasn’t there, if you really wanted to get it done, you’d have found a way by now. 

Deep down you’ve either let fear and apprehension win, or you truly want to watch cat videos on YouTube more than you want to achieve your goal.  There’s a great line in the movie ‘Rudy’ (well, one of many great lines) from the head coach: “No excuses, do the work!”  I feel like I should get an eighteen inch tattoo of this across my chest.

Once you’ve confronted your hangups, take a moment to envision your success.  This isn’t some feel-good effort to pretend you’re a master of productivity; it’s to give yourself a clear, concrete goal post and to convince your psyche that success is inevitable.  Our Feeling Brain, in the parlance of Mark Manson, can be fooled into pulling us in more positive directions. Much like smiling can induce feelings of happiness, positive visualization can lead to internal motivational victories.  There’s even research showing that if we engage in positive visualization before an event, we’ll have a more positive memory of the experience afterward.  If we’re at the start of a new project or habit, forming positive memories about our efforts seems like a pretty useful tool to build momentum.

Last step: sit your ass in the chair and get to work.  No more ‘trying’, no more excuses.  Just action.  Stop depending on your fickle mood to coincide with your values and goals.  Stop waiting for motivation to find you and use your own action for inspiration.  

Turns out the Yoda was right: “Do or do not, there is no try.”  

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