Hacking Gratitude

Contrary to my last name, I am not a great life hacker. I find the whole notion of constantly iterating to measure up against the arbitrary standards of “personal progress” to be a bit nauseating. That is not to say I don’t believe in learning, growing, and maximizing joy for yourself and others throughout life.

What bothers me about the life hackers is the seemingly ruthless and sterile way they approach life. A good exercise is measured in seconds or pounds, not in the lightness and accomplishment you feel afterward. Attractiveness is measured in BMI and shirt measurements instead of affability and charisma. Happiness is seemingly a spreadsheet away.

I get it. Science requires measurements. But there is something very hollow about approaching your life as a lab experiment. Add one input, wait ten days, observe, report, begin another trial. The result of such a life is a great big spreadsheet full of data and devoid of meaning.

Ah, yes, so why don’t I just go on and tell you the meaning of life right now then, huh!

Well, the truth is, I don’t know. Maybe the meaning of life is a CSV output data file for some. For me, there is something so clinical and dispassionate about a life of calculated results detached from deeper significance.

Why do you want to get your mile down from 5:30 down to 4:55? What is the meaning? Even lab experiments have an overarching hypothesis to direct them.  The real question is, what will you do if you do achieve the goal you were hacking towards? Should you take time to reflect and enjoy the hard work, or are you addicted to the process and immediately begin on the next conquest?

I firmly believe that everything is a drug and addiction hides in some of the most innocuous habits. The addiction with the most socially accepted excuse is a myopic obsession with process improvement. Ask Tesla, Howard Hughes, and Newton. One ended up destitute with only a pigeon as a friend. The other sealed himself in a room with piss jugs as his only company. The last huffed mercury and would put knitting needles through his eye socket to experiment on his own optics.

All three did great things for humanity.  We remember their names because their neurotic experimenting also attempted to solve an external problem that would benefit many others.

You may think that’s exactly why you’re measuring the uric acid content of your urine right now or the number of endogenous ketones in your mouth or the girth of your bicep. All of your self-experimentation is intended to make you a magnanimous benefactor someday. The neat thing about addictions is that they all come with comforting excuses.

We should all enjoy life and sculpt a healthy meaning around it. Sometimes it will involve hard work and uncomfortable scenarios, including linear measurements of personal tangible growth. Sometimes it will involve going on an aimless walk and listening to Led Zeppelin III

You can’t call yourself a ballerina when all you do is check Instagram and eat empty carbs. You will have to get out and suffer. Even measure your suffering to gauge areas of improvement.

You can’t become a successful leader if you treat everyone as unmercifully as yourself.

The difficult part is not the process. It’s achievement. People become infatuated with the process that guided their success that they forget the desire and meaning that began their journey. The result being that many stumble once they get the things they were so myopically focused on achieving.

It’s one thing to hack your way to success. The goal is to make sure you’re not hacking yourself or others to pieces along the way.

If you are overly obsessed with self-measuring metrics, I suggest doing without them one time. Whether this means not timing your run, not counting the words you type, forgetting how many sales calls you make in a day, try it out. Put an emphasis on the act itself and not the measurement.

Some call this intention. I just call it chilling out. If it is painful and torturous, then you have found something you can improve on. However, no amount of measuring and timers will help with inner calm. Only gratitude can do that.

If you find a way to hack that, let me know.