There Ain’t No Shortcuts

I remember an acquaintance not too long ago that was trying to lose weight using ketones and whatnot; figuring out foods they could eat (along with all the recipes) and the ones they shouldn’t. Then, tracking calories to ensure they increased protein intake and reduced carbs. Sure, they ended up losing a lot of weight quickly, but is this kind of plan even sustainable? I don’t know. More importantly, you are spending so much time thinking and trying these crazy diets, tracking calories using apps and spreadsheets, having a list of all the foods (along with their recipes) you can have — boy, it’s exhausting just writing about this, let alone trying to follow such a plan.

The point is, if it’s something that isn’t simple and sustainable, it won’t work in the long term, period. If you’re going to be spending so much time thinking to get results, it’s probably not worth it to begin with. Even if you were initially successful with it, I’d wager that you won’t continue the plan in the long haul, so the question becomes: is it even worth doing?

It doesn’t have to be that complicated to lose body fat (and weight) or anything we do. But, we complicate something that should be simple. We look for these crazy diets rather than looking for something simple and sustainable. Look at what has worked for us humans historically. Our ancestors never employed crazy diets. They believed in a life of temperance, simplicity, and moderation. They never worried about “losing weight” (and that’s just one example). They ate responsibly and followed the Ben Franklin adage: Eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation. In other words, they ate when they were hungry, and stopped eating when they were full. I know this sounds obvious and common sensical, but I wonder how many of us have forgotten that and need to be reminded of it again.

I remember my maternal grandfather who perfectly embodied that mentality. He walked for 30 minutes twice a day for years. He ate everything (in moderation). He didn’t bother (or think twice) about carbs, fats, or proteins (I’m positive he didn’t even know what those meant), yet he remained healthy (and slim) his entire life without trying crazy diets. He focused on the basics (the fundamentals). He lived to be an octogenarian.

Going out of your way and looking for crazy, complex solutions is certainly not limited to the physical body — it easily extends to our knowledge work. There is no shortage on the web about what has come to be known as “life hacks”, a term fittingly coined by Danny O’Brien, a British technology journalist, in the early 2000s. It was meant to be about finding small ways to reduce friction in your daily life and to share those ideas with others so they could understand the idea and find their own ways to reduce friction in their lives. The problem wasn’t with life hacks per se, but what it has come to be now — so much that there are entire websites dedicated to it (which is also only part of the problem).

Most of the tech web is obsessed with life hacks, tools, biohacks, efficiency, and “productivity”, but don’t think as much about working on the right things, which is far more important in the long run. You’ll find these knowledge workers reading endlessly on the web about “life hacks” and obsessing over the tools and “workflows” instead of getting real work done. What was once a means to an end has now become all about the means itself.

The same could be said about articles on personal finance telling you to give up your daily latte (as part of getting out of debt) so you can save money and live a “frugal” life (which is often misunderstood anyway as that’s not what frugality is about), but who are they kidding? In fact, that’s thinking small. It’s not going to make an iota of difference in the long run.

We get caught up in these crazy diets and quick fixes because we are motivated to see results quickly (in the short term). Here’s another hack (or app) that will make your life better or make you more “efficient/productive”. You see, things like consistency and self-discipline aren’t sexy and don’t sell ads.

Here’s the thing: Whether it’s losing weight, living a frugal life, or finding ways to work more “efficiently” (whatever that means for you), it’s about burning more calories than losing, spending less money than you make, and working on the right things first (and worrying about performance later). One would read these and think of them as “common sense” (which they are, essentially), which ironically is uncommon these days. Even though we know these things to be inherently true, we still fall prey to these magazine covers because we secretly hope for shortcuts to “get there”, but there aren’t any.

Here are some strategies for thinking beyond the “hacks”.

The first thing would be to stop pursuing these seemingly quick-fix solutions that promise the world to you. Do yourself a favor and stop reading those magazines (or articles on the web) and start using your common sense. Whatever your challenge may be, tackle it head on, understand it (seek an expert), and make a plan to do the work. You already know what you need to do. Just do it.

Get the basics right, as it can be easy to lose sight of it once you start thinking about the nitty-gritty. For instance, when you have taken a lot on your plate, check in with yourself on the fundamentals. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Avoid extremes — cold showers, quitting sugar, intermittent fasting, early morning wakeups, giving up your favorite foods, sleeping fewer hours, etc. For instance, there are those who think of sugar as poison for the body. Life is lived in moderation, not in extremes. I find that somehow that’s been lost on the people today. Any time I come across a crazy diet or someone I know following such a diet, I cringe. It’s simpler to pursue and accomplish your goals than you think without resorting to drastic measures.

Focus on doing the right things before worrying about doing them the right way. Remember, effectiveness first, performance second, always. Better to work on the right things without being efficient rather than being efficient at the wrong things. While these life hacks can often work to reduce friction in your life, it would serve you better to work on the right things first. Once you work on the right things, you’ll come across ways to reduce friction in your life.

Seek out solutions (or hacks) only when you experience friction in trying to get work done (but not while getting work done). Then, you have a specific problem to solve, and you are not reading arbitrarily on the web or offline. Find something that works for you, and then stop.

Do one thing at a time. What I mean by that is pursue no more than a single personal/work-related goal at a time. If you find yourself desperate to lose body weight now, then focus on that while everything else in your life remains constant. Don’t even think about doing more than two things at a time (one each for personal and professional). Ideally, one is best so you can focus all your energies on that.

Don’t try to get it all right at the outset. It doesn’t have to be perfect out of the gate. Find a way to get started and continue with baby steps.

Ultimately, you have to be able to do things without consciously thinking about them. It’s about going from “knowing” (what to do) to “doing” to “being”.

Above all, keep it simple; this is key. Look for ways to simplify your life not by adding things but by removing them. If you can’t see yourself doing something in the long term (especially good diets, exercise, and habits in general), find an alternative solution that you can.

At the end of the day, these life hacks, bio hacks, personal finance strategies, or whatever-else hacks can distract you with quick fixes instead of focusing on the fundamentals and solving the problems head on. The problem is not the hacks, but what they have come to be. We find ourselves fixated on reading these articles all of the time (which can be a black hole) that we forget the reason for doing the work in the first place.

The true solution will never be about the quick fixes nor about making elaborate, unsustainable plans, but finding something that is simple, easy to understand, doable not just now, but also in the future, and working on it so it becomes a part of your life. That’s slow, true, permanent change. The only kind of change I believe in.

If you liked this piece, subscribe to the Weekly Newsflash to read my latest writing. Topics include mental health, simple living, and true success: