Essay

Lifehacking as Testing the Limits

By Duff McDuffee on March 31st, 2012 1

Hackers often break systems just to see where they break. This might be for fun, or for devious ends, to help, or for some other reason like an activist cause.

For instance, a security person in an IT department might get hired specifically to try and break through their web security to get a password they shouldn’t be able to get. A different kind of hacker might break in to the same system just to see if he or she can. A third might hack the security to steal a bank account number to then transfer money out of. And a fourth hacker might take down a website in protest, as in the many protests the group Anonymous has engaged in.

Lifehacking is a buzzword that has attempted to rub off the cool mystique of hacking culture to the rest of life (online and off), but frequently refers to lame nonsense like backing up your computer hard drive, or boring lists of tips on facing your fears–neither of which involve breaking systems or testing the limits.

My previous post was what I’d consider lifehacking: pointing out limits of change techniques, in this case for safety and effectiveness. Many people reacted as if I’d hacked their web site, or let myself inside their apartment when they were away. Few people like to have the limits of their systems tested, even if they say that their life is all about growth and evolution.

But that’s exactly what we should be doing a whole lot more of. Fuck this lame shit about backing up hard drives and tips for this or that. Anyone who writes another article like that and calls it “lifehacking” should be ashamed of themselves.

I’m not calling for a change in language or rhetoric. Calling yourself remarkable is of the most unremarkable thing of all. I’m saying let’s engineer a better world by seeing where the systems of this world break, hopefully long in advance. Go out and break something today, something you love (not SOMEONE though).

Let’s stress test our communities, break our favorite techniques to make them better, imagine what would happen if we took everything to its logical conclusion. Don’t wait until it breaks on it’s own. We learn by breaking stuff, so break early, break often.

For example, Core Transformation is my favorite personal change technique. It’s so good it was hard for me to find a way to break it. But today I recommended to someone they do a different technique–a technique I don’t even use–based on the particulars of their situation. I only knew to do that because I’ve stress tested CT by doing it hundreds of times and thinking about it a ton over the course of a few years. I know the limits of my favorite technique, not just its benefits. I’ve spent quite a bit of time contemplating how it could be used for evil too, just so I’d be aware if I ever started drifting in that direction.

Willpower research has shown that visualizing positive outcomes are not as useful in achieving a goal as imagining obstacles and ways to overcome those obstacles. Breaking your favorite system will teach you much more about how it works than just using it as directed.

Don’t fantasize about your future, go out and break something today. Then you’ll discover what’s really possible.

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