Life hacks provide the fibrous bulk for a lot of social media sites, an endless procession of quick-fix, easy-to-follow solutions that will make you a better, happier, healthier, more productive person. Many (most? all?) are proselytized by people enthusiastically declaring that — one week into their experiment — they’ve changed their lives forever. That nothing will ever be the same again.
A linchpin of these declarations, used to announce an absolute shift in behaviors, is one that you should never use.
Unless you’re telling someone that they should never say never. Then you can say never. And I guess if you’re factually talking about the past. But you never have any business using it to make declarations about the future.
“I will never (eat fast food / eat meat / work sitting down / skip my morning exercise / gain weight / waste my commute / eat pizza) again.”
The most recent example of this was someone declaring that they will never eat at their desk again: After spending a whole week wandering the streets at lunch, talking with coworkers, etc, they decided that the evil of eating at the desk is one that they must renounce for perpetuity.
Maybe they’ll stick to their proclamation, but the not too distant future is far more likely to show that they’ve merely undermined the value of their word, undoubtedly finding some new justification or reason for renouncing their prior claims.
It isn’t always about desperately trying to change entrenched behaviors, but often is absolute declarations about the future.
“I will never (drive a minivan / vote conservative or republican / live in the city / live in the country / wear socks with shorts / think new music all sounds the same” and on and on. That sort of generational cycle that has gone on for eternity, each generation certain that they are profoundly different from those that came before.
While such public declarations may be well meaning, they are actually futile attempt at imprisoning future you through the declarations and values of present you. It is a desperate, never-successful attempt at essentially motivation hacking.
It doesn’t work.
Future you will take your input into consideration. And will, more likely than not, discard it. You have dramatically less influence on future you than you imagine. Instead you will be building up credibility debt that will only hinder future you.
“Hey, didn’t you say that you were never going to eat at your desk again?”
“Yeah, but bzzz bzzzz bzz excuse bzzzz bzz. And then bzzzz bzzzz excuse justification.”
Because, and this is a concept that might just blow your mind, future you is not you. Future you is, in effect, a different person.
Future you lives in a different situation. Future you has different values. Future you has different information and understanding and knowledge. Despite your message board proclamations that you will never buy an Apple product, separating yourself from the herd, future you might really like that new Apple SmartKidney, deciding to purchase one anyways.
None of this is to diminish or discount attempts at self-improvement, which of course we all should be endlessly pursuing. But the moment you decide to make declarations on behalf of future you, you have taken one giant leap towards failure. You’ve already set up a very probable failure condition.
Never say never. Don’t make an exception a failure state. Don’t make your words just noise.