Psychological Life Hacks for Men: Be Better This Year
Old-time Hungarians love to tell the story of Károly Takács of the Hungarian Army who transformed himself so completely that he was able to overcome a debilitating injury and win Olympic gold twice, although shooting with his left hand.
Just before the 1940 Tokyo Olympics, top pistol shooter Károly Takács had the fingers of his right hand blown off by a grenade while training with his army squad. He had two choices. Either give up shooting, or learn to shoot flawlessly with his left hand. Through rigorous, ceaseless training, Károly did the impossible, and, in the spring of 1939, turned up at the Hungarian National Pistol Shooting Championship. Participants greeted him with their condolences and thanked him for coming to watch them shoot.
“I didn’t come to watch,” Károly said,”I came to compete.”
The left-handed shooter’s excellent score earned him selection for the world championships. Though the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games were cancelled due to World War II, he won the gold medal at the London Olympics in 1948 as the first one-handed, left-handed shooter. This was followed by a gold medal win at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, where Károly won with the same distinction.
Károly Takács is an example of someone who so transformed himself that he dominated his will, disciplined his urges, and relentlessly chased his dream until he achieved the seemingly impossible.
How did he do it and what can we glean from his inspring story? We’ll show you 10 psychological life hacks for men that will let you truly channel your inner Károly in 2021.
1. Rely on Growth instead of Willpower
Willpower is a myth. We have limited “power” over our “will”. Even to think that way, makes our attempts for self-discipline all the harder. We like rewards, rather than pain. We hate difficulties and discomfort. We like to think we have the option of self-control, but more often than not, our emotions subtly direct us.
On the concept of willpower, there are two seemingly contradictory psychological truisms:
- Psychologists say it’s a muscle you strengthen through practice.
- Psychologists say it’s a muscle that tires with overuse.
Both theories are correct. We need to practice doing things we find uncomfortable, and shouldn’t distract ourselves with temptations that blunt our intentions. (Wiki holes and online window shopping, anyone?) When we think of self-discipline as a form of control, it’s irksome. After all, we all like to feel free. Instead, shift the “willpower” mindset to one of “growth” and implement strategies that convert the tediousness or discomfort of necessary tasks into projects that become more enjoyable.
But how to do that, you might ask? Micro-habits.
2. Develop Posititive Micro-Habits
“If you chase two rabbits… you won't catch either.”
I used to have a client who identified as an indefatigable self-hating alcoholic with a dead-end job who was addicted to porn and video games. Today, that man owns a seven-figure coaching company and lives a life that he tells me he’s proud of.
How did he do it?
Through massive self-discipline.
- The man pinpointed why he wanted to change. He wrote down how his perfect life would look and what he needed to change to make that occur. He also wrote down the results of inaction.
- He adopted the 80/20 rule to decide the top habit changes that would make the greatest difference in his life.
- He chose one new habit off of that list and assigned it a trigger. For example, the man decided to do a push-up each morning. He’d set his gym shoes outside his door before going to sleep as his trigger to do that push-up the following day.
- He’d make that habit super easy. So instead of setting the bar at ten push-ups, he’d simply commit to one.
- He’d do this one push-up regularly for 21 to 45 days. His brain would lead him to move from that one push-up to more. “I’ve woken up just for one push-up! What a waste of time! I’ll do 5, 10, 20 push-ups more” -- and before he knew it, he’d achieved bigger and bigger goals.
This method allowed my client to master six to 12 habits a year.
This method is similar to the 1% Solution described by life consultant Tom Connellan in his book, The 1% Solution for Work and Life. If we regularly make one teeny improvement in one area of our skills or performance, in 70 days we’ll be twice as good as where we are right now.
Example: If I spend just five minutes each day scripting Twitter posts instead of watching TV, I’ll be a Twitter expert.
3. Bad Habits? Replace Instead of Displace
So now we know that implementing micro-habits helps us to make big changes, but how can we trash harmful habits?
In his book Crunch Point, Brian Tracy suggests that we can’t really change bad habits; we can only spend our time differently.
How do we do that? By reallocating time from bad habits (or lower-value activities) to positive habits (or higher-value activities). For example, to change my habit of watching movies when I’m supposed to be writing, I can opt for films with subject matter related to my writing and watch them once I’ve finished my work for the day. In this way, I’ve replaced a no-value activity with a positive habit.
4. Ask: “What Do I Need to Do?” Rather Than “What Do I Want to Do?”
Brain science tells us it’s emotion rather than rational thinking that drives us. Sometimes we engage in “child logic” when we use logic to support our emotion, like when my mind says, “You’ve worked so hard, you deserve that movie. It won’t take long. Just a short break, before returning to work.” I want to watch that movie instead of finishing that article. My mind scrounges for a reason to satisfy my emotion.
In short, I’ve surrendered to that “child logic” and wasted my time with that no-value activity.
A better way? Switch your mindset from “What do I want to do?” to “What do I need to do?” so that your mind recalls your commitments and becomes more likely to move forward with them.
5. Pick Your Purpose
There’s all this talk about successful life hacks for men for 2021, but what if you find yourself aimless, or don’t know what to do with your life? What then?
A highly accomplished acquaintance, Julia, felt aimless. She told me her friend advised her to do three things:
- List five to ten things that are most important to you in life. These could be areas too. (For Julia it was: Personal development, Wealth, Entertainment, Friends).
- On a spectrum of five, rate how close you are to achieving those most important things.
- Figure out how you can get a rating of 5 for each item.
Whenever Julia feels aimless, she returns to this list to remind her of her values.
6. Become (and Stay) Motivated: Gamify your Activites
According to Fogg’s Behavioral Model (developed by Stanford behavioral scienctist BJ Fogg), habits follow the trajectory of Ability, Trigger and Motivation.
- Ability — People must have the ability to do the behavior.
- Trigger — People have to be triggered, or prompted, to do the behavior.
- Motivation — People have to be motivated to change their behaviors.
It’s the third point of Motivation that’s the sticky point. Somehow or other, we need to ceaselessly and enthusiastically continue to implement our goals, despite setbacks.
The horror! To achieve such progress, day after day, is unnatural.
How about gamifying our activities for long-term motivation?
Launch a system of “Streaks,” where you maintain a habit for a series of days, testing how long you persist. This idea of “scoring points” for consistency is a powerful motivator.
That life hack is also called “don’t break the chain” and is especially important with new habits to encourage us to get used to them.
“My habits,” Michał Stawicki, Habits coach on Coach.me told me, “are ingrained into my days and into the core of who I am. In the last 1015 days I reviewed my personal mission statement 1008 times, I did my pushups 1007 times and read Catholic Saints’ works 1010 times. An occasional hiccup means nothing. My streaks helped me to build my habits to the point where they are me.”
For Stawicki, who used this “streak” system to master well over 30 daily habits, the method becomes a game. He uses a wall calendar to sustain his “streak.” (You can also use Trello or some online productive habits trackers or apps.)
7. Keep At It, Even When You’re Just Not Feeling It.
For environmentalists, it is tweaking your environment that helps us sustain habits. Benjamin Hardy says as much in his book, Willpower Doesn’t Work.
What if our environments are toxic, or we know no inspirational people? How do we encourage or inspire ourselves then?
For Daniel Karan of the Declare War Within blog, we can pick and analyze online inspirational individuals. You can choose historic figures, too.
“This,” Karan says, “is the power of social media. Platforms like YouTube. You get access to some of the most brilliant minds on whatever topic you desire.”
Here’s how to do it:
- Decide which area you want to work on. Health/Wealth/Faith/Body/Mindset/Business. Or choose a certain trait.
- Find someone who models that trait. (George Washington, for example, on discipline).
- Read, listen or watch that person’s biographies, writings, clips of their speeches and movies of their actions. You could also read their journals, just as the authors of Journaling Habit do.
- Do this for at least a month, taking notes and implementing that person’s advice or example. Every so often, refer back to that content to sustain your model’s impact.
8. Keep Hope Alive During The Tough Times.
What about when we do give up? When we feel we’re getting too old or we’re discouraged that life is too rough and we’ll never make it? After all, there’s only that much we can control. How can we encourage ourselves then?
Here are some questions for reflection that can help us progress:
- Am I focusing too much on the ‘I’ rather than on the “You”? (Example: I’m a rotten writer. No one will want to read my book. Displace with: How can I write so my book will help others?)
- Am I focusing too much on the “What” rather than the “How”? (Example: No one will read me now that I’m 102. Displace with: How can I get people to read my book?)
Know that progress involves difficulties, failure and rejection. In other words, if you want to climb that ladder, be prepared for some growing pains or discomfort. Change (growth) can be stressful. Try identifying your main constraint by asking yourself, “Why am I not already at my goal?” Or “What’s holding me back?”
Once you identify your main constraint, focus single-mindedly on alleviating it and try to ignore the little problems around the edges. Consider the aphorism of Canadian philosopher Matshona Dhliwayo: “Stars are born out of dark moments.” The darker our moments, the brighter our stars!
9. Change Your Life for Good
My best strategy for progress is to focus on the solution, or on purposeful action towards my goal. When I feel stuck or in crisis, I usually turn to Brian Tracy’s four suggestions for changing my professional or personal life:
- I can do more of certain things. (What are the things I should do more of to improve my life or business?)
- I can do less of other things. (What are the things I should be doing less of to control my life or business?)
- I can start doing something new. (Which new habit would overcome my obstacles and achieve my goals?)
- I can stop doing certain things. (Which habits should I discontinue that hold me back?)
I throw myself into the most uncomfortable, pressing tasks first, like asking for feedback although that may mean rejection. At the same time, the act of asking makes me feel good.
I also sometimes ask myself these two questions that Benjamin Franklin would ask of himself each morning and evening: first, What good shall I do today? and then, What good have I done today?
10. Be Fearless.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
“If you want to become a success, resolve to confront your fears. If you do the thing you fear, the death of fear is certain.”
Many people fear making hard choices that deal with people or trying new things because of a fear of rejection, failure, confrontation or change. Courage can be developed by acting courageously. In life, courage follows the courageous behavior. Emerson also wrote: “Do the thing, and you will have the power.”
Hungarian left-handed pistol shooter Károly Takács is a shining example of someone who had a singular goal and achieved it against all odds. He dedicated himself to the task and fearlessly pursued a great ambition. Instead of being intimidated by Károly’s success story, get inspired and take action. The saying, “If there’s a will there’s a way” is too passive. We have the will and we can forge our way. Very little is beyond our limits when we set are minds to our goals.