Life-Changing Nudges In The Right Direction: Hacks For Health, Productivity, Reading And More

Whilst I’m generally not a fan of shortcuts, hacks and other seemingly innocent time-saving ways of getting from a to b, there are some I have made friends with over the years, for their practicality, usefulness, and small demand on time and energy.

It seems there’s a part of us that knows shortcuts are bad; somewhere deep down, buried in the subconscious network, or perhaps our hearts, we know that though we want to take the shortcut, we shouldn’t. The intriguing question is, how or why do we know?

The equally unintriguing answer is, I don’t know. But I suspect it’s origins are biological; that is, over a period of hundreds of thousands of years, life has taught this now multi-dimensional, complex and apparently intelligent organism that shortcuts always come back to bite you in the ass, perhaps fatally. And it has taught us the hard way; nature programs only paint the pretty picture of evolution. It has a dark side. In fact, true story is cold, rattling, humbling.

In other words:
if you want to go against the crowd, expect to be hurt
if you want to make money, work hard and smart; don’t cheat
if you want to lose weight, consume less (calories)
if you want to be good, do good; don’t place yourself above others, thinking you’re doing them ‘a service’
if you want the girl, go ask her; (kids) don’t throw paper aeroplanes with notes in morse code, and (adults) don’t stalk them on the internet
if you want to get good at something, do it; talking and reading and thinking doesn’t build skill
if you want to get strong, start thinking long-term; strength (muscular or not) takes time and perseverance
if you want to be healthy, priorities exercise, real food, the sun and good people
if you want a good life, don’t try to change your thinking or that of others; get yourself in a better environment — different people, place, etc
if you want to be happy tomorrow, don’t drink tonight

Granted, there are exceptions — but such exceptions actually prove the rule: be wary of shortcuts, lest you hurt yourself and/or others.

On that note, let’s get to the shortcuts. My preferred way of thinking about them is as not lifehacks but life-changing hacks; practiced regularly, some give immediate results, some take time, and others unnoticeably (but crucially) nudge you further towards where you want to be. Consider the donkey who found himself situated at equal distance between a bucket of water and a bale of hay. This poor dumb donkey was as thirsty as he was hungry. Minutes went by. Hours went by. His peer-rated decision-making score was not in the minus range. He died.

What would have saved him? A life-changing hack, that’s right.1 All he needed was a nudge; a slight breeze would have done it. But relying of Dame Fortune is not a good strategy; luck is a strange thing.

When I’m sober, I think of these as self-medicating nudges. When drunk, I envisage the donkey. It could be that everything in life, depends on the nudge.

An Uncategorised List Of Hacks

Eating more healthy fat — The fat provided by such foods as avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, (full-fat) dairy products, nuts, seeds and so on, is extremely nutritious — especially when compared to what is usually ate in place of it: chips, fries, bread, rice, tortillas, pasta, etc. Even in the disgusting taste of undressed salad leaves lies a lesson: minus fat, which acts as a nutritional vessel, so much of the good stuff in red sorrel and spinach is lost. Fat intake directly impacts hormone production — and despite your rational resistance, you are controlled by hormones.


Squeezing one or two limes into your water, daily — We tend to think of citrus fruits like lemon and lime as acidic. Hence, the time to tell someone that in actual fact, they are alkalising, is not just as they’ve let lime juice slip into an open cut on their pinky finger — lest you want to get squirted in the eyes. Yes, lemons and limes2 have an alkalising effect on the body. Why is this good? Simply, the optimal internal state is neutral; health lies in the PH range of 7. The problem is that life is acidic. Literally. Stress, the western diet, and environmental pollutants being the biggest contributors.

There are numerous other such benefits to consuming lime juice, but the greatest one in my opinion, is the stabilising effect it has on blood sugar.


Cold water showers, cold baths, cold weather and light clothing — We could get all scientific and talk about the hormonal benefits, and why from an evolutionary perspective, cold is good for us complicated organisms (humans). Like for example, how cold helps activate something called brown fat tissue, which is metabolically active fat, as opposed to its helpless and harmful cousin, white fat. But speaking practically, cold exposure is one of those instant-result-type hacks: nothing elevates the mood like a cold shower in the morning; nothing gets you moving (for non-moving over-privileged all-day gaming kids, this is good) like being exposed to a cold breeze; and nothing makes you feel like a mental Hercules3 like enduring a 15 minute ice bath. There are means to achieve these states of course, like taking cocaine and speeding down the highway. Don’t do that.4


Fasting — Fasting can do wonders for your health, mental health, waistline, productivity, energy  — and, therefore, your relationships, finances, your life. Abstaining from food and/or drink for an abnormal amount of time has been a fundamental practice of religion for thousands of years. Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism all have fasting practices in some form or another. There’s an inconceivable, incredibly useful — and mostly, inarticulable — amount of magic rooted in religious teachings; fasting is a perfect example.


Affirmations and other subconscious hypnosis — We’ve written about affirmations before. So has Scot Adams, creator of Dilbert. The Secret (the book, the movie, the movement, Rhonda Byrne) has also (lamentably) gained immense popularity over recent years. Whilst it’s easy to bash hoogy-boogy Laws of Attraction, visits from Abraham and adages like ‘ask The Universe and it shall give’ as utter hogwash, there is some substance to the message. The problem is that ~100% of The Secret’s proponents and intelligensia are fundamentally confused.5 Or maybe they aren’t? and I am? But I doubt it. And the reason I doubt it is because the effect is pretty simple to explain: affirmations, manipulating one’s environment, goal-setting and visualising are techniques that have been used to seemingly good effect for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years. They work to improve your focus by making sure that all you think about is what you want to do, by having you get around better people, write down your intentions everyday, stick pertinent and very inspirational posters around your house, etc — and as if by Magic (this is where The Universe comes in), things start happening: you start working out, your bank balance increases, you fall in love, you get promoted, your health improves. Is this Magic? Perhaps. But I would call it an instance of ‘of course!’. Expectation could be the magic ingredient here; as we expect things to change we unconsciously and consciously start doing things that actually cause the change.

But as for affirmations, the practice is simple. Every morning and night — immediately upon waking and just before bed — for 3 months, write down something you want to do, be, have, etc. And write each line 10-12 times. For example:

I am going to become a famous cartoon artist. (The one used by Dilbert creator Scott Adams, before he picked up the pen.)

–I am going to have £50,000 in my bank account in 6 months.
–I am going to have sex with a beautiful man this month.

You get the point. What filters the doers from the don’ters is consistency; those who give up are usually those who don’t get what they want in life. The link is not necessarily causal either; it could just be that those who doggedly persist in the face of boredom, stress and other negative incentives are also the kind of people who eventually succeed in life. In fact, I think that’s exactly what it is. One might call it The Real Secret.


Keeping reminders of death around your house, or on your person — ‘One should always have one’s boots on and be ready to leave,’ said the brilliant and extremely neglected master introspector, Montaigne. My version is: keep the taste of death in your mouth. The even more prosaic version is: think about your death and the death of your loved ones everyday. This may seem dark, insane, like flirting with self-harm, but it serves arguably the most important function of all possible functions in a universe of infinite universes. Namely, live everyday, every hour, every minute, properly. Live it in accordance with the important mission you’ve set yourself in life. Live it in appreciation for the delicacy and brutality and ephemerality of life. Live it loving. Live a moral life. Live a life that will be long-remembered for its greatness and bravado. Live it as if death might be right around the corner. ‘Cause it might be.


Sleeping 8 hours — The proliferation of books, articles, podcasts and celebrity-turned-shuteye-consultants bombarding us about the cruciality of sleep should not, as cliché as it has become, be ignored; it’s one of those rare instances in which the noise is the signal. Sleep is important. It’s the body’s window of recovery and growth; it’s how the brain makes the crucial connections; it’s when the cells rejuvenate; and it makes last night’s problems a little less gripping. The difference of 1 hour — between sleeping 6 hours and 7 hours — can literally transform your physical and mental health over night.6


Reading books you want to read — It seems long-form reading, especially of books, is becoming a thing of the past. ‘I know what I want and I want it now,’ went the line in Culture Beat’s Hit song, Mr Vain, in 1993. It’s funny how things materialise. Now we can access pretty much every piece of information we will ever need.7 One of the several major downsides to this wonderful technological feat is that reading is becoming obsolete. Well, at least that is the general consensus of non-readers. And it’s perfectly understandable. What’s more, even regular readers are complaining of how it’s becoming increasingly difficult to red books in this information-overload age. Even twitter threads are tooooo long. The problem is that there is far more to the practice of reading than the acquisition of information. Reading (a book) is an investment of time, energy and money — and that is precisely where the value lies. Whilst certain books have the ability to rub you the wrong way, most tend to induce a calming, therapeutic effect; information at your fingertips has the opposite effect. Reading demands patience, attention, diligence, consistency; being about understanding, it disciplines the mind.


Too much choice can be crippling; in an age of infinite books on infinite matters, deciding which book to read can be a costly investment in itself — But there is a way to cut through all the intellectual self-surveying, with a failfree heuristic. Namely, read books that you want to read. This works magic with kids, who tend to develop a dislike of reading in school, where they’re forced to peruse dry textbooks and bland literature. Reading is a habit, and the best way to make or break habit is to just get the ball rolling. It also works magic with adults who’ve understandably lost the desire to read anything, even their bills. One way to think of interest-driven reading is like a gateway to expansion; another way is as the correct way to read, for that which sticks in our mind is that which we deem relevant.8


Journaling — We individual humans are far, far more outsourced than we like to think. We’re thinking all the time, but of that of it which is useful, most is done not within the walls of our own skull but in the act of speaking. A deep conversation with someone who listens and understands is one of the most elucidating, pleasurable and fruitful acts of human nature. We know virtually nothing about the information being transferred between our 100 billion neurons until we talk. Because thoughts and emotions that control everything we do, it’s conceivable that we don’t know who we are until we talk; it’s all subliminal until we talk.

Prior to about 5000 years ago, all of this speaking was done via word of mouth. Today we what a superior means to sort our thoughts: writing. A great many of the iconic names we revere from times past spoke of the necessity of writing as a way to clear the mud. I’ll conclude this piece with their words.

‘But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments.’  — Virginia Woolf.

‘But what am I to do? I must have some drug, and reading isn’t a strong enough drug now.’ — C.S. Lewis

‘Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.’ — Christina Baldwin


  1. Of course, if I was a better writer I would have called it a life-saving hack.
  2. and other fruits such as tomato, avocado, berries, etc; though none compare to the lemon and lime, especially the lime
  3. That is, a herculean level of mental strength — not a schizophrenic Hercules.
  4. Remember, shortcuts…
  5. Paradoxically, they fail to keep their superior powers under wraps; those talking to The Universe like to tell the universe about their conversations; The Secret is no longer a secret.
  6. Pun intended.
  7. Excluding the obvious, such as when I last ate a croissant, who actually shot Kennedy, or who lives at number 33 on Crosskenn Road.
  8. Exactly why we remember stories instead of cold logic; and why stories have lasted thousands of years.

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