When I first heard the phrases “life hacking” and “mind hacking”, they didn’t appeal to me. People are not computers, my inner old hippie responded, and brains are not code. But I have since grown to like the “hacking” metaphor for personal development and dealing with depression.
Recently I came across this (apparently famous, but new to me) open letter about “The Hacker Way” by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I’ve met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.
The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.
Hackers try to build the best services over the long term by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once. To support this, we have built a testing framework that at any given time can try out thousands of versions of Facebook. We have the words “Done is better than perfect” painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping.
Hacking is also an inherently hands-on and active discipline. Instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what the best way to build something is, hackers would rather just prototype something and see what works.
This philosophy and working method appeal greatly to me, and they jibe with my approach to dealing with depression.
There’s no one ideal way to beat depression, no one treatment that does the job. Antidepressants help many people pull out of the worst depths, but they’re not a cure. Anyone suffering from depression, or just prone to depression, needs to make lifestyle changes and draw on several tools.
Sometimes that means drawing on established best practices, and sometimes that means getting creative and finding what works for you. My toolkit includes:
- Improving physical health, especially through exercise, nutrition and good sleep habits;
- Cognitive therapy, dealing with automatic negative thoughts through written exercises;
- Mindfulness and meditation;
- Making sure to smile, laugh and play a little everyday;
- Sticking to routines and habits, avoiding unstructured alone time and depressed self-absorption;
- Positive thinking, cultivating a success mindset.
The “inherently hands-on and active” nature of the Hacking Way, the emphasis on “continuous improvement and iteration”, are excellent principles to apply to fighting depression. There’s a common saying in depression and procrastination literature: Action Creates Motivation. Commonsense tells us that motivation leads to productive action, but the opposite is really true. Waiting for motivation to strike usually leads to inaction, whereas taking action even when you don’t feel like it promotes motivation.
Get started now fighting back against depression, start building your toolkit, take action, figure out what works for you and make adjustments and take action again. Don’t spend too much time planning and thinking and wondering might work — that just lets that pessimistic negative depression voice tell you “that won’t work, it’s hopeless, why bother” and keep you down.
So hack your life, hack your depression, start now and never stop.