Hack (hak) noun Informal. a tip, trick, or efficient method for doing or managing something: hacks for holiday entertaining, life hacks
I am helping raise three of my grandchildren (who live next door). When raising my own four kids, I was caught up in all the stresses of life as a thirty-something overachiever/parent. As a grandparent, I have more time and space to study my grandchildren. I observe what they do, how they learn, and how they experience life.
The more I watch (they are currently six, three, and nearly a year old), the more I become convinced that we are all born with SuperPowers that we’ve forgotten as we age.
You Have Forgotten What You Knew From Birth
The American educational system still operates from a 1910 model designed to produce compliant factory workers (look it up). Very early in your academic career you were taught that, in most cases, asking “why” would get you into trouble. Just sit still and absorb. While some people escape from this Tyranny of Compliance**, most of us enter adulthood having been trained to follow instructions, not create chaos.
**Note: this is not a knock on teachers. It’s about the system, the mindset of education. See this fascinating video (2:30) that challenges the nature of teaching. Warning: radical shift!
Before formal education begins, our brain and body already know how to learn. Here are some of the life hacks used by toddlers that you should revisit as adults:
8 Life Hacks You Knew When You Were Young
- Risk. Go to the edge and look. Climb to the top. Pick it up and let it crawl on you. Touch it. Taste it. Poke and pull it. We often over dramatize the dangers of being children, while forgetting that interaction with the world is the way we learn/learned/will learn best.
- Experiment. Try. Fail. Try again. Adapt. Fail again. Learn. Apply. Eventually succeed. Repeat what works, and build on it. It’s called the scientific method, but with falling and spills. Imagine how few of you could walk if you needed to be right the first time.
- Say No. A stubborn three-year-old is a wonder to behold. One cannot use logic to solve the situation. The “no” uttered by a toddler is their first testing how to set personal boundaries, intellectual and emotional. What many kids learn is that saying “no” is bad, and that sets up a pattern for their life. And how interesting: in my work as a coach, the inability to set appropriate boundaries (“I can’t say no!”) is the second most common breakdown clients bring to coaching.
- Challenge the System. Understanding a corporate culture is a powerful asset. On the other hand, the fresh eyes of a newly hired employee can often “see” things that those steeped in the system cannot. Looking at things through the eyes of a three-year-old allows you to see things in a fresher way without assuming that they make sense or have to stay that way.
- Express Emotions. Many adults are not sure what to do with other peoples emotions, especially at work, so we have built these armored walls to protect us against emotional displays — of self and others. Yet it’s vital to your health that you allow your emotions to show up at least for a while. Toddlers just let flow. As a result, even intense emotions like anger and frustration tend to be short lived. OK, that’s over. Let’s play!
- Smile. Let’s face it: there’s so many reasons to put the baby out for the wolves. It cries, it poops, it’s incessantly hungry, and won’t let you sleep. But when a baby smiles… ah, all is right with the world. A smile disarms people, and your human reaction is to smile back. A smile changes the mood of the room, so you allow the baby to stay, just one more day. Which connects to the next life hack
- Take It One Day at a Time. Kids spend very little time in anxiety, until they learn it from adults. Kids live in the present moment, and anxiety only exists in the future. Tomorrow’s gonna happen, but they remain Now, and it’s a lot easier to access Happiness when you’re not making up disaster stories about an imagined future.
And finally, what does a three-year-old do incessantly?
- Ask questions! “Who’s that? What’s that? What are you doing? What are my options? Why? Why not? When can I have a snack? When are we going to get there?” Offered repeatedly, questions can feel like torture for a harried parent, but when you look at them objectively they are simply learning tools. “Why is it called blue? What’s her name? What does old mean? Why do I always have to say please?“ These are tools for knowledge acquisition, connection, meaning, and social skills. Great stuff!
Do This For Yourself
Pick a Life Hack from the above list that you’ve not employed in a while. Try it for a day. Enjoy a sense of play as you do. Then observe what happens and capture your reflections. Perhaps you can reconnect to one of your dormant SuperPowers!