Mental Hacking Tips from the Real Hackers

The brain of a computer hacker (the good kind that work to expose computer network flaws and educate versus exploit and steal) has to work on many levels. 

They have to know computer software, network hardware and the trickiest of all systems: human behavior.  Imagine trying to get access to a system that you didn’t have access to. You have to decide to go down the fastest path to get to know the person or persons who created it before losing access.

That’s why they’re sometimes uniquely qualified to offer tips on how they or people they work with make decisions.   

Hacker News, a forum for people too nerdy for Reddit, and too good for the dark web, traded their favorite tricks. Here are the best.

Simon names a few tricks used by the chairman of their corporate board. One is the 10/10/10 rule: Before making a decision, he considers how he’ll feel about this decision in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. This, says Simon, helps the chairman look past present circumstances and consider long-term consequences.

Hacker News member cdicelico names “suspension of judgment” and “suspension of value judgments”: When your opinion of something is dictating your mood, thoughts, or actions, interrogate that opinion. Can you downgrade it from a value judgement (“this is bad”) to a feeling (“I feel this way about this”), or to no opinion at all?

 “If I’m getting upset, I’m probably wrong.” That’s nothrabannosir’s mantra. “It’s a specific kind of feeling, when my brain starts protecting itself against information that proves me wrong.” But he checks for it any time he has a flare of anger. “I find it hard, and I wish I could say it gets easier, but it doesn’t. It sucks being wrong, and it’s humiliating.”

 “Utilize laziness,” says sanj. “I don’t install Facebook on my phone; I have to use the crappier web version. I block Reddit on my laptop, so I have to use my phone. Just by making stuff not ubiquitous, you add a little mental friction to using it that dissuades its usage.”

Member jjclarkson has a small card in their office listing eight tactics and systems for productivity, including “always be knolling.” Knolling is a simple organization habit, as described by artist Tom Sachs:

1.     Scan your environment for materials, tools, books, music, etc. which are not in use.

2.    Put away everything not in use. If you aren’t sure, leave it out.

3.    Group all ‘like’ objects.

4.    Align or square all objects to either the surface they rest on, or the studio itself.

“Default to ‘no.’ Simple math: if you say no to almost everything, you are free to say yes to the really important things.

Stevenkovar has advice on overcommitting: “Default to ‘no.’ Simple math: if you say no to almost everything, you are free to say yes to the really important things. This is a skill you can practice and get better at. This is more specific to deals and opportunities than spending time with colleagues, friends, and family. However, if you find yourself constantly in meetings or going out, start saying ‘no’ until it feels special each time, or you get home feeling energized instead of drained.”

HN member Insanity names one of the simplest, most fundamental hacks: when they have so much to do that they don’t know where to start, they write down a to-do list on a piece of paper. Most productive people can’t hold all their tasks in their head, but most days you don’t need a complicated to-do app to track all your tasks. A paper list can’t distract you with bells and whistles.

Dboreham adds: “Write down what you have done. It can be (for me) hard to remember, giving rise to the mistaken feeling that you’ve achieved nothing.”

Bsaul has another simple productivity tip: “Whenever you can’t motivate yourself to start working on something, think about the smallest thing you can perform and make it your only goal for the day.” You’ll make the project feel less scary, and you’ll usually accomplish a lot more than that small goal. But even if that’s all you get done, it’s way better than doing nothing because you’re intimidated.

Of course, you can also build out more elaborate to-do lists. But here’s how to keep those lists doable, instead of further intimidating yourself with all you need to accomplish. According to HN member beat: “Never ever write down a ‘task’ that cannot realistically be done in a single sitting of work. If you can’t do it in an afternoon at worst, it’s not a task, and needs [to be] broken down further.”

You can read more hacks, plus threads full of people trying to correct each other’s grammar, in the original thread at Hacker News.