Life Whacks: The Ways We Make Life Unnecessarily Difficult

Life whacks are the opposite of life hacks: they make life harder than it needs to be. What are yours? And can you eliminate them?


Yet Another Unnecessary Struggle

I walk into No Frills supermarket, grab a shopping basket, and pull up my Reminders app.

“Ok, what does Kim want from me?”

Grocery list.

Avos, milk, tomatoes… “Nice. The usual. I’ll be outta here in no ti…”

Then I see it. Hiding at the bottom of the list, between cucumber and cilantro, is something unfamiliar:

Pomegranate molasses circled on grocery list.

My mood drops 20 percent. “Where the heck am I going to find pomegranate molasses?!?!”

I start resenting Kim for sending me on a wild goose chase for such a strange ingredient. But then I imagine eating the delicious food she’ll cook with it. That quells the resentment. Mostly. But it doesn’t help me find the pomegranate molasses.

While gathering the rest of the shopping list, I keep my eyes peeled. Problem is my eyes don’t know what they’ve been peeled for. “What does pomegranate molasses even look like?” So I use Google image search to get a visual:

Then I wander up and down every aisle more than once, thinking about the irony of molasses slowing me down.

No luck. So I message Kim the bad news. “They don’t have pomegranate molasses. You don’t need it urgently, do you?”

“Yes! They have it. I’ve seen it before. Did you ask?

I don’t respond to Kim’s rhetorical question. But I do wonder, Why didn’t I ask for help locating the molasses? And, more broadly, Why do I make my life unnecessarily difficult with such impractical behavior?

How Are You Making Your Life Unnecessarily Difficult?

Here are more examples of making life harder than it needs to be:

  • Not driving to certain areas of town because you never learned to parallel park.
  • Mousing around computer menus rather than learning basic keyboard shortcuts.
  • Juggling multiple digital calendars rather than taking the time to figure out how to sync them.
  • Having trouble finding love because you will only date redheads.
  • Hand-washing dishes when you have a dishwasher.1
  • Wracking your mind for examples when a simple request to Google or ChatGPT could provide endless lists.

Standards, Hacks, and Whacks

David Cain got me on the lookout for my impractical practices with his post on the topic. He calls it taking “Plan B” instead instead of “Plan A.” I like David’s insight but not his terminology, so I made up my own:

Standards: The normal, straightforward, sensible, easier way to do things.

Example: Asking staff to help you find something in a supermarket.

Life Whacks: The idiosyncratic, inefficient workaround.

Example: Searching the aisles on your own. I call this a “life whack” because it’s the polar opposite of a third approach David didn’t mention:

Life Hacks: Less common approaches that are even more efficient than standards.

Examples: Marrying a husband who gets groceries for you or online delivery. Another hack I recently adopted is this iOS feature that silences calls from unknown numbers2:

Life hack to silence unknown callers.
h/t Paul English for this hack.

I love finding hacks. I’m also highly independent-minded and excessively self-confident, so I believe I can devise my own. Unfortunately, my hack attempts often go awry, leading me to suffer through senseless whacks, like my pomegranate molasses ordeal.

Spot Your Whacks

Speaking of devising dumb approaches, I came up with a two-part test for assessing whether I’m handicapping myself with a life whack:

  1. Identify: Do most smart and capable people approach this differently from me?
  2. Invert: If I were magically made more comfortable with their “standard” approach, how likely would I want to revert back?

The answer in my pomegranate molasses case is obvious: If I magically transformed into the type of guy who doesn’t think twice about asking for help finding stuff, you’d have to pay me to waste my time wandering the aisles of No Frills.

So my approach is whack. I ought to adopt a new one.

Whacks Are Whack

Going from a life whack to a standard approach (or better yet, a life hack) is a quintessential anti-regret.

Anti-regret (noun): Opposite of regret. Something you do once that has a lasting benefit on your life.

I’ve preached on and on and on about the pleasures of filling life with anti-regrets. So why do I hypocritically disregard my future self’s best interests by life whacking away?

Because it’s easier to life whack “just this once” than challenge myself to adopt a different approach, some life whacks are so ingrained in me that I’m not aware I’m guilty of them, and they’re easy to self-justify. In short, complacency and delusion have their claws in me.

Whack Your Whacks

Like a man on a mission for pomegranate molasses, I’m now hunting down my life whacks and executing plans to eliminate them.

If only I could become super rich. I’ve yet to see local billionaire Chip Wilson, the founder of Lululemon, wandering the aisles of No Frills (or even Whole Foods, for that matter). Money’s the ultimate hack.

But then what? What if I had a life with zero unnecessary or undesirable difficulties?

That would get… boring. Predictable, stale, standard. Whack some might say. Stay tuned for next issue on what I aspire to replace my whacks with.

Until then, keep your eyes peeled.


  1. If you disagree, listen to this podcast episode, where Malcolm Gladwell visits my former employer and learns some surprising truths about efficient laundry and dish cleaning: Laundry Done Right. ↩︎
  2. My father-in-law doesn’t care for this hack. When some scammer calls him, he enjoys seeing how long he can string them along before they get annoyed and hang up. ↩︎
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👋 I'm Chris. Everything you read on is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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The Zag shares my adventures off of the boring beaten paths of life and ideas for finding your own unfollowable path.