Is this safe? Using passwords as positive reinforcement

I honestly thought that this was just me – and I thought I couldn’t tell you because writing it here would mean I was putting online a Very Big Clue to one of my key passwords. That last bit may yet be true and I may yet regret it if I’m not circumspect enough, but it isn’t just me and it is useful. Just be wary of this: take it as a thought experiment rather than a recommendation. But:

You can set a password that helps you mentally

My example. A couple of years ago now, I had an important project on and it was many things from exciting to fun but with a dollop of queasiness in the middle because it was so big. Literally big: not as in important, though it was, but physically heavy and prolonged lifting. The kind of thing that you think you’ll start tomorrow, it’ll be fine.

I changed one of the passwords I use every day to be approximately a word from this project. I wasn’t entirely daft, I didn’t use a single plain word, I dressed it up with 3s instead of Es, that kind of thing. But during the life of that project, I reckon I typed that password six or seven hundred times. And each time, every single each time, it kept the project in my head.

The project is long done now and I’ve changed the password, I don’t have anything on at the moment that particularly makes me want to do this password trick again. But friend-of-the-site Daniel Hardy just sent me a link to this article on Medium, How a Password Changed My Life. Its writer, Mauricio Estrella was going through a divorce and not going through it all that well, when he gets into work in a hurry and his computer won’t let him on until he’s changed his password.

I was furious that morning. Tuesday, 9:40 a.m. – It was so hot that my torso was already sweaty even though I just got to work. I was late. I was still wearing my helmet. I think I forgot breakfast. Something tastes like cigarette in my mouth. I need to get shit done before my 10 a.m. meeting and all I have in front of me is a huge waste of my time.

So there it was… This input field with a pulsating cursor, waiting for me to type a password that I’ll have to re-enter for the next 30 days. Many times during the day. Then, letting all the frustration go, I remembered a tip I heard from my former boss.

I’m gonna use a password to change my life.

It was obvious that I couldn’t focus on getting things done with my current lifestyle and mood. Of course, there were clear indicators of what I needed to do – or what I had to achieve – in order to regain control of my life, but we often don’t pay attention to these clues.

My password became the indicator. My password reminded me that I shouldn’t let myself be victim of my recent break up, and that I’m strong enough to do something about it.

My password became: “Forgive@h3r”

How a Password Changed My Life – Mauricio Estrella, Medium (15 May 2014)

Now, he doesn’t and I don’t want to get into the details of his divorce. It’s true what you’re thinking, there are two sides to this, but I think divorce is such an overwhelming thing that when you’re going through it, the sheer scale means you can only handle there being one side. Your side. So whether his ex would agree or not, for him “forgive her” was central to his coping and recovery.

In my mind, I wrote “Forgive her” everyday, for one month.

That simple action changed the way I looked at my ex wife. That constant reminder that I should forgive her, led me to accept the way things happened at the end of my marriage, and embrace a new way of dealing with the depression that I was drowning into.

He’s okay now and one hopes his ex is too. But having used this password as positive reinforcement, he now uses other passwords to do similar things. He used it to stop smoking (“I shit you not”) and to motivate himself into things.

Read the full piece over on Medium for exactly what he did and exactly what his passwords were for them.