Health

How a password changed one man's life for the better

July 2, 2014 at 6:25 PM ET

“How could she do something like this to me?” said the voice in my head, over and over.

It was 2011 and I was stuck in middle of a pretty bad depression due to my divorce.

Thankfully, I think I was smart enough (and had great people around me) so I managed my way out.

One day I walk into the office, and my computer screen showed me the following message:

“Your password has expired. Click ‘Change password’ to change your password.”

I read this dumb message in my mind with angry grandpa voice: The darn password has expired.

At my workplace, the Microsoft Exchange server is configured to ask thousands of employees around the planet to change their passwords. Every 30 days.

Here what’s annoying: The server forces us to use at least one UPPERCASE character, at least one lowercase alphabetic character, at least one symbol and at least one number. Oh, and the whole thing can’t be less than 8 characters. And I can’t use any of the same passwords I’ve used in the last 3 months.

I was furious that morning. A sizzling hot Tuesday, it was 9:40 a.m and I was late to work. I was still wearing my bike helmet and had forgotten to eat breakfast. I needed to get things done before a 10 a.m. meeting and changing passwords was going to be a huge waste of time.

As the input field with the pulsating cursor was waiting for me to type a password — something I’d use many times during every day — I remembered a tip I heard from my former boss.

And I decided: 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.

The author, who changed his password...and his life.
Mauricio Estrella
The author, who changed his password...and his life.

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”

I had to type this statement several times a day. Each time my computer would lock. Each time my screensaver with her photo would appear. Each time I would come back from eating lunch alone.

In my mind, I went with the mantra that I didn’t type a password. In my mind, I wrote “Forgive her” every day, 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.

In the following days, my mood improved drastically. By the end of the second week, I noticed that this password became less powerful, and it started to lose its effect. A quick refresh of this ‘mantra’ helped me. I thought to myself “I forgive her” as I typed it, every time. The healing effect of it came back almost immediately.

Can password therapy really improve your life?

One month later, my dear exchange server asked me again to renew my password. I thought about the next thing I had to get done.

My password became: Quit@smoking4ever

And guess what happened. I quit smoking overnight. This password was a painful one to type during that month, but doing it helped me to yell at myself in my mind, as I typed that statement. It motivated me to follow my monthly goal.

One month later, my password became: Save4trip@thailand

Guess where I went 3 months later. Thailand. With savings.

So, I learned that I can truly change my life if I play it right. I kept doing this repeatedly month after month, with great results.

Here are some of my passwords from the last 2 years, so you get an idea of how my life has changed, thanks to this method:

  • Forgive@her (to my ex-wife, who started it all.)
  • Quit@smoking4ever (It worked.)
  • Save4trip@thailand (It worked.)
  • Eat2times@day (It never worked, still fat.)
  • Sleep@before12 (It worked.)
  • Ask@her4date (It worked. I fell in love again.)
  • No@drinking2months (It worked. I feel better.)
  • Get@c4t! (It worked. I have a beautiful cat.)
  • Facetime2mom@sunday (It worked. I talk with my mom every week.)

And the one for last month:

  • Save4@ring (Yep. Life is gonna change again, soon.)

I still anxiously await each month so I can change my password into something that I need to get done.

This method has consistently worked for me for the last 2 years, and I have shared it with a few close friends and relatives. I didn’t think it was a breakthrough in tiny-habits but it did have a great impact in my life, so that's why I'm sharing it with you. If you try it with the right mindset and attitude, maybe it could help change your life, too.

Oh, and remember: for added security, try to be a bit more complex with the words. Add symbols or numbers, or scramble a bit the beginning or the ending of your password string. S4f3ty_f1rst!

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