How The Simple Habit of Changing Passwords Every 30 Days Changed This Mans’ Life

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." - Will Durant

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Troy Hunt, Microsoft Regional Director and Information Security author shared the following facts that he uncovered about how passwords are created in an article titled The Science of Password Selection. He found that:

  • 14% of people create their password based on a person’s name.
  • 8% of all passwords are based on a place name.
  • 25% of passwords are derived directly from dictionary words.
  • 14% of passwords are purely numeric.

The average person spends 8 hours and 41 mins on electronic devices that for the most part require a password. What if, instead of some meaningless password combination, you could create a password that you could use to change your life?

Following is the story of one man who did just that.

In 2011, Mauricio Estrella was facing a life-changing event. Divorce. Swept up in relentless recurring waves of hopelessness, meaningless and anger, he resonated with a deep desire to change his current disposition. He, however, was not sure about how to go about making the change.

At Mauricio’s workplace, the Microsoft Exchange server is configured to ask employees to change their passwords every 30 days. One such timely reminder and the memory of a tip from a former boss turned out to be the proverbial sign he needed.

Mauricio recalled that a former boss combined to-do lists with passwords. He resolved to do something similar geared towards changing his current state.

Deciding to address the anger first, Mauricio changed his password to “Forgive@h3r.” He says that the “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.”

Within a month he says he felt the healing effect of his chosen mantra so he decided to keep going. With each password change reminder prompt he adopted a new goal. Here are some of the passwords he chose and their results.

  • 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. It felt great!
  • MovE@togeth3r ← it worked.
  • Get@c4t! ← it worked. We have a beautiful cat.
  • Facetime2mom@sunday ← it worked. I talk with my mom every week.
  • Save4@ring ← Yep. Life is gonna change again, soon.

When you set a goal you need to build a particular set of habits to achieve it. Behavioral Psychology author James Clear notes that all out habits follow a 3–step pattern.

  1. Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)
  2. Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take)
  3. Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior)

Clear points out that “the reminder/trigger is such a critical part of forming new habits.” He notes that “a good reminder does not rely on motivation and it doesn’t require you to remember to do your new habit.” When well-chosen he says, “a good reminder makes it easy to start by encoding your new behavior in something that you already do.”

Mauricio says this reminder/trigger worked for him because, “In its simplest form, a password enables you to get somewhere, in your digital world. Say, to copy a file, to unlock a computer, to email somebody. This feeling of micro-achievements, this thought of ‘my mantra helps me to get things done’ can build up a momentum that motivates you to stay focused on achieving your monthly goals. It’s a tiny habit that has the power to transform.”

He did not always come out on top as you tell from the above list but he did more often than not. Letting go of the anger eventually enabled him to find love again.

If you wish to try this out, he cautions you to keep your goals simple and measurable. He says, “avoid being too dreamy when you phrase them. It’s important to build a metric around your goal so you can measure its success along the way.

For example, if you’re on a hunt to get a better job, don’t use things like BeTh3NumberOne! but instead, go with KickASS@LinkedIn! and use the new connections, groups and, number of resumes sent as a metric to validate your efforts to land a new job. Being the number one is great, but being able to measure where you are and where you’re going is important, especially when there’s a big gap between those two points.”