How to choose passwords to improve your life

It's no longer just a matter of "Can you remember them?". Your passwords can serve as a form of catharsis or a way to remind yourself of where you want to be in life.

broken pencil frustration anger
flickr/Benjamin Watson

A couple years ago, I got the idea that I could express some of the things that I knew that I could never say out loud by turning them into passwords. After all, my passwords are for me alone and having one that I'm not willing to say out loud helps to remind me that I should never share it. But even more than that, secretly expressing my annoyance, anger, secret wishes, or flights of fancy numerous times every day actually made me feel good. I could snicker over some of the more inane aspects of my job or I could gloat that I was right about something when I felt I wasn't getting any support or I could express a resentment about something that grated on my nerves or a secret wish. I might just be typing "I want to yell @ U 2" or "Iwant2yell@you!" or maybe "I yam ! my j0b" (! for "not") to help me keep things in perspective. But the exercise of expressing my feelings numerous times a day helped me to face them -- reasonable or not -- and often to regain some focus.

It was only this morning, however, that I came across a post on facebook about a guy who has been doing something similar -- but, seemingly, even more constructive. Mauricio Estrella, an associative creative director in Shanghai, has been using passwords to help him think positively and has changed his attitudes and his habits by creating passwords that remind him to forgive others and get healthier. His passwords -- like "Forgive@her" and "Eat2times@day" -- were not only personally meaningful for him, but would be very hard for anyone to guess.

One of the reasons why bad passwords have been perpetuated is because too many of us take the "word" part of "passwords" far too seriously. It's been a long time since systems restricted passwords to 8 characters or less. Yet many of us use short, mundane passwords unless we're forced to use more characters and a mix of character types to add complexity. On most systems, your password could be a phrase like "Risk failure 2 succeed!" or "0 struggle, 0 progress?". And, if you have to insert digits or special characters into your password, you can adopt some regular way to do your substitutions to make it easier for you to remember. Maybe "10% crap + 90% reaction" would remind you that how you respond to what happens in your life or in your career is more important than what actually happens. Or maybe "This password is stupid" would work when you really don't like that you're being forced to change your password again.

Using a different password for every system you use is an important guideline to follow. If your password is compromised on one system, you won't want other accounts to be vulnerable as well. But keeping a lot of passwords straight is hard to do unless you have some very clever way to keep track of them or you use some trustworthy tool that stores your passwords in a very safe electronic vault. One way to get past any inclination to use the same password on multiple systems is to, instead, develop a password "theme" for the year. If your passwords are all different, but all relate to the same theme, you'll probably have an easier time remembering them, especially if you can tie some aspect of each password to the system you're logging into. If your theme for 2014 is movie quotes, for example, maybe your facebook password could be "L00king @ U, kid" (Casablanca) and your bank password could be "Worth doing 4 $" (Wall Street).

It's been decades since people started saying that, if you force your users to have complicated passwords, they'll just write them down on sticky notes and post them on the bulletin boards in their offices. And maybe there are still some people dumb enough to do this. On the other hand, what people write down and what they do with it once written makes a big difference. A post-it in your office is just plain stupid. But a slip of paper in the back of your wallet is not nearly so bad. And a phrase written on a slip of paper that isn't your password, but reminds you of your password that is stashed at the back of your wallet isn't that bad at all. There are many clever ways to keep yourself from losing track of complicated passwords and many reasons why you should never use a password that is short, simple, or easy for anyone to guess. And, if you can come up with passwords that help you let off a little steam, remind you of some important goal, or give you some needed perspective, that's all the better.

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