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The “18not180” Approach to Becoming Your Best Self

January 8, 2018

I talk a lot about becoming your best, brightest self.

Sometimes, though, I fear the way I talk about personal growth makes it seem as though once we discover what actions we want to take to live as our best selves, that seemingly overnight we’re able to simply make those changes and accomplish just that.

Like…

We decide we need to be more self-disciplined so we wake up the next day able to stay focused and on-task, and suddenly we’re living our best life.

We decide we need to rest and take better care of ourselves, so from then on we no longer overwork ourselves and burn out and, ta-da, we’ve changed!

But that’s NEVER how it actually works, is it?

It took me so long to learn this. For so long I tried this strategy: I’d find myself in a moment of “I know I’d be so much happier and brighter if I just did better with xyz.” I knew what needed to change, and maybe I even made better choices for a while, but a month or two later when I went back to my old ways, I felt like a failure.  I would judge myself for sliding backward, not making that change.

That awful feeling of letting yourself down… I’ve realized that’s often the most powerful force that holds us back from real growth. We judge ourselves for “failing” and the next time we don’t even try to do better because we’re tired of feeling the guilt and disappointment of not being able to suddenly wake up and do a 180.

But last year I tried something new. I realized I needed to stop making the goal to do a complete 180-degree change in whatever area of my life I was focusing on.

Instead I started asking myself: What if I just focused on trying to get 10% better at whatever I wanted to change? 

What if I just focused on trying to get 10% better at whatever I wanted to change?

What if I drank more water 10% of the time? What if I was better about reaching out to friends just 10% more? What if I managed my daily schedule better just 10% of the time?

By changing the goalpost to something so seemingly manageable, I stopped finding myself in the dreaded loop of self-judgement.

Lasting change and living your brightest life ultimately comes down to tiny micro choices. In any given moment, you can choose what feels easy and comfortable OR you can choose what that best version of yourself would choose.

Imagine you are a dial or compass pointed in one direction. Most of us view change as a complete 180 degree rotation to get ourselves pointed in a new direction. Instead, this new philosophy has me viewing change as the sum of tiny 10 degree turns toward whatever that “best” version of you looks like.

Jason calls this 10% better strategy “18 not 180” (which, coincidentally, feels especially appropriate for the year 2018).

So my challenge for you this week is to think of the one or two most pressing areas of your life or habits that you are trying to change, and I want you to try getting just 10% better.

Try rotating those measly 18 degrees, not a full 180. See if it feels easier and more doable to slowly drift toward your brightest life, rather than feeling guilty or disappointed for not being able get there overnight.

#18not180. I’m making it a thing. A gentle reminder. A mantra. A cheat code. Whatever you want to call it, I hope it helps you make 2018 your best year yet.

Thanks for reading!

Improve Your Writing and Overcome The Fear of Writing

October 9, 2016

The idea of becoming a better writer is daunting but I’m living proof that you can improve your writing, especially if you start out as a really crappy writer (hah!)

You’re not a writer—Stephen King is a writer.

You can’t write anything about marketing—Seth Godin has written it all.

No one wants to read your opinions—everyone has their own opinions to sort through.

You have no writing credentials. You didn’t go to school for writing. You’re terrible at grammar, punctuation, and using parentheses. (I still don’t think I do this “correctly.”) People don’t need yet another thing to read.

Three years ago, those were the thoughts that filled my mind as I decided to commit to becoming a full-time writer.

Now, granted, I didn’t actually realize I was committing to becoming a full-time writer. I had merely decided to step away from a business and the audience of 25,000+ people that came with it. I had decided I would instead share my experiences as an entrepreneur—the real experiences, not the hacks/tips/secrets/3 easy steps that pepper the headlines of prominent media outlets.

But when you have zero experience writing, except for 140-character messages to random strangers on Twitter, where do you start?

 


An Imperfect Daily Writing Practice WILL Improve Your Writing

From the experience I had filming daily YouTube videos, creating a daily writing practice made perfect sense. When I started filming daily videos for my previous IWearYourShirt business, I had absolutely zero experience (the same experience I had as a writer).

I went from nearly soul-crushing thoughts of self-doubt and overwhelm to creating over 2,000 videos with millions of views.

The first videos I created were cringe-worthy; in fact, I still can’t watch them. For some odd reason, I thought my writing would be different. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t. My early writing is cringeworthy, but that early writing has helped me overcome the fear of writing. The fear of comparing myself to other writers. And part of that process is allowing myself to be a bit more vulnerable with my writing.

Where exactly do you start with a daily writing practice?

Based on my research, I committed to four things when I made the decision to stick to a daily writing practice:

  1. Write 500 words at the same time every morning (and block off the time on my calendar).
  2. Write without judgment or concern for the writing being “good” (or even coherent).
  3. Be completely okay with the fact that all 500 words might be 100% worthless.
  4. Stick to a daily writing practice for two months.

And so I committed, starting on June 1, 2013. I didn’t have a repository of writing topics. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be writing about. I just knew I wanted to try out this writing thing.

The first few days? Not fun. As soon as my butt hit my blue yoga ball (what I sat on at the time), the doubts I wrote at the beginning of this article ran rampant through my mind. But instead of letting those thoughts control me, I fought them by hitting the keys on my keyboard. Without a succinct topic to write about, I’d just write my exact feelings or stream of thoughts.

Day after day, the writing practice got easier. The pressure I put on myself to write something worthwhile started to lessen. My writing actually started to improve.

Once every couple of days, I’d have an idea for an article that seemed interesting or that I thought may be valuable for other people. There was no Action Army back then. There were no Road Runner Rules. I had no idea who I was writing for or why I thought they would even want to read my writing. I just wanted to share my thoughts.

In the beginning, I wrote what came easily: I shared my life.

Coming off a business where I hosted a daily live video show that shared 90% of my life, I knew I could make an easy transition into writing something similar. Instead of trying to create some fancy way of writing or spending arduous hours trying to figure out interesting topics, I’d just leverage something I had at my disposal: my life.

“Sharing my life” was familiar to me, but it also looked a certain way. During my days of hosting a live video show and representing a different company on my t-shirt every day, I couldn’t have bad days. I couldn’t complain, be upset, or be honest if I was feeling pressure and stress. That would reflect negatively on the brand that was paying me, and I knew that wasn’t fair to them. Sure, I probably should have seen the writing on the wall that it wasn’t a healthy way to operate my life/business, but we all make mistakes.

 


Vulnerability, Not Grammar Rules, Helped Take My Writing To The Next Level

Once I removed the shackles of worrying about representing a company, I felt the freedom to share what was actually going on. I felt a burning desire to let the world know that everything wasn’t okay because I knew everything wasn’t okay for other people as well (or at least I hoped I wasn’t alone in thinking that).

That shackle-removal was the best thing I did for my journey into writing. Being more vulnerable and honest about my life and business pushed away people who only wanted to see a perfect life and pulled in people who could relate and who shared my thoughts and feelings. Writing about Feeling Lost, Values, Friendships, and various other topics attracted the types of people who were going through (or had gone through) similar things. And when they commented or emailed to thank me for my words, it was a life-changing revelation to me:

I could be real about things not going perfectly, and people wouldn’t scatter away like cockroaches when you flick on a light in a dark dingy motel room.

Defining who you are writing for is helpful, even if that definition changes over time.

Defining the audience I was writing for was extremely painful for me, but I knew it was necessary. I had seen with my previous business that having a very broad audience led to a lot of surface-level connections. Without a deep-rooted (and defined) connection, those audience members would leave at the drop of a hat to find the next shiny object. Luckily, my life partner eats bowls of soul-searching-deep-rooted connections for breakfast.

I had countless conversations with my wife, Caroline, about “who I wanted to be writing to” and “why I wanted to be writing to them.” Just typing those words makes my stomach do a slight turn. Not because it’s cliche or extremely commonplace to think about those things, but because it felt so limiting and constricting to me.

How I thought about defining my audience: This will limit the number of people I can attract, which will limit the amount of money I can make, which will make me feel unimportant and not unique.

How defining my audience actually makes me feel: I have attracted a specific group of people who can benefit from my writing. I’m empowered to know I’m making an impact on people’s lives (impact > number of eyeballs).

Bonus resource: I sweet-talked my wife Caroline into letting me share the Ideal Audience Profile PDF that we used to help me define my audience. This PDF is actually only available in her Better Branding Course, but you’re getting it for free because I’m a master negotiator (and because I agreed to do the dishes a few extra nights).

As I’ve written this article, it’s for the Action Army, a group of people who want to take control of their businesses and do things in ways that align with who they are (not who society says they should be). But the Action Army could transition into something completely different in six months or two years. I’m 100% okay with and open to that change, because I know I’ll continue to evolve the definition of who my writing is for.

 


Becoming A Better Writer Evolves Just As Your Writing Does

I didn’t have the Road Runner Rules exercise when I first started writing. Instead, I had one guiding principle: I wanted my writing to be useful to other people.

Actually, I think I had two guiding principles: My writing would be helpful, and I would avoid the awful trend of articles that start with “27 tips to…” and “6 important hacks for…”. Sure, every now and again, I’ll write an article that has a number in the title, but out of my past 100 articles, only 8 of them have had numbers in the title. I’d say that’s sticking to my second writing principle.

“Is what I just wrote useful?”

Whenever I sat down to write or finish an article, I would ask myself, “Is what I just wrote useful?” The answer means 90% of my writing never sees the light of day. It’s not useful. It’s just words, jumbled together, often without a cohesive thread. I keep doing it because I like the writing process, but I’m being 100% serious when I say I have 24 articles in drafts right now, most of which are between ½ and ¾ complete because they’re not really useful. Yesterday, I wrote an entire article about what I learned from taking out my smelly trash. That was fun, but I think I’ll trash it. 😉

How did I define what was “useful” when it came to my writing?

I wanted someone to read what I’d written and one of two things would happen:

  1. Learn something from my experience that they can directly apply to their lives or business
  2. Be inspired to make a change in their life and have the practical steps to make it happen

I like to think of my early writing like my younger self. Full of flaws, trying too hard, and lacking the experience or confidence to deliver something of actual value.

That may sound harsh, but I believe we’re all our own worst critics. And hey, that’s how I reflect on the beginning of my writing—it’s not where I am today. I 100% realize I’m not the next Kerouac, Nietzsche, or even Stephen King, but I’m also not trying to be. I don’t aspire to be a great writer or to win awards for my writing. I aspire to write useful things. If I’m doing that, I’ll continue to keep writing.

I’m writing a lot about entrepreneurship and living an intentional life these days, but maybe I’ll write the next great fiction series? Maybe I’ll get really into carpentry and write all about how to carve chairs out of sporks?

All I know right now is that after three years and 3,000,000 words, the important part is not the words themselves, but the intention behind them and the people they help. That’s it.

I’m completely open to the evolution of my writing as long as it stays useful. One of the things that’ll stay intact for me in all my future writing will be bringing my audience (you reading this) along with me. I thoroughly enjoy sharing my experiences—again, the real experiences, not a sugar-coated version that will make headlines for major media companies. I enjoy the deeper connection my writing helps create, and I’ll continue to invest in deepening that connection for as long as I can.

 


Where Does SEO Fit In And How Do You Keep Writing When No One Is Reading?

Ahh, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the mythical sasquatch for online writers these days. So many people buy the advice to write for search engines, and to stuff their “content” full of “keywords.” I’ll be honest: talking like that make makes my left eye twitch.

Let’s take a look at organic (search) traffic of JasonDoesStuff.com since I started sharing my writing consistently (weekly) in January of 2015:

JasonDoesStuff Organic Traffic

One of the things you’ll notice right away are the two gaps. The first one, from January 2015 – August 2015, shows almost zero search traffic. That’s not surprising since it can take 3-6 months for a site with new content to index in Google. This is the stage of creating content when you just have to believe in your writing (you know, when NO ONE is reading it 😂).

The second gap was a month when my website was offline and being redesigned. Notice that it didn’t affect the overall organic traffic growth after it was brought back online (yay!)

What strategies did I use to take my organic traffic from 0 to 500 visitors per day in about a year?

None.

Well, that’s not entirely true. My friend Paul Jarvis gave me a great piece of advice that I still adhere to today: Write for people, not for robots.

I like Paul’s advice, and I haven’t concerned myself with a single other SEO strategy since then. I don’t care about what to put in H1, H2, or H3 tags. I don’t count my words. The only SEO-related WordPress plugin I have on my site is Yoast. And the only reason I have it is because my buddy Ben said I should. I fill out the title, keyword, and meta description with each article I write. But I have no clue if I’m picking the right title, keyword, or metadata. I’m just inputting stuff that feels right.

Otherwise, I’ve just continued to write consistently useful content. I’ve listened to my reader’s suggestions, and I’ve tried to write about the things people seem to actually want to read. I’m happy to let the search engine robots (Skynet!?) figure out the rest of the details.

Could I be getting a lot more organic traffic? Probably. I’ve seen all the same articles/webinars/courses you have about the topic. But that would be a lot of time spent focusing on things I don’t want to waste my time with. I’d rather enjoy the process of writing for and helping others, and not concern myself with eeking out a little extra traffic here and there.

 


Improving Your Writing Starts With You

Your words are good enough as long as they are your words. It’s easy to copy. It’s easy to put a slight spin on something Seth Godin’s already written. In fact, that’s a great place to spend 90% of your writing time. Just be willing to throw away the unoriginal stuff that isn’t useful.

Share your stories. Your stories are unique to you. Even if you aren’t going through crazy things in life, you’re experiencing things in a way that other people can resonate with. This is how you build an audience of readers.

Be willing to throw away your writing. At least early on, your writing is nothing more than an exercise to help you grow and get better. If you start with this thought (or change your current thinking about it), writing becomes way less stressful and can be done with much less pressure. Eventually, you won’t need to throw away your writing (maybe).

Embrace vulnerability in your writing. Writing my book Creativity For Sale was one of the most cathartic things I’ve done in my life. It allowed me to share a lot of thoughts and feelings I’d bottled up. I do the same thing on a weekly basis with these articles. You don’t have to pull all your skeletons out of your closet, but maybe start with a handful of them that you think other people can learn from.

This has been another 2500 words added to my 3,000,000 overall word count (so far).

This article on becoming a better writer went through a few revisions to make sure it met my #1 rule of being useful, but it also came together a lot more easily than 2500 words used to. I’m more comfortable writing these days than I ever have been, and even though I still don’t consider myself a capital-W writer, I don’t think I (or you) need the title to do the thing.

Just start writing, and see where it takes you.

How To Fight Procrastination With Constraints and Limitations

November 16, 2015

We all deal with procrastination, but here’s how you can use constraints and limitations fight through it.

There are times when you feel like you just can’t get any work done. Your thinking isn’t clear. You have too many things racing around in your mind and instead of buckling down and getting to it, procrastination is at an all-time high.

You fall into Workload Paralysis: You stress about all the work that needs to be done to the point of needing an escape, only to come back and see even more work to be done. And on and on and on…

It’s a dark place to be in, but there is a solution. It might seem counterintuitive, but I strongly believe that setting limitations and constraints can help you get through procrastination and help you get more done.

 


Start Fighting Procrastination By Shifting Your Mindset

We’ve all been there before. We feel the squeeze of a deadline and somehow manage to hunker down and get the work done just in time. Often times during the ‘squeeze’ we feel like we get in the ‘zone’.

You know the zone right? That place where you just seem to be firing on all cylinders and to-dos get knocked off like falling dominos.

There’s a trick to getting in this ‘zone’ often. That trick is to set limitations on time and constrain yourself to focusing on only one task at a time.

One of the best ways I’ve found to master my work output is to be very strict with my calendar. For example, while writing this article I blocked off 1.5 hours. During that time my email was closed, Google Chrome was minimized, my phone was out of sight. I put on some music that helps me focus while writing (Odesza and Pretty Lights). Then I just write. Free from distractions and any potential procrastination. Of course I have moments where I can’t think of what to write next or I can feel the pull of social media. But I remind myself of the limitation I’ve set and stay focused.

My weekly calendar is filled with similar events.

There aren’t a lot of free hours in my day. 90% of the events, however, have nothing to do with phone calls or meetings. Heck, I used to even set times on my calendar to check email and social media (thanks 4-Hour Workweek).

I block off time on my calendar for writing, for strategy sessions, for customer support stuff, for life tasks (appointments, errands, etc), and I even block off time to NOT work.

Jason Zook Calendar

(A screenshot of my calendar during the BuyMyFuture planning and build.)

Why I only allow myself 30 minutes (or less) when going to the grocery store: No one needs to spend an hour browsing the aisles at the grocery store. Plus, this little trick keeps me from buying extra things I don’t need (because that would take too much time). I’m in and out, with only the items I needed, and I can get back to work or back to time off from work.

If you don’t feel you have the willpower to let your calendar dictate your life, try finding an accountability partner for a while. If you don’t have friends you want to trust with this task, hire a virtual assistant. For the $20-50 you’d spend a week having someone nag you, it might make you want to stick to your schedule more because you’re spending money on it.

Plus, it’s human nature not to let someone down. Whether that’s a friend or stranger somewhere else in the world, accountability can be very powerful.

Don’t procrastinate when picking “the right” tool, app, etc

We have too many tools at our disposal. A simple Google search for “writing app” brings up 252,000,000 results. Holy crap. How does anyone decide where to start? And the answer is not to click through until Page 5 or 6 in the Google search results, that’s just ludicrous.

The key is just to pick one tool and limit yourself to that one thing to start. Personally, I like to pick the tool with the least amount of features. As an example, I use the Bear App for writing. It doesn’t have a toolbar. It doesn’t have text decoration options. There isn’t even any text formatting. Not being able to waste time with features helps me get in the writing zone very quickly.

Bear Writing App

(The Bear writing app in action – This is where all my articles start!)

A tool should be just that—a tool. It should have just the amount of features necessary to get the job done. When you have the right tool, it fades into the background and allows you to focus on the task at hand.

But how did I find Bear App? Through a friend on Twitter. A friend I trusted the opinion of and I knew was also an efficient writer. It’s one thing to take a recommendation from a friend who has successfully used that tool to their advantage. But if they’re just gushing about all the shiny and ‘interesting’ features it has, that might be a red flag that their recommendation isn’t the right thing for you.

Another way to test a tool is to set limitations with it. Let’s say it takes you one hour to do an existing task with an app you’ve been using for a while. If you want to try a new app, only allow yourself an hour to perform the same task. If you can’t get it done, then the new app isn’t worth the time investment. If you’re able to do the same task in half the time, then you definitely should switch apps.

 


Constraints Are The Best Way To Avoid Procrastination

It’s my honest opinion, coming from someone who’s created a dozen online courses, written two books, and built four software applications, that having constraints is a beautiful thing.

When I say constraints, I’m talking about a few specific things. The first is only doing the essential things needed to complete a project. The second is not letting assumptions dictate the amount of work you do.

Let me break both of these down for you…

When you’re building anything, it can be tempting to follow through with every ‘great’ idea you have along the way

Yet by constraining yourself to only work on a few things, you have a better chance of actually finishing your project and creating something with value. Here’s an example:

I have an online learning product called Teachery. For a year my co-founder Gerlando and I were heads-down building the best online course building tool we could, with the least amount of features possible.

Every time we’d think of a new feature idea, instead of spending time on it, we’d put it in a massive to-do list in Basecamp. Early on we set goals to help people quickly and easily build and sell beautiful online courses. If each feature we came up with didn’t directly relate to our goals, then it got put in the to-do list queue.

Recently we archived a queue of 50+ feature ideas. They weren’t bad ideas either. But by constraining ourselves to stick to the core features and work on perfecting them, we’ve been able to hit all our goals and milestones (which can be extremely tough when building a software product).

 

How to avoid analysis paralysis

Now, when it comes to assumptions, I want to share an example of an online course I recently created. When I was writing the outline for the course I had 12 topic ideas. But when I sat down to create the course I told myself to pick the top 8 ideas I thought were most important to open up the course for purchase.

I assumed that people would be interested in the other 4 topics, but knew they weren’t absolutely necessary. I wrote a note in my outline next to those 4 topics that said: “If 5 people ask for any of these, I will create and add them as lessons in the course.” This small step would help test my assumption that people would want this information. So far no one has asked about any of them.

 
Now in both of these examples, you could argue that my projects could have been better with all the additional features and topics. And while I agree with you in principle, I also believe in the quote “Done is better than perfect”.

I’ve seen it with my own projects and with entrepreneurs and creative professionals time and time again. You want to over-deliver as much as possible to show the value of whatever you’re building. But it’s much easier to launch with less and add to a completed product, then it is to struggle to get a product to market that has a feature list a mile-long.

In almost all aspects of creation I see constraints as a beautiful and helpful thing

They help guide you and give you a compass to reach the finish line of whatever you’re working on. Lots of people get projects to 80-90% completion. Those same people struggle to get sales and always seem stressed out and overwhelmed. Get the best, smallest version of your project done and revel in your successes.

There’s a ton of power in completion.

Why It’s Harder For Some People To Successfully Form New Habits

July 13, 2015

It appears I’m on a kick about habits lately, so I hope you guys are along for the ride because today is yet another post about them!

Last Friday’s post was all about using creative progress maps to help document the formation of new habits.

In the past few months, I’ve written about my perspective on the power of consistency, how to stay accountable to yourself as you build new habits, and how to get back on the horse when you break the chain of consistency.

It’s entirely possible that by now you guys are getting tired of hearing about habits, BUT I continue to write about them because they really have changed my life.

To me, forming new habits is a way of intentionally drawing more of what I value into my daily life.

Whether it’s been intentionally making time for creating art every day, or trying to make my health and fitness a priority, my attempt at successfully integrating new habits has always been about designing a life around my authentic self.

BUT there’s always been one thing that has nagged at me when it comes to habits. Why do certain habits come more easily to me than others? Why are some easy to follow through on and others it feels like an uphill hike on a hot summer day?

For instance, I’ve successfully completely at least six 30-day lettering challenges in the past year and a half, but I’ve fallen off the wagon more than a time or two when it comes to instituting a fitness regimen.

What makes these two tasks different and why is one easier for me to stick to than the other? This is something I’ve always wondered.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, I rolled out of bed and decided to go for a morning walk (something I used to do all the time in Florida but haven’t done since we moved to California.) I always use that time to connect with nature and listen to a podcast episode to get my brain warmed up for the day.

As I left my driveway this morning, wouldn’t you know it, the first podcast episode in my queue was one from The Lively Show with guest, Gretchen Rubin, the author of a book that greatly influenced my life a few years ago, The Happiness Project.

I was only a few minutes in and I realized that Gretchen has a new book out, Better Than Before (a fact I somehow missed despite what I’m sure was a boatload of book marketing dollars – sorry publishers! You can’t get me! Muahaha!) Apparently, the entire focus of the book is on mastering habits and how our personalities affect the way we adopt new habits.

What?! The universe is clearly trying to tell me something about habits!

It was fun to hear that apparently I’m not the only one that has had these questions about why habits are easier for some and harder for others – Gretchen researched and wrote an entire book about it!

Anyway, there were a whole slew of topics that Jess and Gretchen covered in the episode, which I won’t ruin for you here, but my big ah-ha takeaway had to do with this Four Tendencies framework that Gretchen discovered/created through her research.

This framework is a way for us to understand how our unique personalities view the idea of forming habits, and what kind of expectations we tend to stay accountable to.

 

 I mage via GretchenRubin.com

Image via GretchenRubin.com

 

Here’s a quick run-down on each tendency, as I understood them from Gretchen’s interview:

  • Upholder – An Upholder will rise to meet the expectations of others, but also uphold the expectations they have for themselves
  • Obliger – An Obliger has no problem rising to meet the expectations of others, but does have a hard time keeping themselves accountable to internal commitments. They’ll put their obligations to others above the promises they make to themselves.
  • Questioner – A Questioner has to understand why they’re being asked to meet an expectation, whether internal or external. They’ll question this until they feel it makes sense that they should uphold any kind of expectation.
  • Rebel – A Rebel resists both internal and external expectations. They often feel that habits are restrictive and they want maximum freedom in their lives.

As Gretchen went through this list, it became clear to see myself, plus friends and family in relation to this framework.

For example, I’d say for the majority of my life I have been an Obliger. I’ve always gone above and beyond to meet the expectations of other people, but I’ve had a hard time doing the same thing for myself.

This is the answer to my question about why I have a much harder time getting myself to work out than I do posting my daily lettering. With the lettering, I have an Instagram community that expects me to post every day; I’ve made that promise public and my Obliger nature uses that external expectation as a means of accountability.

But, going to my work out class five times a week — that’s just a promise I made to myself. No one is responsible for holding me to it except myself. In the past I would have had trouble placing this as a priority over something with an external expectation.

However, now after years of work, I feel I’m finally getting a lot closer to being an Upholder. I’ve learned to create boundaries and identify my core values, and that inner work has allowed me to give as much weight to my inner expectations as I do to the expectations of others.

For example, my friend Margaret stayed with me this past week and in the past, I likely would have used that as an excuse for myself not to go to my fitness class each day because I wouldn’t have wanted to “disappoint her” by spending a few hours away and leaving her on her own. However, I’ve now recognized that improving my health and strength is a priority for me — something I value — and working out is a habit I want to cultivate, so I voiced this to her and stuck with my workout schedule during her trip. Now that I have a way to acknowledge this, I’m definitely going to work to stay closer to the Upholder end of the spectrum. If I notice myself slipping though, I can always use those external motivators that speak to the Obliger in me to keep me accountable.

Jason and I decided that he is definitely a Questioner. He cares a lot more about answering to himself than he does to others, but only if he has bought in to WHY he’s doing something. When that’s the case, he has no trouble keeping up with a new habit.

See – it’s fascinating stuff, you guys! And it’s kind of fun once you start to see your tendencies illustrated in different areas of your life.

I’m just such a nerd when it comes to frameworks for understanding human behavior, I can definitely see this chart represented in my own behavior and the behavior of people I know well.

Like I said, there were so many great nuggets of wisdom I took away from the interview — something I’m hoping to dive into more when I read the book — but I at least wanted to share the Four Tendencies with you guys because it could be a game-changer for some of you.

If you really want to introduce new, positive changes into your life, the secret is to first understand what your unique tendencies are and then use them to your advantage to help you stick to your program.

Aside from these tiny revelations about habits in general, the biggest takeaway that I got from the interview was this:

If you want to make a lasting change in your habits, knowing your motivations and your values is the best place to start.

Just a little something I wanted to share with you on this Monday morning as you prepare for your week.

So, are there any habits you have struggled to stick with in the past? Could Gretchen’s framework help you understand your own attitude toward habits better? Which tendency do you have?

Let me know in the comments!

Right after I finish The Art of Possibility, I’m definitely going to download Better Than Before and give it a read.

Hope today’s post helps you adopt those positive habits!

Wishing all of you a productive and positive week!

Building Habits Using Creative Progress Maps

July 10, 2015

Will power can be a tough thing to muster sometimes.

Coming from someone who issues herself daily and monthly challenges all the dang time, even I admit that it never truly gets easier to follow through on intentions I set for myself. Almost every day I wage that internal battle with myself – am I going to remain accountable to the things I set out to do?

Am I going to do my daily lettering piece today? Am I going to write that blog post? Am I going to get myself to the fitness studio?

And sometimes I fail. Sometimes my progress stalls and I find myself starting all over again on one of my self-imposed “challenges.” But, no matter how many times I fail, I still continue to work towards my goals because I have a desire to get better and work toward the brightest version of myself.

If you’re like me and you’re constantly trying to challenge yourself, but you too struggle with ways to help you follow through or stay accountable, today’s post is for you!

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a link to this article on Quartz.com. The title was,“Coloring in this picture helped me erase $26,000 in debt”. Um… talk about a link you want to click, right? Who doesn’t want to wipe out debt by coloring!

The writer, Amy, went on to explain that she wanted a way to keep herself accountable to paying off her mountain of debt. Remembering back to when she was young and her mom, a sales associate, would work toward her company’s annual sales incentive trips by coloring in a simple drawing issued by the company, she decided to give the idea a try by coloring in a canvas of swirls (each one representing $100 paid toward her credit card debt.)

As I read this, the whole idea really resonated with me. I’ve always been drawn to documenting my progress in a visual way, whether it was placing heart stickers on my calendar for every day I went to the gym (true story) or checking off boxes for every day I stuck to my health plan.

This article made me realize though that progress trackers can be a heck of a lot more fun than simply some boxes to draw exes through! I mean… that swirl drawing is pretty sweet, right?

So I decided to make one of my own.

At the end of last month, I was ready to start fully committing to my fitness and I wanted to do something drastic. I challenged myself to attend 20 Dailey Method (barre workout) classes in 30 days. I’ve accomplished this once before and when I did two years ago, I saw major, noticeable changes in my body. It’s no easy task, though, and so I knew I needed some sort of visual way to keep myself accountable. Taking Amy’s lead, I drew this funky geometric/neon thing (the Dailey Method colors are bright yellow, green and orange!)

 

 

Every day I go to class, I get to color in a triangle. Every day I rest, I fill in with stripes. That way, at a glance I can see how much I’ve accomplished and how far I have yet to go.

Surprisingly, it’s working! I’m on pace to hit my goal.

Seeing the success of my own progress map, I started wanting to make progress maps for every commitment in my life.

This month I’m also trying to post on the blog five days a week, so I created a nice little map for that too. I get to fill in the letters as I complete my post each day. (This is Friday’s post which is why it’s not colored in yet!!)

 

 

So far, the whole idea of creating a fun and visual way to stay accountable to myself is working well! I love that each of these “maps” is taped up by my desk in a place where I see it every day. Plus, it feels surprisingly good when I get to take them down and color in my little piece of the puzzle each day.

Like I mentioned before, accountability is a hard thing.

Turning intentions into habits takes effort and will power, and if some silly drawing can make it even 1% easier to choose to stay committed each day, I think that’s worth it!

If you think creative progress maps could help you tackle your own goals, I’ve created three funky and free printable progress maps for you below, all with 31 places for you to color in. That’s one whole months of accountability for you (and you can always add to it with your own creativity if you need more “days.”

Get these three downloads by clicking the button below and entering your email address. You’ll be signed up for Self-Made Society and I’ll send you weekly inspiration and motivation for living your brightest life.

I also recommend checking out Amy’s website, Map Your Progress, where you can purchase all kinds of her cool swirl progress maps.

So, what do you think about the idea of creative progress maps? Do you think having a tangible progress tracker helps you stay accountable? Let me know in the comments!

What To Do When You Break The Chain Of Consistency

June 23, 2015

It’s probably no secret at this point that I’m a big fan of consistency.

  • I write this newsletter every Monday morning consistently (71 weeks of them today!)
  • I love consistently challenging myself to post a piece of lettering or art on Instagram every day for one month straight (5 separate months I’ve issued myself this challenge.)
  • I even created a worksheet that allows me to check off boxes as I complete my healthy goals each day.

Consistency is a powerful force, and I believe it may be the single greatest thing you can do to improve your life or build your business. 

BUT, funny enough, I actually don’t want to talk about that today. Instead, I want to talk about inconsistency.

I want to talk about what happens when – in the midst of those personal promises we make to ourselves – we fall off the proverbial wagon. When we break the streak. When we make that commitment and say “for the next X days, I’m going to Y” … and then four days later we miss a day and the whole thing crumbles to pieces.

First, I guess some context would help.

For the past three weeks, I’ve struggled to stick to my normal routine. First it was because we were traveling to Fargo then one week later to the East Coast, and travel always seems to be my go-to excuse when it comes to weaseling my way out of consistency.

Before our we left on these trips, I felt like I was cranking away on my art, we were in a good rhythm with our new healthier eating habits and exercise, and I was spending at least one hour a day on my writing, a challenge that I had issued myself for the month of June. All systems were go, and the consistent momentum felt fantastic.

Then the unpredictable switch up in my environment – being around different people, not having access to my regular tools/supplies, having a completely erratic schedule each day – threw me for a complete loop.

While I was on the road, pretty much all of my momentum went completely off the rails. I ate crappy, I stopped making time to create every day. I found all kinds of excuses not to just sit in the chair and write for an hour.

That’s okay, I thought. Don’t panic. You’re on the road and you’ll be back to normal soon.

Once it came time to finally return to my safe haven of ritual and routine here in California, I naively thought it would be simple to just pick up where I left off.

Boy, was I wrong. 

Here’s what I discovered:

When we fall off the wagon, it feels twice as hard to get back on. 

Maybe it’s because of the subconscious shame we feel when we “fail” to follow-through on our promises to ourselves.

Maybe it’s because when we break the chain, we effectively break our own trust with ourselves.

Or maybe it’s just because not doing stuff is a heck of a lot easier than doing stuff and turning back is a heck of a lot easier than pressing on.

All I know is that I want to get back to the momentum I felt when I was consistently and intentionally striving for growth. And the only way to do that is to ignore the comfort that comes with quitting and to find my way back to the rituals I once built.

In order to do that, today I’m officially giving myself permission to start over. To hit reset. And I hope this email gives you permission to do the same.

“We don’t fail if we break the chain of consistency; we only fail if we never get back to work.”

So whether you cracked under pressure and strayed from your recent healthy eating plan; you had a hectic day and forgot to post your lettering practice; you got scared to hit publish and missed a week of your newsletter; or you just could not bring yourself to get out the door and get to the gym…

It’s time to hit reset and get back to work. 

Don’t lose sight of what you wish to become just because you hit a bump in the road.

Keep growing. Keep creating. Keep moving forward with intention.

This week, I challenge you to pick back up one positive habit or ritual that you may have gotten off-course with. Then reply back and tell me what it is!

This week, I’m plan to get back to my writing schedule, post my art on Instagram at least once a day again, and finally, I plan to issue myself a bit of a drastic fitness challenge to shock my system back into consistent mode!

If I can do it, you can too! Wishing you a week of strength and growth!

Create More Opportunities By Turning Off Consumption Mode

May 3, 2015

By avoiding the process of creating and staying in consumption mode, you’re denying the world your gifts.

Today is the day you admit you’re in consumption mode. Today is the day you flip the switch to creation mode. Today is the day you draw a line in the sand and say, “I’m done consuming!”

We’ve all been stuck in consumption mode.

Reading another inspiring article (the irony is not lost on me here). Scrolling through countless social media feeds. Watching too much Netflix (ugh, yes there is such a thing). These distractions give us small dopamine responses, which is why we get addicted to them.

But you know what will give you an even better dopamine response? Getting out of consumption mode and creating stuff that brings value to you and other people.

We have all been stuck in consumption mode. All of us. And honestly, it’s a mode in life that comes and goes every single day. It’s not something you’re going to turn off forever (unless you move to an island that doesn’t have Internet).

I know I catch myself wondering into consumption mode when I’m trying to:

  • Write an article (like this one)
  • Work on an outline for a new project
  • Answer customer support emails

I avoid doing those types of tasks because they don’t bring me immediate gratification. As human beings we are wired for immediate gratification. Shiny object – wee! New opportunity – ahh! Fun new thing to explore – yes! But you have to learn to turn off the distractions.

I don’t have a fancy one-size-fits-all formula for flipping the switch on consumption mode to “OFF.” What I do have is a ton of experience getting a lot of things done. Like, way more than most people. I’m not saying that to be cocky, I’m saying that because I’m proud that I’ve learned how to flip the creation mode switch to “ON.”

 


5 Steps To Go From Consumption Mode To Creation Mode

Step #1 to getting out of consumption mode: Close your email inbox!

This one thing is so unbelievably helpful when you want to switch from consumption mode to creation mode. Our email inboxes are like the needy girl/husband who won’t EVER leave you alone. Always pestering you with their problems and then randomly surprising and delighting you with something amazing.

While reading this article I bet you got an email. Whether it notified you on your phone, popped up on your desktop, or showed a new notification in Gmail.

Shut your inbox up for a few hours at a time. Close it down. Life will go on and your email will be waiting for you. This comic by Oatmeal is spot-on:

(Ugh, I know telling you to read comics is a big distraction. So… read one or two and then get out!)

Step #2 Build your creation zone

I wrote this article from the bar-top in my kitchen. I wasn’t sitting at my desk. I wasn’t sitting on my couch. I happened to notice a ton of natural light on this day and I gravitated toward it. I felt motivated and let that motivation carry me into creation mode.

Whenever I’m writing, I have Spotify on in the background. I almost always write to one of three artists: Pretty Lights, Helios, or the Tron:Legacy Soundtrack. It’s music that isn’t distracting and doesn’t make me want to sing or dance. I love singing and dancing, but not when I’m trying to get in my creation zone (unless my creation zone is interpretive dance…). Maybe you need singing/dancing music for whatever you’re creating? That’s totally fine.

Another note about writing: I close every app and write in Bear Writer. It’s a beautifully simple writing app. I can’t format a single thing or get distracted with tools and widgets. I can only write. I love it.

Whether it’s where you work, what you listen to while you work, the tools that you use to create, find your optimal creation zone. Go to that place when you need to create.

Step #3 For the love of all things holy, turn off your notifications or hide your phone.

If you thought your email inbox was needy, your phone and all it’s blinking notifications take needy-ness to another level.

I get it. Some people simply cannot turn off notifications for Facebook, Twitter, Email, etc. That’s fine. You’re controlled by your phone. The least you can do is put your phone out of sight and earshot while creating. Don’t worry, all those precious notifications will be there for you when you go back to it.

I’ve removed all the social apps from my phone and turned off all notifications. I don’t feel like I miss out on anything. I control my usage of these platforms, I don’t let them control me!

Step #4 Close the tabs

I shouldn’t have to mention closing the social media website tabs. That’s a given. But I firmly believe if you want to be in creation mode you can’t have a bunch of consumption opportunities staring you in the face. Try just minimizing your web browser. Try it. Hide the tabs from your eyeballs.

If you’re a hotshot, close your browser and all its tabs! Holy crap, that’s scary right? Don’t worry, those are just things on the Internet that will be available for you to find again.

Step #5 Do a social media detox

I cannot stress enough the power and importance of breaks from social media. Back in 2014 I did my first 30-day social media detox and wrote a daily journal about it (the journal was written offline and then published when the detox was finished). I’d highly recommend reading about taking your own break from social media.

Stepping away from the scrolling and swiping of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc, gave me unbelievable clarity and helped me regain control of my obsessive use of addictive social media platforms.

Nowadays I take two months off of social media each year (July and December). I come back fully recharged and ready to dive into creation mode. Not to mention all the extra creation time I gain during those months not using social media to create stuff!

 


You’re On Your Way To Creating More Awesome Stuff!

Do those things. It’s five things. If you can’t try all five, then there’s no hope for you. I’m not saying that to be dramatic—well, yes I am. If you can’t get out of your own way, you’ll never get out of consumption mode.

So many opportunities will show up for you in life if you’re creating stuff. Almost zero opportunities show up if you’re just consuming everyone else’s stuff.

James Clear put it perfectly:

“Our lives were meant to be spent making our contribution to the world, not merely consuming the world that others create.”

You just finished consuming an article. I’m acutely aware of the irony. But now that you’ve read this, stop consuming any other content for a while. Find your creation zone. Go to it. Stay there for a while. Create something. Even if it sucks and it never sees the light of day.

Keep creating and allowing more time for creation than consumption.

Use No Bad Ideas Brainstorming to Come Up With Ideas

November 8, 2014

When it comes to thinking creatively for business and brainstorming ideas, most people believe you have to be wired a certain way or use a certain side of your brain. I disagree.

I believe the more naturally creative you are, the harder time you have focusing on the business side of things (marketing, promotion, sales, etc).

This is why most artists create brilliant work, but have a hard time generating revenue.

But fear not. Regardless of your level of inherent creativity I’ve developed an exercise that, without fail, produces creative thoughts. This same exercise helped me create IWearYourShirt.com, a business that from 2009-2013 generated over $1,000,000 in revenue. It also helped me create BuyMyLastName and SponsorMyBook, two businesses that both brought in six-figure income.

This exercise doesn’t limit itself to simply creating a new business idea, it’s also incredibly useful for coming up with content ideas, strategies, marketing plans, a client pitch, ways to attract mainstream media, and more.

I call it No Bad Ideas Brainstorming. You’ve probably tried doing brainstorming before. Whether you work for yourself or a company, perhaps you’ve yet to attack a brainstorming session under the simple premise that “no idea is a bad idea.”

 


How You Can Use No Bad Ideas Brainstorming To Come Up With Ideas

Step #1: Collaboration in brainstorming is key

You’ll need at least one other person with you, and preferably in the same place. Skype/GoToMeeting can work, but it’s not optimal.

Like a child’s board game, this exercise is most effective with two to eight players. I’d also recommend having people from different backgrounds (or positions in your company) participate. You want different styles of thinking working together.

Step #2: Remove all technology from the brainstorming session

Ringing phones, pop-up notifications, SnapChat alerts, music, etc, are all a distraction and will impede the creative process. This is why I think it’s absolutely optimal to do this exercise in person. It’s also good to be a in a quiet place. That’s why libraries still exist, after all.

Step #3: Assign a note-taker for the brainstorming session

This is very important: do not take notes electronically. Use a whiteboard (preferred), large notepad, or a bunch of pieces of paper.

The note-taker should participate, but should also write down 100 percent of the ideas submitted by the group (remember: there are no bad ideas).

Step #4: Establish your agenda for the brainstorming session

Are you looking to create a new business? Are you looking to come up with marketing ideas for your existing product or service? Are you trying to create a content calendar and need ideas for social media updates and blog posts? Maybe your company needs a new name?

Whatever it is, each brainstorming session should only have one focus.

Step #5: Set a time limit

I like 90 minutes for my brainstorming sessions. The first 45 minutes are spent just throwing tons of ideas out there and the second 45 minutes are spent honing those ideas.

Step #6: Go around in a circle and have everyone verbally share ideas (one-by-one)

No idea is criticized or given negative feedback. The importance of not giving negative feedback or criticizing any idea is that it keeps creative momentum going. You’ll find yourself hearing a bad idea, but instead of commenting on how it was bad, it sparks a much better idea.

Bonus brainstorming tip: Get physical!

It may sound weird, but I like to get up and move around before the brainstorming session starts. It much easier to come from a mental state of movement and energetic feelings than it is from sitting staring at a bright screen.
Do 10 jumping jacks. Do a couple pushups. Go for a short walk outside right before you start (without technology).

To recap No Bad Ideas Brainstorming:

  • Get two to eight people in a quiet space without technology.
  • Set a time limit to brainstorm without ideas being criticized.
  • Physically write down every idea given.
  • Pick the best ideas and flesh them out further.
  • Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The No Bad Ideas Brainstorming exercise works extremely well, but you must make sure to ignore your urge to offer criticism and negative feedback. Our brain is incredibly powerful at building momentum, especially as it relates to creative thought. But as soon as we let negativity creep in those thought processes come to a screeching halt.

The first time you do this exercise it might not end with wild success (much like the first time you tried to ride a bicycle). The key is to keep trying the exercise. The better you get at keeping negative thoughts at bay, the more efficient you’ll be at coming up with creative ideas.