Find your audience

If you listen to advice for speakers, bloggers and other writers, you’ll often hear this: Pick one or two specific people who represent your target audience, and imagine you’re speaking to them. I’ve found this somewhat useful advice. but still abstract and difficult to keep in mind.

This changed once I had an actual audience of specific people – those I coach on antiprocrastination and focus through a text-based platform. This way of coaching is too cheap to be a major source of income, but I enjoy helping people in this way, and it’s an excellent audience.

Sometimes I’m writing for a specific client, and sometimes I send a message out to all. Either way, I have a strong sense for what they need and how they need to hear things, and so the words flow. It’s an amazing difference, and so this is where I’ve concentrated my writing energy recently.

Obviously your mileage may vary, but this might suggest to writers and speakers struggling to find your voice that you’d benefit from finding actual specific people that you have a commitment to, whose needs or interests you know something about. Then speak to them.

A blogging exercise – creating a writing habit

So much I’m excited about, that I want to write about, and yet I rarely post. I’m changing that now. 

Last year I set up a separate blog for my new life-coaching business, to describe my relatively analytical approach, and to blog on specific topics. I then set up  yet another blog (Procrastination Ambulance) focused on procrastination – which is my main focus in life coaching.

But having multiple blogs to manage became a distraction and a mental barrier, with maintenance on each, and decisions to make (which blog should I post to on topic X?) So I’ve used my own coaching processes on myself and come to four main decisions:

  • I’m running with Chris Waterguy as my business name, for now. People who know me in person remember my name, and know what I do.
  • One blog. I don’t love web admin work, and I don’t need to do it. It may not be perfect to mix posts on environmental and social issues with coaching and self-improvement topics, but I’m aiming for done and fun.
  • I give myself permission to share less-than-perfect blog posts, here on this site. My seminars are also imperfect, but people get value from them. And it’s my way of walking the talk that I talk with my clients. I’m not just telling you to embrace imperfection, I’m doing it.

And now, pardon any typos or other imperfections while I press “publish” – and what a great feeling this is!

Easily set meeting times across time zones

One thing we did not evolve to do was convert time zones. It can be surprisingly easy to get wrong even for people with good arithmetic skills. I’ve gotten times mixed up repeatedly when setting up international online meetings, or else used a lot of mental energy getting it arranged, energy that I’d rather use for the content of the meetings.

So if you set up meetings across time zones, you may like World Time Buddy – my favourite tool for timezone conversions. Clear and simple interface, and really quick and intuitive to use. The select/slide tool makes it easy to adjust times, and easy to know you’ve got the actual correct times.

Once you’ve decided on a time, use a timezone-friendly tool such as Google Calendar to send the invites. Or else arrange the whole thing with a scheduler that syncs with your calendar (e.g. Calendly or SetMore – or Doodle for something super simple that doesn’t sync with your calendar), but start with World Time Buddy to work out the range of suitable times.

I have no connection to World Time Buddy (apart from finding it an awesome headache saver), nor to the schedulers.

Want freedom? Maybe quit fleeing

When we feel pressure, a common instinct is to flee. Sometimes fleeting is wise (e.g. from an abusive relationship) but oftentimes it is not.

There is no universal law here. Facing the pressure and taking it on (yet again taking on more responsibility, and complaining about it) may be terrible advice. On the other hand, you may know yourself as one who has avoided responsibility, who has failed to follow through, who has allowed opportunities to slip away. If so, then consciously and choosing to take responsibility is likely to give you power in your life.

Not taking responsibility randomly, for the first thing that pops into your worried brain, or that someone asks you to do. Not for something that you’ve had guilt feelings about since childhood. Rather, for something that will turn you into a better person, something that might involve uncomfortable changes, that you’ve been avoiding for months or years. No universal law and no simple rule for choosing when to face and went to flee, but these may be signs of a responsibility that will give you freedom.

Freedom is the ability to set your schedule, to decide on the work you do, to make decisions.
…When in doubt, when you’re stuck, when you’re seeking more freedom, the surest long-term route is to take more responsibility to make something happen may be your wisest option.

– Seth Godin’s blog

Making Success More Likely When Changing Habits

What are the warning signs when making resolutions? And how can you do it better? We’re talking New Year resolutions or any decision to change for the better.

  1. A strategy that consists of “I mean it this time!”
  2. Any strategy that is based more on willpower than on triggers and routines. (A milder form of point 1.)
  3. A goal that sounds good – when I think “I really should do this” rather than really thinking through the most likely paths to achieve my goal.
  4. A vague goal, without a clear target, such as like “eat healthier”, “exercise more” or “blog”.

What can work better? First, let me emphasise: Find what works for you, and be willing to experiment.

Below are some insights which have helped me to create good habits:
– Expect that you’ll need to improve your strategy, as you find things that aren’t working, and try new approaches, until you have it working just right.
– Goals to “get X done” haven’t been the most effective for me. Goals to “Make it easier for myself to do X”, or “Work out a routine to do X” have given better results.
– Make it easy. Put effort into minimising any obstacles.
– If what I need for my habit is within reach and within sight, so I can start on my habit in seconds, it’s much more likely that I’ll do it. E.g. my yoga/exercise mat lives on my bedroom floor. It’s not the only place I exercise, but it makes starting that much easier.
– A good routine is awesomely powerful, making your new habit easier and much more consistent.
– The energy I have for life determines the energy I have for achieving my goals. For this reason, exercise and good sleep are key for me, and I’ve persisted in getting these right. (These habits are much improved, and my energy levels are better for it.)
– If your new habit requires focus, create time when you won’t be distracted. E.g. getting up early is by far the best way for me to write. (Staying up late to write can work for me in the short term, but ruins my energy and productivity in following days.)

What are you doing to make success more likely in 2015?

How To Use Rewards to Defeat Procrastination

Procrastination is our bias towards the present, controlling our behaviour. A small pain or loss now looms more than a much more serious gain, pain or loss in the future. Understanding how this works can let us turn procrastination around.

Procrastination is basically a simple term for a deep problem with human nature and the problem has to do with time. We live in the here and now but what’s good for us is often long in the future. And we have plans in the future. We will save money, and we would eat healthily, and we would exercise and we would do this and we would do that and we will do all that. Today I just don’t feel like it. Today the chocolate cake is tempting, and the gym is far away, it’s oh too humid outside, and I really saw a new bike and I don’t feel like saving.

These are the words of Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioural economics, and the author of the highly regarded “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions“. Ariely suggests associating undesirable tasks with pleasurable activities, and tells a enlightening personal anecdote.

As a student, Dan Ariely faced a powerful reason for procrastination – a far away loss versus a short-term, intense pain. He contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion. Without proper treatment the disease could be deadly, but not for perhaps 30 years. (A very serious loss, very far away.) The treatment was to inject himself three times a week for 18 months. The medication made him feel terribly ill for hours, with vomiting and fever, beginning within an hour of the injection. (Immediate pain.) He followed the regimen without fail for the full period – but according to his doctors, he was their only patient to do so.

Amazing self-control? More self-control than other patients? No, he has the same struggles as the rest of us. Instead, he created a connection in his mind between the task and something he loved and wanted: movies. He did this in a very deliberate, planned way. Three days per week, he rented videos in the morning and carried them all day in his backpack, anticipating them. When he came home, he got everything he needed to watch the movies, gave himself the injection, and began watching.

His strategy imported new benefits for the present, making them even more immediate than the suffering. Rather than bemoan his lack of foresight, he subverted it.

What about us? Look for ways to use this principle to turn your own procrastination challenges around. This might be through a reward. It might be through creating a strong, “gut-level” association between the action you need to take and the results you want. This is something you can work on yourself, as well as something I do in my coaching, using reframing and NLP; I also use another approach called “propagating urges”, taught in the excellent CFAR workshops.

 

In this short video, Ariely tells his story. If you want more detail and some introductory neuroscience, skip to the second video, further down the page.

 

(Source and transcript)

And with more detail and neuroscience:

Why I don’t watch video link replies

In brief:  Videos are not often a good way to present evidence. If you’re trying to convince me of something, I prefer to see a clear, concise argument in text form. Thanks for understanding.


When I’m in a discussion on the Internet and someone makes an unusual or unlikely-sounding claim, I will keep an open mind and ask for evidence. Sometimes the reply comes in the form of a video. My general rule now is that I do not watch these videos, with a few exceptions*. Here’s why.

  1. Video is an effective tool for conveying emotion; it’s less effective for conveying information. If you have a clear, concise argument, text is generally preferable. Emotions can be fantastic, but they’re not great evidence.
  2. Watching videos is much more time-consuming than reading a concise article. In an article I can skim, pace myself according to how easy or difficult the language and arguments are, and often I can quickly identify whether the writer is making sense or not. In a video, it might be several minutes in before I find out whether the argument is based on carefully weighed scientific research, or on an assertion that space lizards are conspiring with George Soros to give us all vaccines that make us believe in global warming.
  3. Text lends itself better to structure, which aids the presenting and weighing of evidence.
  4. Responding to text is much more straightforward – I can copy and quote as appropriate. It’s easier to get on the same page about what precisely was said, claimed, proven.
  5. Text lends itself much better to providing referencing, and it’s much easier to find the references as they will be linked from the text where a particular claim is made, or found by scrolling down.
  6. My experience with replies in video form has not been positive. Let’s assume that your video reply is different – more rigorous, logical, persuasive and honest. If we don’t know each other yet, I don’t yet have a way to tell you apart from other people on the Internet who sent me links to terrible videos. So start with a clear and concise argument in text form, and we can discuss the video later, perhaps.

*The exceptions:

  • When the video comes later in the conversation, when we have already come to some agreement and can see each other’s perspectives.
  • When the video come from someone I know, with whom I have often had discussions in the past.
  • When we are both members of a community that places a high value on reasoned, civil discussion.

So if you send me a video link and I respond with this post, know that I mean this with respect and good faith, and that it’s part of my attempt to properly understand your argument and weigh the evidence.

When the shepherd loses faith: The Clergy Project

A Christian acquaintance studied ancient languages and New Testament history. With limited options after graduation, he went to work for a mega-church with beliefs and materialistic values in opposition to his own.

His desire to escape was only partly offset by a sense that he was doing some good, bringing some sense to the naivete and madness he saw in the church where he worked. Escape never came, and nearly 20 years later he is still trapped, and his family with him.

My acquaintance’s role is not as a pastor (or minister, or priest), but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of pastors, ministers and priests who lose their faith but continue in their role. I’m familiar with this concept from my years as an evangelical Christian, many years ago the concern is sometimes expressed for the students in theological colleges, Bible colleges and seminaries taught “liberal” ideas, and “falling away from the Lord”. I hadn’t thought of it from the perspective of those individuals, and what a terrible, lonely experience that must be. As Daniel Dennett states:

“They’re like gays in the 50s without gaydar. They don’t dare raise the issue with other clergy they know whom they suspect are just as much non-believers as they are.” Source (6 min video).

It may be that they continue to hold the same values and see good in their work, but they are also likely to feel trapped, with a lack of experience and training that would make it difficult to find other employment, and a necessary secrecy that makes it very difficult to seek support.

In response, The Clergy Project has been established – a confidential online community for current and former religious leaders in vocational ministry who do not hold supernatural beliefs. I wish them well.

If you wish to find out more:

Finall, here is one former pastor describing his own journey:

Energy subsidies – online course

Energy subsidies are a complex and enormously important issue, having a major impact on climate change (and thus on the fate of our world, and how livable it remains), on health (via air pollution, especially in developing world cities), as well as distorting our economies. And the level of public debate around energy subsidies and taxes is very poor, with conflicting claims made by the fossil fuel industry, advocates of renewable energy, and advocates of nuclear.

Energy Subsidy Reform, a free, 2-week, online MOOC style course run by the IMF on edX, sounds like a much-needed corrective.

“Whether you are a civil servant working on economic issues for your country or simply interested in better understanding issues related to energy subsidies, this course will provide hands-on training on the design of successful reforms of energy subsidies.”

Advertising Explained

A scientist friend describes a supermarket trip at age seven, where he saw a packet that advertised Imitation raspberry flavour.
“That means it’s not raspberry, ” he said to  his mother. “Why do they say what it isn’t, instead of saying what it is?”
His mother replied, “They probably tried This is made from coal but we think you’ll like it, and nobody bought any.”
And that, says my friend, is the moment he first understood the nature of advertising.