Monday Motivation: Weekly Cycles

 

Every week has its Monday.

 

I know that sounds pretty obvious and maybe even a little stupid, but it’s important to remember. Our lives run in cycles, and one of the cycles our lives run through is the weekly cycle.

 

You start out on Monday, and the thing about Monday is that everybody hates Mondays. Honestly, if we talked a little less about how much we hate Mondays we’d probably hate Mondays a little less.

 

But after Monday comes Tuesday. Tuesday’s kind of weird, because it’s still early in the week but it’s not Monday. Tuesday has a bit of an in-between feeling, where you don’t quite know how to feel about it. (To my knowledge, nobody has strong feelings about Tuesdays.)

 

Then there’s Wednesday. It’s hump day! Wednesday is the turning point. It’s as if all week up to this point you’ve been climbing a mountain, but from now on you’re going to be headed downhill. There’s a real sense of relief when Wednesday ends.

 

(In fact, the only downside to Wednesday is that some people get a little too enthusiastic about the whole “Hump Day” thing, and it gets to be kind of grating.)

 

Next comes Thursday. Thursday is a little like Tuesday, in that it’s not particularly distinguished in any way. To use a mathematical analogy, Thursday is what you get if you take the average of Tuesday and Friday. There’s the meandering quality of Tuesday, combined with a vague annoyance at the fact that it’s still not Friday.

 

But sure as ever there comes the big day: Friday! There’s nothing like the feeling of a Friday evening, just sitting back and anticipating a nice, relaxing weekend. I’d go so far as to say that the Friday evening anticipation is the best part of the week.

 

Because Saturday comes along, and it’s great. You go camping, or hiking, or in the winter you look out the window and wish global warming would hurry up. But here’s the thing about Saturday: it’s never quite as good as you imagined it being when you were looking forward to it on Friday. The sun’s a little too bright, or there’s rain, or you can’t meet up with your old friend on account of a death in the family.

 

Whatever it is, something happens so it’s not perfect.

 

And last of all comes Sunday. For some of us that means a day of church activities, and for some of us that means a second attempt at a perfect Saturday. No matter what, though, Sunday ends pretty much the same way: Sunday evening. When Sunday evening comes around, you feel down. The weekend’s dried up, and there’s Monday, dead ahead.

 

So Monday comes back, with all the responsibilities and all the worries that were put on hold for the last two days. The next round of the cycle begins, and the wheel keeps on spinning.

 

Well, what about it? What’s the big deal about all this “weekly cycle” stuff?

 

The point is that if you’re anything like me, there’s part of you that fights against this cycle even though it’s inevitable. It’s that part that wants to get everything that’s good in the process without having to accept anything that’s bad. We want our whole week to be Friday evening. We hardly realize that the whole joy of a Friday evening comes from the sudden release of pressure after a week of hard work.

 

So we fight the inevitable, or at least we resist it in our minds. But as we all know, time is going to pass. There are going to be unpleasant times and pleasant times, moments of dread and moments of breathless anticipation.

 

You know that already, though. I’m not saying anything here that hasn’t been said a million times before. So what am I trying to tell you? What point am I driving at that isn’t so obvious?

 

Just this: you’re going to feel this resistance on Mondays. It’s part of the way the week works. There’s nothing wrong with you for partially fighting against it, and there’s nothing wrong with the week for being the way it is.

 

I think there’s a part of us that wants to take Monday as a personal insult, as if it came around to ruin our day and ruin our fun. But the fact is, life doesn’t work that way. It’s just the nature of things. You don’t get the good without the bad.

 

You have to pay for Friday evening with Monday morning, in other words. As long as you’re resisting Monday morning, there’s a part of you that’s not accepting reality.

 

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you have to accept reality. I’m not trying to preach. If you want to accept reality, you can accept it. If you want to fight it, you can fight it. All I’m saying is that you should be conscious of what you’re doing.

 

Because there’s a way in which you can say that really getting annoyed on a Monday morning makes the weekend that much sweeter when it comes. Emotional states are conditioned by their opposites, so if you’re going to experience the highest joys you’re going to have to accept the lowest misery. In that way it can be quite healthy and good to let yourself get a little down in the dumps on Monday. Just know what you’re doing, and you’ll be fine.

 

The fact is, motivation is a funny idea. You can motivate somebody in one of two ways: either you tell them a lie they want to believe but can’t keep up for very long, or you tell them the truth in such a way that they see their place in reality and accept it.

 

You’re a human being. That means you’re a limited being. But you’re a limited being with a specific role to play in the life of the human race. No matter how much you’d like to fight against that role, and no matter how much it feels like an imposition on your personal freedom, it’s a real, meaningful role.

 

It’s a meaningful role, and it’s a role that only you can choose to play to the best of your ability. Even on Monday.

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Face It: You Need People

 

Everyone in this world wants to feel important. Remember that, and act on it.

 

Say you’re in a tight spot in life. You feel like the walls are closing in. You feel like every day that goes by only takes you deeper and deeper into a nasty trap you’ll never get out of. You feel helpless. You feel insignificant. You feel like you’re going to die! No, it’s worse than that: sometimes it gets so bad that you start wishing you were dead.

 

At times like that, you don’t want anything to do with the world. It’s gross. It’s nasty. It’s full of a bunch of self-serving hypocrites looking to drain you of your life force. All you want is to get away. You feel like the car that’s stuck in a ditch it can’t get out of because the wheels won’t touch the ground. They just keep spinning, spinning, faster and faster, ever more desperately, but still going nowhere.

 

You want to curl in on yourself and give up. It’s too difficult. It’s too much for you. If only you could die you could solve everything, but there’s that little core deep inside you that keeps pumping away, forcing you on.

 

The last thing you want when you’re in a situation like that is to face other people. You don’t want them to look at you. You don’t want them to talk to you. You don’t want them to ask you how your day’s been. All you want is to lock yourself away, far away from everything, where you can keep to yourself and quietly lament how lonely you are.

 

We’ve all felt that way before. It’s probably the reason zombie stories are so popular these days. Maybe the zombie comes from the part of us that’s a little bit disgusted at humanity. It sees us as a bunch of half-dead brainless creatures who can only keep up their miserable existences by feeding on human flesh.

 

Because from a certain point of view that’s the truth about humanity. It’s a one-sided truth, because it leaves out what’s good and honorable about human beings, but it gets certain things right. We’re driven by our desires. We have a paradoxical desire to cut ourselves off from humanity and immerse ourselves in the human mass. We feel like we were once more human than we are—as if we’ve been infected with some inhuman thing that compels us.

 

But that’s not the whole truth about what we are. We’re human beings. That means we can feel the urge to hide ourselves away but choose to connect with people in spite of that.

 

That’s not easy. It takes strength and discipline. It takes a willingness to believe that human beings are more than just zombies who want to consume all they can without facing the consequences.

 

There’s a part of you that you’d like to hold onto very tightly. Somewhere along the line you learned that if you loosen your hold on this part of yourself, the world will take that as a sign of weakness and crush you. You learned that it wasn’t okay to trust other people, because other people are always trying to worm their way into your mind, your wallet, or some other part of your anatomy.

 

And you know what? That might happen. There’s no guarantee that everything’s going to be okay. There are plenty of things in this world that are emphatically not okay.

 

There are people out there who have bad intentions. There are people out there who will take advantage of you. There are people out there who are absolutely and one hundred percent out for themselves.

 

But what about you? You’re a human being. And because you’re a human being, you need things that you can only get from other people.

 

It doesn’t matter how much you dislike people. It doesn’t matter how much you don’t trust people. It doesn’t matter if your hair stands on end whenever you come into physical contact with another human being.

 

You need people. You need to deal with people.

 

You have to deal with the cashier when you go to buy clothes. You have to talk to the hairdresser who cuts your hair. You have to find some way to get somebody to pay you for doing something if you’re going to have the privilege of living on this rock long enough to get old and gray.

 

No matter how much you kick and scream and wish it weren’t so, you must find a way to deal with people. No matter how much you want the human race to leave you alone, they won’t do it. You’re a human being living in a complex society, and you’re going to have to find a way to stomach it.

 

So if you’ve got to put up with the human race, you might as well find a way to make it as painless as possible. And the first thing you can do is exactly what I started this article with: remember that everyone in this world wants to feel important.

 

You have to deal with the human race. And you can do that a lot more effectively if you manage to enjoy the process.

 

What makes dealing with people more enjoyable? Making sure they like you and can get comfortable around you. So even though it seems like it’s more effort, interacting with people is a lot less painful if you go out of your way to make the other person comfortable.

 

Put it this way: if you make sure that people like you, they’re generally less likely to go crazy and try to run you through with a broadsword someday.

 

Offer a listening ear. Let people tell you their aches and pains, their challenges and difficulties. Congratulate them when they succeed and commiserate with their failures. People appreciate it when you listen to what they say and repeat some part of it back to them in your own words, so they know you’ve understood it.

 

Over time, you’ll learn more about human nature. As you learn how to deal with it, you’ll make your peace with it. Maybe you’ll never get to the point where you can honestly say, “I like people.” But if you can go out of your way to make the other person feel important, you’re headed in the right direction.

 

If you found this post meaningful, I’d really appreciate it if you shared it or left a comment. It would mean a lot to me. Thank you.

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When the World Falls Apart

 

When things aren’t going your way, it’s not pleasant. You start to feel weak. You start to feel ineffective. You start to feel powerless to change anything in your life.

 

So what happens? You get angry. You get bitter. You get resentful. You get to the point where any little thing could set you off. Sometimes it gets so bad that spilling a cup of coffee in the morning can ruin your entire day. Spill your coffee on the kitchen table in the morning and you can end up grinding your teeth all day long.

 

Well, why is that? I think it’s because spilling the coffee feels like adding insult to injury. Here you are, pushing yourself so hard but still feeling like you have no control over your life, and what happens? You can’t even hold a lousy cup of coffee right!

 

No wonder you get angry. Your whole world is falling apart around you, and now that stream of black liquid dripping slowly onto the floor proves that even your own hand won’t obey your will.

 

So that’s when you start feeling about a million different emotions all at once. You feel annoyed that the coffee spilled.  But beyond that you feel humiliated because apparently now you’re the type of person who can’t even hold a cup of coffee right. But beyond that you feel resentful because on top of everything else in your life, you now have to worry about cleaning up that stupid little cup of coffee. But beyond that you feel absolutely terrified because there’s a part of you that thinks, “I’m getting worse and worse. If I can’t even control this, there’s no way I’ll ever get the rest of my life together.”

 

There you are by the table, with annoyance, embarrassment, resentment, and black terror cycling through your mind—which is probably what we mean by anxiety.

 

It’s a hopeless feeling. At the bottom of it all there’s the feeling that things are going to get worse. And not only that: it’s a feeling that things are only going to get worse for the rest of your life, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

 

This is where things get dangerous. Because when you’re wrapped up in a feeling of utter hopelessness, and powerlessness, you’ll do anything to alleviate that feeling. There are a few things you can try, and it’s worth taking some time to talk about them.

 

You can take that feeling and turn it into anger. You can decide, “No, I’m not powerless, because I can lash out in anger against people who have nothing to do with my real problems.” Hurt people. Be cruel to animals. Treat everybody who cares about you so badly they stop caring, and do your best to alienate everybody you meet.

 

Go ahead and try that, if you want. See how well it works.

 

On the other hand, you could take that feeling and try to find immediate relief from it. You could go get so drunk you forget how bad you feel when you’re sober. You could go gamble away all your money on the hope that you’ll find a sudden windfall. You could go spend more money than you can afford buying things you don’t need and don’t really want.

 

You could try that too, if you like. See how well that works.

 

Another thing you could try: decide everyone’s out to get you. Decide the world doesn’t like you, doesn’t want you, and is for some perverse reason actively opposed to your happiness. Make up your mind to be a passive victim, and do your best to stop caring.

 

That’s another thing you could try. (Just as a side note: taken on its own terms, this one works extremely well. If you decide to live like a victim, the world is only too happy to play along.)

 

If you’re looking for an immediate solution, those three are just about the only options you’ve got. You can get angry, you can get intoxicated, or you can get depressed.

 

(You can also try suicide, but it’s not recommended.)

 

So you spilled your coffee. You’re feeling hopeless. You’re feeling like you’ll never get your life in order. You’re feeling desperate, and you’re getting close to the point where you’re willing to do anything to put a stop to the pain you’re feeling. What should you do to escape this pain?

 

My advice: don’t try to escape. Not immediately, at least. The short-sighted hope to escape the pain instantly can lead you to make rash decisions that lead you right back to where you started. Like the way they say drinking alcohol is “borrowing happiness from tomorrow.” Sure, for a couple hours all your problems go away. But tomorrow morning they’re all still there, and you’ve got a wicked hangover too.

 

You have to be able to put up with the pain. You’re not getting away from it immediately. Accept that. Don’t resign yourself to it—that’s being a victim—but accept that you’re going to be in pain for a while.

 

Now, look rationally into what’s causing your distress. Ask yourself, “Am I angry because I spilled my coffee, or am I angry because I’ve been hunting for work for months without making any progress?”

 

Keep digging into those causes until you can’t dig any deeper. This can be a painful process. It’s not easy to look at yourself and your problems objectively. Usually you end up finding out that most of your problems are your own doing, and that you’re going to have to make some major changes in order to fix it.

 

If you’re anything like me, hearing the word “change” is enough to get your hackles up. We like to keep our actions stable and constant. Our habits are the way we know ourselves.

 

But here’s the truth: no matter what’s bothering you, there is a solution. And no matter what the solution, it’s going to take some change on your part. It’s going to be unpleasant, it’s going to be painful, and you’re going to hate every minute of it. But it’s going to be worth it.

 

It’s worth it to get to that day when you can spill your cup of coffee and shrug it off. You’ll have control of the parts of your life that matter most, so you’ll be secure enough that spilling a cup of coffee won’t threaten you. You won’t have to be so sensitive to every little slight that the world feels like it’s out to get you.

 

That can happen. That will happen. But only if you make it happen.

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40 Things That Aren’t Allowed on Tuesday

  1. Telling everybody it’s Monday.
  2. Robbing a bank and using the proceeds to fund your drug smuggling operation.
  3. Ignoring the law of gravity and floating around on the ceiling like they do in that one scene in Mary Poppins.
  4. Covering yourself in Reynold’s Wrap and storing yourself in the refrigerator.
  5. Putting on a nice suit like you’re a Jehovah’s Witness and going door to door asking people, “Have you ever considered the possibility that the universe was created by a malevolent God for the sole purpose of tormenting humanity?”
  6. Standing in the middle of an interstate highway and causing a traffic jam that stretches back for miles.
  7. Swallowing enough LSD that you literally disappear into an alternate dimension and nobody on this plane of reality ever sees you again.
  8. Going for a walk and saying to every dog you see while you’re out, “You’ve got such a beautiful human. Just look at that shiny coat, I can tell you take good care of her. Is she spayed?”
  9. Spitting in the faces of random passers-by as you go through your daily routine.
  10. Taking your phone and calling every single number in the phone book, just so you can leave obscene messages on their voicemail.
  11. Making your next door neighbor into a hamburger.
  12. Handcuffing everyone in the world to the nearest desk, so none of them can move or do anything at all without your explicit permission.
  13. Finding one highly self-conscious and anxiety-ridden person to mercilessly laugh at at random intervals. (Because if you pick the right person they’ll wonder what they did to get laughed at, and since they didn’t do anything they’ll fasten on the most particular little behaviors to avoid. So over time you’ll get them so confused that they’ll start acting seriously weird and neurotic, all through their excessive attempts to be normal.)
  14. Use a few boxes to make a believable fake of yourself to sit at your desk while you spend the whole day getting sad drunk at a bar and end up passing out sometime around three in the afternoon.
  15. Taking a shotgun and shooting the birds around your neighborhood.
  16. Setting everyone you know on fire and laughing at their screams as their skin melts and they beg you for mercy.
  17. Volunteering with the Suicide Hotline and asking all the callers, “Have you ever considered the possibility that the universe was created by a malevolent God for the sole purpose of tormenting humanity?”
  18. Whacking attractive women over the head with a club and dragging them off to the nearest semi-secluded area.
  19. Sending postcards to starving people in the Third World and asking them to make a small monetary contribution to fund your excessive and resource-destroying lifestyle.
  20. Having a political discussion that you don’t immediately regret.
  21. Ordering a stack of twenty quarter pounders at McDonalds, then waiting until they show up. After this, you open each of them one by one. Then you sigh, put on your best faux-polite face, and say, “I’m sorry, I ordered these without cheese.” (Actually, that one is completely allowed on a Tuesday.)
  22. Sneaking into all of your neighbors’ homes just so you can steal their salt-shakers.
  23. Picking one person and repeating everything they say back to them all day long.
  24. Taking those quarter pounders you bought from McDonalds, sitting on a park bench, and throwing the burgers at joggers as they come by listening to Lorde on their headphones.
  25. Buying a handful of tiny gerbil babies, going to Starbucks, and dropping the hairless gerbil babies into people’s drinks while they’re not looking.
  26. Dialing up 911 and asking the dispatcher, “Have you ever considered the possibility that the universe was created by a malevolent God for the sole purpose of tormenting humanity?”
  27. Standing on the airport runway with your thumb out, trying to hitchhike.
  28. Telling everybody in the world exactly what you think of them and what you’d do to them if you could.
  29. Finding a calm, peaceful state of mind where you’re generally okay with yourself and with other people.
  30. Taking every dog that barks at nothing and every cat that exists, strapping them to a rocket ship, and sending them up into outer space where they’ll never be able to bother you again.
  31. Rounding up every magazine editor who’s ever lived, locking them up in a cage, and telling them that the last one standing gets to live.
  32. Hiring a specialist with a very large mouth to serve as your personal toilet.
  33. Finding everyone who has ever gotten between you and what you want, setting them up in glass coffins, and letting them breathe the last precious air they have while you dangle the key that could let them out.
  34. Dressing as Santa Claus and walking around the local mall asking children, “Have you ever considered the possibility that the universe was created by a malevolent God for the sole purpose of tormenting humanity?”
  35. Building a time machine, going back to the moment of your conception, and shouting, “No, stop, for the love of God will you please stop it!”
  36. Hacking into every computer in the world so they all displayed one simple thing: a black screen that’s empty except for the words, “I’m sorry.”
  37. Eating all of the oranges in the world and burning down all the orange trees so that nobody in the whole world will ever be able to have oranges again.
  38. Crushing the spirit of every other human being in the world so they all become mindless automata just waiting to execute your every desire.
  39. Building a tower to reach to heaven so you’ll never have to touch the surface of the earth again.
  40. Making a mousetrap big enough to catch the whole earth so you’ll never have to have it scurrying around in your universe again.
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Why Do You Keep Losing?

 

Monday sets the tone for the rest of the week. A good Monday gets your week off to a great start, and a lousy Monday can set you up for a week-long game of catch-up. So the problem is: how to make sure you have a great Monday?

 

The answer is so simple you’ll probably want to slap me: the way to make sure you have a great Monday is to want to have a great Monday.

 

“Well, obviously,” you say. “What, do you think I want to have a lousy Monday?”

 

No, I don’t think you want to have a lousy Monday. But the really important thing is that you need to allow yourself to have a great Monday. And that’s where the whole thing gets hard.

 

Because you’ve already decided that what you’ve got to get done this Monday is not what you’d like to get done this Monday. You’d like to spend this Monday morning lying on a beach, sipping your favorite cocktail, and listening to the rolling surf. But instead you’ve got sales to make, accounts to file, meetings to attend, and decisions to make.

 

No wonder there’s a part of you that resists it.

 

So when I say that you need to choose to have a great Monday, it takes some doing. It means you’ve got to say to yourself, “No, I don’t want to be out enjoying myself. I want to be here, now, working on the things that will make a better future.”

 

It’s hard to do that. It’s hard to do that because there’s a part of your mind that hates anything to do with long-term planning or discipline. It’s that part of you that craves instant gratification and wants to see the world burn. It’s the part of you that wants to sleep, eat, mate, and cause chaos.

 

You know how it is, when you wake up on Monday morning and your first thought is something like, “Gee, I wonder if civilization has finally crumbled so now I can do all the things I wanted to do but couldn’t do because they were illegal.”

 

Then you turn on the TV and there’s the weatherman going on about a warm front and the morning commute, and you think, “Not today, then. I must be civilized today.”

 

So no wonder it’s a little tough to motivate yourself on a Monday morning. But you figure it out by the time you start sipping that first cup of coffee. You remember, “Oh right… the whole point of this career is so I can turn my antisocial urges into planning and productivity. And the whole point of planning and productivity is so I can do better than everybody else around me. Sure, it might be illegal to destroy my enemies and drink their blood out of their skulls, but the free market economy allows me to outcompete them and thus symbolically kill them in an entirely legal way.”

 

Because that’s the real wonder of civilization. It manages to turn the drive to chaos and destruction into a force for creation and order. The fact that you want nothing more than to take most of the people you meet and squish them into jelly is turned (by the logic of the market) into a beneficial force for the community.

 

So if you’re feeling unmotivated on a Monday morning, you just need to hone your killing instinct. I want you to think of everybody you’ve known who ever made you feel small, or weak, or helpless. I want you to feel as angry as possible at that person. I want you to imagine taking a club and using it to beat their face in while they scream and they scream, “Oh, for the love of God, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean it, I swear I didn’t mean—”

 

But you’re not listening because the blood lust has taken hold by now, and anyways you really disliked them to begin with.

 

Imagine all the people who have ever hurt you. Everyone who ever insulted you. Everyone who ever made you feel insignificant. You want motivation? Just imagine how tiny and insignificant they’ll feel after they see how massively successful you’ve become.

 

Granted, if you’re one of those people who generally likes the human race and doesn’t have any problem with other people, this isn’t going to be the best method for you. You can go imagine gumdrops and teddy bears and making the world a better place, if that’s what floats your boat.

 

Otherwise, you just need to cultivate as much negative emotion as possible. People always talk bad about negative emotion, but here’s the thing: you don’t accomplish great things because you have great intentions. You accomplish great things because you have cruel, subterranean, and generally antisocial intentions.

 

You just need to think of all the people you’re going to beat and how devastated they’re going to feel when they lose. If you motivate yourself with the need to beat others, you may never be happy, but you’ll have a ton of energy and you’ll be able to keep going till you die of your heart attack at fifty.

 

So maybe you can’t go to the beach today. But you can get a heck of a lot of stuff done, and that will set you up for a great day tomorrow. And if you can have a great day tomorrow, you’re on track to have an amazingly productive week. Have enough amazingly productive weeks, and eventually you’ll be able to conquer the known universe and have all the human worms in the universe bow down before your awesome power.

 

Because that’s what life is all about, right? It’s all about making sure everybody knows that if they step as much as a single toe out of line you’ve got the legal and moral right to have them vaporized. Everything else is a bunch of sentimental hogwash that has nothing to do with how you can keep yourself motivated on a Monday morning.

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Selling, Honesty, and Imagination

 

Never hide what you’re after. Hiding what you’re after makes people hate you. When you’re talking business, speak directly.

 

Are you writing a poem? Are you writing a song? Are you writing a novel?

 

That’s great. If you’re doing those things, it’s fine to be as cryptic as you want to be. But when you’re talking business, speak directly.

 

I know people will tell you all this malarkey about how you’re supposed to build customer personas and figure out exactly who you’re dealing with and who you’re selling to before you even talk to them. Maybe it works for somebody, but the fact is: most of the time that stuff comes off as incredibly creepy. Worse than that, it leaves you feeling slimy and manipulative.

 

(And to make it even worse, it doesn’t even work very well!)

 

Selling is simple. Here’s how it should go:

 

Person A: Do you want to buy my thing?

 

Person B: Yes, I want to buy your thing.

 

See that? It’s simple. There’s none of this mindless, masturbatory song and dance where you act like you’re not trying to sell something and end up making an asshole out of yourself. If you’re selling something, own it. If you’ve got the goods, you don’t have to play a lot of subtle tricks.

 

There’s nothing people resent more than when you pretend you’re not selling something when you really are selling something.

 

Take pretty much the entire internet as an example. This whole wrongheaded, bullshitty idea of “content marketing” is just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. Sure, make your marketing look like it’s a blog and that will lead customers to you in droves.

 

Does it work? Eh, maybe, sometimes, sort of. But it’s worth a try.

 

Or this whole insipid idea of SEO. “I know, let’s junk up our articles with a lot of keywords and slap a lot of complex terminology on commonsense website development.”

 

That’s what SEO boils down to. But there’s a whole industry built on that one god-awful idea.

 

Now, I told you there’s nothing people resent more than when you pretend you’re not selling something when you’re selling something. So it’s time for me to come clean.

 

I’m selling something. I’m a writer, and I’m selling my writing services.

 

Before you ask: no, I do not want to join your company full-time, no I don’t want to talk to you on the phone, and no I don’t want to visit you in your office. Pretty much the whole point of taking up freelance writing for a living is so you can avoid human contact as much as possible. So unless you’re an insanely beautiful woman with a thing for writers I’m much too busy. Just let me do my writing thing while you do your business-running thing.

 

And another thing: for the love of God, quit asking me if I’ve got extensive experience in your field. I’m twenty-five years old and my degree is in philosophy—so unless you’re trying to puzzle out the Pure Categories of the Understanding, I probably don’t know a ton about what you do.

 

But guess what? I know how to read, I’m a quick learner, and I’ve got an appetite for knowledge. The simple fact of the matter is that copywriting doesn’t take a ton of previous knowledge in your field.

 

I know you’re probably getting all up in arms over there, thinking “My field is so special you could never understand it in all its complexity!”

 

And you’re probably right about that. But all I need to know is a few simple things I can pick up fairly quickly: I need to know a little terminology, I need to know who your buyer is, and I need to know what your offer does for them.

 

It’s not all that complicated. No matter how arcane your market is, it’s accessible to that approach. Copywriting is copywriting, whether you’re selling condoms, Communist revolutions, or Tic-Tacs. Human psychology is the same everywhere.

 

People try to complicate copywriting, as if they’ve got this need to justify their rates. Copywriting isn’t complicated. You grab a reader’s attention and you keep them reading until they feel a strong enough desire to buy. The fact is, the longer your reader reads your thing, the more interested they are in buying.

 

So don’t shy away from letting people know exactly what you’re up to. People are smart. They’ll figure it out whether you tell them or not, but they’ll like you a hell of a lot more if you’re honest and forthright with them.
Maybe that means a bunch of people are going to quit reading as soon as they realize you’re trying to sell something. That’s great! Because it means the people who stick around are at least willing to stick around to read even after you’ve made it clear you’re trying to sell something.

 

Guess what? That means they haven’t ruled out the possibility of buying from you. They may even have taken the critical leap toward imagining what it would be like to purchase your product or service.

 

That’s key. Imagination is key. If you can draw someone’s imagination into what you write, you can tap into their interest on a deeper level. I know that sounds a little woo-woo and airy-fairy, but in all honesty that’s what copywriting is all about. It’s about creating desire, and desire is nothing without imagination.

 

Let me give you an example: why is a woman in lingerie almost always more alluring than a woman not in lingerie? It’s because the lingerie engages the imagination. You imagine peeling it off her smooth skin, and that simple bit of imagination inflames the desire.

 

That’s an example of what I’m talking about. Imagination and desire are inextricably linked, and if you’re going to channel desire into sales, you have to know how to direct the imagination.

 

That’s the artistry of copywriting. That’s the importance of the imagination. And that’s the value of a good copywriter.

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How Can You Be Free When There Are Things You MUST Do?

 

Most of the challenges we face in life are the kind that last a long time. A lot of them last your whole life long.

 

To show you what I mean by that, let me give you an example. You have to watch what you eat. Well and good, but here’s the kicker: you’ll never be done watching what you eat. You had to watch what you ate last year, you have to do it now, and you’ll have to do it next year. By definition and by its very nature, nutrition is the kind of problem that stays with you. Sometimes you’ll have a better handle on it than others, but you’ll always have to eat something.

 

You took a shower today. You’ll have to take a shower tomorrow too.

 

You mowed the lawn today. You’ll have to mow the lawn next week too.

 

You paid your bills today. You’ll have to pay your bills next month too.

 

Most of the challenges we face in our everyday lives have this same perpetual structure: no problem ever gets fully solved, everything degrades by degrees, and you always have to put more effort into the system to keep it from falling apart. In many ways, life is repetitive.

 

Now, you can choose to take this in one of two ways. The first is that you can say, “My God, what’s the point of it all? What could possibly be more dreary and boring than a life that’s made up of nothing but a lot of nested cycles ceaselessly repeating till it ends in the grave?”

 

Let’s be clear: I’m arguing against this view, but I don’t think it’s wrong. Because on its own terms it’s true enough. I think we can all agree that there’s something nightmarish about looking at life as a matter of being caught in a loop. And any person so inclined could find a virtually endless number of quite legitimate reasons to feel trapped somewhere in a cycle not of his or her own choosing.

 

We’re all caught in the cycle of our own language. We’ve all got a particular manner of thinking that we cycle through on a weekly or yearly basis. We’re all caught in the economic cycle of boom and bust. We’re all caught in the cycle of waking and sleeping. Election cycles. Daily cycles. Weekly cycles. Monthly and yearly cycles. Cycles within cycles within cycles, to the point that the whole thing starts to look like a Ptolemaic map of the universe with all its cycles and epicycles. Endlessly running through the cycle, the ouroboros swallows its own tail…

 

Is it any wonder the word “everyday” has taken on such a dreary and depressing connotation?

 

In the end, you can’t argue against this way of seeing the world. The facts are there to support it. Once someone has chosen to experience themselves as the passive victim of a malevolent universe with its cruel machinery, there’s no talking them out of it. They’ll always have plenty of excuses to justify their innocence and prove beyond any doubt that other people were given chances they didn’t have, or that they’re just too profound to do anything but suffer in a life that’s not worth anything.

 

Are they wrong? Well, no. Not objectively at least. But deep inside themselves they’ve decided not to accept reality on its own terms. And that’s an idiotic choice to make, by anybody’s standards.

 

Which takes me to the second way of reacting to the repetitiveness of life: you can choose to embrace it. That’s where freedom lies, really. It’s in choosing to do willingly what you have to do by nature.

 

Does that mean it’ll be any less tedious to get up at the same time every morning and go to bed at the same time every night? No.

 

Does that mean you’ll be bursting with joy when you floss your teeth, one by one, for the eight hundredth day in a row? No.

 

Does that mean you’ll ever get used to the fact that that lousy lawn won’t just sit still and stay mowed? No.

 

But when you decide that you’re going to choose to do these things, the whole character of the thing changes. Sure, you’re going to feel some irritation and resistance at the fact that you’re doing the same damn thing yet again. But it’s no longer the resistance of fighting against some external power that’s imposing its will on you; it’s the resistance of bringing the resentful part of yourself in line with the part of yourself that’s good and self-disciplined.

 

And that’s the value of consistency. When you consistently do something that’s good for you, it’s often the case that the best thing about it isn’t that you’re doing this whatever-it-is that’s good for you. It’s that you’ve formed a consistent habit and managed to turn that into a source of self-discipline.

 

Freedom is a funny thing. I think we’ve all got this spontaneous idea that freedom is the freedom to pick out the brand of chips you want, or something trivial like that. We think of freedom like it’s the opening up of a wide range of possibilities. That’s true as far as it goes, and I think the measure of a free country is that it opens up that range of possibilities. But the responsible use of freedom calls for a voluntary self-limitation. When external laws don’t bind you, you have to be a law to yourself.

 

That’s what consistency means: it’s the voluntary acceptance of the self-limitation that comes with discipline. There’s no strength without discipline, and there’s no discipline without voluntary self-limitation.

 

You can’t always choose to be enthusiastic about the everyday realities of your life. But you can choose to face the everyday realities of your life. Face them willingly and wholeheartedly, full of the awareness that this is your choice and you’ve committed to it without reserve. Over time, with consistency and self-discipline, you’ll mold yourself into the kind of person you can be proud of being.

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Face the Truth and Reach Your Goals

 

Nobody likes to face unpleasant truths. In fact, there’s nothing in this world quite so much like an invisibility cloak as a willingness to try to get people to face facts they don’t want to face.

 

Tell a man his house is burning down, and he won’t listen. Tell the very same man his house has already burned down, and he’ll scream at you and demand to know why you didn’t tell him it was burning when he could have stopped it.

 

Of course that’s taking things a little too far, but the point remains. We’re generally pretty blind to things that threaten to undermine our paradigm. Human beings like to think they’ve got everything pretty much figured out, or at least that they’ve got the main things figured out and they only have to worry about the details.

 

The really unpleasant fact is that we really know almost nothing. As individuals, we mostly know only what we have to know to get through our days in one piece and in order to avoid smashing the illusion that we actually know what we’re doing. Collectively, we’re a little better. As a group, we can use things like peer review and the scientific method to steadily chip away at the massive list of things we don’t know and can’t understand.

 

But one of the most persistent facts about the human race is that we’re not very good at remembering important truths. Most reasonable people will listen to you politely when you say people don’t like to face unpleasant facts, but the idea doesn’t stick. It stays somewhere back in the long-term memory where they never think about it and never even think of using it on an everyday basis.

 

And why is that? Simple. It’s because we don’t like to face unpleasant facts. We’d rather write them down on a list of things we should take care of, someday, maybe, eventually. When you take the time to face the fact that we don’t like facing unpleasant facts, it requires a lot from you.

 

It requires you to take the time to dig into problems.

 

Now, let me tell you a little bit about problem solving. We act like problem solving is a simple thing that everybody knows how to do, but it’s not. The sad truth is that most people don’t know how to solve problems. Sure, they could tell you a nice little story about how they would solve a problem if they ever solved it, but generally we like to palm off our problems on somebody else.

 

The main reason for this is that most people don’t like to face unpleasant facts. Because if problem solving requires one thing, it’s a willingness to face unpleasant facts.

 

Now what is problem solving? Problem solving is using the human mind to do what the human mind is for. The mind is a highly temperamental machine for finding and solving problems. Once you understand that, you understand why most of us don’t like to face unpleasant facts: we avoid problems because we’re stuck in the default mode of trying to solve the problem that there are problems.

 

The first key to problem solving is to remember this: there is no perfect solution, and the problems only stop when you’re dead. Trying to solve the problem that there are problems is a self-defeating process.

 

So the next key to problem solving is to choose the right problem. Another way of saying this is to say that you need to set the right goal. Of course, it’s possible to work towards many goals at the same time. You can have a short-term goal of driving to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee, mid-term goals like raising company revenue by 15 percent this fiscal year, or long-term goals like living on Mars when you retire. You can even have highly abstract goals like “trying to be a good person.”

 

The thing to keep in mind is that the structure of your goals determines the structure of your life. That’s why you can exercise a high degree of freedom in picking your goals, but you don’t want to choose any problems that are intrinsically unsolvable.

 

That’s the unpleasant fact I’m really trying to get across here: some problems really are unsolvable. No matter what you do and no matter how smart you are, you’ll never get rid of the fact that there are problems. There are always going to be problems in life, and there are always going to be challenges. When you set out to get rid of the problem of having problems, you magnify the suffering in your life. Paradoxically, nothing in the world causes quite as much suffering as the utopian drive to get rid of all suffering.

 

After you’ve identified the problem, you come up with a plan for solving it. If it’s a fairly mundane or familiar problem, your first solution will probably work when you implement it. If it’s a more complex problem, it will take longer and be more difficult to solve. The thing we have to remember is that problem solving is a repeated, iterative, and continuous process leading to continual improvement.

 

There’s always an urge to give up and say, “I can’t do it. This problem is too hard.” I won’t say that’s never true, but it’s very rarely true.

 

Why does it happen then? This comes back to what I was saying about how much we hate facing anything unpleasant. Failure hurts. It’s discouraging. It makes us question whether we’re ever going to solve the problem we’re out to solve. But if you try you’re going to fail, at least sometimes, and a lot of us get into the habit of not trying instead of risking the pain of failure.

 

If you’re going to win in life, you have to embrace the fact that it’s going to be painful sometimes. You’re going to fail sometimes. You’re not going to like that, not one little bit.

 

But when you fail, you’re going to get up and try it again. Because you know your goal is worth reaching.

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Procrastination: Turn Around and Face It

 

Procrastination. If there’s one problem in the world that’s harder to get rid of, I don’t know what it is. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of having some huge task hanging over your head, is there? But what do we do?

 

We let ourselves get distracted. We work on something easier, “because it’s really just as important.” We end up reorganizing our desks for the third time this week.

 

Now, I don’t want to make you feel bad here. Everybody procrastinates sometimes. It’s a pretty common failing. But the thing about procrastination is that it sneaks up on you.

 

What do I mean by that? I just mean that you never deliberately set out to procrastinate. It’s always that something distracts you. Maybe it’s a YouTube video that’s just too good to pass up, or maybe it’s that you need to check and see if any of your friends have posted anything life-changing on Facebook in the last five minutes.

 

That’s the real problem with procrastination: it happens when we allow things in the world around us to distract us from what we know we should really be doing. When we procrastinate, there’s always a little piece of us that’s okay with that. Sure, maybe avoiding work right now might come back and bite you in the future, but hey, that’s the future, right? So we smooth it away and allow ourselves to take it easy, “just this once.”

 

Somebody once described drinking alcohol as “borrowing happiness from tomorrow.” That’s pretty much what we’re doing when we procrastinate. In the moment, it’s great. You get to look at cat pictures and sharpen all your pencils so they’re exactly the same length (which is just so satisfying, isn’t it?).

 

But after you’ve wasted an hour, or two hours, or a whole week procrastinating, it’s as if all the unpleasantness you’ve been avoiding suddenly falls on your head. You realize it’s noon and you haven’t even started on everything you were supposed to do today. You realize it’s the last week of the month and you’re not even halfway done with your goals for the month. In short, you’ve procrastinated to the point that you’ve created a crisis for yourself, and you don’t know how to get through it.

 

Of course, now is the time that you might be saying, “Well, I do my best work under pressure, so it’s not really procrastinating. It’s just the way I get my best results.”

 

And maybe you’re right about that. But I think most of us get our best results and feel our best when we take care of what we need to take care of now and enjoy ourselves later.

 

When we procrastinate, we form the habit of avoiding anything painful or unpleasant. That’s understandable, isn’t it? Painful things are painful and unpleasant things are unpleasant. In a perfect world, neither one of them would exist. But this isn’t a perfect world. In fact, it’s a world where painful and unpleasant things generally get worse the longer we leave them to fester.

 

So the cure for procrastination is to break the habit of hiding unpleasant things from ourselves. I know it’s no fun to hear it, but that’s what procrastination really is: it’s a habit of turning away from anything painful and unpleasant.

 

If you’re going to break the procrastination habit, you’ve got to build up your ability to tolerate discomfort and unpleasantness. At the heart of the procrastination habit there lies this senseless demand that the universe should be absolutely good, absolutely fair, and absolutely free of pain. In procrastination, there’s an unspoken demand that living in the world really ought to be constant absolute enjoyment all the time. It’s utopian at its core.

 

But—as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve got a pair of eyes and a working central nervous system—this world is very far from perfect. If our society had the good of its children at heart, it would teach them from day one that life is suffering.

 

Go at life with the attitude that it’s fundamentally suffering and something paradoxical happens: you don’t suffer as much. And I’m not talking in the trivial sense of the old joke that says you should be a pessimist because you won’t be disappointed that way.

 

I’m saying that if you train yourself to believe that life is fundamentally suffering, you won’t be surprised by suffering. You’ll expect it, and you’ll be ready and willing to face it when it comes. But more importantly, you’ll be able to willingly put yourself through unpleasant situations.

 

Procrastination is based on a fundamentally wrong premise: it assumes that suffering is bad and ought to be avoided at all costs. The fact is, suffering is an unfortunate necessity. In the end, it’s a choice between willingly taking your medicine and having it shoved down your throat. The basic truth remains: you’re going to swallow the bitter pill. Remember: the suffering you undergo willingly is always less than the suffering that’s imposed on you.

 

Choose it.

 

I hope this shows you how much is at stake when you choose to procrastinate. The only thing that can end procrastination is the conscious awareness of what’s at stake. It takes constant vigilance and constant effort to overcome procrastination, but it’s worth it in the end.

 

It’s worth it because you grow stronger day by day. It’s worth it because you learn to see yourself and the world around you with more freedom and honesty. It’s worth it because when you take care of your business, you can live with the clear conscience that comes from not having a ton of tasks hanging over you.

 

Breaking the procrastination habit isn’t something that happens all at once, and it isn’t something you’re ever entirely finished with. You always have to watch out for potential sources of slovenliness and procrastination. The unpleasant things you force yourself to face are never going to become pleasant. But with effort and discipline, you’ll be able to face them day by day.

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Monday Motivation: How You Can Break the Slump

 

It happens to the best of us: the dreaded slump. You can’t even say why, but you just feel yourself slipping.

 

You’re not getting as much done as you usually do. You’re not as enthusiastic as you usually are. You find yourself spending way too much time wondering How can I get myself working like I usually do?

 

Of course, everybody knows how you get out of a slump: you snap out of it. You just get yourself going and pretty soon you’re making progress like you’ve always done. That’s easy enough, right?

 

I mean, if you’re not working very well, what could be easier than sitting yourself down and doing better work? That should be simple enough, shouldn’t it? If you’re running into problems, you’d think that going straight at them would be the way to fix it. But it’s a little more complicated than that, and I’ll tell you why.

 

The word slump is a term from baseball. When a player hasn’t gotten a hit for a long time, they say he’s in a batting slump. Why don’t we take a look at the way a hitting slump feels, and that way we can figure out how you can get out of your slump?

 

So how does a slump start? You have a bad game. Maybe you strike out a couple of times. Sure, you feel a little down because you didn’t do so hot today, but it doesn’t really mean anything. You’ll get them tomorrow and more than make up for it.

 

Most of the time that’s the end of the story. But sometimes you have another bad game the next day. You strike out, you ground out, and you make an error that gives the game to the other team.

 

So what now? If it happens once it’s a fluke. But if it happens twice, it’s starting to become a trend. It’s not quite a slump yet, but it’s getting there.

 

By the third day, you’re starting to wonder. This is when we start getting into slump territory. Because it’s times like these that your mind starts playing tricks on you.

 

You start wondering if maybe you’re starting to slip. What if this is all part of a long downward spiral into failure and nothingness?

 

You’re a little on edge when you step up to bat. You’re already wondering if you’re hitting a slump, and you can see it in your teammates’ eyes that they’re wondering too. You’re feeling tense. You’re feeling so tense that when you go up to bat you keep trying to relax. And the more you try to relax, the tenser you get.

 

A slump happens when a little bad performance gets blown out of proportion. Your mind takes one or two failures, and from that data it extrapolates that you are a failure and you’ll always be one. So a slump is really a negative thought-loop where your expectation of failure and your anxiety over your performance ends up causing you to fail.

 

So the fact is: a slump isn’t something that’s objectively out there in the world. You can’t point to it, and you can’t isolate it. It’s created in the pattern of your thoughts. In the end, a slump is only your mind deciding to make too big a deal out of a few bad at-bats.

 

Now what does all this mean? It means that if you’ve involuntarily created this slump with your thoughts, you can also end the slump with your thoughts. And how do you change your thoughts?

 

Well, there are any number of ways to do it. You can try affirmations, for one. I know they’re not for everybody (they’re a little too woo-woo for some), but if you practice them in the right way, they can get results over time. They’re good if you want to avoid slumps, but they’re not the best for getting out of a slump now.

 

What do you do to break a slump that’s going on right now? You change your thoughts. But how do you change your thoughts?

 

I know this might seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to change your thoughts is to change your habits. The best way I’ve found to end a slump is to experiment with my daily routines until I find an arrangement that gets me into the right mental state. It’s like there’s something in my mind that’s out of alignment, so I have to keep experimenting with my routines until something clicks and I’m ready to go.

 

There’s an incredible amount of feedback between what we think and what we do, and between what we do and what we think. So even though it might sound counterintuitive, sometimes the best way to change the one is to experiment with changing the other. We’re continually caught up in a feedback loop between our mind and the world around us, and the trick is to set things up so that feedback loop grows in a positive way instead of a negative way.

 

Success breeds success, just like failure breeds failure. So when you’re in the middle of a slump, it’s easy to slip into this thought-habit of thinking, “Oh no, this is the end!” But If you can keep your mind from slipping into failure-mode, you can reverse the process and start making progress before it does too much damage.

 

The thing you need to take away from all this is that the mind creates its own successes and failures. You have the power to change the course of your thoughts, and you can overcome the mental blocks that hold you back.

 

Because progress is about vision, and vision is about seeing yourself succeeding. If you want to get out of this slump, you have to believe you can get out of it. As soon as you know you can get out of your slump, you’re already out of it.

 

So use your vision, use your action, and use your mind to get out of your slump. Get your mind in the right place, and reality will catch up.

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