Wanna keep your New Year’s Resolutions? Quick trick: DO less, EAT more (trust me; this is legit)

I’m not natively a “New Years resolution person”—but as a freelancer, I live and die by forming and keeping good habits. Over the years of not starving to death or losing our home, I’ve learned a few shortcuts to faking a disciplined life. Principal among these:

Do LESS to Earn MORE, Eat MORE to Weigh LESS——a quick-n-easy “happiness hack” 

This principal principle is super-duper useful for addressing the two most popular New Year’s resolutions:

  1. do/earn more (e.g., start this side hustle, take up that hobby, hit the gym, etc.)
  2. lose weight

#1 Do LESS to do MORE: The “Stop Doing” List

For Resolution Type #1 (which require doing more with the same number of free hours that already feel over-packed), the usual approach is to try to cram in one more thing.

That is obviously destined for failure. You aren’t going to suddenly have more free hours or more energy just because you added one more item to your calendar.

Instead sit down for 10 minutes, uninterrupted, in complete silence.  This is vital, and insanely hard.  For real, lock yourself in the bathroom or sit in your car in the grocery store parking lot or go to the laundry room—whatever it takes to get a solid 10 minutes without distraction.

Take a hard look at what you do on the daily—especially what you do with your phone in your hand—and ask yourself if you really love doing that stuff, or if it is vital to you earning a living.

Now write a quick “Stop Doing” List.  This is a bulleted list of things that just really aren’t worth your time or attention.  Just an example, if I glance at YouTube, I end up loosing an easy 20 minutes watching video compilations of old Vines or “Wins/Fails.”  I don’t even really like those videos; I’m just stressed out, so I glance at YouTube, and YouTube knows what I watch, and there’s a whole endless scrolling list of distractions and . . . and I don’t enjoy it, it’s no good for my family or my business or my bank account.  There’s no point to it. It is time squandered.

So, Funny Fails are on my “Stop Doing” List.  So are:

  • Reading news items about celebrities who cannot call in air strikes
  • Looking at Google News and just reading headline after headline after headline without clicking
  • Facebook in general
  • Looking at my Roth IRA more than quarterly
  • Finishing a book/movie that I’m not eager to finish
  • Looking at email on Saturday (I’m a freelance writer, not a doctor or cancer researcher—no one lives or dies because I made them wait until business hours)
  • Fundraising at my kids’ schools (I know that’s controversial, but I’ve get mental health issues that make those sorts of social things literally insanely stressful for me; I earn enough to happily donate double what the PTO suggests if it means skipping shilling gift wrap or popcorn or whatever)

If your resolution is to work in a 20 minute walk every day, trust me, you can find those 20 minutes easily just by cutting out two or three phone-based distractions alone.

 

#2 Eat MORE to weigh LESS: Apples

When it comes to things we like but are bad for us (cheap pizza, salty snacks, pricey coffees, etc.), the usual advice is to cut back.  We resent this for a variety of deeply ingrained psychological reasons (from loss aversion to just plain perversity).

So don’t cut back; load up on Good Stuff instead.

Need to lose weight?  Don’t say “I have to cut out cookies” or “I have to cut calories.” 

Instead, say “I have to eat a ton of fruit.” 

Any damned fruit you like—sweet n’ juicy berries, melons, bananas, grapes, carrots (veg is fine, too).

But, two important things:

  1.  Not fruit juice! Those juices are as sugary as soda pop.  You need the fiber of the fruit for this to work (plus, whole fresh fruit is cheaper).
  2.  No human EVER got fat gobbling apples, and no pre-diabetic EVER insulin crashed on baby carrots. Every time I mention this strategy, someone warns me about how much sugar is in fruit—which is true—but it doesn’t hit your bloodstream (and pancreas and belly) like refined sugar.  Your body has to work to process it.  If you eat real whole fruit and veg you can gorge yourself and be fine.

Buy your chosen fruit or veg by the sackful.  Take some with you every time you leave the house.  Pack it with every lunch.  Every time you’re hungry, start with whatever your chosen fruit/veg is.  Have it first thing in the morning, have it last thing for desert.

Sick of your chosen fruit/veg?  That’s fine; just means it wasn’t the right one.  Pick a different one.  Keep trying.  There is a fruit or veg out there that you will never, ever get sick of having fresh and whole.  That is your special fruit; cherish it.

I am a middle-aged White(ish) American man with a sedentary job.  I don’t go to the gym (I do walk a lot, because I like walking and I have a dog).  I drink alcohol daily.  I drink a ton of coffee.  I used to smoke.

My body should be a damned wreck.  But I pack away five apples per day, minimum, and am subsequently in good health.  ’cause you know what? If you have three apples before lunch, you don’t feel like stuffing your face. And if you’re full of apples and then a bowl of chili (or whatever), you don’t feel bloated and logy.  You feel like going for a damn walk.

And you lose weight.

This is one of those bone-simple virtuous circles.  Just ride it ’round and ’round and ’round: Do LESS, earn MORE; Eat MORE, weigh LESS.

 

Five Writing Exercises for @ben_brainerd (and Anyone Else Looking for a Prompt) #writing

Hey Ben (and the rest of the world),

Sorry this took so long to put together.  Life happened.  Here goes:

  1. “There is a corpse in the barn!!!”  X finds a corpse in the barn. S/he needs to go tell Y about this, but doesn’t want Z (who is in the same room) to grok the situation.  (Back when I used to teach high school, we’d frame this exercise like so: “You have found a corpse in the barn; alert your sister to this fact.  You may not use the words ‘body,’ ‘dead,’ ‘corpse,’ or ‘barn.’  Go!”)  Who are X, Y, and Z to each other?  Why must X inform Y of this situation?  Why doesn’t X (or Y or both) want Z to know?  What happens if (when?) Z figures it out?
  2. Eschew the Voodoo  We all have voodoo around our creative processes: We only work in Scrivener or with this font in Word or using that pen or writing in a Moleskine or before 8am or whatever.  For your next project eschew your usually voodoo and replace it with a totally foreign “habit.”  Write the story entirely on 3×5 cards, or in the “Stickies” app on your computer, or in emails sent to yourself from your phone, or on a piece of crap 99-cent notebook from the drug store or in Comic Sans or only working before getting out of bed or after brushing your teeth for the night or whatever.  Feel how changing tools changes the feel of writing and the piece itself–but also see how little difference it can make, how your good work is still good scrawled on a Post-It note stuck to your kitchen table, and how lazy hackwork is still just that, even when you’ve used your favorite pen in the prettiest journal anyone ever gave you for Xmas.
  3. Write in Freddish: Write your next story in a style that is a. highly constrained and b. very different from your “default” voice—for example, borrow the voice of an autoclave installation manual, or a EMT handbook, or extremely constrained vocabulary (see, for example, any early-reader children’s book, of Randall Munroe’s Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words Hardcover). My absolute favorite recent fiction application of this technique has to be Greg van Eekhout’s “Will You Be an Astronaut?  That story fucking crushes my heart every time.
  4. Rewrite What Vexes You:  Take some story that recently annoyed you by not living up to your expectations and rewrite it the right way. (I just found myself doing this the other day via text message with my Mom and sister after we all separately saw, and were annoyed by, Solo—a film that I desperately wanted to love, but could not; it has some good gags, but a thin plot that is massively overburdened by something-for-everyone, “fan service,” and box ticking.  Something that’s for everyone is for no one, and box ticking us inherently boring.  Most annoyingly: You can actually make Solo into a really good movie purely through cuts; it’s a good, lean story buried in flab.)
  5. Write to the Formula:  I usually use the 45/45/10 Formula as a tool for revising—I have something roughed out and now it’s time to make it run smooth—but you can use it to build a story from scratch.  Outline it in three sections (I. is the Setup, II. is the Tangle, and III. is the Resolution).  Flesh out each section, noting that I. and II. need to have about equal amounts of material, while section III. has only about a quarter as much stuff.  Draft from there.

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Marketing, Rhetoric, Writing, and Mr. Rogers (a primer, of sorts)

This is a tremendous example of practical rhetoric: understanding an audience deeply and meeting them where they are—without assumptions or bias—so you can guide their thinking in a way that’s a win for everyone. If there was ever an example of “white-hat marketing,” then this is it: Mr. Rogers Had a Simple Set of Rules for Talking to Children” 

  1. “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: It is dangerous to play in the street. 
  2. “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe.
  3. “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in, Ask your parents where it is safe to play.
  4. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.
  5. “Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.” That’d be “will”: Your parents can tell you where it is safe to play.
  6. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.” Not all children know their parents, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play.
  7. “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.
  8. “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.
  9. “Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.

I write and have written all sorts of things (DIY books and essays and textbooks and book reviews and reference articles and newspaper stories and business columns and fiction and blah, blah, blah).  For the last decade most of my money has come from writing marketing copy.  If you’re covering your bills that way, then you quickly learn the First Noble Truth of Marketing:

You need to meet people where they are.

You cannot “create demand,” only meet it.  You cannot “educate customers,” only furnish names for things they already feel in their hearts. Everyone is busy and distractible.  Everyone hates ads and hates marketing. They have absolutely no desire to bother figuring you out; you need to figure them out and talk to them where they are.

And once you grok that First Noble Truth, you instantly understand the Second Noble Truth of Marketing:

All writing—every article, every story, every poem, every email—is marketing; no one has the desire to squander their energy figuring you out. You must meet them where they are.

And once you meet them, you can take them where you two need to go together. 

Continue reading “Marketing, Rhetoric, Writing, and Mr. Rogers (a primer, of sorts)”