Archives For June 2013

ferocious little cat by boogy_man at sxc.hu

Requisite cat image. Bring it on, web traffic!

Do you want to change yourself? If so, you look to examples of other people who have. Some of these people don’t exist, but they are real to you anyway.

That’s right, I’m talking about books, movies, videogames, and stories of all kinds.

Most big stories involve character change. We recognize that change is a part of life – a part of life that should be handled as intentionally as possible.

There are 3 layers to characters. They mirror reality in how well we know the men and women who pass by and interact with us each day. I’ll give examples for each to show how simple, yet deep, this is.

1. One Dimensional – Just the facts.

Do I really need to describe it when I can just show you instead?

I am a writer and I write. The butcher chops meat. The student studies. The jock wrestles varsity in the heavyweight class.

2. Two Dimensional – There is a reason behind the action.

Everybody does what they do for a reason.

I am a cop because my father was a cop. I start businesses to make a profit because I grew up in a poor household, and don’t want my family to suffer like I did. I volunteer at a homeless shelter because I want to help those who have nothing.

3. Three-Dimensional – There is a purpose that justifies my reasoning.

Now you’re getting somewhere. Now we not only see the reason behind the action, but the reason for the reason. At this level, you start to really know/love/hate a person.

I bribe people to pass laws that favor me because I don’t want any competition – I am afraid that if other people could compete on the same level as me, the world would find out that I’m not really that smart/wise/creative/competent/superior-by-birth.

I start businesses to make a profit because I don’t want my family to grow up poor like I did – because being trapped and powerless is scarier than death, and I would not wish it on anyone.

I read the Bible every day, even though it sometimes confuses me, because I realize the Being who cares more for me than anyone else is God; pursuing the only relationship that really matters will bring the most fulfillment.

It’s the key to great heroes and villains.

We don’t have time to give every person on the street three dimensions. Way too much to keep track of. Somewhere in an underground base, a government computer is short-circuiting.

Nor can stories have all three dimensional characters, at least not without it being a very small world (Tom Hanks in Castaway is a good example). We need first, second, and third dimension characters.

In the end, the story is about the third-dimensional character. That’s the guy with the sword who we identify with. That’s the lady with the bow and arrow.

The problem is that we often don’t allocate the time to see our own selves as three dimensional characters. Yet we absolutely must if we want to experience the same level of change that we see as necessary – and crave in our favorite stories.

Change is Good

For a long time, psychology treated these underlying our motivations as tracks that have already been laid by past experiences. They couldn’t be changed. While it’s true that we can’t undo the past, it is a lie to believe that what happened to you in the past will shape and determine the rest of your life.

Many of the great stories either involve a hero accomplishing his goal despite everything set against them, or a character who goes through a change.

The deeper the change, the more powerful your story.

So What About You?

Think back to the last time you made a mistake with your job. If you’re anything like me, you don’t have to think back too far. :)

First dimension: What did you do?

Second dimension: Why did you do it?

Third dimension: Why was your answer in the second dimension so important that you acted out?

Example:

I took 20 minutes with my break instead of 15.

Why? Because the boss makes me work later.

Why do you think he’s making you work later? Because I’m too afraid to say no to her. What if I get fired?!

So, in this example, taking a longer break would allow you to express just enough discontent to not get fired, but enough to vent your frustrations and feel like you’re getting SOME of your time back. Right?

If you had a character in a book that did this, and the author articulated exactly why they did it, you would totally understand and relate. You’d read on to know more about this character even if nothing has happened yet.

By understanding the deeper motivations, and then choosing to script your own deeper motivation, you’ll become more effective.

Eventually, you’ll come to the conclusion that you need to establish some boundaries, but in a helpful and tactful way. And if getting fired is still a concern, then you’ll ask why and learn that IF you get fired – yes – it will suck. But you know what? If you’re tough enough to have a difficult conversation with your boss, you’re also tough enough to find a better job. Chances are, it won’t even get that far anyway.

The Third Dimension is Tough!

You’ll look in the wrong places. You’ll probably have to think. You may even need to talk it over with trusted advisers or friends. In my opinion, that’s what trusted advisers are for.

When you find a better third dimension, you’ll have a better second dimension, and therefore, you’ll take more effective actions.

In the end, your own life will be a story worth telling.

Have you ever seen yourself as a third dimensional character? How do you think it will change the way you interact with the world around you? Let me know in the comments!

On Target by LarryLens at sxc.hu

On Target by LarryLens at sxc.hu

You may have noticed that the people who need to learn something the most are the ones least interested in learning it.

The common phrase you’ll hear if promote your helpful idea to them?

“Yeah, I really Should Do That…”

If you hear this phrase, you’ve missed the mark. Sure, you’ve identified a need, and the people who have that need, but just because you’ve set up an archery target facing East, that doesn’t mean pointing your bow and arrow East will guarantee a hit. You’ve got to aim better.

How do we do that?

Let’s look at spirituality, where I’ll ask you a controversial question:

Who needs God the least?

It’s a trick question, because everyone needs God. If you read my blog, you’ve likely come to a similar conclusion.

In the Bible, it does mention those who THINK they need God the least:

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Revelation 3:17 NIV

Most of the People Who Need Your Product Don’t Care

Those who believe they have it all are less likely to seek answers. If you think you’re healthy, why would you go to the doctor? This is why Jesus mainly took his message to those who were down and out.

This idea may change the way you see marketing and product design forever. It may even change the way you teach others.

Most the people you want to reach won’t give a damn what you have to offer them.

They’ll walk right past it because they are focused on something else.

  • Most people don’t buy batteries until their flashlight runs out of power.
  • Most people don’t buy candy until they are about to check out of the supermarket.
  • And they won’t buy something to drink unless they are thirsty.

Since most people won’t be ready to take advantage of your world changing idea, you need to focus on the small chunk of people who are desperate.

Focus on the Desperate People

Desperate people need answers, and they need them NOW.

So focus on them, and make sure you that you help solve their problem better than any other product out there.

There are many people who recognize that they are pitiful, poor, blink, and naked in some area. They’ll invest in something that will help them.

But Will You Run Out of Desperate People?

As long as the problem exists, people will always need a solution. So, in most cases, no.

There is a cycle that your market will go through.

  • I need it but I don’t care
  • I really should get it, but [insert objection here]
  • CATASTROPHE/Reflection
  • I’ll listen and buy in

Each phase in the cycle has a large group of people. Once you’ve helped the ‘I’ll listen’ folks, the people who are reflecting on a recent catastrophe will realize they need what you have.

By the time every group has moved to ‘I’ll listen’, your cycle will be refreshed with new people.

Don’t spend your energy on those who don’t care.

And unless there’s no other way, don’t prey on people right after a catastrophe, because that demonstrates that you value being right over actually solving their problems.

Focus on those who are ready. You’ll gain traction, and get enough positive feedback to stay in business until you reach the other people. By then, you’ve built word of mouth, you have a brand, and you’ve positioned yourself.

You’re the first person they’ll go to, and you’ll change the world, just like you wanted to.

2-bed, 1.5 bath, lovely view if you can do a handstand.

Fear can come from out of nowhere.

Last month I got a letter from my landlord – one of these big impersonal companies that has many apartment complexes. For all I know, the person who owns it all might not even be from Texas, or the U.S.

In the letter, it said that I can choose my rent price.

The problem? All their options were at least $50 per month more than what I was currently paying.

Fear struck.

Fear? Why now? I’ve moved eight times since 2008. Multiple states, and at least 3 countries. Why would I be scared of a simple move now?

In the middle of my freaking out, I took this opportunity to apply what was written in this previous post.

Get more information to understand the problem –

– and get moving.

Austin is a bubble of craziness in America. It’s one of the few real estate markets in the U.S. that continues to ignore the Wall Street Journal and MSNBC – the housing market keeps going up, up, up. Even after the recession, Austin’s population grows faster than contractors can build. How was I going to keep prices low, and have a story completely different than the one being told for me?

With my delivery job, I had visited nearly every apartment complex in a 5 mile radius – many times. Combine that with my past experience being a Realtor, and my business education, and I was someone who could actually do something. Maybe it wouldn’t be much, but it might be enough.

I visited several apartment complexes and got quotes. Most of them were higher than what I was paying. Then I found two – both were closer to town.

One was over 100 sq feet less than what I currently had.

The other?  superior in every way. I got on the waiting list for this one and then attempted to renegotiate with my landlord.

The landlord had an assistant who had zero business experience. You could see it in the way he carried himself. He was four to five rungs down in this big, plastic ladder.

I remembered the whole time to keep my cool, be polite, avoid ultimatums. I even offered to pay multiple months of rent in advance as leverage.

He pulled market pricing excuses (which were hard to cross reference, where did he get this info?) then looked at this big 3-ring binder filled with Excel spreadsheets. Then he countered to raise my rent a hundred dollars higher than the increased price their letter started with.

Bad negotiating.

You could say I ‘lost’. Sometimes a system is structured so you end up ‘negotiating’ with someone who doesn’t have the ‘authority’ to do anything. So many people are ‘just doing their job’ in a compartmentalized existence for faceless brand symbols pursuing false idols, leaving real human beings exposed to the damage left behind…but I digress.

By getting on a waiting list earlier, and not waiting until the last minute – I had options baby!

I signed a lease yesterday with one that will actually cost around 40 dollars LESS per month than what I’m already paying. It’s closer to town, is in a gated community, and has larger square footage. Combine that with the 50$ price increase I would have paid, I saved around 800$, including moving expenses.

Lucky? Maybe. But if I hadn’t reached out for more information, and if I hadn’t continued to take small steps forward, no amount of luck in the world would have made a difference.

So I lost the negotiation, but beat the victim mentality and got what I wanted. A way to keep costs down and continue to build momentum in a place I enjoy living.

Have you had any victories against the victim mentality? I’d love to know. I’d even feature you in a blog post if your story is (A: true) and (B: awesome). Until then, leave a synopsis of what happened in the comments…

In this fiction interview, a woman tells her story of how she risked her career and her future to rescue her ex-boyfriend from a mental hospital.

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Rant on emotions – they may mess with your plans…yet they may be the only reason why you have plans at all.

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It’s easy to ignore something that doesn’t apply to you. Knowing this, how do you make sure your own writing appeals to enough people without it getting ignored. By learning who you’re really writing for.

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Pen Mightier than Sword by penywise at sxc.hu

Pen Mightier than Sword by penywise at sxc.hu

What do we love so much about our favorite nonfiction authors?

If you’re anything like me, you read nonfiction to simplify a complicated part of your life, or enjoy a window into someone else’s experiences.

If a writer can do this really well, they have a wonderful career. Each new book builds upon the audience of happy readers who bought in last time, and the writer becomes more influential.

Yet how far does this escalate? Hero worship can tarnish our own self image if we assume that the people who write successful books are so immeasurably better than us:

  • That a productivity author has his act together
  • That a business author never fails to make a profit
  • That a diet author never enjoys an ice cream every now and then

We buy books because these people have the answers, right? They do, and we don’t , so we buy the books hoping to get the answers, and then we’ll have the answers for ourselves. Authors present themselves this way for a reason, and they must.

Here’s an idea you may not have considered.

Are You Smarter Than An Apostle? 

Paul of Tarsus was an influential figure in the Bible. Out of the 27 books in the New Testament, 13 of those books ascribe Paul as the writer.

Who would know more about the Bible, and Christianity, than someone who wrote nearly half of the New Testament?

Yet how did he describe himself?

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. – I Timothy 1:15 NIV

What? Paul, you’re supposed to have the answers!

How about something more recent?

Leo Babauta is a NYT Bestselling author. He has done a lot of impressive things, yet at one time he had not done any of them. At one point he had no books, was a smoker, and was 65lbs heavier.

Business?

Tim Ferriss wrote the Four Hour Workweek, a guide to automation and reducing your work hours so you can have a balanced life. How did he start out? By working 14 hours a day.

Money Management?

Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad, Poor Dad saw how his biological father made poor decisions with money. Robert knew from observation that he needed to make bold, different decisions if he was arrive where he wanted to be.

I wrote books that centered on trust and relationships. Did this happen because I was the bees’ knees at either subject? Far from it. I struggled with these parts of my life so much that I teamed up with a life coach to co-author these books, all to improve my understanding of trust and relationships.

It’s Not Having the Answers that Starts the Journey

Is it possible that many nonfiction authors write books because they didn’t have any good answers when they started their journey?

This means we shouldn’t idolize anyone, least of all nonfiction writers. If an aspect of life was kicking your butt enough, you’d go on a search to correct it. From there, maybe you would write a book too.

Thanks for the Struggle

When any of the authors I cited above release a book, I’ll probably buy it.

Saint_Paul by bartolomeo montagna

Except for Paul of Tarsus – because it’s all Greek to me.

Their struggle may not make it on to the page, but the journey they went through to make their book happen gives me a new appreciation for all nonfiction writing.

I will continue to read nonfiction to gain awareness of where I can improve, and borrow from the years of experience that has been put on paper to help all of us move forward in our own journeys.

Please don’t worship anyone as some great ‘higher than thou’. Nonfiction authors aren’t heroes, but their journey makes them heroic. Just as your journey makes YOU heroic.

Do you have any favorite nonfiction authors? Let me know in the comments…