Tag Archives: critical thinking

The Rest Of Your Freakin’ Life (Redux)

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Wednesday, 6:50pm
Reno, NV
Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” (Steve McQueen as Papillon, floating away to freedom…)

Howdy…

I’m re-publishing — for what has become a very popular tradition on this blog — one of the more influential posts I’ve ever written.

It’s a good one, worth rereading even if you read it before.

What you’re about to encounter is a slightly tweaked way of looking at the best way to start your new year…

… but this tweak makes all the difference in the world. I’ve heard from many folks that this particular technique finally helped them get a perspective on where they’re at, where they’re going…

… and why they care about getting there.

So, even if you’ve read this post before… it’s worth another look. Especially now, as you gaze down the yawning gullet of 2013, trying to wrap your brain around a plan to make the year your bitch.

This is a critical step for entering any new period of your life. To keep your life moving ahead, you need to set some goals, dude. And most goal-setting tactics, I’ve found, are useless. Worst among them is the traditional New Year’s resolutions (which seldom last through January).

This tactic I’m sharing with you (again) is something I’ve used, very successfully, for decades…

… to reach goals, to clarify the direction of my life, and to change habits. I first shared it in the old Rant newsletter a few years back, and I’ve hauled it out here in the blog on a regular basis.  It’s timeless, classic stuff that will never let you down.

So let’s dive in. Here’s the relevant part of the post (slightly edited):

“Goal Setting 101 And
The January 15th Letter”

Yeah, yeah, I know a chat about goals can quickly turn into a boring, pedantic lecture. But then, so can a chat about space flight.

And, in reality, both space flight and your goals are VERY exciting things.

Or should be.

It’s all in the telling.

What I’m not going to discuss are “resolutions”. Those are bogus pseudo-goals that have the staying power of pudding in a microwave.

No. It’s merely a coincidence that I’m suggesting a review of your goals in January, just after the New Year’s supposed fresh start.

I mean… there’s not much else to do, so why not sit down and plan out the rest of your life.

This is, of course, a very damp, cold, and bleak time of year. The depths of winter and discontent.

A good percentage of the population suffers fleeting depression because of lack of sunlight… thanks to the geniuses behind Daylight Savings Time, who arrange for dusk to arrive around 2:30 in the afternoon in these parts.

We also just got slammed with back-to-back-to-back “Storms of the Century”, each one dumping a record load of snow on us. I sent photos to friends, and many emailed back wondering when I’d gone to Antarctica to live.

We had a little cabin fever brewing. Didn’t help when the local PBS channel ran a special on the Donner Party, either. Three feet of snow drifting down, the lights flickering, enough ice on the road to make the SUV sidle like a Red Wing goon slamming someone into the boards.

The safest place was home… but man, the walls start to close in after a few days.

I’m telling you, I had excuses up the yin-yang for allowing my senses to get a little dulled. The natural response is to turn your mind off, and hibernate until March. And I succumbed. Started moping around, watching CSI: Miami reruns instead of reading a book, surfing the Net for stuff I didn’t care about… you know the drill.

I’m sure you’ve done your own version of it now and again.

And I’m also sure you already know that no amount of “buck up” happy talk will mitigate the gloom.

In fact, there are a few enlightened health pro’s who say we should let our bodies wind down every year or so. Get a full system-flush type of cold, crawl under the covers for a few days and let the demons and other bad stuff bubble to the surface. So you can purge the crud. Evacuate the used-up bacteria and tube-clogs out of your pipes, physically. And shoo the whispering monsters out of your head.

We’re not perfect creatures. We need to sleep, we need to recharge our batteries, and we need to stop and get our bearings. At least once a year. So don’t beat yourself up for the occasional down period. We all have them, and the healthiest folks just roll with it. It’s not good to repress this stuff.

It only becomes a problem when you sink into clinical depression. That’s the cold, empty state where nothing looks good, and hope is an absurd memory.

I’ve been there. Several times. The year I turned 30 (for example) I lost my job, my girlfriend and my place to live all within a 45-day stretch.

That shit can wear you down.

Now, I have two things to say about this:

Thing Numero Uno: If you think you’re losing a grip on your mental state, seek professional help. Don’t head straight for pharmaceutical land, though — give “talk therapy” a try with a real, qualified psychotherapist.

Choose this therapist carefully. You’re going to dump every secret you have on him. You may need to plow through a couple to find one that clicks with you (just as you might have to try out several dentists or plumbers to get a good match). (And yes, you should regard this therapist just as you would your dentist — they’re not gonna become your new best friend, but they will bring a professional expertise to the table during the time you need them. And you only need to see them until you get your head straight… which might be a short time or long time. Again — just like you may need serious dental work, or just a cleaning once a year. Figure it out.)

Keep in mind the fact that everyone goes through bumpy emotional states. And that the percentage of people who actually do lose it every year is rather small.

That’s why talking about your problems with someone who has perspective can be so beneficial — the first thing you learn is that you aren’t alone. And what you’re going through is not abnormal.

Most of the time, you’re probably going to be fine. Even when your problems seem overwhelming. There are tools available to help your brain cope. You don’t often come across these tools on your own.

This kind of talk-therapy is one of the few times the “science” of psychology earns its keep — because finding out how others successfully dealt with the same nonsense you’re suffering through can change everything. Seriously — often, just discovering that you’re not alone in what you’re going through, that others have successfully navigated similar troubles, and that the folks who study human behavior and thinking patterns now have really simple (and super-effective) ways to obliterate feeling overwhelmed can solve much of what’s currently holding you back.

A good book to read (while you’re waiting for the spring thaw) is “Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman. I’ve recommended it before, and it deserves another nod. (The blurb on the back cover, from the New York Times Book Review, starts with “Vaulted me out of my funk…”)

I haven’t read the book in a few years, but I remember the main lesson well. A study, explained up front, stands out: Someone tested the “happiness” quotient of a vast sample of people, including Holocaust survivors.

And it turns out that, at some point in your life, Abraham Lincoln was right — you are as happy as you decide to be.

This is startling news to anyone lost in despair. Because it seems like you’ve been forced to feel that way. With no choice.

But it’s not the case. The happiness study revealed that you can not tell from a person’s current attitude what sort of trauma they had gone through earlier in life. People who had suffered horribly could be happy as larks, while silver-spoon never-stubbed-a-toe folks were miserable.

The difference? Attitude. Optimistic people work through setbacks and trauma… while pessimists settle into a funk that can’t be budged.

And it’s a CHOICE. At some point in your life, you choose to either live in gloom or sunlight.

This realization rocks many folk’s boat. Especially the pessimists. They dominate society, politics, business, everything. And they are very protective of their gloom and doom outlook. Invested, heavily, in proving themselves right about the inherent nastiness of life.

Maybe you’re one of ‘em.

If you are, you’re killing yourself, dude.

The guys in lab coats who study this stuff say that heart disease rates are HALF for optimists over pessimists. So, even if you doubt the ability to measure “happiness” — and it is a rather rocky science — you still can’t deny the stats on dropping dead from a gloomy ticker.

Now, I am most assuredly NOT a clear-eyed optimist. I get creepy feelings around people who are too happy all the time.

But I do prefer having a good time, and appreciating the finer things in life (like a deep breath of cold alpine air, or the salty whip of an ocean wave around my ankles, or a secret smile from the wonderful woman I live with).

I’m just good at balancing out the bad with the good.

Being in direct response helps. Lord knows, there’s a LOT of bad with every piece of good news in this wacky biz.

Gary Halbert and I had a term we used for years: We’re “pessimistic optimists”. (Or maybe we’re optimistic pessimists. I forget.)

How does that work? Easy.

We expected horrible atrocities at every turn… and rejoiced when we defied Fate and unreasonable success rained down on our undeserving heads. We grooved on the good stuff in life… and just nodded sagely at the bad stuff and moved past it as quickly as possible. Maybe cop a lesson or two as we scurried by.

If you focus on the bad things that can go wrong, you’ll never crawl out of bed in the morning.

When you finally realize that — not counting health problems — pretty much everything bad that business, or relationships, or politics can throw at you will not kill you… then you can begin to relax.

And eagerly court the Unknown by starting another project.

Have you ever had your heart broken? Hurts like hell, doesn’t it. Feels like your life is over.

Well, from my perspective, sitting here at “way past 50” and pretty darned happy, all those romances-gone-wrong that broke my heart long ago look just plain silly now. And my resulting deep depressions — where I was sure my life was over — are just tiresome lessons I had to get through.

Not a one of those ladies was worth a burp of angst. They were fine people, I’ll agree to that. A few were exceptional (and very skilled at certain man-pleasing arts).

But worth a Shakespearean suicide?

No way.

It’s taken me a while, but I’m now a certified realist. My youthful idealism has drained away, and my brushes with hate-everything dogma never took.

And guess what? Contrary to what an embarrassingly huge number of self-righteous folks would have you believe… being a realist has not dented my passion for life one little bit. In fact, it has opened up a whole new world of unexplainable spirituality (which cannot be contained within any formal religion).

I’m not against religion. Let’s have no “save my soul” emails here. One of my favorite friends to argue with has a doctorate in theology. And I have many other friends committed to various belief systems ranging from fundamentalist to Buddhist to humanist. We get along because, on a deep level, we understand that true spirituality transcends whatever way you choose to express it or appreciate it.

I loathe black-and-white views of the world. It’s a shame that our great country has descended to this “you’re nuts if you don’t agree with me” mentality… but it’s part of the pendulum that’s been swinging back and forth ever since we left the jungle.

The far edges of our institutions — political, religious, cultural, all of it — are in spiritual and emotional “lock down”. They’re sure they’re right, they’re positive you’re wrong, and neither facts nor logic will sway their position.

Mushy liberals seem astonished that anyone would ever not love us, or want to destroy our culture. Repressed conservatives seem intent on crushing everyone who pisses them off (and that’s a lot of people).

It’s “whatever” versus “blind obedience”. And neither works so hot in the real world. I have no use for dogma, or idealism, or punishingly-harsh rules that have been cooked up by hypocrites.

Hey — I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live their life. I’ve screwed up plenty, and if I have any wisdom at all, it’s only because I’ve survived some truly hairy situations.

But I don’t believe anyone else is in a position to tell you how to live, either. That’s gotta be your decision.

And it’s a damn hard one to make.

Fortunately, while I can’t tell you how to live, I can move some smooth (and proven) advice in your direction. Take it or leave it… but give it a listen anyway, cuz my track record on successful advice-giving is fairly impressive.

And I’m telling you that having a hateful, brooding attitude will stunt your growth. It will make you a smaller person, a less-wise person, an older and feebler person. And you won’t grow. Not spiritually, not physically, not emotionally. Not in your business life, either.

Most people don’t want to grow, anyway. Growth only comes from movement and change… and the vast majority of the folks walking the earth with us today are terrified of change.

You can’t blame them, really. Change is a form of death. Whatever was before, dies. And whatever comes next must be nurtured with devotion and sacrifice.

That’s hard. That’s a hard way to live, always dying and being reborn.

And because it’s hard, it’s avoided.

Well, screw that.

I suspect, if you’re reading this, you are not afraid of change. But you may not yet understand the power that REALLY giving yourself to change offers.

And that brings us to…

Thing Numero Dos: Goals are all about change.

That’s a subtle point many people gloss over. Rookie goal-setters often get stuck on stuff like quitting smoking, or vague concepts like “become a better person”.

Or “get rich”.

That seldom works. Goals need to be specific… and they need to involve profound change in order to take hold.

Halbert often talked about “image suicide” — the necessity of killing and burying the “self” you are so heavily invested in, before you can move to a new level of success.

I see this all the time in my consultations. Biz owners refuse to do even slightly risky marketing, for fear of damaging their “reputations.”

And my question to them is: What reputation?

Unless you’re the top dog in your niche, no one gives a rat’s ass about what you think or do. No one is looking at your marketing for inspiration or condemnation, because you aren’t the guy to look at.

No. What these scaredy-cats are talking about when they say “reputation” is what their family and friends think of them. And that’s a sure sign of a losing attitude. That ain’t Operation MoneySuck.

My colleague Ron LeGrand, the real estate guru, is one of the best natural salesmen I’ve ever met. The guy understands the fundamental motivating psychology of a prospect at a master’s level.  And he knows that one of the major obstacles he faces in every sale… is what the prospect’s spouse (usually the wife) will say.

She can nix the sale with a sneer. Or she can nix it in the prospect’s head, as he imagines that sneer.

Ron counters both sides of the objection expertly. He encourages the prospect to get his spouse involved in the decision, so she becomes invested in it. Or, he suggests waiting until the first big check comes in… and letting the money explain to her about what you’re up to.

This is the reality of most people’s lives. As much as they want what you offer… they are terrified of making a mistake. Cuz they’ll pay dearly for it at home.

It’s a huge deal-killer.

That’s why you include lots of “reason why” copy in your pitch — to give your buyer ammunition for explaining his decision to the doubters in his life. However, as Ron knows, the best (and simplest) “reason why” is results.

Money, as they say, talks.

The top marketers seldom give a moment’s thought to what a risky tactic might do to their “reputation”. They don’t really care what people think about them. You can’t bank criticism.

I know many marketers who are involved in projects they are passionate about… but which bore their spouses to tears. Some (like Howard Stern’s former wife) are even deeply embarrassed. But they don’t complain too much. Because the money’s so good.

Aw, heck. I could go on and on about this. The story of Rodale’s shock and dismay at the brutally-honest ad I wrote for their timid “sex book” is a great example. They refused to mail it, because of their “reputation”. Yet, after it accidentally did mail, and became a wildly-successful control for 5 years, they suddenly decided their reputation could handle it after all.

The people who get the most done in life are all extreme risk-takers. They embrace change, because growth is impossible without it.

But you don’t go out and start changing things willy-nilly.

You need goals.

And you need a plan.

Now, there are lots of books out there that tell you how to set goals. I recently found, in a moldy banker’s box, the ad for Joe Karbo’s book “The Lazy Man’s Way To Riches” that I’d responded to back in 1982. The exact ad! With the order form torn out… it was the first direct mail pitch I’d ever encountered, and it changed my life forever. Joe’s book was essentially a treatise on setting goals. And it’s good.

It was a wake-up call for me. I’m having that crinkly old ad framed. Can’t imagine why I kept it, but I did. Pack-rat riches.

If you can’t find that particular book, there are dozens of newer goal-setting guides on the shelves. But they’re all based on the same formula:

1. Decide what you want.

2. Write it down, and be specific.

3. Read the list often, imaging as you read that you have already achieved each goal.

What this does is alter the underpinnings of your unconscious. When one of your goals is to earn a million bucks this year, and that goal burns bright in the back of your mind, each decision you make will be influenced.

So, for example, you won’t accept a permanent job somewhere that pays $50,000 a year. Cuz that isn’t going to help you attain your goal.

The problem is this:  To earn a mil in a year, you need to average around $50,000 every two weeks. This is why it can take a while to get your goal-setting chops honed. As I’ve said many times, most folks don’t know what they want.

And they aren’t prepared for the changes necessary to get what they want, once they do decide on a goal.

What kind of guy earns $50,000 every two weeks, like clockwork? It takes a certain level of business savvy to create that kind of steady wealth. It doesn’t fall into your lap.

What kind of guy makes a windfall of a million bucks in one chunk? That’s another kind of savvy altogether.

In that same moldy banker’s box, I also found a bunch of my early goal lists. And I’m shocked at how modest my aims were. At the time — I was in the first months of going out on my own, a totally pathetic and clueless rookie — I couldn’t even imagine earning fifty K a year. My first goal was $24,000 as a freelancer. And to score a better rental to live in. Find a date for New Year’s. Maybe buy a new used car.

Listen carefully: I met those goals. As modest as they were, it would have been hard not to. I needed them to be modest, because I was just getting my goal-setting chops together. And I wasn’t sure if I was wasting my time even bothering to set goals.

Let me assure you, it was NOT a waste of time.

The lists I found covered several later years, too. And what’s fascinating is that many of the more specific goals I set down were crossed out — I wanted those goals, but didn’t feel confident about obtaining them.

So I crossed them out, and forgot about them.

A couple of decades later, I realize that I’ve attained every single one of those “forgotten” goals. The big damn house, the love of my life, the professional success, even the hobbies and the guitars and the sports car.

I’m stunned. This is powerful voodoo here.

The universe works in mysterious ways, and you don’t have to belong to a religion to realize this. The whole concept of “ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened” was well-known by successful people long before Luke and Matthew wrote it down.

The keys are action. Movement.

Ask, seek, knock.

These simple actions will change your life forever.

Back to making a million in a year: Some guys know what they need to do to make this goal real. They’ve done it before, or they’ve come close.

Setting the goal is serious business for them… because they are well aware of the tasks they’ve assigned themselves. Take on partners, put on seminars, create ad campaigns, build new products. Get moving on that familiar path.

I’ve known many people who started the year with such a goal… who quickly modified it downward as the reality of the task became a burden. Turns out they didn’t really want the whole million after all. Half of that would suffice just fine. To hell with the work required for the full bag of swag.

Other guys don’t know what they need to do to earn a mil. So their goal really is: Find out what I need to do to earn a million bucks.

Their initial tasks are to ask, seek, and knock like crazy. And change the way they move and act in the world. Because they must transform themselves into the kind of guy who earns a million bucks in one year.

Right now, they aren’t that guy.

So, for example, reading “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” suddenly becomes an “A” task, while remodeling the kitchen gets moved to the back of the burner. Sharpening your ability to craft a killer sales pitch becomes more important than test-driving the new Porsche.

More important, even, than dating Little Miss Perfect. And test-driving her new accessories.

Tough choice?

Nope. When you get hip to the glory of focused change, you never lament leaving the “old” you behind.

It will be hard, sometimes, no doubt about it. Especially when you discover your old gang no longer understands you, or mocks your ambition. They liked the old, non-threatening you. They want him to come back.

But you’ve changed. And hot new adventures are going to take up a lot more of your time now.

My trick to setting goals is very simple:

Every January 15th, I sit down and write myself a letter, dated exactly one year ahead.

And I describe, in that letter, what my life is like a year hence. (So, in 2012, for example, I dated the letter to myself as January 15, 2013.)

It’s a subtle difference to the way other people set goals. Took me a long time to figure it out, too.

For many years, I wrote out goals like “I live in a house on the ocean”, and “I earn $24,000 a year”. And that worked. But it was like pushing my goals.

Writing this letter to myself is more like pulling my goals. For me, this works even better. Every decision I make throughout the year is unconsciously influenced, as I am pulled toward becoming the person I’ve described.

But here’s where I do it very differently: My goals are deliberately in the “whew” to “no friggin’ way” range. Mega-ambitious, to downright greedy.

There’s a sweet spot in there — doable, if I commit myself, but not so outrageous that I lose interest because the required change is too radical.

I’m pretty happy with myself these days. Took me a long, hard slog to get here, and I earned every step. And I want to continue changing, because I enjoy change. But I don’t need to reinvent myself entirely anymore.

So here’s what makes this ambitious goal-setting so effective: I don’t expect to REACH most of them.

In fact, I’m happy to get half of what I wanted.

There’s a ton of psychology at work there. The person I describe a year away often resembles James Bond more than the real me. Suave, debonair, flush, famous, well-traveled… and in peak health. I hit all the big ones.

However, long ago I realized that trying to be perfect was a sure way to sabotage any goal I set. Perfectionists rarely attain anything, because they get hung up on the first detail that doesn’t go right.

Being a good goal-setter is more like successful boxing — you learn to roll with the punches, cuz you’re gonna get hit.

You just stay focused on the Big Goal. And you get there however you can.

I’m looking at last year’s letter. I was a greedy bastard when I wrote it, and I didn’t come close to earning the income figure I set down.

Yet, I still had my best year ever.

And — here’s the kicker — I would NOT have had such a great year, if I wasn’t being pulled ahead by that letter. There were numerous small and grand decisions I made that would have gone another way without the influence of what I had set down.

I didn’t travel to the places I had listed. But I did travel to other, equally-fun places. I didn’t finish that third novel. But I did position it in my head, and found the voice I want for narration. That’s a biggie. That was a sticking point that would have kept the novel from ever getting finished.

Now, it’s on power-glide.

There’s another “hidden” benefit to doing this year-ahead letter: It forces you to look into the future.

A lot of people make their living peering ahead and telling everyone else what to expect. Most do a piss-poor job of it — weathermen are notorious for getting it wrong, as are stock market analysts, wannabe trend-setters, and political prognosticators.

Yet, they stay in business. Why? Because the rest of the population is terrified of looking into the future. That would require some sincere honesty about their current actions… since what the future holds is often the consequence of what you’re doing right now.

If you’re chain-smoking, chasing street hookers, and living on doughnuts, your future isn’t pretty. For example.

Or if you’ve maxed out all your credit cards, and haven’t done your due diligence to start bringing in moolah, your future isn’t nice, either.

No one can “see” into the future for real. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. In fact, it’s easy, when you have a little experience in life.

Things you do today will have consequences tomorrow. If you put up a website today for a product, and you do everything you can to bring traffic to it and capture orders… your consequence can be pretty and nice.

Sure, you may get hit by a bus while fetching the morning paper… but letting that possibility scare you off of trying for something better is for pessimists (who are scheduled for early checkout).

You have enormous control over your future.

And once you realize that, you can set out to start shaping it.

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. If you’re one of those people who’ve been skimming blogs like this… never reading anything carefully and slowly, and digesting what’s on the page… then I have one more suggestion for you: Stop doing that.

Most of the uber-successful folks I know (and I know a lot) have both skimming skills AND “deep reading” skills. And they know when to use them. You skim to get overviews, which may turn out to be flawed (because you missed something crucial in your skimming). You deep-read when you want to absorb something important, and you need to make the impression of what you read stick in your brain.

Right now, there are readers here who should be seriously considering the courses and opportunities I offer in the right-hand column of this blog. This is the stuff that has launched freelance careers, transformed biz owners into ad-writing monsters, and armed both rookie and veteran entrepreneurs with the fundamentally awesome skills of success. Quickly, and with the surety of proven-in-the-real-world tactics and advice.

So stop screwing around. If you need further help in getting your career going, or in crafting the kind of marketing that will boost profits through the roof… then consider the offerings on this page an essential task in your new list of goals. This is the real deal. No fluff, no nonsense — just honest, solid, proven stuff from a respected veteran of biz success.

Meanwhile, get busy with your January 15th letter.

P.P.S. One of your main goals, if you’re a serious entrepreneur and you haven’t mastered slamming out world-class copy yet for your bad self… is to GET bad-ass at it as soon as humanly possible. I don’t care how you do it — find a mentor, start experimenting with one of the many courses or coaching programs out there…

… or, as I recommend, just dive into The Simple Writing System, and be done with your learning curve in just a very short time.

Give yourself at least the OPTION of deciding yes-or-no, with some background, by going to this site and seeing what’s up. At the very least, read some of the testimonials, to get a taste of how powerful the transformation in your life and career can be when you finally get hip to writing salesmanship-infused copy like this.

Go here, right now, and see if this isn’t exactly what you need to move up a few steps, fast…

Why Is This So Freaking Hard To Do?

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Friday, 2:33pm
Reno, NV
Get away from me, kid, ya bother me…” (Tom Waits, “Step Right Up”)

Howdy.

So, let’s take on the entire advertising model of western civilization, what d’ya say?

Here’s a good place to start: It’s the end of baseball season, playoff fever in the air. I’ve been watching the SF Giants stumble-bum their way through a summer swoon (barely making the last NL wild-card spot)…

… and generally enjoying the age-old process of heartbreak and joy. I followed sports religiously as a kid, but paid less and less attention to it as the real-life adventures of adulthood took up all my time… and now, having a wee bit more time to indulge, I’ve returned to the fold.

But I record the games, and watch them after-the-fact.

Because of the mind-numbing commercial breaks.

I’m not alone, of course. Across the country, grown men and women run screaming from rooms when someone inadvertently turns on the evening news, for fear of hearing the score in a game they’re recording for later.

And being forced to endure the entire broadcast — including the endless, mind-melting commercial breaks — in, say, a bar or a friend’s house is pure torture.

The SAME commercials will play over and over, sometimes twice in the same break. Some of the national ones are mildly clever (at best), but hardly classic films that deserve repeated views. And the local stuff is just awful. (The locals can be excused, of course — tiny budgets, no insight to how persuasion actually works, and they’re at the mercy of clueless ad agencies or a brother-in-law with a camcorder. There’s even some charm in the awkwardness of homemade spots… sometimes, anyway. Mostly not, but you might get the flavor of the area at times.)

But the national spots have no real excuse. Yes, there is value in repetitive views — the average buyer sees a late-night cable infomercial something like 7 times, in pieces lasting a few minutes, before pulling out a credit card. There’s a process to the art of long-form, chew-up-the-wee-hours commercials.

However, the model of jamming a single pre-recorded commercial into every break in a sporting contest just begs to be ignored. Any thinking creature knows to check out mentally during the break, and go do something else. If you’re welded to the couch (say, in the midst of watching a blowout, weighed down by one too many beers), you still do not “watch” any commercial for the 20th time…Continue Reading

The Entrepreneur’s Checklist

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Friday, 2:15pm
Reno, NV
“I read the news today, oh boy…” (Lennon, “A Day In The Life”)

Howdy…

One of my favorite quotes from Gary Halbert: “There is nothing that cannot be accomplished by a man who refuses to face reality.”

You laugh, but he was dead serious. One of the reasons we became fast friends was our mutual outlook on life – whenever reality was inconvenient to our goals, we just ignored the facts, lowered our head, and bulled forward.

That photo, above, is me in high school (from the yearbook). I loved basketball, and was good enough to become the captain of the “B” squad my junior year…

… however, as should be evident in this photo, I ran into a brick wall trying out for the varsity a year later.

The guy guarding me as I took that jumper is taller than me by a foot. I was the smallest guy on the squad…

… and really, at some point a caring coach probably should have taken me aside and said “John, I know you love the game… but look at your family. No one is taller than 5’10”, and basketball is a sport for tall folks. You’re not going to magically grow into the size they want on the varsity team…”

I wouldn’t have listened, anyway. I’m like a Jack Russell terrier – a big dog trapped in a small dog’s body. Eventually, in sports, my poor eyesight and lack of height stopped me…

… but I had fun for a couple of years in the meantime.

Later on, as I was gathering my courage to try copywriting, an actual professional copywriter earnestly informed me that I should not even try.

“It’s too hard,” she said. “You’ll never be a pro writer.”

That was, of course, the BEST thing she could have ever told me. I doubt I could have survived the first years without that internal motivation of needing to prove her wrong.

I call it “negative motivation”… and it’s actually one of the most powerful forces available for getting stuff done. I never saw her again, and don’t even remember her name…

… so it wasn’t a need to flaunt my success in her face. It was all internal for me – I used her as the “face” of the obstacles in front of me, and I even laughed when I later realized I was in a position to tell her “Fuck you, I made it anyway.”

Yes, my internal ego is an immature twerp sometimes. Chip on the shoulder, snarling underdog attitude, and an almost stupidly-aggressive and irrational refusal to face reality.

I am so grateful for it, too.

(By the way… I nailed that shot in the photo, above… and ended up with 20 points while also hitting the winning basket. Easily my finest moment in a futile, doomed effort to be a “real” basketball player. A has-been at 16.)

You do not need to be a belligerent rebel to be a good entrepreneur…

… but it can help sometimes.

Certainly, given the choice of sitting down to dinner with the business types in suits, who are uber-polite and careful in their conversations…

… or the rowdy crowd of rule-breaking ne’er-do-well whack job entrepreneurs who may easily get kicked OUT of the restaurant….

… well, you know which one I’d pick.

I was Halbert’s sidekick for a very long time, and one of the most enjoyable parts of the gig wasContinue Reading

Staying Out Of “The Lonely Hearts” Club

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Monday, 5:55pm
Reno, NV
“Train whistle blows, lost on its own track…” (Dwight Yoakum, “Long White Cadillac”)

Howdy…

I thought you’d want to see this.

I first posted it on Facebook, and it generated an avalanche of “likes” and comments… which always means I’ve hit a nerve. And since many of the nice folks on my main list are curmudgeons who refuse to participate in social media (“Facebook, bah, humbug!”)…

… I’m reprinting it here. So you don’t have to sully yourself by dropping by Facebook. (Bonus: The post below actually trashes large swaths of the Web.)

The cold, dark days of December are, traditionally, a breeding ground for both regret over mistakes in the past year…

… and (more happily) for bold new plans in the coming year.

So, in the spirit of helping you end the year on a positive note… while also teeing up 2014 as possibly your best new year ever…

… let’s see if this advice (which has transformed so many entrepreneurial adventures into something amazing) will have any effect on you. Maybe get a head-start on wading through the mounting piles of nonsense out there, and snuggling up closer to the reality-checks and truths that can help you attain your wildest goals and dreams.

Here’s the post:

Warning (and your brain may curdle if you ignore this): I’ve been paying close attention to human behavior for longer than many of my readers have been alive. And because I felt so clueless, even as a kid, I devoured every available source of “spying” on how everyone else managed to exist in such a strange world…

… which included reading advice columns (street-level psychology at work with Ann Landers and sis Abbey), monitoring adult conversations, and stalking older kids (who were navigating life just a few hormones ahead of me).

So I’ve been a one-man research center for decades. I still haunt multiple advice columns online, see what the trolls are up to in the comment sections of NYT opinion pages, and (here’s the important part) discuss human behavior with a wide selection of colleagues both online and in person.

The discussions are critical… because there is a FLOOD of bullshit cascading down on us from every direction in the culture. It’s impossible for one individual to keep track of the spin, urban myths, misinformation campaigns…

… and (especially) the really, really, really awful investigative reporting that passes for news organizations today.

My colleagues are biz owners and pro writers well-trained in applying high-level skepticism to incoming data, and following through on research when necessary. We represent every age group of functioning adults in the culture, from all over the world (including the US hinterlands, Canucks, Limeys and other uncivilized joints), specializing in all kinds of different markets, hobbies, lifestyles and professional goals.

So when — for example — the media gets looped into a meme on how millennials (the generation of kids just now emerging from college) are bringing their parents to job interviews, and are incapable of critical thought (because of helicopter parenting) and just generally not becoming adults at all…

… we can look behind the glib stories and anecdotes and see a deeper truth.

Such as how all of us, from every living generation, have oodles of friends and family who meet every single detail of the problems now being assigned to millennials. The lack of independence, the living at home until late 30s, the whining and narcissism and sense of entitlement…

… all of it. And when you get a broader view, from older and younger colleagues, you quickly see how DEEP the bullshit can get in a media firestorm.

I hunt down photos and resumes of the reporters, and sigh. They’re like, twelve (or 32 going on 12) — insulated, given vast unearned attention through posts and stories, and dishing out accusations based on minuscule life experience.

And yet the stories stick, and become “common wisdom”.

As a marketer, you need to immerse your bad self into the culture, and understand what your prospects know and — very critical — THINK they know. And what they suspect they don’t know, or feel paranoid about not knowing.

That means you’ve got to go deep, all the time, and have resources you trust to bounce incoming data and ideas off of.

Masterminds have always been my #1 tool for this. I’m in multiple free ones, have paid for membership in others…Continue Reading

Congratulations… Now, Stop Being A Wuss.

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Monday, 7:55pm
Reno, NV
But it’s all right… in fact it’s a gas…” (The Stones, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash“)

Howdy…

It’s time for another orgy of graduation rites across the land…

… and, in honor of it all, I am re-posting my now globally-notorious big damn rant on the subject. This was one of the more popular posts I’ve ever written, so it deserves an annual rediscovery.

So, without further ado… here’s the annual redux of that post:

Ahem.

Nobody’s ever asked me to give the commencement speech for a graduating class.

That’s probably a good thing. I’m pretty pissed off at the education system these days, and I might cause a small riot with the rant I’d surely deliver.

See, I have a university “education”. A BA in psychology. (The BA stands for, I believe, “bullshit amassed”.) I earned it several decades ago…

… and while I had a good time in college (height of the sex revolution, you know, with a soundtrack that is now called “classic rock”), made some lifelong friends, and got a good look at higher learning from the inside…

… that degree provided zilch preparation for the real world. Didn’t beef me up for any job, didn’t give me insight to how things worked, didn’t do squat for me as an adult.

I waltzed off-campus and straight into the teeth of the worst recession since the Great Depression (offering us Nixon’s wage-freeze, record unemployment, an oil embargo, and near-total economic turmoil)…

… so, hey, I should have a little empathy for today’s grads, right?

Naw.

While today’s graduates are facing similar grim economic times, there’s been a significant change in the concept behind a college education. Somehow, over the years, a bizarre mantra has taken hold in kids minds:

“Get a degree, and it’s a ticket to the Good Life.”

A job is expected to be offered to you before the ink is dry on your diploma.

And it really, really matters WHICH school you get that diploma from.

You know what I say?

Bullshit. Okay, maybe if you go to Yale or Harvard, you can make the connections on Wall Street and in Washington to get your game on. Maybe. (More likely, those connections are already available, if you’re gonna get ‘em, through family bloodlines… and the Ivy’s are just playing up their famous track records in a classic sleight-of-hand.)

Put aside the advancement opportunities offered to spawn of the oligarchy, though… Continue Reading

Your Own Private Crystal Ball

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Monday, 6:16pm
Reno, NV
We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when...” (Omnipresent WWII song by Vera Lynn)

Howdy…

A big part of the mojo I bring to the consulting table is simply that I survived a fairly wild-ass lifestyle before and during my career…

… and took notes.

I come from a family of storytellers, and it’s always been second nature for me to concoct the way I’d relate the story of any adventure I was involved in… often while I was experiencing it. More likely, of course, the lasting model of any story came together over a few tellings, as I tossed out the boring bits, highlighted the more exciting or outrageous sections, and found that sweet spot that ended the tale like a punch line.

You don’t get away with aimless, pointless or dull stories in a family like mine. You either grab attention, hold it, and deliver a rollicking good telling… or you get swamped by a better story from a frustrated listener. Best possible training in the universe.

And I can’t think of a better segue into an advertising career. Humans are hard-wired to crave, love and remember well-delivered stories because before the written word, memorized stories were the primary form of sharing information. And persuading folks. And molding the contours of a socially coherent civilization.

Most of us are not great storytellers, however. It’s not a default setting in our brains… and if you don’t hone your chops, you’ll remain a naif at it.

However, if you DO choose to get hip (and I’ve got a ton of posts here in the blog archives on this very subject), then you get past the hulking bouncer at the velvet rope and into the “great storyteller” party.

I actually used to do that, by the way, as a hobby. Talk my way past bouncers. The last time was at a casino, where the Van Morrison concert was sold out. I had a cup of coffee and walked briskly toward the bouncer, saying “I got that coffee for Van” as casually as I could. The guy waved me through. Heck, other folks standing in line stepped back to let me past. I stepped into the venue, and just slumped.

“I can’t do it. Look, man, this coffee isn’t for Van. It’s just a cup of coffee.” The bouncer blinked at me. I wandered off, the fun gone forever in that game. Heck, it just got too easy.

Now, good consulting is also a form of storytelling. Usually, my client comes to me with a mishmash of complaints, problems, nightmares and quandaries… and none of it seems to make sense.

However, I learned long ago that almost everything makes sense when you get the right perspective on it.

But it has to be the right perspective… Continue Reading

Bamboozled By Babble, redux

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Tuesday, 2:47pm
Reno, NV
Don’t let me be misunderstood.” (The Animals, #15 on Billboard, 1965)

Howdy…

I’ve resurrected another gem from the archives… just because it’s so freakin’ good. Many of the lessons I try to deliver in this blog need to be delivered over and over (the only guaranteed way to finally learn anything in life), and once I nail it, there’s no sense rewriting it.

The clarity I try to achieve below is a solid step toward leading a more examined life… which all great marketers strive to do. There are stages to this if you’ve hit adulthood and continue to labor under false assumptions and bad belief systems. The worst is thinking that what you believe must be true, because you’ve believed it for so long.

This kind of circular cognitive dissonance can hold you up for decades (or even forever)… because our very human minds are hard-wired to listen to our intuition, no matter how often it’s proven wrong or screws up our lives.

We’re stubborn beasts. As a civilian, you just go enjoy your bad self with your silly notions and absurd assumptions. I’d prefer that you not vote, but it’s a free country.

However, as a marketer who desires wealth and recognition and lasting success… you cannot rely on the flawed default settings in your brain. If you haven’t been constantly giving yourself vicious Reality Checks over your career, you’re risking being stuck in a non-productive zone where competitors will fly past you, and customers flee.

I, personally, am very hard on myself. Very, very hard.

My transformation into a real professional meant climbing out of a slacker lifestyle where I got away with laziness, unreliability, and a self-destructive refusal to change… Continue Reading

The Rest Of Your Freakin’ Life (again)

Special Note If You’ve Just Come Here From My Facebook Rant On Winning Arguments: If you’re looking for a fast, thoroughly fun way to quickly learn high-end salesmanship skills… for a screaming bargain, no less… grab a copy of my must-read book “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” here.

Okay, on to the current blog post:

Saturday, 1:30pm
Reno, NV

Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” (Steve McQueen as Papillon, floating away to freedom…)

Howdy…

I’m re-publishing — for what has become a very popular tradition on this blog — one of the more influential posts I’ve ever written.

What you’re about to encounter is a slightly tweaked way of looking at the best way to start your new year…

… but this tweak makes all the difference in the world. I’ve heard from many folks that this particular technique finally helped them get a perspective on where they’re at, where they’re going…

… and why they care about getting there.

So, even if you’ve read this post before… it’s worth another look. Especially now, as you gaze down the yawning gullet of 2013, trying to wrap your brain around a plan to make the year your bitch.

This is a critical step for entering any new period of your life. To keep your life moving ahead, you need to set some goals, dude. And most goal-setting tactics, I’ve found, are useless. Worst among them is the traditional New Year’s resolutions (which seldom last through January).

This tactic I’m sharing with you (again) is something I’ve used, very successfully, for decades…Continue Reading

How To Be A Sap, Redux

Wednesday, 10:36pm
Reno, NV
To the moon, Alice!” (Ralph Kramden)

Howdy…

I’m recycling a post from a little while back, because it’s on a subject that can never be discussed too many times…

… especially when it’s important that you establish a real, visceral connection with people to make your business work.

In fact, what I’m bring up here is much more critical to creating effective advertising than many of the obvious things people tend to focus on (like “long copy versus shot copy”, or how to test offers).

Listen: If you understand how to use the powerful tool explained below…

… you can screw up almost every other part of creating your ad (or video, or website, or email, or whatever you’re using to get your story across)… and still crush it with results.

So ignore the details in this dusty post (like references to “Six Feet Under”, that great HBO series now long-gone)…

… and know that the insight revealed here will forever be one of the most influential you’ll ever use in marketing.

In fact, it’s just becoming more and MORE important as social media and info-overwhelm continues to nudge everyone toward ADHD-Land, where attention spans are pathetic and fundamental human emotions like empathy wither.

Here’s the post (with a few edits and some added stuff):

Jeez Louise. Did you catch Sunday’s episode of “Six Feet Under” on HBO, with the jarring funeral scenes?

It was… shattering.

I was jarred back to every funeral I’d ever attended, and had emotions wrung out of me I’d long forgotten about.

Screw reality TV. The truly well-written fictional shows (most of them on HBO) can still rattle your cage like classic literature.

That episode was quality emotional-wringing.

Got me thinking, too. About empathy. And writing.

I’ve known people who seem to have shut down their empathy gears… and it becomes evident when they lose the ability to get outside of themselves and see the world from other people’s viewpoint.  Movies require you to emotionally connect with the characters…

… and I recall uncles who fell asleep during the pea-soup-spewing scenes in “The Exorcist”…

… friends who laughed all through “Jaws”…

… and (in a real-world example) even an acquaintance who wondered what the big deal was when a colleague freaked out over a cherished cat’s sudden demise.

I also first saw “Saving Private Ryan” with a friend who was still a little shaky over his years in Vietnam during the war. He’d asked me to see it with him for moral support… and while he didn’t seem to have a tough time watching the movie, I kept an eye on him anyway, not sure what sort of poison might be brewing back up.

Those three films — and my experience with pets and people dying and careers ending and relationships imploding — were all emotionally jarring on various levels. And they were executed by master craftsmen, using scripts written by writers who knew where the tender spots were in most audiences.

I always feel a little estranged from people who either are — or claim to be — removed from emotional reactions.

In real life, we mostly experience things from inside our heads or along the contours of our immediate senses. It’s a claustrophobic point-of-view even the best Hollywood-quality cameras can’t yet mimic. In real life, everything happens just outside (or just within) our personal space, moment by moment, with no editing and no replay button.

When you personally feel emotional trauma, it’s a shock-inducing trial by fire that consumes you.

However, watching a TV show or a movie is a removed experience — pure voyeurism. You’re not there. It’s not happening to you. It shouldn’t have the same power as real life.

And yet… sometimes all the emotion of the real experience IS there, bubbling up from deep inside.

All the good writers I know are drenched with emotional self-knowledge and empathy for the emotional experiences of others. We aren’t walking around sobbing hysterically… but we are easily overcome with the feeling of a situation.

Sometimes Continue Reading

How To Murder Stress, Redux

Tuesday, 3:29pm
Reno, NV
I can’t seem to face up to the facts, I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax…” (Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”)

Howdy…

I’ve gone back to the archives again, just cuz they’re so freakin’ stuffed with excellent posts that should NEVER fade into history.

When I find timeless posts that deliver essential tools for your Entrepreneur’s Survival Kit, I like to re-post them here (cuz I know you’re too lazy to go searching for them yourself, you dangerous slacker, you).

So, in this emotionally-charged election year, with the economy and the fate of the globe on people’s minds, I’m thinking another little primer on stress is needed. (The best advice I ever heard from a medical professional was… after I’d said “I’m not feeling so hot, but it’s just stress”… “It’s never JUST stress, Carlton. Stress is bad, bad, bad, and it’ll kill you just as readily as having a piano drop on you from the 6th floor.”  That woke me up to the reality of the chemical stew I was brewing in my system, bubbling with bad hormones and corrosive juices.)

We’re not built to survive on a steady diet of stress. We self-destruct when it gets too severe.

Okay, here’s the post. See if you can relax enough to at least read it…

——————–

Howdy.

What’s the matter, Bunky?

The news got you down?  The economy keeping you up at night?  Are sales in the toilet, creditors stalking you, clients not returning calls, the sheer angst of living in a modern tech-drenched world chewing holes in your gut?

Would you like to hear how grizzled veterans handle the evils of stress?

It’s good stuff… because, as everyone should realize, you don’t get to BE a grizzled veteran if you can’t handle stress.  Cuz that shit will eat you alive and send you to an early grave.

In fact, this is easily one of the fundamental tools for surviving the Never-Ending Cage Fight O’ Bidness.  I noticed, in the first years of my freelance career (when I was searching semi-desperately for clues on how to become successful), that there were biz owners who were having fun… and there were other owners not having any fun at all.

Age had nothing to do with it.  Nor health (though the fun-havers consistently were in better shape).  Nor gender, nor — and this is important — Continue Reading


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These testimonials and case studies do not represent typical or average results. Most customers do not contact me or offer share to their results, nor are they required or expected to. Therefore, I have no way to determine what typical or average results might have been.

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