Tag Archives: Gary Halbert

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’ve 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 seen this post before… it’s worth another look. Especially now, as you gaze down the yawning gullet of 2016, 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 them. 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-cuz-it’s-not-perfect 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 them, or want to destroy their 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 2015, I dated the letter to myself as January 15, 2016.)

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 my book “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together“, 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 Amazon now 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 the stuff no one told you about before.

I’ll be checking into the comments here, if you have questions about any of this…

Rumors Of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

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Monday, 12:45pm
Reno, NV
Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” (Steve McQueen, “Papillon”)

Howdy…

I was talking to a colleague the other day, and he asked me how I liked retirement.

Uh, what retirement is that, I asked.

Well, he said, I thought you’d pretty much left the biz.

Sigh.

I guess I need to address this now. I mean, seeing as how I’m speaking next week to a seething crowd of 500 copywriters at one of the biggest bootcamps of the year (the sold-out AWAI gargantuan event in Florida). AND, the following week, hosting our autumn Platinum Mastermind meeting (now in it’s 7th year). While, you know, handling multiple calls from colleagues looking for advice, plus paid consulting gigs, writing a new book, monitoring the next Simple Writing System classroom, and…

If this is “retirement”, it sure looks an awful lot like a regular workweek.

But, yes, there has been a rumor floating around that I’m retired (or “semi-retired”), not traveling anymore, not taking clients, etc.

And, in a word, it’s all bullshit.

What happened was, a couple of years ago, I decided I sucked as a manager, and sold the Marketing Rebel corporation to my longtime business partner, Stan Dahl. Who has been handling it quite nicely ever since. The Insider’s Club membership site is cooking on high heat… the Simple Writing System just had another All-Star Teachers session (with A-Listers like David Garfinkel, Mike Morgan, Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero, and former Gary Halbert sidekick Scott Haines all hosting classes)… and all the good work we’ve always done in the advertising and marketing worlds has continued without a hitch.

It’s working so well now, because I realized what a bottleneck I was as a manager. Once I got out of the way, things blossomed.

Jeez Louise, that’s humbling. But it’s all worked out great.

And I got back to what I do best: Writing, consulting and being one of the most notorious bad-ass creative advisors in the game.

This is a VERY common entrepreneurial blunder, by the way. You get a biz going by handling almost everything personally… the ideas, the planning, the implementation, the writing, the schmoozing and networking, and all the hiring of tech help and support teams and lawyers and contracts and…

… and pretty soon, you’re working 70 hours a week, the biz is thriving, but you aren’t doing the creative stuff you’re good at.

For me, the calls and meetings with lawyers and accountants and affiliate managers and everyone else’s lawyers and biz operatives just crushed my spirit and will to live.

I was unhappy.

And so I sold the biz, and moved back into my old role as writer, creative dude, and consultant extraordinaire. The “wheelhouse” of my talent and skill-set, where I’ve always made the most impact.

And, I was happy again. While working around 20 hours a week, just like the first decades of my career. A 20-hour workweek is just about perfect, and because I know all the productivity hacks allowable for humans, I get more done in that 20-hours than most folks do in the 60 hours they slave at.

So, I’m in my “bliss groove” again. Good writing requires lots of down time, so your brain can cogitate on the crap you’ve stuffed in there, cook it up in a fresh batch, and make it all accessible when you sit down to actually write. Reading lots of books on different subjects, including gruesome fiction and light articles on diverse (even dumb) subjects, is also part of a well-lived writer’s lifestyle. Plus engaging in the adventures, pleasures, misadventures and bumbling horrors of modern life.

In fact, without immersing yourself in the culture and the Zeitgeist, you quickly become stiff and boring as a writer.

Yuck.

But I don’t count the cool, fun stuff as “working”. I love the process of being a complete, well-rounded writer with his pulse on the culture. It’s what makes this the best damn gig on the planet (for introverts or wannabe introverts seeking influence, wealth and happiness).

In the 1990s, I both wrote most of the ads for which I’m now infamous (all the screamingly successful golf, self-defense, health, music and small-biz ads that changed the way entire industries approached marketing)…

while ALSO taking off three-to-six months a year to go do something else. I was following Travis McGee’s advice (from the “you gotta read ’em” novels by John D. MacDonald) of “taking your retirement while you’re young, in pieces, and returning to work when you need to replenish the coffers”. For me, that meant indulging in exciting mid-life crises (I’ve had six so far, and loved every single one) like when I disappeared from the business world for half a year, formed a 3-piece rock band, and played all the biker bars in Northern Nevada. What a blast.

I also took time off to write some novels, and dip a toe in the world of writing fiction for a living. It was enormous fun, but the pay was dismal. Most of the working novelists I met made less in half a decade than I did for writing a couple of winning ads in a good market (and it only took me a few weeks to write those ads). I decided to keep fiction as a side hobby, and came back to my old clients to write a string of ads that doubled their bottom line.

And then, just after the turn of the century, I decided to get serious for a few years. And write a monthly newsletter (the notorious “Marketing Rebel Rant” that mailed for 6 years to the most influential marketers alive), while maintaining a client list that required me to be available the entire year. No more taking off massive chunks of time. I loved the whole process, which happened to coincide with the explosion of the Web as a viable marketing vehicle…

… and I hung out in a very insider network of movers-and-shakers that included Frank Kern, Jeff Walker, Eben Pagan, Joe Polish, Dean Jackson, Tony Robbins, Jon Benson, Joe Sugarman, Ed Dale, and of course my best friend in the biz, Gary Halbert.

It was FUN. And thrilling, because we were inventing the marketing models that would become the STANDARDS for all online marketers for a generation. My first website, which I designed on a napkin, was a go-to template for many businesses for a long while. I recorded one of the first ever podcasts in the marketing section of iTunes (with help from Dean Jackson)… became one of the hottest speakers on the global seminar circuit (hosted by Armand Morin, Dan Kennedy, Rich Schefren, Kern and others)… and of course our Simple Writing System has pumped over a thousand entrepreneurs and copywriters through the process of creating killer ads on demand.

While some old-school marketers fought the Web and resisted new technology, I was an early adopter. I grabbed many of the first generation gizmo’s, created early video sales letters (before the term was even invented), hosted some of the first online webinars and membership sites, and in general surfed the new wave of modern possibilities right at the crest.

I’m not bragging. I’m just as amazed at the way things have turned out as anyone else. I happened to write “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” at the precise time a vast mob of newbie marketers were becoming online entrepreneurs… and it was the perfect fit for them.

But it also led almost directly to those 60-hour weeks that eventually started to fry my brain.

I’ve counseled biz owners against burning out a lot in my career as a consultant. It’s common, it’s horrific, it can ruin your life…

… and, it’s completely avoidable.

But you have to act FAST when you sniff the burning rubber coming off your brain.

For me, it meant backing away from the reins of a business I’d nurtured for a decade… and sliding back into the more comfortable position I knew so well, of being a writer-consultant. Working a fraction of the hours required of a manager.

To some folks, this somehow meant I’d “retired”.

Nope. Just moved back into my former career lifestyle.

Like I said — I suck at management. I’m not built to argue with lawyers, or proofread contracts, or get deep into the weeds of making the day-to-day details of running a biz work. I KNOW what needs to be done, and I can spell it out for you in precise steps.

But that doesn’t mean I’m the guy who should be doing it.

A big part of happiness is finding out where you fit. And then sliding your bad ass into that position, away from the drudgery and angst of doing stuff you’re NOT built to do.

And let’s set the damn record straight: I’m NOT retired.

I love this biz too much to leave. I’m traveling as much as I ever have (though being more picky about which gigs I travel for). I’m flying out to Florida next week, as I said, to speak in front of 500 folks who rightfully expect to have their cages rattled by me from the stage. I’m flying to Los Angeles both for our mastermind, AND to hang out with Jon Benson at another biz gathering (including James Schramko from Oz).

And we’ll be in Vegas in January for another mastermind, in Phoenix for secret tapings of a new show, I’ll continue co-hosting the rollicking (and still free) Psych Insights For Modern Marketers podcast with Kevin Rogers…

… and I still maintain a full-time desk in the Marketing Rebel Insider’s Club… where I personally answer questions from members, do monthly “Hot Seat” consultations (free, for members) alongside Stan Dahl, and generally act as the community’s resident copywriting expert.

Okay, I’m not putting the old rock band back together, though. It was fun, but I’m kinda done with the bar scene. And I get bored on cruises and tourist-trap trips. I like to travel with a purpose.

I’m built to handle the advanced, high-level workload of a top copywriter and business consultant. So that’s what I’m concentrating on these days. While flying out to speak at seminars, networking with my pals, and staying rooted on the pulse of the modern business environment.

It’s a wild time to be alive, and to be an active member of the hottest entrepreneurial movement the world has ever seen.

I ain’t retiring for a long, long time. Baring getting hit by the occasional city bus while jaywalking, I should say. Nothing’s guaranteed in life, is it.

Will I see you in Florida… or at one my upcoming other seminar appearances? Or, gasp, at my Platinum Mastermind? (Got a seat waiting for you, and there’s still time to grab it. Go here for details.)

If you, like so many of the best (and happiest) marketers and writers around, value the input, savvy, advice and experience of a guy like me…

… who’s been around the block a few times, and knows the game inside and out…

… then check out some of the stuff we’ve got for you all over this blog page. Including a deep, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-down-to-work consultation.

It’s only going to get more exciting out there in the big, bad biz world… with more opportunities to either thrive or get lost in the weeds than you can imagine. If you’re in biz, you need a resource like me watching your back.

Why not make 2016 (coming up fast) the best damn year of your life? Put your team together now, and see if including me and Stan and the rest of the gang here doesn’t make so much sense you can’t stand it.

Meanwhile…

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. The photo, by the way, is from another huge event this past year where I was a featured speaker. And got to hang with my buds (from left) Kevin Halbert (Gary’s son), A-List copywriting legend Clayton Makepeace, marketing legend Dan Kennedy, me, former CEO of Boardroom Brian Kurtz, and A-List copywriter (and my podcast partner) Kevin Rogers.

Quite the little braintrust right there…

That’s Not Funny, Part One

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Wednesday, 8:59 pm
Reno, NV
What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” (Nick Lowe)

Howdy…

One of the first things you hear, when you’re learning about fundamental copywriting and ad creation…

… is to avoid humor like the plague. The great David Ogilvy said “People do not buy from clowns.” This pre-dated Jack-In-The-Box’s latest commercial model (where they’re so obviously going after the stoner market with late-night “Munchie Meal” take-out boxes that it’s funny on multiple levels)…

… yet, overall, most high-end marketers still agree with it.

Even the funniest copywriters I know (and let me assure you that many of the best bust-your-gut-laughing humans alive are, indeed, copywriters) (weirdo bunch, totally) almost never insert humor into their sales copy. Almost. Occasionally, when it’s absolutely safe (like writing to your own house list, full of folks proven to have the EXACT same sense of humor you have, right down to the Animal House reruns and Adult Swim shows you all watch)… they may go off the reservation and aim for making readers spit up their morning coffee over an email.

But it’s rare. More likely, the funny-guy guru’s you follow have a “meta-text personality” that includes some risky guffaw moments here and there, just to position them in their market as too-cool-for-school (and thus intellectually superior to their competition)…

… which they’ll jettison at the point of closing any sale.

Cuz money is serious biz. And most buyers (not looky-loo’s, but buyers) aren’t keen on being the butt of a joke, and tend to distrust salesmen who seem a bit too… funny. (Even the word “funny” means both being humorous, and also being weird, brain-damaged and untrustworthy.)

Now, I’m a fairly humorous fella. (And any brain damage I’ve sustained is all better now.) I’ve made a colleague snort coffee through their nose as recently as… well, yesterday, on the phone. Other writers collect my private emails, and read them to family and friends. (Part of that may be a self-defense strategy against their spouse’s assessment of a life in advertising as being “boring”.) I’ve also caused entire ballrooms to laugh so hard, some attendees almost wet themselves. And I’ve even used “okay, you got me” sarcasm to get my point across to a reluctant client during consulting.

Of all the things I value the most in life… laughter and humor rank in the top five. (Just below sex, In ‘N Out hamburgers, craft IPA beer, and the NBA.) (Oh, and my Jack Russell terrorist dog. Sorry, girl. Almost forgot you…) (And my ’64 Stratocaster. And Turner Classic Movies. And…)

Okay, whatever. It ranks high, anyway. It’s a big part of who I am, and what I bring to the table as a friend, colleague, writer and consultant.

And yet, when a sales process gets down to the shorthairs…

… I’m as serious as a mortician.

Losing a sale because you screwed around is NOT funny. It is, rather, a fucking tragedy.

So all the top writers I know have a strict rule against tickling the funny bone of a prospect… at least, when things get to “that point”.

However, we also really, really, really want to find exceptions to this rule. We figure there’s GOT to be an exception, somewhere.

Which means we’ve all become minor experts on the topic of humor. Because, it turns out, while everyone believes they own a “great” sense of humor… the truth is, few (if any) civilians understand humor at all.

So, I thought I’d share some of the research I (and some of my colleagues) (including writers like Kevin Rogers, who spent a decade as a stand-up comic before getting into advertising) have dug up…

… in no particular order…

… just as a starter guide to why we mostly don’t (but sometimes do) use humor in our marketing:

The Joke’s On Us #1: In the last few decades, Ivy League universities have started studying humor, trying to get a baseline understanding of what’s funny to most people, and why.

And their first biggest discovery was that many people have no sense of humor at all. None.

However, while these funny-challenged folks have no idea why you’re bent over laughing at a certain joke or situation…

… they are often very astute to the social cues of humor, and will be holding their bellies right along with you, laughing out loud.

They’re faking it. Or, more precisely, they wait a beat after observing other people laughing, and join in as a social “bonding” routine. They’re supporting the good vibes that mass laughter brings to any social setting… kinda like nodding in agreement, or applauding.

Researchers figured this out by tricking people in studies — seeding a small crowd with actors who laughed on cue at non-funny things, and recording the actions of study participants. Folks with actual senses of humor would smile in a bewildered way, wondering why they weren’t getting the joke. But the fakers had no such objective judgments — the crowd laughed, so they laughed, too.

Reading about these findings blew my mind. I’d suspected something like this was going on, because I had friends who laughed a bit too hard, or who seemed to mainly use loud guffaws as a way to show dominance in a conversation. So I did some of my own testing, watching closely when fakers actually began laughing (a beat behind everyone else).

If you ask, most people will say they have a great sense of humor. Insider their world, they do. Whatever they find funny (or socially acceptable to laugh at, as a bonding process) is what’s funny. This is how humans operate. All measurements of behavior begin with what you’re doing as the universal standard for normal, or moral, or just “the right way”… and if others don’t agree, then they’re just wrong.

Marketer’s Insight: While no one is sure what percentage of the population is actually humor-challenged, it IS a large chunk of your fellow citizens. So when you’re creating marketing aimed at a large group of prospects, you cannot assume that ANY of them will grok your sense of humor.

Just like half or more will reject your politics (and yes, I know you have a superior understanding of politics to everyone else on the planet). And your religious views.

The rule in bars is “no talking about politics or religion”… because it leads to fights.

For marketers, you can add “no funny stuff” to that list. You simply cannot predict what any list will find funny, or not find funny, or be offended or baffled.

The Joke’s On Us #2: One of the first challenges the researchers found was agreeing on how to “measure” what’s funny.

Turns out it’s not a simple thing at all. In fact, the commercial uses of humor is relatively recent — the stand-up comic was invented during vaudeville, which required between-act ring-leaders to keep the audience happy. Shakespeare and Mozart and other post-Enlightenment entertainers made liberal use of what we now call slap-stick (the term literally refers to Medieval clowns using a paddle on each other) and “low brow” humor to delight certain audiences… and more intellectual mockery and sarcasm to make the sophisticated elites titter.

So the people creating entertainment, or trying to influence public opinion or sway a vote, might know how to get a response… but it was an inexact science. Making one part of the audience laugh might offend another part.

The researchers have gotten lost in the weeds trying to define humor. (Some studies have claimed to be able to determine your socio-economic status by what you laugh at, in fact. Fart jokes and pratfalls for the working class, existential stories based on willful misinterpretations of esoteric knowledge for the elites.) (The flaw in this kind of study, of course, is that semi-illiterate yahoo entrepreneur’s can make buckets of moolah with a good biz, and over-educated snobs may be dead-broke slackers.)

It’s gonna take a while for researchers to get it all straight (if they ever do).

The thing is, humor is complicated.

But it’s also a major element of business and social life, so thinking critically about it gives you an edge.

Here’s how I’ve broken it down (through a long life of observing):

  • There are two basic “professional” uses of humor (in biz settings) — as a weapon to establish a better status position… or as a bonding tool (which can be an innocent way of forming friendships, which may later become alliances). All of my close longtime friends have wicked senses of humor, for example. Others who I consider good people, but whose funny-bone isn’t so funny to me, never penetrate the Inner Circle. This has not been done consciously — it’s just the way things sift out. But it’s very interesting to note, isn’t it?
  • The weaponized use of humor employs mockery, sarcasm, and crude jokes that seek to identify “winners” and “losers” (or “The Other”). It’s very risky when you don’t know your audience (and that political or racist joke falls flat), but it can be nastily effective when dealing with the home crowd (so your insinuation that all Yankee fans are slobbering Neanderthals goes over big in Boston every time). (It’s true, by the way, that all Yankee fans are slobbering Neanderthals, but that’s another issue.)
  • There are a few broad divisions in the way humor is used that matter to marketers. The first is shock vs. bonding — you get a laugh by purposely violating some social norm (which can delight or offend, depending on your audience)… or you cozy up to everyone’s comfort zone, and we all laugh while agreeing on what’s being discussed. Do not try to use shock humor unless you are very, very experienced with it. Backfires are common. On the other hand, mild bonding humor can go a long way to establishing relationships… or bore the bejesus out of everyone.
  • The second main division is wit vs. jokes. Have you ever been with a group of folks who just toss zingers at each other, piling up the wit like stacking wood? It’s a joy to behold, if you’re witty. There is no preparation beforehand — you’ve got to live by your ability to quickly counter, support or twist whatever is said. It’s freeform funny conversation… which is the opposite of telling memorized jokes. Someone with an arsenal of jokes can quickly take over a conversation (often with the support of the less witty folks who prefer a more stable environment). I’ve seen many high-flying conversations completely gutted by a series of jokes (which require, by design, that everyone remain quiet and respectful while the joke is told).
  • Don’t get me wrong — I like jokes. But I have none memorized, because I prefer free-form wit. I used to know a lot of jokes, though — so many that a couple of friends and I can simply smile at each other and mention a portion of the punch line (not even the whole line), say “Joke number 37”, and get the SAME laugh that telling the entire joke would have generated. (Example: “Well, maybe it’s not like a river…”. Funny, right?)

Marketer’s Insight: Just understanding the fundamentals of how humor is delivered and consumed can help you immensely. If you’re not a witty dude, don’t try to fake it. You can’t. If you like jokes, go ahead and memorize some… and use them when you’re in a situation where everyone is yukking it up over memorized jokes.

But consider the audience, always. Don’t shock when it will offend. Never assume your audience shares your religious or political views (and triple-check your perception of this before wandering down the very dark alley of potentially-offensive jokes). And it’s fine to just be part of the audience, to laugh and enjoy the wit or the prepared humor — you’re actually bonding with your supporting laughter.

Quick Story: A well-known colleague of mine — a really nice guy, liked by everyone, and a killer marketer — once took me aside and asked how he could develop a more interesting personality. He was lost in witty conversations, had no jokes memorized, and didn’t understand why some folks found some stuff so fucking funny.

I took the challenge, and with my pal Kevin Rogers (the former stand-up-turned-copywriter), we gave him a list of things that might help (which included watching George Carlin routines critically — figuring out how each story unwound, and when the laugh points popped up… memorizing a handful of jokes from the Playboy jokes page and also from Reader’s Digest — so he had something a tad ribald, and something very middle-of-the-road… and critically reading witty authors like P.J. O’Rourke or Molly Ivins — one conservative, one liberal.)

It didn’t work. I know you can develop real wit, because I’ve progressed myself from a joke-telling kid (sharing stuff from Mad magazine or jokes my drunk uncles used to shock the aunts), to a rookie good conversationalist, to a high-end witty dude who can hold his own in any crowd. On any subject.

But I think you need to start with a basis sense of humor… which we’ve discovered is not default equipment with all humans.

Still, by all means, learn how to tell a joke properly. Find them written out, and memorize them, right down to the exact words used. It’s like memorizing scripted lines for a play. Some advanced actors may wing it occasionally… but if you can’t do that, don’t wreck the scene by trying. Study the process, if it interests you, but otherwise just follow the path already laid out.

Another Quick Story: Gary Halbert and I loved to mess with each other’s minds on stage at seminars. The ultimate prize was getting the other guy to lose his cool by laughing too hard to speak (or come back with a wittier line). Spitting coffee through your nose was a bonus point.

We’d get vicious, too… using insults, practical jokes, rumors, everything was fair play. It kept us loose and happy during long weekends of Hot Seats.

But it also taught us a good lesson in the limits of humor. During one break, Gary and I were chatting at the side of the stage… and an attendee walked up and leveled a gross, tasteless insult my way. Then he laughed heartily. In his mind, he was inserting himself in the Inner Circle — he’d thought, “Hey, I’m a funny guy, too”, and figured insulting me was an easy way to get special attention.

Cuz, you know, Gary and I were so vicious with each other.

It doesn’t work that way, of course. Neither Gary nor I laughed. We just stared at the guy until he slinked away, humiliated.

Hey — I can call my friend a fuckhead and get away with it. Because that’s how we roll.

But YOU call him a fuckhead, and I’m in your face in a heartbeat. You’re not allowed that privilege.

If you have to ask whether you’re in the Inner Circle or not… you’re not in it. This is pretty much universal in human experience. You can loudly berate your bowling buddies and get a laugh back… but that goofy yahoo on the other team says the same thing, and them’s fighting words.

It’s stunning how often people don’t grok how this simple social paradigm works. And it can ruin business situations for you, handled poorly.

Just a word to the wise…

The Joke’s On Us #3: Finally, for this primer on the subject, never underestimate how much some people value humor…

… while an equal number are threatened by it.

Look critically at long Facebook threads for evidence. You’ll find in-jokes that you cannot possibly understand, because you’re aren’t privy to the back story. You’ll find other people gleefully trying to keep up with the witty back-and-forth’s, who miss the point entirely. (You can get real-world examples of how different people find different stuff funny… and keep in mind the research claiming to predict status by what you laugh at.)

And you’ll find many examples of people trying desperately to disrupt funny threads. Every time someone inserts comments like “First-world problems”, they’re trying to kill the conversation. Ask yourself why they’d want to do that. Often, it’s simply being uncomfortable with the discussion, and yet feeling desperate to comment. Just as often, though, it’s a crude attempt to establish dominance. (It’s the same with comments like “Bang! for the win”, which attempts to control through judgment.)

I consider these kinds of disruption offensive, because they can murder a good thread. Hard to continue laughing about some modern situation when reminded that kids are starving in India. It’s Debbie Downer on steroids.

It’s the same with sarcasm. Shielding cynical comments by claiming “you’re just joking” is a blatant cop-out, and a failure to take responsibility for the consequences of your statements. It works, unfortunately, in politics and personal grievance. “Can’t you take a joke” is the icing on the insult.

Humor evolves on a society-wide level. What was hilarious a decade ago in a movie is now a cringe-inducing example of obliviousness. Outside the US and Britain, stand-up tends to be joke-oriented… whereas our comics and cartoons careen toward the absurd, employing more long-form stories than standard punch-lines.

Humor is very important to some people. It’s my main defense against a heartless universe obviously out to get me.

And at the same time, humor is a very foreign and scary thing to others.

This is why it doesn’t mix well (usually) with serious sales pitches, where money is on the line.

Make sense?

I may do another post on this, if folks are still wanting more.

Meanwhile, love to hear your take and experience with humor in biz situations, in the comments section below…

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. One last tactic: If you’re going to use humor in biz settings… it’s a good idea to make yourself the butt of any joke. It’s called “self-deprecating” humor, and it allows you to use every shred of your wit, sarcasm and sharp humor to make a point… you simply make yourself the target, rather than risk offending or insulting anyone else.

I make sure my audiences at events understand that I know the answers to so many problems… because I personally failed or got waylaid by nearly every problem possible in life and biz myself. It’s absolutely true… but a less forthright speaker might avoid spoiling his reputation with confessions like that.

If I nail an attendee with some shocking assessments (like calling him an idiot)… I make sure he understands, first, that I’ve been the biggest idiot in the universe myself. Many times. And making mistakes, learning my lessons, and then using those lessons the next time is how I became successful.

In fact, I don’t know of any other way to progress in life and biz.

Do you?

P.P.S. By the way…

… if you’re a victim of what my colleague David Garfinkel calls “intellectual loneliness” (where you’re withering away because you lack witty, funny, smart-as-whips pals… who also happen to share your passion for business, copywriting, marketing and the entrepreneurial lifestyle)…

… then it might be time for you to seriously explore my Platinum Mastermind group.

It’s a small (under 20 members) group that meets four times a year… where we do Hot Seat-style consults on each member’s situation (problems, biz plans, ad copy, anything at all that’s bugging them)… with a focus on GETTING SHIT DONE. No vague philosophy. Just hard-core, detailed, specific brainstorming and sharing of experience that leads to actual things you can do to unclog the moolah spigot, and get your biz and life back on the fast track.

We also have guest experts who come by just because they like the way I operate. And they share, and help brainstorm, and just pour themselves into the weekend. Recent guests: Joe Sugarman… Gary Halbert’s sons (Bond and Kevin)… Jay Abraham… Brian Kurtz (former CEO of Boardroom, Inc)… Dean Jackson (marketing superstar)… Joe Polish… and many more.

Just see what’s up, for cryin’ out loud. The site won’t bite you: Carlton’s Platinum Mastermind.

Oh, yes. This could be the day you remember forever, where everything changed for you…

 

 

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: Continue Reading

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 was Continue Reading

The Answer (and Winners) Revealed…

photo-1Thursday, 2:30pm
Reno, NV
Every time they were sure you were caught, you were quicker than they thought…” (Bob Seger, “Still The Same”)

Howdy…

Well, we do have a couple of winners to announce here.

It was a hell of a quiz, wasn’t it. Over 400 responses (and still climbing)… and, as several posters noted, just reading the thread was an enlightening experience (with dozens of great stories and insight shared).

Crowd-sourcing at its finest.

Before I give the two winners their moment in the sun, however (and ship out their signed copies of “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together“)…

… let’s get straight on the answer to this one-question quiz.

Recall: I asked what — in my 30 years consulting with biz owners, freelancers, entrepreneurs, inventors and dreamers — was the Number One problem I saw folks encountering in their quest for wealth and happiness.

There may indeed be many other problems troubling folks…

… but in my experience, there is only one Big Kahuna problem.

And solving this big one also solves vast chunks of other problems in your life and career. Just like that.

The last great clue (no, I’m not gonna just roll over and tell you the answer without preamble) is in the photo up top here: That’s (from left) Joe Polish, the marketing whiz-kid who wrote the forward to my book…

Gary Halbert, my uber-infamous mentor, biz partner and close pal…

Gary Bencivenga, whose controls I stalked and whose teaser copy inspired me to rewrite my own bullets 30 times for every ad I penned (and who I actually wrote some stuff for in the late 80s)…

… and me.

Bencivenga loved this photo. We’d all known each other and worked in the same part of the direct response world for years… but we’d never all been in the same room together. (This was in NYC, at Gary’s legendary “Bencivenga 100” seminar.)

Think you have the answer yet?

Consider: Just from these four guys, you’ve got generations of successful copywriters and marketers who owe their “breakthrough moment” to one of us. Ads that brought in gazillions, and created empires. Advice that transformed a moribund business plan, or a headline, or a career. An entire revolution in biz attitudes, success strategies and persuasion methods…

… all emanating out like rocket-fire from just these guys.

Got the answer now?

We leaned on each other, borrowed from each other, learned from each other, watched each other’s back, traded war stories and admired each other’s skills…

… and, in general, shared often large parts of our professional lives in the thin, rarefied air of world-class movin’-and-shakin’.

In short… Continue Reading

Publishers Freak-Out As Freaks Move In

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Thursday, 12:40pm
Reno, NV
I write because I cannot NOT write.” (Charlotte Bronte)

Howdy…

I want to cover three important things today.

Important Thing #1: Very exciting news this morning: My first Kindle ebook (“The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together”) elbowed its way into best-seller territory on Amazon in less than half a day. It’s #4 on the “entrepreneur” books-for-sale chart, with a bullet, and surging on the “business” charts (in the top 35).

This is like watching your latest album climb the Billboard rankings. I labored over the book (with superb editing help from our pal David “Flashman” Raybould) for many months, whipping it into shape and waiting for the right moment to dive into the wonderful new world of self-publishing that has just hit the Big Turning Point.

Now, it’s up to the reading public to decide if it’s worthwhile or not. A little scary, a little thrilling, a lot of fun for a writer who has craved being in control of publishing my own stuff, in my own damn way, for most of my life.

And, as satisfying as it is to read the great buzz-comments on the Amazon page (and in social media) for this new tome… it’s even more energizing to have finally busted my cherry in digital publishing. This first book took a while to finish and get launched. The next one will follow blazingly quick, and there are even more in the hopper.

If you are so inclined, you can check out a free preview of the book (or even, gasp, buy it) here.

Leave a comment, too. And hit the “share” button on the page. The tome is getting rave reviews, which makes sense since it’s a lovingly-revised compilation of my best Rant newsletters (which I mailed to subscribers for 6 amazing years). This is time-tested stuff, the best “here’s what Carlton’s been teaching all these years” resource possible.

Hope you enjoy it, if you buy it. Hope you stay awake all night thinking about it if you don’t buy it, and feel compelled to buy it first thing in the morning. Cuz it’s damn cheap as a digital book, and you really SHOULD own it. (And yes, we’ll be offering a paperback version down the road, but this digital version is what you need right now.)

Important Thing #2: I now know much about self-publishing ebooks that was a mystery to me before.

For example… Continue Reading

K.I.S.S.

Sunday, 3:09pm
Reno, NV
“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, unless you’ve got a black hole handy.”

Howdy.

Nice, short post here today. In keeping with the theme “KISS.”

Veteran entrepreneurs recognize this, of course, as an acronym of “Keep It Simple, Stupid“… easily some of the best biz advice I ever received in my long career. I carefully printed this slogan out, by hand, on a big notecard and had it taped above my desk for years (though, my sign was even more direct and vicious: Keep It Simple, Shithead. I wanted to get my own attention.)

I made good use of slogans during the early days. “Business before pleasure” was also huge for me, since I’d squandered my youth as a party-hardy slacker… and simply re-directing my energy first to biz (and having evil fun afterward, if I still had any juice left) instantly changed my entire existence. I made a vow to myself — my first real vow that I took deadly seriously — to follow that self-administered advice without hesitation or complaint… and to never apologize for basing my career on a hackneyed phrase that few people ever thought twice about. And that’s when things started popping for me, success-wise.

That was a key realization: All those dog-eared rickety slogans, as mocked as they are, have earned their way into the culture…

… because they Continue Reading

Cynics, Sociopaths & Garden-Variety Azzholes

Monday, 12:48pm
Reno, NV
Use all your well-learned politics, or I’ll lay your soul to waste.” (Stones, “Sympathy For The Devil”)

Howdy.

Today, I’m gonna share with you one of the nastiest, yet most valuable lessons you’ll ever get in your career.

It’s all about the firestorm of conflicting personality types you’ll encounter in the Big Game O’ Biz. It took me ages to figure all this out (and get it into a simple concept that’s easily explained)… and many, many times it has saved my butt from disaster.

This is the mostly hidden part of being in business. The other fundamentals… honing your skills, dealing with technology, managing moolah… all seem to be fairly straightforward.

If only we didn’t have to deal with human beings to get through the day, everything would be just dandy.

However, sizzling underneath every interaction with another Shaved Ape lies a volcanic pit of emotional, physiological/biological, intellectual and metaphysical goo. Experienced professionals intuitively learn to negotiate this roiling obstacle, eventually… but usually can’t explain what they’re doing. They rely on a code of ethics, first, that eliminates or salvages biz relationships with the most common kinds of crooks and monsters out there.

However, waiting for the other guy to violate your code before jettisoning him from your life means you’re a punching bag while the truth about the human capacity for evil slowly dawns on you. (And most folks never really understand any of this. Which is why the neighbors of the freshly-caught serial killer always express disbelief — “He seemed like a nice guy. Always mowed his lawn. Sure, there were screams from the basement sometimes, but…”)

I studied this stuff — and figured it out — only because I was completely on my own in the early part of my career as a freelance copywriter (where I constantly dealt with new people, and needed all the insight to make quick-yet-correct decisions I could muster). I had a smidgeon of a hint, through an otherwise-worthless psychology degree I snagged in my youth…

… but the real breakthrough came because my quest to become an expert in salesmanship forced me to go deep with how people actually react to a sales pitch. This was my introduction to “street level psychology”… Continue Reading


All testimonials and case studies within this website are, to the best of our ability to determine, true and accurate. They were provided willingly, without any compensation offered in return.

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.

Many people do not implement anything I teach them. I can't make anyone follow my advice, and I obviously can't promise that our advice, as interpreted and implemented by everyone, is going to achieve for everyone the kinds of results it's helped some of the folks you read about and hear from here achieve.

The income statements and examples on this website are not intended to represent or guarantee that everyone will achieve the same results. Each individual's success will be determined by his or her desire, dedication, marketing background, product, effort, and motivation to work and follow recommendations. There is no guarantee you will duplicate results stated here. You recognize any business endeavor has inherent risk for loss of capital.

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