Unnaturally Optimistic

I am an optimist.

I don’t think it’s bragging to say that I’m the most optimistic person I know. People who know me often comment on what a positive outlook I have.

Here’s the thing: I don’t come by it naturally.

My daughter does. She is a natural-born optimist. Which has led me to believe that optimism-vs-pessimism is largely determined by environment. I grew up in a very pessimistic environment and became pessimistic by nature.

But I trained myself to change my outlook. You might say that I became unnaturally optimistic.

How did I do it?

One thing’s for sure, it was neither quick nor easy.

A big part of it was simply deciding to change. I’m a big proponent of self-improvement. I’ve read more books and taken more courses than anyone I know. One of the things I learned is that, while we don’t have absolute control over our destiny, we do have a great deal of influence.

Since the future’s coming anyway and since your actions directly impact what kind of future it will be for you, wouldn’t you rather it be a good one. Who would ever wish for a lousy future?

Your attitude affects your thoughts and your beliefs. Your thoughts affect your actions. Your actions determine your destiny.

So one of the biggest steps was realizing and accepting that the future is going to happen whether I want it to or not. I will have a hand in shaping that future, whether I wish to or not. So I can shape it for my benefit (realizing that some things will be out of my control) or I can either passively or actively let it be shaped to my detriment.

Having my daughter also played a pivotal role. I wanted better for her than I had. That’s a pretty tall order because I had a great childhood. In fact, I had an almost idyllic childhood. But I wanted hers to be better. So that necessitated a change in my fundamental attitude.

Making it a Daily Habit

That’s all well and good but habits die hard and deeply ingrained habits are especially thorny.

I needed a new habit to replace the old one. Or rather I needed a whole set of new habits.

One of the things that helped keep me on track was journaling. I write in a journal almost every day. It has evolved over time but the latest incarnation follows a multi-part format. Let me show you the parts and then explain them all.

I do all my journaling in a plain text editor on the computer. (I use both Mac and PC systems so this is universal.) From the image above you can see that I create separate files for each month and name my files using a YYYY-MM format. This tells me the year and month of the entries in that file.

So each file will have roughly 30 entries. Some may have 31 but there are (infrequent) days when I don’t journal so most months have slightly fewer entries than there are days in that month.

Section 1 – Identifiers

  • Each day’s entry starts with a space and a short line. This helps me to differentiate the entries so they don’t get all strung together.
  • Below the line is the 5-character month and date for that entry.
  • Y: signifies what kind of day defined the previous day. This derives from a timekeeping system I first learned from Jack Canfield in which there are three kinds of days:
  1. Productivity days, where you actively work on your business or goals. This might include approaching or meeting with clients, actively working on a paying project, marketing and advertising activities, etc.
  2. Preparation days in which you read, learn, attend a class, network or do other activities which benefit your business or indirectly advance your goals.
  3. Rest & Recreation days have no work activities at all. You might spend them with your family, pursuing hobbies, playing sports or whatever floats your boat.

Section 2 – Gratitude

  • G: I list one thing I’m grateful for today. Some days it can be hard. Often I find myself being grateful for essentially the same things over and over again. That’s okay as long as I’m grateful for something.
  • O: is the biggest opportunity I think will present itself to me (or, more often, I plan to create for myself) today.
  • D: is one major thing I plan on doing today to advance my goals.
  • A: is for one person I appreciate having in my life and why. Again, I often find myself appreciating the same people over and over again. That’s not a bad thing. After all, there’s a reason they are in my life!

Section 3 – Accomplishments

Next I list 5 specific things I did the previous day to advance  my goals. There are a few days (especially if the previous day was an R&R day) when I have less than 5 but I always have at least one or two. Some days I have more than five. I add or delete numbered lines as necessary but I always start with 5 lines. This gives me a number to shoot for.

This section is key to being hyper-productive. By actually writing down what actions I took, I am holding myself accountable. There are no excuses. Even though no one but me ever gets to read my journal, I would be terribly embarrassed at myself if I did nothing to advance my goals. After all, they’re my goals. If I won’t pursue them, who will do it for me?

Section 4 – Free-form Writing

The final section is a free-form writing section where I just write whatever is on my mind. Often, I just recount events of the previous day. Sometimes I will weigh in with opinions or insights. I may rant or dream. A few days, especially if I am pressed for time, I may skip this section altogether but I do write in it most days. Length is unimportant. I write until I have nothing more to say. Some days that might be a few dozen words, others it may be more than 1,000.

How This Makes Me An Optimist

So  you may be wondering how this journaling makes me an optimist. Obviously, section two is the most crucial in that regard. Consciously taking inventory and writing down what I am grateful for forces me to focus on the things that are good in my life. When things are good, even the Debbie Downers of life become more optimistic. Nothing may make them bubbly and cheery but their outlook improves over what it otherwise might be.

Focusing on the good every day has a cumulative effect that keeps your mood buoyed.

There are other things too like refusing to hang out with negative people, not watching TV news, and consciously trying to find just one bright side to every situation.

In general, life is good. By consciously choosing to see it that way, how can you not be optimistic?

What It Means To Be A Copywriter

Theoretically everybody is capable of remembering everything that ever happened to them and perceiving everything that’s happening around them. Luckily this never occurs. … [We] only absorb what we want or need and block out the rest. … We also only notice things which are directly relevant to our daily business. In consequence, we tend to reduce our environment to visual Muzak — a perpetual symphony of shapes and patterns. Blinkered by habit we glance around rather than look with acuity. In effect the eye sleeps until the mind wakes it with a question.

The Art of Looking Sideways, Alan Fletcher, p.178

Breaking Through The Clutter

I love that passage! It stood out for me as soon as I read it.

Our job as copywriters, our goal as business owners, our aim when we participate in various social media endeavors is to break through the clutter and wake our reader’s eyes with a question. To catch their attention. (To put it less elegantly.)

Naturally the big dilemma is finding the right question that will do that.

It’s a moving target because the question is different for everyone and it even changes for the same person over time.

What you notice when you’re hungry and looking for a place to have lunch will be vastly different from what you notice when the needle dips below “E” and you need to find someplace to stop for gas. Both will be different from what you notice when you’re out shopping for an anniversary gift. Even that is different from where you’ll put your focus if you’re in a rush to be somewhere else.

All of this is true even if you were traveling down the same street each time.

Yes, there is what the eye literally sees and what the mind literally pays attention to…

If I’m hungry and looking for lunch, I will probably notice restaurants. But I may also notice grocery stores. I may notice someone walking down the sidewalk carrying a lunchbox. I may notice a tree with ripe apples on it.

There is also a more figurative focus…

I may notice a grassy park and think it looks like a nice place to picnic. I may hear a song on the radio that reminds me of food. I may think of a place where I ate once but then my mind might wander to the person I was with and then hop again to some other experience we shared together.

The Tie-In

What does any of this have to do with copywriting and marketing? Most important is that copywriting is not just about writing. If that were so, all you’d really need is a typist with good spelling and passable grammar.

No, copywriting is something much deeper and more subtle.

It’s about understanding human nature. It’s about defining your ideal target audience (hint: it’s nevereveryone“) then figuring out what is most likely to wake up their eyes.

Copywriting is fundamentally about motivating others to take action.

If I’ve woken up your eyes then the actions I want you to take right now are:

  1. To connect with me on LinkedIn
  2. Retweet just one of these passages from the article above. (All you’ll have to do is click on the link already provided for you.)

Retweet this passage Breaking through the clutter

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Retweet this passage Copywriting is something much deeper and more subtle than just “writing”

Retweet this passage It’s about understanding human nature

Retweet this passage Your ideal target audience is never “everyone”

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5 Keys to Really Good Copywriting

Copywriting is a fine art that can take years to perfect but here is everything you really need to keep in mind in less than 500 words.

1. It pays to have a bit of a folksy, down-home style to your writing. That’s a very good thing! Using phrases like “chewing the fat” and “that’s a head-smacker” is the exact opposite of corporate-speak so it will resonate with readers. They won’t feel like you’re selling to them.

2. Tell stories rather than trying to make a sales pitch. Make use of humor and the unexpected.

For example, I was at a networking event recently. A few days earlier I’d severely cut my left forefinger. Several people noticed the very obvious bandage and asked about it. I answered by telling a true, but unexpected story of how it happened.

Photo credit: mary_thompson, on Flickr

It was a tragic oatmeal accident.(Stunned silence.)Seriously. I was cutting up dried fruit to put in my oatmeal and it fought back. Oatmeal is dangerous stuff. Consequently, I’m not allowed near oatmeal anymore.

That was as much as I told. The people I was talking to (your readers if you were writing that in a promo) can figure out for themselves what really happened. They may also be left wondering how much truth, if any, is in your story. A little mystery is a good thing for building interest.

3. In situations like that, the truth is unimportant in most instances. The purpose of copywriting is to elicit a response, not to educate or inform. (Though sometimes that’s necessary in order to make the sale.)

4. It’s also important to write to an audience of one. When you are speaking, say mingling at a conference or during happy hour, even if you are telling a story to a small group of eight or ten people, you tell it in a personal way. Not as if you were addressing an impersonal audience of thousands.

Write the same way!

5. It’s a good thing to have a large vocabulary but don’t feel compelled to trot it out for every paragraph you write. No one’s going to consult the dictionary just to understand what you’ve written. They will simply toss it into the ol’ round file instead.

You are not writing to impress. In fact, your writing should be mostly invisible. Like the light switch on the wall.

When you walk into a room, you flick the switch without giving it a second thought. You don’t think about all the parts in that switch or the route the electricity had to take in getting from the power plant to your light bulb. You flick the switch, you get light. End of story. Everything else just fades into the background.

Good copywriting should do the same.

Click any of the icons below to retweet these passages from the above article.

Retweet this passage 5 Keys to Really Good Copywriting

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How’s this for an elevator pitch?

I am sometimes asked about my “elevator pitch”.

I’m sure everyone knows what an elevator pitch is but, just in case, it’s your 30 second canned presentation of who you are and what you do. The theory being if you were on an elevator and someone asked you, you could fully answer them before the ride was over.

I have a great deal of disdain for corporate gobbledygook and that’s precisely how it seems to me when people ask about my elevator pitch. However I have to admit the value in being able to concisely communicate who you are and what you have to offer.

When in a group, such as at a conference, as we go around the room introducing ourselves, I always stand. Often I’m the only one who does. I believe in projecting and in how you present yourself and I just feel more powerful and confident when I stand. I project more.

So the first part of my elevator pitch is all body language; I stand. This is especially powerful when everyone else is sitting. Less so at a networking mixer where most of the people are standing at the bar or mingling. I also speak loudly and enunciate clearly. Everyone can easily hear and understand what I am saying.

I avoid buzzwords. Again, I have a disdain for them so I won’t use them.

If I were standing in front of you and giving my elevator pitch right now, it would go something like this:

I am a copywriter and marketer who helps “green” businesses make sales, spread their message and educate customers. In short, I help them make the world a cleaner place.

How’s that for concise and to-the-point?

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Conservancy

The San Diego Zoo and the Wildlife Conservancy recently held a contest, inviting aspiring filmmakers to create public service announcements promoting their endangered species program. The contest drew some very creative entries.

Here is a screen shot from one of my favorite entries. This PSA is one of three submitted that is up for a People’s Choice Award. You can vote for your favorite here.

This is a great cause. Retweet it to all your contacts to let them know. Here’s another screen shot from the video.