Content Marketing Genius Ann Handley has created this superb, concise guide. Very useful if you want to create your own content, or have a better understanding of what your hired freelance writer should be doing for you.
This is basically how I spend my days, writing for other people’s businesses. It’s pretty enjoyable work, for the most part 🙂
I recently published a guest post at MindBodyGreen.com, which is pretty awesome since I love that site and read posts there all the time. If you have trouble getting yourself moving in the morning like I used to, check out this post for some new ideas!
I have so many personal heroes, and it’s gratifying to notice that most of them are women. Not that there aren’t scads of brilliant men I openly adore and admire, but as a woman I still feel like we have more to ‘prove’ in order to be successful. So every time I see a woman standing apart from the crowd and being embraced for her natural genius, some part of me breathes a sigh of relief: ahhhh, yes, it can be done.
When I read books and blog posts by these women, I feel inspired and buoyed. They remind me of what’s truly important and give me nourishing food for thought. But then my brain runs a funny mental loop that I’ve only recently begun to take conscious note of. It goes something like this:
“This new book by So-and-so is amazing! She’s so insightful… she’s given me so many great strategies to try out. I feel really inspired to take on the world. I’m going to start today. Well, after I get three other projects done, and go for a walk, and eat a late lunch. Hmm. Maybe not today. I don’t think I’ll have time. I bet So-and-So always has time for the kinds of strategies she recommends, because she’s super successful and can pay people to do everything else in her life. She doesn’t have a day job anymore. Sure, she got successful by working hard—she wasn’t always wealthy. But she always knew what she wanted to do. She was always an overachiever, and led her own start-up when she was 21. She’d accomplished more by the age of 24 than I’ve ever done. She had the confidence to self-publish her work 15 years ago. She had enough faith in herself to endure rejection and failure over and over for years, until the stars aligned for her…”
It doesn’t matter who you put in front of me, if they’re successful, my ego will eventually find some way to distance myself from them and explain how I can’t have the same kind of success as them. And make no mistake, I’m not suggesting these people are born with silver spoons in their mouths. Most of them had to bootstrap their way to where they are now, and are only successful because they worked damn hard and put themselves and their work out into the world, despite their fears and feelings of inadequacy. Maybe they just knew that the worst thing that could happen really wasn’t all that bad. Or they risked it all and stepped up anyway, because the compulsion to authentically express themselves was that strong.
My ego tells me I don’t have that kind of faith or self-confidence. I don’t have the character, conviction or work ethic to achieve what they did. So best to just keep playing small, stay in the background, do the kind of work I’m already known for. Be practical and realistic.
Now, if I just allow myself to run on autopilot, I keep myself stuck in that bleak mental groove.
But when I actually look at those words, they start to look pretty ridiculous. I can recall all sorts of moments in my life where my faith and confidence in my abilities were pretty high. I’ve had conviction and character to spare, in times when it really mattered to me. And when I have a project to complete, my drive and focus are relentless. I have the skills and strengths to get where I want to go, clearly.
So what gives?
I know I’m not alone in this. There are several dear people in my life who appear to struggle with similar demons. Do you do this too? How can we stop this maddening self-sabotage? I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, and 3 approaches come to mind:
- Have compassion for yourself. My tendency towards self-criticism and perfectionism are what have brought me here today. The more I can bring compassion in to meet whatever is happening for me (internally and externally) the more space I can create for magic to happen. I’m so done with the whole hard-ass approach to self-improvement that I see everywhere on the internet these days. Tara Mohr’s book, Playing Big, takes a very compassionate approach to helping women work through their fears and live a more fulfilling life.
- Stop comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle. Jon Acuff said that, and it’s taken off as one of the rare internet memes I actually resonate with. When looking at your heroes, it’s easy to put them on a pedestal and feel hopeless when comparing their output to yours. Ira Glass spoke about this topic beautifully, explaining that when we feel compelled to create something, it’s generally because we’re an avid consumer of that kind of work or art, and as such, we have great taste in that arena. And when we start out, the work we produce doesn’t stack up in any way, shape or form with our heroes’. So we’re tempted to quit, because we can’t bear the thought of putting mediocre work out into the world. But if we persevere and get our 10,000 hours of practice in, we’ll eventually create high-caliber work we can truly admire.
- Remember your successes. Write down a chronological list of accomplishments in your life, starting with your earliest memories: winning the science fair in first grade, making $50 with your lemonade stand when you were 8, becoming the busiest babysitter on your block, running a half-marathon when you were 18, scoring the most coveted internship amongst your college classmates, getting a raise, getting promoted, mastering online dating and meeting the love of your life, or perfecting your chocolate chip oatmeal cookie recipe. Write down as many things as you can think of at every age, and keep this list handy so you can keep adding to it. It’s important to continually remind yourself of what you’re capable of.
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I’m just getting over a cold, and while I was huddled up in blankets feeling sorry for myself, I did a lot of research on the common cold (purely out of a selfish desire to learn how make myself feel human again). Here are a few things I discovered:
- Never, Ever Blow Your Nose Forcefully. If you remember nothing else I write here, remember this. I’ve suffered through sinus head colds since I was a wee one, and always wondered why every cold I had gave me such a nasty sinus infection while everyone else I knew got away with just sniffles and coughs. I didn’t learn the reason why until last month, when my boyfriend got a cold and kept sniffing every time his nose would run. I told him several times he should blow rather than sniff, and then finally did a Google search to find information on the topic that he would actually pay attention to. However, I was dismayed to find research indicating that blowing your nose propels mucus up into the sinuses, which can then lead to a full-blown sinus infection. Hmm… so you mean when I was honking my way though box after box of Kleenex, I was paving the way for watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and searing pain flooding my sinuses? [Insert forehead slap.] If you must blow, do so very gently, one nostril at a time.
- Vitamin C Will Not Save You. There have been several studies on this supposed wonder-cure for the common cold, and no conclusive evidence has ever shown it to be remotely effective in reducing the severity of symptoms, or the duration of the cold. Taken on a daily basis throughout the year, it may help boost your immune system to prevent you from getting sick in the first place, but that hasn’t been confirmed either. I take oil of oregano and elderberry extract based on widespread tales of their powers, but there’s no conclusive evidence for them either.
- Zinc Might Actually Do the Trick. Every time I’ve tried a zinc lozenge, I’ve hated the experience intensely, so I resent the fact that this is the one ‘natural’ supplement that actually carries some scientific weight behind it. However, zinc also comes in syrup and tablet form, so you don’t need to suck on a foul-tasting lozenge to get the benefits. Take at least 75 mg per day, within 24 hours of experiencing symptoms, until you feel well again. Note: research has shown zinc can significantly reduce the number of days you have a cold, but not the severity of your symptoms.
- Keep Your Nose Warm. Although the connection between cold weather and the common cold has been contested for decades, new research shows that in fact, cold viruses thrive in cold noses. When you breathe in cold air, you’re creating a hospitable environment in your nose for rhinoviruses while lowering your immune system’s ability to fight back. So wear a scarf across your face when outdoors in chilly weather, and do whatever you can to keep yourself toasty. When you’re sick, the combination of heat + water is especially helpful to ease congestion and stuffed up noses: take warm baths and showers, lay warm washcloths on your face and inhale steam from boiled water.
- Avoid All-in-One Medications. You know, the over the counter cold remedies that promise sniffling-sneezing-coughing-achy-sore-throat-yadda-yadda relief. I don’t like to take medication as I prefer to go the all-natural route, but sometimes I get desperate. Especially when I want to get some sleep. The problem with taking multi-symptom products is that you’re likely taking more medication than you need, and it’s difficult to know which aspects of the product are helping you and which may be causing adverse affects. If you really need immediate symptom relief, narrow it down to the one or two issues that are plaguing you most and deal with those. My personal recommendations for the best symptom relievers are below:
- Use Acetaminophen / Ibuprofen + Heat for Pain Relief. You don’t need fancy, expensive cold medications. A generic pain-reliever will help with your body aches, sore throat, sinus pain, and headache. Drink warm tea, use a heat pack or take a bath, and the heat will help provide immediate relief.
- Use Honey for a sore throat. Use it on its own or stirred into green or herbal tea, and chances are you’ll feel as much relief as you would with an over-the-counter throat lozenge or syrup. It will also provide some temporary cough relief. Raw, local honey is best according to the self-professed experts, but I’ve used generic supermarket honey when I ran out of the good stuff, and I’ve had success with it.
- Use a Neti-pot for a stuffed-up or runny nose. If you find that pouring water into your nostril and letting it flow out the other nostril seems disgusting and feels extraordinarily uncomfortable, I’m right there with you. I’ve resisted neti-pots for years, all the while hearing about their marvelous abilities to reduce (and possibly prevent) allergy and cold symptoms. But there’s medical support for this centuries-old practice, so I’m going to force myself to do it more often. Note: it’s best to do it daily for a period of 1-3 weeks (when you have a cold, or during allergy season) and then give it a rest, as consistent daily use year-round may start causing the very symptoms you’re trying to prevent.
- Get More Sleep. Yeah, I know. Hardly groundbreaking stuff. But with all the research I’ve done on this topic, the most widely recommended practice for dealing with the common cold is to sleep as much as possible. Ah, but your coughing and stuffed-up nose are keeping you awake? Yeah, me too. I discovered two helpful pre-bedtime aides: gargling with saltwater to reduce throat inflammation, and drinking a concoction made with water, honey, apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper and ginger. That combo helps relieve congestion, blocked sinuses, sore throat and coughing.
- Reduce Stress. It’s pretty tough for most of us to hit the pause button on our lives and seriously scale back on our commitments, but those of us who can will recuperate faster. This means taking naps and long baths, watching rom coms, reading novels, and drinking lots of tea—especially if someone else can make it for you, and rub your feet while you drink it. If you insist on managing your regular workload, and maintaining a vigorous fitness regime while you’re sick, expect your cold to last much longer. And pretty much every reputable medical source I found on the subject noted that reducing stress is the best thing you can do to boost your immune system, preventing future colds. A few specific things you can add to your daily routine that might help: moderate consumption of alcohol (believe it or not), moderate exercise, sex, cuddling, hugs, meditation and listening to music you enjoy.
Last weekend, for some bizarre reason I asked my hair stylist to give me bangs, which is a look I haven’t rocked since Jr. high. Back then, my bangs were a mile-high, hair-sprayed wall to match every other teenage gal’s trendy ‘do. When I grew out of that phase, I was horrified at the photographic evidence of how ridiculous those bangs looked. And I was relieved not to have the daily headache of styling my bangs, or feeling hair on my forehead. So for the past 20+ years, I had been adamantly anti-bang. Until 2 weeks ago, I would have told you they’d look awful on me, they’d be difficult to style, and they’d just annoy the hell out of me in every way.
I’ve been getting up at 7:00 or 7:30 a.m. every day for the past three weeks. It’s part of a new healthy-habit-forming routine I’m doing which I mentioned previously. This is the longest period of time I’ve ever consistently woken up at a decently early hour, when I wasn’t forced to by my work or school schedule. I’m not an early riser, I’m a night owl. I’m a free spirit. I like working for myself so that I don’t have to wake up at a certain hour.
I cook for 20 people once a month. I live at a co-op where this is required of me, and when I applied to live there I thought it would just be something I would have to endure: it would be the price to pay for living in a thriving, sustainable community. Prior to residing there, I was not a good cook, and saw no reason to do anything about it—my ‘cooking’ was limited to reheating takeout, and creatively mixing boxed cereals and I was OK with that.
But you know what?
I love my new hairstyle. I’m waking up every day before my alarm goes off, and it’s starting to feel entirely natural to be up early enough to catch the last spectacular moments of sunrise. I’ve become a pretty decent chef and I look forward to the opportunity to get creative and be of service to others when I prepare a nourishing meal.
So I’m sensing a trend here: when I question my assumptions (or act anyway in spite of them), great things can happen. I know this doesn’t sound like mind-blowing stuff, but it is.
What are the negative, or limiting assumptions are you making about yourself right now? Maybe some of these:
- I’m not an organized person—my home/office is always a mess
- I’m late for everything
- I’ll never be truly successful
- I’ll always be overweight
- I hate exercise
- I’ll never get along with my _____ [sister/father/colleague/boss/employee/etc.]
- I can’t ______ [sing/dance/play guitar/act/paint/etc.]
- I can’t wear ______ even if I want to, because I’ll look silly, or call attention to myself
I challenge you to take one such assumption you have of yourself, and test it out a little bit. If you’re not ready to take real action, that’s fine. You can loosely adapt Byron Katie’s template for questioning thoughts. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this true? (yes or no)
- Can I know for certain that it’s true? (yes or no—and FYI, if you’re being truthful, the answer is always no)
- How do I feel when I believe this assumption? (Sad, frustrated, angry, disappointed, shameful, etc.)
- Who would I be without this assumption? (Imagine how your life might be if you never had that assumption about yourself.)
- Can I turn this assumption around? (For example, if you believe that you hate exercise, you could turn it around by recalling times when you’ve loved being active in some way.)
I loved this Lifehack article because it manages to make the point, in a very elegant way, that you actually have many lifetimes while inhabiting the body you’re currently in. How? It takes about seven years to master something, so if you live to be 88, you’ll have 11 opportunities to master different things. That’s also a great deal of time to learn what types of exercise you enjoy, or to try different approaches to difficult relationships, or adopt new habits.
Come on—if I can learn to cook, seriously, anything is possible.
I’ve been absolutely devouring books lately, in part because I’m in the midst of the rainy winter season on the West Coast. But I’ve also been reading more than usual as part of a new routine: for the past couple of weeks, my boyfriend and I have been getting up early each morning and doing 20 minutes of exercise, 20 minutes of reading, and 20 minutes of journaling. Oh, and today we added in 5 minutes of meditation—because of this little book by Dan Harris.
Harris was on the Colbert Report last spring and I was curious about his book after watching that interview, but apparently not enough to buy his book right away. To be honest, it may have had something to do with the title: 10% isn’t terribly flashy or exciting. I tend to be a sucker for books that make bold proclamations, even when I know better. But this past weekend I picked up 10% Happier on a whim at my local drug store while buying dental floss, and I polished the book off in two days. I read it in the morning as part of my new ritual, and then while I was eating lunch, and after dinner, and before bed. The man knows how to keep you hooked—as he should: he’s a TV reporter, so his day job is all about keeping viewers from changing the channel.
How does one become 10% happier? Spoiler alert: it’s all about maintaining a regular meditation practice.
Now, I am not new to the art of meditation. I volunteered at a yoga retreat centre for 8 months a while back, and was encouraged to meditate as much as possible there. I resisted, but succumbed occasionally out of yogi peer pressure. I hated every minute I spent on the cushion, trying to focus on my breath while silently cursing everything and everyone around me. So it surprised me more than anyone, when I signed up to do a silent meditation retreat a couple years later. I had just gone through a breakup and the idea of being cut off from my life for a week sounded pretty great. And it was, in many ways. The retreat took place on an idyllic Gulf island, and I was surrounded by trees, wildflowers and placid deer munching on grass.
The silence was a welcome relief, too. For many people the thought of not talking for days is terrifying, but for an introvert it can be a fantastic vacation from being ‘on’.
But the meditating. Oh, bloody hell, the meditating.
We were supposed to meditate first thing in the morning, again after breakfast, more after lunch, and then after a ‘dharma talk’ we could go to bed, or meditate some more. It was pure torture for the first few days, as I was told it would be. My mind spun in a relentless loop of maddening thoughts, and everything irritated me: my back hurt, my skin was itchy, my body felt cramped, I was bored. Every time I sat down to meditate, I wanted to burst out of my skin to escape the tension and tedium.
But suddenly, somehow, it became easier. Not that it was smooth sailing all the way to the finish, but it did become remarkably easier. And I had a few moments—not many, mind you, but a few—that were blissful. Where the rough edges of my monkey mind seemed to dissolve and leave me melting into the air around me, and the ground beneath me. If that seems too mystical and new-agey to swallow, then I’ll spare you further details today, because it gets a little weirder. Many people I’ve spoken to who’ve done extended periods of meditation have encountered similarly entrancing experiences, so I’ll just say that my story is far from unusual. (Harris himself had some pretty remarkable moments at a mediation retreat he begrudgingly participated in.)
Anyway, after that profoundly expansive experience, you’d think I became a regular meditator for life. You’d be quite mistaken. Since that retreat, I’ve barely done any at all. And the little bits of time I’ve forced myself to meditate were usually so irritating I couldn’t wait for them to be over.
There are some meditation teachings I quite enjoy, like Adyashanti’s. He’s adamant that meditation has nothing to do with controlling the mind, stopping your thoughts, or really trying to do anything. It’s all about allowing. Allowing everything to be exactly as it is. And I firmly believe in this approach, and have had it do wonders for me, the rare occasions that I remember to try it.
But it’s never become a habit for me, and I’m trying to change that. Dan Harris’s book has inspired me to adopt a meditation habit, and I’d wager that he could inspire just about anyone to do so. He tells a witty, entertaining cautionary tale about the effects of stress and ambition in a highly competitive field (TV news) and how he—a hard-nosed, skeptical atheist—became a daily meditator, and the near-magical effects it has had on his mental health and overall well-being, not to mention his career and relationships.
What about you? Do you have a meditation practice? Do you think you would ever be interested in such a thing? Harris’s book just might tempt you to give it a shot.