“Rich Dad Poor Dad”, Robert Kiyosaki

Rich Dad; Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki
18 MINUTE READ

Rich Dad Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki

“Rich Dad Poor Dad”, Robert Kiyosaki
Print length: 178 pages. Buy on Amazon.

Perfect for you if:

  • There never seems to be anything left at the end of the month.
  • Financial freedom is something you always promise you’ll think about tomorrow.
  • “You want what everyone wants. To be you, full-time.” — Phil Knight, founder of Nike

How long could you live for if you stopped working right now?

A year perhaps? A month? A day?

This question is at the heart of Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad Poor Dad”. And his answer?

Don’t settle for average. Don’t settle for “I don’t know”. Don’t settle for less than forever.

THE PATH TO FINANCIAL FREEDOM

It starts with a simple idea:

  • Wealth is not net-worth: your house, your car, your personal effects.
  • Wealth is financial freedom: how long you could live if you stopped working today.

And this simple idea has a simple solution. To be financially free, your passive income must exceed your expenses. And for your passive income to exceed your expenses you must:

  1. Buy things that put money into your pocket (assets); and
  2. Reduce the things that take it out again (liabilities).

But what are these things? How do we find them? And, if it’s so easy, what holds us back?

Good questions, replies Kiyosaki, and the answer, he says, lies in three things: Right motive. Right mindset. Right skills.

True, most of us start from behind. In fact, most of us start with nothing. And few of us get even a basic financial education.

But the good news, he counters, is that everything is in your power to change.

Wealth building isn’t rocket science. Anyone can learn it.

RIGHT MINDSET

You’re in an accident. You wake up disoriented, tired, bleeding. Your car is upside down. Worse, you’ve landed on train tracks and, in the distance, a freight train is coming. And it’s coming fast.

Do you waste time on how unfair the situation is? Do you wait for the train to stop? Do you wait for someone else to save you? Or do you struggle with every ounce of mangled muscle and spirit to break free?

The answer is obvious. And yet we so frequently fail this test in life. “Our lives are a reflection of our habits”, says Kiyosaki. And he’s right.

Don’t settle for entitlement, fear, arrogance, cynicism, selfishness, or laziness. Instead:

  • Be bold: Poor people are defeated by failure. Rich people are inspired by it.
  • Be humble: Poor people think they know everything. Rich people understand “you cannot learn what you think you already know.” –Epictetus
  • Be positive: Poor people say “I can’t do it”. Rich people ask “How can I do it?”.
  • Be charitable: Poor people say “let me receive and I shall give”. Rich people know “when it comes to money, love, happiness, sales, and contacts, all one needs to remember is to give first.” (For an amazing book on giving at work see Adam Grant’s Give and Take.)
  • Be industrious: Poor people say “I’m too busy to worry about money”. Rich people know “there is no such thing as lack of time, only lack of priorities.” — Tim Ferriss
  • And take action: Poor people say “The rest of the world should change”. Rich people know “The only person I can change is myself”.

Mindset is a collection of habits. Habits we can change

So next time you find yourself on life’s tracks just remember:

Broke is a state of bank balance. But poor? Poor is a state of mind.

RIGHT SKILLS

If you can learn to drive a car, you can learn to manage money.

Sure, there’s lots to take in at first. True, you’ll make mistakes along the way – even as an expert. Yep, some trips under certain conditions may be riskier than others. And no, you can’t control everything all the time.

But it’s not mysterious and it’s not impossible. You don’t need to be perfect right away. And if you learn the rules, practice enough, and keep a realistic eye on your abilities, nobody needs to get hurt.

You can manage the risk. And the risk is worth the reward.

So what are the basic skills of managing money? Here’s the breakdown:

General skills:

  • Learning: Find new formulas. Learn them fast.
  • Productivity: Don’t just do the thing right. Do the right thing.
  • Self-knowledge: Know your weaknesses. Master your emotions.

Financial skills:

  • Accounting: Conquer cash, assets, and liabilities.
  • Investing: Learn what to buy and what to sell.
  • MarketsSense when to buy and when to sell.
  • Law: Know how to buy and how to sell.

Business skills:

  • SalesNegotiate like a ninja. Become immune to rejection.
  • Deal-makingDon’t just find opportunities. Create them.
  • Management: Empower yourself with good systems and people.

Excited? Overwhelmed? However you feel, don’t panic. You’ll be surprised how much you know already and “the man who moves a mountain,” Confucius reminds us, “begins by carrying away small stones.”

GENERAL SKILLS

LEARNING:

“The single most powerful asset we all have is our mind,” says Kiyosaki, “[and] education is more valuable than money, in the long run.”

Why? “I continue to learn and develop because I know there are changes coming,” Kiyosaki explains, “[and] I’d rather welcome change than cling to the past.”

To outrun change we must outlearn it. And to outlearn change we must:

  • Commit to life-long learning: “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” (Einstein); and
  • Remain open-minded and humble: “You cannot learn what you think you already know.” (Epictetus)

Kiyosaki’s advice on learning deep vs. broad is clear: “Know a little about a lot. The more specialised you become, the more you are trapped and dependent on that specialty.”

But how? When you have time, check out WWH’s article on how to learn any skill. For now pick one or two options from the list below and take action:

  • Surround yourself with good peopleAndrew Carnegie was one of the greatest businessmen of the 20th Century. Do you know what he wrote on his tombstone? “Here lies a man who knew how to enlist in his service better men than himself”. Learn from Carnegie. Shop hard for experts, advisors, mentors, teachers, friends, or even a best friend’s dad to inspire and inform you.
  • Read – The next best thing to gathering good people around you is to gather good books. Start with Kiyosaki. Now try Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger, Seth Klarman, Benjamin Graham, Joel Greenblatt, John Bogle, or Peter Lynch. Heck, why not even give Donald Trump a go? Even if you disagree, you’ll still learn a new way of seeing the world. “Find heroes who make it look easy”, says Kiyosaki, then buy a window into their minds. (N.b., Klarman’s legendary Margin of Safety is rare and out of print. Find a copy. It’s worth it.)
  • Play games – Games are valuable tools because they speed learning with instant feedback. Like what you read here? Try Kiyosaki’s CASHFLOW; it’s free, online, and excellent. Investing in stocks? Try The Stock Market Game or any of the other free simulations and games you’ll find on Google.
  • Attend classes and seminars – Some of the best investments I’ve made have been in online courses and seminars. Kiyosaki tries to attend at least two multi-day seminars per year. Short on time or cash? Learn for free, from the best, anywhere, any-time with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from the likes of Coursera, Udacity or Khan Academy. Love Wikipedia? Try Investopedia or BetterExplained.
  • Find a job that will teach you – “Seek work for what you will learn, more than what you will earn”, advises Kiyosaki. It’s good advice. Shocking at sales? Take a second job in a Multi-Level Marketing company. Atrocious at accounting? Pick up part-time work as a bookkeeper. Lacking in leadership? Find a local club or organisation where you can get to work.
  • Teach – Teaching forces you to tear a subject down, get to know every brick, and then show someone else how to put them back together again. There is no better to learn. “The more I teach those who want to learn, the more I learn,” claims Kiyosaki. After spending ~30h crunching his book into ~4,000 words – I can only agree.

Keep learning, keep moving, keep hustling – “Master a formula. Then learn a new one.” And remember: “Invest first in education [because] the only real asset you have is your mind.”

PRODUCTIVITY:

Personal productivity is a combination of two things:

  1. Efficiency – doing things right; and
  2. Effectiveness – doing the right thing.

“Rich Dad; Poor Dad” is not a book on personal productivity but Kiyosaki does touch on its importance.

“There is no such thing as lack of time, only lack of priorities.” – says Tim Ferriss. Kiyosaki agrees: beware, he says, of “the most common form of laziness: laziness by staying busy.”

Don’t be the financial equivalent of the guy how never has time to look after his health. Don’t bury your head in your job and pretend you’re doing the best you can.

If financial freedom is something you want: make time for it.

SELF-KNOWLEDGE:

“People’s lives are forever controlled by two emotions: fear and greed.”, says Kiyosaki. But the trick, he explains, is not to fight them. Instead, it’s to “learn to use your emotions to think, not think with your emotions.”

To begin, start by being “truthful about your emotions.” Next, learn to “be an observer, not a reactor.” Finally, accept that “your emotions are your emotions, but you have got to learn to do your own thinking.”

Good advice. Because “when it comes to money, high emotions tend to lower financial intelligence” and “money has a way of making every decision emotional.”

How? Kiyosaki doesn’t layer on the detail. You could, however, start much worse than with Chade-Meng Tan‘s excellent Search Inside Yourself.

FINANCIAL SKILLS

Accounting. Investing. Markets. Law. Gulp.

I know what you’re thinking – but the hard part is actually over.

Because, next to life-habits, financial skills are child’s play. In fact, I bet you’ll be surprised how much you know already…

ACCOUNTING:

Like cooking, accounting is easier if we prepare the ingredients in advance. Here’s our list:

  • Your salary is earned income (you working for money).
  • An asset is anything that reliably puts cash into your pocket (money working for you).
  • Cash created by assets is passive income.
  • A liability is anything that reliably takes cash out of your pocket (i.e., debt and taxes)
  • Cash spent on anything (including liabilities) is an expense.

You are financially free when passive income exceeds expenses (at this point you no longer have to work, ever again).

A recipe for financial freedom.

The recipe for financial freedom is simple: buy assets to increase passive income; and reduce liabilities to minimise expenses.

And the secret ingredient? Make converting your earned income into assets your top priority. Or in other words, always pay yourself first.

Defer bills and expenses to the last possible moment. Let the pressure inspire your financial creativity. But always pay yourself first.

One good approach is to automatically debit and invest a fixed sum from your account at the start of each month. Running short 30 days later? Remember, don’t say “I can’t pay”, instead ask “How can I pay?”. Financial intelligence is half method, half creativity.

Accounting basics done – it’s really that simple.

INVESTING:

But if it’s so simple, where do we go wrong? The problem, Kiyosaki says, is that we often buy things we think are assets that are actually liabilities.

Take your car, your television, or your other personal effects. How about your home? Do they regularly take cash out or put cash into your pocket? That’s right. They are all liabilities.

Remember our simple idea? Wealth is not net worth. Sure, you might eventually make a profit on your home, but in Kiyosaki’s world – cashflow is king. If it doesn’t generate cash – it’s not a real asset.

So what is a real asset?

A real asset is anything that reliably puts cash into your pocket. Real assets are:

  • Stocks, Bonds, and Notes (IOUs);
  • Income-generating real estate;
  • Royalties from intellectual property like music, scripts, and patents;
  • Businesses that do not need your presence (“If I have to work there, it’s not a business. It becomes my job.”); or
  • Anything else that has value, produces income or appreciates, and has a ready market.

To illustrate, Kiyosaki gives concrete examples from his own preferred asset-classes: real-estate and small-cap stocks. His point is not that everyone should follow the same strategy, it’s to “inspire people to learn more” and “show that it’s not rocket science”.

In fact, Kiyosaki limits his investment advice to six general points:

  • Buy what you love – “I collect real estate simply because I love buildings and land,” says Kiyosaki. But if you love music – buy royalties. If you love businesses – start with stocks. Buy what you love because it will excite you and inspire you. But most of all because “If you don’t love it, you won’t take care of it.”
  • Learn what you buy – Risk is relative: “What is risky for one person is less risky to someone else,” writes Kiyosaki, “It is not gambling if you know what you’re doing. It is gambling if you’re just throwing money into a deal and praying.” If you take a sports car on to the freeway after one driving lesson, the risks are unacceptably high. How do you reduce them? With learning, practice, experience, and a constant dose of humility.
  • Play with money you can afford to lose – When it comes to investing, you won’t win every time, or even most of the time: “On an average 10 investments, I hit home runs on two or three, five or six do nothing, and I lose on two or three.” explains Kiyosaki. Keep those odds in mind. If your home runs are the last of ten (or a hundred) investments you make, don’t lose your coat before you get there.
  • Concentrate – “If you have little money and you want to be rich, you must first be focused, not balanced.” explains Kiyosaki. If you hate losing, play it safe. If you’re over 25 and terrified of risk, play it safe. But “if you have any desire to be rich… do not do what poor and middle-class people do: put their few eggs in many baskets. Put a lot of your eggs in a few baskets and FOCUS: Follow One Course Until Successful.”
  • Focus on returns – The reason your home is a poor investment is simple – even if its value increases, you probably won’t ever feel that cash in your pocket. That’s a lot of missed investment and learning opportunities. Remember, cash is king and “the sophisticated investor’s first question is: ‘How fast do I get my money back?'”. (N.b., Return on Investment (ROI) is an accounting term worth looking up)
  • Get something for nothing – “On every one of my investments”, explains Kiyosaki, “there must be an upside, something for free – like a condominium, a mini-storage, a piece of free land, a house, stock shares or an office building. And there must be limited risk, or a low-risk idea”. Ray Kroc’s didn’t sell hamburger franchises, he bought real-estate. Go beyond returns and find the extra upside. “That”, says Kiyosaki, “is financial intelligence.”

One more thing. The best investment opportunities are often available first or exclusively to sophisticated investors. In other words, to get the best pieces of meat, you need to fight your way to the top of the food chain.

That’s why “I constantly encourage people to invest more in their financial education than in stocks, real estate or other markets.” Knowledge won’t just make you a better player. It changes the game entirely.

So find your niche. Learn it. Master it. Stay humble. Keep playing. Get smart → Grow rich.

MARKETS:

Warren Buffet describes Benjamin Graham‘s Intelligent Investor as “by far the best book on investing ever written”. The best part of the book? Graham’s allegory of Mr. Market – a simple story that explains everything Kiyosaki has to say on the market and more.

Imagine you pay $1,000 to part-invest in a business with a manic-depressive called Mr. Market. Now imagine that every day Mr. Market calls you and offers to either sell you his share in the business or to buy you out. Mr. Market’s prices are constantly changing and often ludicrous; sometimes sky-high, sometimes rock-bottom. Do you think that Mr. Market’s daily moods have any impact on the intrinsic value of the business? Of course not. And the same goes for markets all over the world.

Buffet himself provides a neat moral to the story: “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful.”

That’s easier said than done; the pull of the crowd is strong. But it’s also the most valuable advice on understanding markets that you will ever hear.

For more on Mr. Market, read The Intelligent Investor. Curious “why” markets can be so irrational? You’ll love Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow or Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile.

LAW:

There are two ways to greatly reduce your expenses:

  1. Buy less stuff (an article for another time); and
  2. Get to know the law.

Why is the law so important? Because aside from interest and personal expenses, your biggest expense by far is tax. And when it comes to tax, the law is your only defence.

At a minimum, you must find and use any tax shields your government makes available to you: 401(k)s in the U.S.; pension schemes and ISAs in the U.K.; whatever they are, wherever you are. If you’re not using them you’re losing them.

Now for the good part…

The power of corporations:

“A corporation wrapped around the technical skills of accounting, investing and markets can contribute to explosive growth.”, says Kiyosaki.

The simple reason? Individuals get taxed before other expenses. Corporations get taxed after them. Let’s use an easy example:

Assume my income is $1,000, my expenses are $500 and the tax rate for both individuals and companies is 20%.

As an individual: My residual income is my starting income [$1,000] less my tax [$1,000 x 20% = $200] less my expenses [$500]. So, $1,000 – $200 – $500 = $300.

In a corporation: My residual income is my starting income [$1,000] less my expenses [$500], less my tax [($1,000 – $500) x 20% = $100]. So, $1,000 – $500 – $100 = $400.

In other words, I walk away with 33% more income in a corporation than as an individual.

The real picture, of course, is more complex; but hopefully, you should feel motivated enough to go and fill in the blanks.

“A person who understand the tax advantages and protections provided by a corporation”, explains Kiyosaki, “can get rich so much faster than someone who is an employee or a small-business sole proprietor.”

“It’s like the difference between someone walking and someone flying. [It’s] profound when it comes to long-term wealth.”

BUSINESS SKILLS

Sales, deal-making, and management are among the most rewarding and exciting skills you will ever add to life’s toolbox.

And the good news? They are nowhere near as hard as you think.

Let’s begin. Starting with…

SALES:

Yes, selling is scary. Yes, it’s demoralising. And yes, that is exactly why you should do it.

“The better you are at communicating, negotiating, and handling your fear of rejection,” explains Kiyosaki, “the easier life is.”

I was terrified of selling. So I spent the first two years of my career cold-calling executives to sell financial products. After months of rejection, I somehow convinced the CEOs of Turkey’s 5 top steel mills to meet with me. When I arrived in Istanbul, age 21, cheap polyester suit, all gelled hair and Labrador energy, did they welcome me? They barely contained their laughter. It still makes me wince.

Do I regret it? I can’t point to a single other professional experience that had so great a positive impact on my life and work.

My favourite books on sales are Brian Tracy’s Psychology of Selling, Roger Fisher’s Getting to Yes and Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Kiyosaki’s advice? Spend at least a couple of years working in sales. Ideally as a network marketer in a multi-level marketing company. Look careuflly for one with a good sales training program: “It’s not what you earn, it’s what you learn.”

And remember: “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations they are willing to have.” — Tim Ferriss.

DEAL-MAKING:

“There are two kinds of investors”, writes Kiyosaki:

  1. “The type who buys packaged investments”; and
  2. “The type who creates investments.”

“It is important to learn how to put the pieces together because that is where the huge wins reside.” So how do we access those huge wins? To become the second type of investor, you must learn to:

  1. Find opportunities;
  2. Raise money; and
  3. Organise smart people.

Sound like hard work? It is. “There is a lot to learn,” Kiyosaki reminds us, “but the rewards can be astronomical.”

Find opportunities: 

The first step to finding opportunities is to look for them. And looking gets easier if you learn and surround yourself with smart people.

But even the best ideas are cheap; “Action always beats inaction,” and rich people don’t just find opportunities, they make them:

  • “Shop for bargains in all markets.” Stay open-minded. And remember Warren Buffet’s advice: “be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful.”
  • “Look for someone who wants to buy first, then look for someone who wants to sell.” Investors call this arbitrage. Use your learning to close gaps between buyers and sellers. Though rare, there’s no better way to make good, quick, risk-free money.
  • “Make lots of offers” In fact, always make offers, even if they’re stupidly low. And make them with escape clauses – “subject-to” contingencies, even if only subject to the agreement of an imaginary business partner. You’ll be surprised how often even an insultingly low offer might be accepted.
  • “Think big.” Big investments come with big opportunities (volume discounts, less competition, more upside). Look for them. If you can’t fit one in your mouth, gather some co-investors to share the load. Remember, never say “I can’t afford it”, always ask “How can I afford it?”

“There is gold everywhere.” Kiyosaki reminds us time and again, it’s just “most people are not trained to see it.”

Raise money:

“You need to know how to raise capital,” advises Kiyosaki, “and there are many ways that don’t require a bank.”

Though light on details, Kiyosaki’s examples often include some form of peer-to-peer lending or other bank free financing options .

If you want to find answers – go and look for them. I’d start with Google. Still stuck for ideas? Go back to the learning section of this article and don’t come back empty-handed.

Organise smart people:

Remember Andrew Carnegie? “The real skill is to manage and reward the people who are smarter than you in some technical area,” confirms Kiyosaki.

Finding good people is one of life’s toughest challenges. The secret? To find people who’ll shop hard for you, you must shop hard for them.

What should you look for? “Three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy,” explains Warren Buffet, “And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

Kiyosaki has an extra test: “When I interview any paid professional, I first find out how much property or stocks they personally own and what percentage they pay in taxes… I used to have an accountant [who] had no real estate. I switched because we did not love the same business.”

And when you find good people? “Pay [them] well… be fair, and most of them will be fair to you. If all you can think about is cutting their commissions, why should they want to help you? It’s just simple logic.”

One final tip from Nike founder, Phil Knight: “don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” If you’ve truly surrounded yourself with people more intelligent than yourself, the surprise will nearly always be pleasant.

Learn to find, lead, and organise good people. This one tip alone won’t just make you rich. It will change your life completely.

MANAGEMENT:

“If most of you can cook a better hamburger, how come McDonalds makes more money than you?” asks Kiyosaki.

“The answer”, he explains, “is obvious: McDonalds is excellent at business systems. The reason so many talented people are poor is because they focus on building a better hamburger and know little to nothing about business systems.”

So how do we get better at managing systems? Kiyosaki restates the importance of “work to learn” over “work to earn”. Jump at chances to work in different parts of your organisation, even if it means deferring a promotion. The long-term benefit of understanding the many working parts of a business will far exceed any short-term loss of earnings.

My own advice? Pick up a copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Ferriss’s The Four Hour Work Week. You’ll find no better introductions to personal and small business productivity.

RIGHT MOTIVE

When it comes to financial freedom; two questions shout loudest for our attention:

  • What do I need to do? and
  • How can I do it?

Rich Dad Poor Dad packs a huge amount of know-how into its 178 pages. And wherever the “how” feels light, Kiyosaki never fails to point out “where” we search for more answers.

But there’s one question we often forget to ask. The most important question of all. “Why?”

Fear and greed enslave us all. They keep poor people poor through overspending and debt. They keep rich people miserable through 80+ hour weeks long after they’ve become financially free.

Sure, a little greed can be a useful spark in our quest for financial freedom. Vital even. But what use is financial freedom if it costs you your mind, your body, and all the things that you love?

So get to work. Read “Rich Dad Poor Dad”. Take a free course in investing. Find good people. Ask great questions. Resolve to pay yourself first.

But every so often, don’t forget to ask yourself “Why am I doing all this in the first place?” “If I never had to work another day in my life, what would I actually do then?”

Perhaps your dream is to travel. Perhaps it’s to spend more time with your children. Perhaps it’s to go out in the world and make a difference.

It doesn’t really matter what you choose. Just remember: freedom without happiness isn’t really freedom at all.

And the most valuable thing that money can buy you is this: To be happy, to be free, and “to be you, full-time.” — Phil Knight, founder of Nike.

“On Writing Well”, William Zinsser

On Writing Well, William Zinsser
9 MINUTE READ

On Writing Well, William Zinsser

“On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction”, William Zinsser
Print length: 338 pages. Buy on Amazon.

Perfect for you if:

  • You plan on writing anything, to anyone, ever again.
  • You’re a messiah at turning 5 points and 2 quotes into 5,000 words.
  • Watching a masterful, championship-winning play sends a tingle down your spine.

“On Writing Well” is a book so brimming with wisdom that reading it feels like you’re clutching a living brain.

This is writing, about writing, for writers, by a captain of the craft. Which – whether your medium is books, articles, reports, emails, messages, or status updates – makes “On Writing Well” a book for us all.

But it isn’t William Zinsser‘s 70 years of journalism, writing, editing, criticism and teaching that makes this book so special. It’s not the plethora of practical pointers, nor the abundance of anecdotes, quotes, examples, and references that colour them along the way. It isn’t even the mini-guides on writing about people, travel, memoir, science, business, sports, arts, and humour.

What makes this book special is Zinsser‘s humanity and warmth. This is writing at its best, and when you learn that Zinsser passed away just recently, aged 92, it feels oddly like losing the contact details of someone you were just getting to know.

I found it difficult to crunch “On Writing Well” and even harder to write a worthy introduction. I’ve tried to capture the major points below. In doing so I’ve omitted some of Zinsser‘s more granular tips, much of the specific guidance from the mini-guides, and all of his warmth, charm, and charisma.

“On Writing Well” is a book that should be experienced first hand. But don’t read it because you’re a writer. Read it for the thrill of meeting a master at his craft. Read it because “quality is a reward of its own.”

WRITING WELL IS A CRAFT; ANYONE CAN LEARN IT.

Like learning any skill, writing well needs the right: Mindset, Motivation, Practice (Quantity and Quality), and Opportunity.

Mindset: Anyone can learn to write well. But it will take time and effort and you will make mistakes. Persevere and remember: “Your only contest is with yourself”.

Motivation: Write well for the reader but write about things you find interesting. You will find it easier to persevere with and enjoy and your energy will come across in your writing.

Practice (Quantity): “You learn to write by writing”, so “establish a daily schedule and stick to it” and remember: “the man who runs away from his craft because he lacks inspiration is fooling himself. He is also going broke.”

Practice (Quality): First strip your writing down, then build it back up. Practice purposefully to master the basics. Work at each component, form, and style. Work on your weaknesses and become obsessive over detail: “No writing decision is too small to be worth a large expenditure of time.”

Opportunity: Attend courses and read about learning to writeSeek other writers, teachers and editors. Study, note, and imitate the masters: “Find the best writers in the fields that interest you and read their work aloud” and “never hesitate to imitate another writer. Imitation is part of the creative process for anyone learning an art or a craft.”

GOOD WRITING IS CLEAR, SIMPLE, CONCISE, AND HUMAN.

Be Clear.

“Give the reader a narrative flow he can follow with no trouble from beginning to end.”

  • The reader should find it easy to follow.
  • The writing should be structured, linear, flowing, emphatic, and familiar.
  • The writer should set a single intention, research extensively, think clearly, structure carefully and use analogies.

Be Simple.

“A simple style is the result of hard work and hard thinking; a muddled style reflects a muddled thinker.”

  • The reader should find it easy to read.
  • The writing should contain short and simple paragraphs, sentences, and words.
  • The writer should test by reading aloud. Always remember the reader and shorten words where possible.

Be Concise.

“The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.”

  • The reader should find each point quick to understand.
  • The writing should use words that are surprising, strong, and precise in their meaning.
  • The writer should eliminate clutter (“Good writing is lean and emphatic.”), avoid cliché and jargon, and commit (“Don’t hedge with little timidities.”)

Be Human.

“Writing is an intimate transaction between two people… and it will go well to the extent that it retains its humanity.”

  • The reader should be able to relate to both content and author.
  • The writing should feel personal, energetic, specific, and concrete.
  • The writer should write like a person, tell a story, use quotes, use detail to illustrate the general, and have fun.

GOOD WRITING GROWS FROM GOOD PROCESS.

Set intention.

  • “Decide what single point you want to leave in the reader’s mind”.
  • Decide how you plan to put it there.

Research.

“Readers should always feel that you know more about a subject than you put in writing.”

  • Go after your research; if it interests you then “get on the plane”: travel to the next town, county, or county to find it.
  • “Always collect more material than you will use.”
  • “Look for your material everywhere”, not just in the obvious places.
  • And follow surprises. “Surprise is the most refreshing element in non-fiction writing. If something surprises you it will also surprise – and delight – the people you are writing for.”

Think.

“Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other.”

  • Select: Use less than you have.
  • Reduce: Explain big by thinking small. Tell a story.
  • Organise: Clear writing <==> Clear thinking.
  • “Your subconscious mind does more writing than you think” so, “never go to sleep without a request to [it].” — Thomas Edison

Write.

  • Go easy on yourself (“The first draft of anything is shit.” — Earnest Hemmingway)
  • Put yourself into the writing by always writing the first draft in the first person (then go back and remove the ‘I’s if you must).
  • Trust and adapt to your material: “Don’t become the prisoner of a preconceived plan”.
  • When you get stuck ask yourself “What is this piece really about?”

Rewrite.

  • Read aloud; remove anything you wouldn’t actually say.
  • Edit on paper; process the full composition with a pen, then apply edits.
  • Continuously strengthen, tighten and make the language more precise.
  • Repeat. Repeat. Repeat: “Rewriting is the essence of writing well; it’s where the game is won or lost.”

Defend.

  • A good editor brings an “objective eye” and “can’t be thanked fervently enough”.
  • But defend against direct edits to (a) style and (b) content: “If you allow your distinctiveness to be edited out, you will lose one of your major virtues.”

THE ANATOMY OF WRITING WELL.

Words.

“Writing that endures consists of words that are short and strong.”

  • Use short words over long words.
  • Use verbs over nouns.
  • Verbs: Use active verbs over passive verbs.
    • “The ground was covered in leaves.” → “Leaves covered the ground”
  • Nouns: Make people act, not concepts.
    • The first reaction is often laughter.” → “People often laugh.”
  • Use adverbs only where they change meaning. (See “How to: Cleanse Clutter”)
  • Use adjectives only where they surprise or inform.  (See “How to: Cleanse Clutter”)
  • Use neutral over sexist or gendered language. (See “How to: Side-step Sexism”)
  • “Get in the habit of using dictionaries” and a thesaurus*.

* If you’re looking for an immediate next action: why not set up a good dictionary and thesaurus on your computer?

Sentences.

“Readers read with their eyes. But in fact, they hear what they are reading far more than you realise.”

  • Make sentences short and rhythmic.
    • Within: “Rhythm and alliteration are vital to every sentence.”
    • Between: “See if you can gain variety by reversing the order of a sentence or by substituting a word that has freshness or oddity or by altering the length of your sentences.”
  • Make sentences flow.
    • Remember where you left the reader in the last sentence.
    • Indicate mood changes (e.g., now, but, later) early in the current sentence.
    • Build suspense for the next sentence.
  • Make sentences unique (advance, don’t restate).
  • Remember: “a difficult problem in a sentence can [often] be solved by simply getting rid of it.”

Paragraphs. 

“Writing is visual – it catches the eye before it has a chance to catch the brain.”

  • Make paragraphs short (but not so short they interrupt a thought).
  • Make paragraphs structured, linear, and flowing: “Every paragraph should amplify the one that preceded it.”
  • Make paragraphs relevant to the composition’s intention (i.e., stick to the point).

The lead.

  • Remember, “the most important sentence in any article is the first one.”
  • First “capture the reader immediately and force him to keep reading.”
  • Then “tell the reader why the piece was written and why he ought to read it.”

The close.

  • “Give as much thought to choosing your last sentence as you did to your first.”
  • Don’t summarise or restate. Instead, “bring the story full circle – strike an echo of a note that was sounded at the beginning.”
  • Remember “the perfect ending should take your readers slightly by surprise and yet seem exactly right.”
  • And don’t sell past the close: “When you’re ready to stop, stop.”

HOW TO: CONDUCT INTERVIEWS.

“Whatever form of non-fiction you write, it will come alive in proportion to the number of quotes you can weave into it as you go along.”

Find a subject:

  • “Look for your material everywhere, not just by reading the obvious sources and interviewing the obvious people.”
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. “Most men and women lead lives, if not of quiet desperation, at least of desperate quietness.”

Before the interview:

  • “Never go into an interview without doing whatever homework you can.”
  • “Make a list of likely questions.”

During the interview:

  • Use pen(cil) and paper (a recording device is usually unnecessary).
  • Put the other person at ease (“Don’t take your pad out right away”).
  • Take the best notes you can (you’ll improve with time).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for a moment if you need to catch up.

After the interview:

  • Stay alert: “Often you’ll get your best material after you put your pencil away, in the chitchat of leave-taking.”
  • Refresh and complete your notes as soon as possible.
  • Type up your notes when you get home.

As you organise your material:

  • Do: Cut, juggle and join quotes to link thoughts and improve flow.
  • Don’t: Fabricate quotes or surmise what you think someone said or meant.
  • Instead: Call and check. Ask them to rephrase until you understand.
  • If you don’t get what you need the first time, go back.

When you write up the interview:

  • Lead: Who is the interviewee and why should the reader care?
  • Throughout: Balance your words and the interviewee’s words.
  • Avoid starting with “He said” or struggling for synonyms.

HOW TO: SIDE-STEP SEXISM.

Avoid “the hundreds of words that carry an offensive meaning or some overtone of judgement” e.g., words that:

  • Patronise: “gal”
  • Imply second-class status: “poetess”
  • Imply second-class roles: “house-wife”
  • Diminish: “the girls”
  • Demean: “lady lawyer”
  • Are deliberately sexual: “divorcée”, “coed”, “blonde”

Rephrase “more damaging – and more subtle- usages that treat women as possessions of the family male” e.g.,

  • “Early settlers pushed west with their wives and children.” → “Pioneer families…” or “Pioneer couples…”

Use alternatives for sexist nouns.

  • Find other terms: “chairman” → “chair”, “spokesman” → “representative”
  • But avoid makeshift terms e.g., “chairman” !→ “chairperson”, “spokesman” !→ “spokeswoman”

Dodge “He”, “him”, and “his”.

  • Use the plural → “they”, “them”, and “their”, but “only in small doses” as “they weaken writing because they are less specific than the singular”.
  • Use “or” → “him or her” but again “only sparingly” (but never “he/she”, “the slant has no place in good English”).
  • Use “we” for “he” or “our” and “the” for “his” in some styles of writing.
  • Use “you” to address the writer directly in other styles of writing.

But in all cases, don’t compromise “flow” for “correctness” – use “he” if there is no good alternative.

HOW TO: CLEANSE CLUTTER.

Remove:

  • Sentences that rephrase something already stated.
  • Points that tell the reader something they already know or can work out themselves.
  • Technical jargon.
  • Clichés.

Simplify euphemisms (esp. in business and politics).

  • “Depressed socioeconomic area” → “Slum”
  • “Waste disposal personnel” → “Garbage collectors”
  • “Volume reduction unit” → “Town dump”
  • “Volume-related production-schedule adjustment” → “Plant shutdown”
  • “Impacted the ground prematurely” → “Crashed”
  • “A negative cashflow position” → “Insolvent”

Deflate inflated phrases.

  • “Referred to as” → “Called”
  • “With the possible exception of” → “Except”
  • “Due to the fact that” → “Because”
  • “He totally lacked the ability to” → “He couldn’t”
  • “Until such a time as” → “Until”
  • “For the purpose of” → “For”
  • “Are you experiencing any pain?” → “Does it hurt?”

Prune meaningless bloat.

  • “I might add”
  • “It should be pointed out”
  • “It is interesting to note”
  • “It will interest you” (if it is interesting, let it be interesting)
  • “Surprisingly” (if it is surprising, let it surprise)
  • “Of course” (if something is obvious, omit it)

Omit qualifiers.

  • “A bit”
  • “Sort of”
  • “Very”
  • “Too”
  • “Kind of”
  • “Rather”
  • “Quite”
  • “In a sense”

Get rid of redundant adjectives, adverbs and prepositions.

  • “A personal friend” → “A friend”
  • “A tall skyscraper” → “A skyscraper”
  • “Smile happily” → “Smile”
  • “Order up” → “Order”

Shorten long words.

  • “Assistance” → “Help”
  • “Numerous” → “Many”
  • “Facilitate” → “Ease”
  • “Individual” → “Man” or “Woman”
  • “Remainder” → “Rest”
  • “Initial” → “First”
  • “Implement” → “Do”
  • “Sufficient” → “Enough”
  • “Attempt” → “Try”
  • “Currently”, “Today”, “At the present time” → “Now”
  • “Presently” → “Soon”

Avoid fad words.

  • Paradigm
  • Parameter
  • Prioritise
  • Potentialise
  • Dialogue (as a verb)
  • Interface (with someone)

Get Published and Be Heard – The Definitive Guide to Guest Blogging

The Definitive Guide to Guest Posting
16 MINUTE READ

The Definitive Guide to Guest Posting

Perfect for you if:

  • You have something to say but you’re struggling to be heard.
  • You’re an entrepreneur or freelancer hunting for links, exposure, and customers.
  • You’re curious what it takes to get published by some of the biggest blogs in the world.

Maybe it’s happened to you.

You invested deeply in a piece of writing, carefully crafting each paragraph, sentence, and phrase. Your precious words, you knew they had to be right to attract the right audience – to have the right impact.

You finally hit ‘publish’, and what happened? Nothing. Nada. Nobody read them. Not even your friends and family. No links, no likes, no comments; people said they liked your work, and yet you still didn’t get the right results.

So now you’re wondering: Do you just need to be patient and wait for your traffic to snowball?

Or could it be that your writing really does suck and your wellwishers are just protecting your delicate artistic sensibilities?

The Surprisingly Simple Truth

The solution is simple. To get results and make an impact you must:

  1. Write about things that people actually want to read.
  2. Learn to write about them well (and to rewrite them even better).
  3. Get your writing published where people will see it.

But how? Jon Morrow‘s solution is to learn to write guest posts like a boss. And judging by his success, he might just be on to something.

“Smart bloggers know where they want to go, and how to find the right strategies to get there. If you don’t have the right approach, it won’t happen.” – Jon is both an exceptional copywriter and an inspirational teacher. But don’t take my word for it: visit his website, read his story, judge him for yourself.

Though much of his content is free, I was recently inspired by another writer, Benjamin Hardy, to try one of his excellent paid courses. I wasn’t disappointed. Whether you’re a writer, blogger, or entrepreneur I’d strongly recommend taking a look. (N.b., This is not an affiliate link. I’m not incentivised or paid in any way to promote Jon – I just think his work is awesome.)

For now, here’s an insight into the mind of a guest blogging pro and 25 steps to get started on right away…

1. Understand “Why?”

“A blog without a clear goal is like a killer resume without a dream job to apply for.” – Jon Morrow

Ask yourself: Why am I guest blogging? To attract freelance clients? To increase my readership? To develop my writing?

Write your goal down and make it SMART (simple, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound): e.g., I sign up 10 new Freelance clients by XXX

2.  Know who you’re talking to.

Ask yourself: What single deep desire unites my target audience? If I could grant them one wish, what would they ask for?

Use desires, not demographics, to describe your target audience. Review Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs if you need some inspiration.

Write your audience’s deepest desire down in terms that would resonate with them. e.g., “I want to be…”, “I want to have…”

3. Pick a corner to fight in.

The blogosphere has eleven major categories, each characterised by different wants.

  • Personal finance: save money and make smarter investments;
  • Gadgets and Technology: be at the cutting edge, learning tricks and hacks to get the most of what they already have.
  • Career: more career success and satisfaction, or make a career change.
  • Creative Endeavours: greater creative expression and success.
  • Parenting: become better parents and raise healthy, happy, balanced kids.
  • Business & Entrepreneurship: success and profitability in (mainly small) business.
  • Social Media & Blogging: expand reach and influence online.
  • Freelancing: thrive as an independent freelancer working on their own terms.
  • Marketing: build trust and sell more.
  • News, Culture & Entertainment: keep up to date with and participate in popular culture
  • Self-improvement: be happier, healthier, more effective and live a fulfilled, purposeful life.

Ask yourself: Where is my audience likely to be hanging out?

Write your three target blogosphere categories down.

4. Scout high and low for prospects.

Use tools like Google, Feedly or your own knowledge to list ten possible guest blogging targets across your audience’s categories.

Think big; don’t worry about starting small and working your way up. If your dream is to write for Business Insider or The Huffington Post, put them on your list.

Your track record is far less important than you think.

5. Use the 3Cs to eliminate dead ends.

Go through your list and eliminate any blogs that fails one of the following tests.

If you finish with fewer than 5 blogs, return to Step 4 to find more targets.

i. Crowd: Is the audience engaged? 

Use comments and social shares to test levels of audience engagement.

Look for a minimum of ~5 comments per post. 10 – 30 is preferable. 30+ is dynamite.

If comments are low or disabled entirely, look for a minimum of ~50 shares per post. 100 – 500 is preferable. 500+ is dynamite.

Check each target manually or use a tool like Buzzsumo to get an overview.

ii. Contributors: Does the blog accept guest posts?

Either explicitly: Look for a “Write for us” link or equivalent in header and footer menus.

Or implicitly: Check posts for multiple authors. Review the author bio boxes for clues. Search the site for keywords like, “guest post”.

To do this type: “site:https://whywhathow.xyz guest post” into Google, replacing WhyWhatHow with your target blog’s domain.

Avoid blogs which accept guest posts either by invitation only or rarely at all; focus on easier targets.

iii. Credit: Does the blog credit guest authors in the right way?

Proper credit is critical. Without it, your guest post won’t move you towards your guest blogging goal.

Check the author bio boxes at the end of each post. Look for a bio on the same page as your article that allows you to link freely.

Avoid blogs that direct users to another page for author information. Be wary of blogs that only allow links in fixed ways e.g. “Website”.

6. Draft a well-connected hit-list.

For each target on your short-list, ask yourself: How well does this blog connect with my target audience’s deepest desire (see Step 2)?

Read each blog’s title, tagline, about page, and ten most popular posts. Now rate its chance of connecting with your audience: High, Medium, or Low.

(Look for an on-site ‘Most Popular’ list or use a tool like Buzzsumo to find any blog’s most popular recent posts.)

Narrow your focus to the three most promising targets. This is your hit-list.

7. Work out what keeps your readers up until 2 A.M.

Start with the most promising target on your hit-list.

Read each of its top ten posts; as you read, write down three answers to each of the following questions:

  • What desires do these posts promise to fulfil?
  • What goals do they help the reader achieve, or use to lure them in?
  • What fears do they amplify or offer to cure?
  • What frustrations do they empathise with and present solutions for?

Write in the first person (“I want…”, “I’m afraid…”, “I find it frustrating…”).

Read them aloud. If they don’t sound right: try, try and try again.

8. Make your topic irresistible.

Pick the three answers that really stand out to you from Step 7.

Ask yourself: what three outcomes would make this person’s day?

Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. What completed outcomes would genuinely fulfil this desire, move them towards this goal, reassure this fear or relieve this frustration?

These outcomes will be at the core of your guest post. Write each one down and say it aloud. If you can’t imagine someone saying it to a friend, or it’s not a result that would make their day, try again.

9. Grab their attention.

If your irresistible results are your business plan, your headline is your two-second elevator pitch.

An effective headline grabs readers’ attention because it:

  1. Contains power words that evoke emotion – e.g., 13 Negative Thoughts That Cause Low Self-Esteem >> 13 Toxic Thoughts That Crush Your Confidence
  2. Is specific – e.g., How to Get More Followers on Twitter >> How to Get 1,000 New Twitter Followers in Just 24 Hours
  3. Is concrete (i.e., detectable by the senses) – How to Increase Customer Satisfaction >> How to Make Customers So Happy They’ll Call to Thank You

Avoid headlines that are:

  1. Too clever e.g., How to Get Attention Without Receiving a Detention
  2. Too cryptic e.g., Are You a Shark or a Dolphin?
  3. Too long i.e., no more than ~70 characters

“How to” and “List” headlines are tried and tested formats. For practical pointers, see this superb guide on Headline Hacks.

Whatever format you choose, spend at least 30 minutes brainstorming options. Your headline is your first impression – make it count.

Now pick your favourite 3 options to work through the next steps.

10. Make yourself at home.

Take another look at the headlines of the target blog’s top ten posts. Make a note of:

  • Format: What kind of posts does it favour? e.g., “How to” vs. “List”
  • Length: How long are the shortest, average, and longest headlines?
  • Style and tone: How e.g., extroverted or muted are the headlines?

Now, adapt your favourite headlines to fit the house style. This will dramatically increase your chances of getting published.

11. The right outcome starts with the right people.

A successful pitch means putting the right idea in front of the right person in the right way.

For blogs that explicitly accept guest posts: Find and scrutinise their guest posting guidelines to understand who needs to see what and how.

For blogs that lack guidelines but may still accept guest posts:

  • Find contact emails on the blog or with tools like Google and Hunter.io
  • Confirm contact emails using tools like Pipl.com
  • For bigger blogs, decide who best to contact (e.g., the owner vs. an editor)

If your primary target specifically requests full article submissions, move to Step 14. Otherwise…

12. Make sure they can’t ignore you.

For blogs with clear pitching guidelines: Read and follow the pitching guidelines exactly.

Otherwise, write pitching emails that are professional, short and easy to reply to. E.g.,

“Hi [FIRST NAME],

Mind taking a quick look at these headlines?

For several days now, I’ve been digging through [BLOG NAME], getting familiar with your style and audience. If you’re open to it, I’d like to write some guest posts for you.

Here are some sample headlines:

  • HEADLINE #1
  • HEADLINE #2
  • HEADLINE #3

Any of those sound like a good fit? If not, no worries about hurting my feelings. I’ll go back to the drawing board and write some more.

Best,

[YOUR FIRST NAME]

13. Pitch like a pro.

Submit your pitch according to Step 11 and Step 12.

If you hear nothing back:

  • Follow up politely after 2 weeks.
  • Follow up again 2 weeks after that.
  • If you still hear nothing back, re-focus on another target.

You may need to invest in your relationship with the target blog before trying again.

If your ideas are rejected:

  • Don’t take it personally; it could be the right content at the wrong time.
  • Follow up with thanks and politely ask for feedback.
  • Incorporate any feedback received.
  • Now resubmit or go back to Step 7.

If your ideas are accepted:

  • Give yourself a high-five.
  • Follow up with thanks and to confirm deadline and formatting.
  • Move on to Step 14.

Whatever the outcome, don’t sit around waiting. Go back to Step 7 and get started on your next target. Use your downtime to start building a pipeline of prospects.

14. Surprise and delight them.

Perhaps you’ve had an article idea accepted. Perhaps your primary target requires a full article submission. In either case, it’s content time.

Powerful articles are surprising. Surprising articles are engaging and shareable. To make your article both powerful and surprising, you’ll need to generate some unexpected points.

Take 10 minutes to write down all the points you would expect an article with your headline to raise.

Now take at least 10 minutes to draw up a list of points your reader would not expect you to make. Ask yourself:

  • What insights do I have that others won’t?
  • What things to many people believe to be true that I know are wrong?
  • What tricks/shortcuts do I know that most people aren’t using?
  • What conventional wisdom is wrong?

One way to come up with these points is ‘Extreme Inversion”. For an article on weight loss:

  • An expected point might be “Stop eating chocolate”.
  • The inverted point becomes: “Eat chocolate”.
  • An extreme inversion is: “Eat chocolate every day”.

Now try to make a good argument of the extreme inversion – e.g., “Eating a small ration of chocolate each day helps keep more harmful craving-led binge eating at bay”.

Exaggerated inversions must still qualify as good advice. Inverting for the sake of attention grabbing alone will deservedly lose you credibility and readership.

Congratulations! You now have the start of an interesting post that might actually say something new.

15. Get into their heads.

Openings are the next 5 – 7 seconds of your elevator pitch. Get them wrong and it doesn’t matter how good your content is.

One approach is to write a hypnotic opening – one that relates quickly, deeply, and personally to the way a reader thinks and feels.

To craft one, first consider a reader’s inner thoughts when confronting the desires, goals, fears, and frustrations you chose in Step 8.

Try to get inside their heads. Note at least ten potential thoughts and feelings that come to mind. Examples for a personal finance post might be:

  • “I’m afraid I will never get ahead.”
  • “There’s never enough money at the end of the month.”

Now, as you craft your opening, repeat some of these thoughts back to the reader in a clear progression of ideas.

Write in the second person, “You want…”, “You’re afraid…”, “You’re frustrated…”.

Keep your sentences short, simple, and easy to read.

16. Sketch out your road-map.

Now that you’re in the mind of your reader, and before you jump into writing, take ten minutes to develop a bulleted outline of your post.

Begin with the unexpected points you developed in Step 14. Write one or two sentences that explain and support each one.

For a “How To” post ask yourself:

  • What context do I need to establish?
  • What are the essential points?
  • What are the potential objections?
  • What are the possible areas of confusion?
  • Does each point follow naturally from the one before it?

For a “List” post ask yourself:

  • Which are my best points? Put these at the start and end.
  • Are my points consistent with each other?
  • What’s the natural order of the points?

Anticipating the gaps in your logic and making a small up-front investment in outlining will save you hours of writing down the line.

17. Motivate and excite them.

With your opening and a rough outline in hand, it’s time to craft your ending. Remember

“Traffic is irrelevant unless it takes you somewhere useful – otherwise, it’s a meaningless vanity metric”. – Jon Morrow

Success comes down to getting your readers to:

  • Interact with you by leaving a comment;
  • Talk about your post on email and social media; or
  • Implement the advice you’ve given them.

To craft a motivational ending, avoid summaries and recaps. Instead make your reader’s day by:

  • Reminding them where they started. Revisit your opening. How will feel they when they follow your advice? Paint a vivid picture that shows the benefit of action.
  • Talking to them like a coach. Write your best motivational speech and use it to close your post. Use power words to fire them up.
  • Telling them exactly what to do. Avoid new information. Restate clear calls to action that have already been explained.

A well-crafted ending is as important as a well-crafted opening. Leave your reader with an uplifting sense of satisfaction and a desire to act.

18. Let it all hang out.

You’ve got all the pieces. Now it’s time to turn your outline into something readable.

Humanity, interest, and passion are the secret ingredients of meaningful and interesting writing. And remember:

“The first draft of anything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway

Don’t stress too much over detail for now. Go with the flow and be light-handed with your criticism.

19. Do the one thing all great writers have in common.

“Rewriting is where the game is won or lost; rewriting is the essence of writing.” – William Zinnser

Expect to spend at least as much time editing your first draft as you spent writing it.

As you progressively refine your entire post, remember to:

Remove fluff – make every paragraph, every sentence, and every word count:

  • Avoid restating or diverting into interesting but unnecessary stories.
  • Simplify grammar: “There are many people who write.” → “Many people write.”
  • Strengthen weak verbs: “Make it clear” → “Clarify”
  • Strengthen weak adjectives: “Really sad” → “Morose”
  • Eliminate wordy colloquialisms like “the fact of the matter is” or “due to the fact that”

For more ideas on clearing out clutter see Smart Blogger’s 297 Flabby Words and Phrases That Rob Your Writing of All Its Power.

Structure your writing – make it easy to read:

  • Use short paragraphs – limit each to 1 – 3 sentences.
  • Break every 2 – 5 paragraphs up with curiosity building sub-headlines.

N.b., Treat each sub-headline like a mini-headline. Sell the content that follows to readers skimming through.

  • Make each sub-headline irresistible and avoid plain labels.
  • Tease your audience by avoiding headline spoilers.
  • Make it easy to read and avoid being overly cryptic.

Add styling – add stress, weight, and rhythm to your composition.

  • Use italics to stress a word or phrase.
  • Use bold to add weight to an entire sentence or paragraph.
  • Use bullets to add structure and emphasis to your content.

Craft “Sweater-Knit” copy – draw the reader irresistibly through the content.

  • Make each sentence completely dependant on the previous.
  • Turn each sentence into a cliffhanger for the next.

Make your readers want to talk about it afterwards.

  • Intentionally intersperse snackable sound bites through your composition.
  • Write long posts. Pack them with value by pruning heavily and then layering on even more great content.

Make it consistent – make the composition consistent from headline to ending. Look out for:

  • Unity of person: Commit to one of “I”, “You”, “He/she/it”, or “We”.
  • Unity of tense: Commit to the past, the present or the future.
  • Unity of tone: Extroverted or subdued? Choose one and commit to it.

Perform one final check – ask yourself, to what extent is my article:

  • Surprising – Is the topic, narrative, character, or outcome something truly new?
  • Meaningful – If a million people saw this story, would it make the world a better place?
  • Visual – Are there enough visual elements to engage readers who might be skimming on a phone?
  • Shareable – Would you share it? Would your friends share it? Most importantly, would your mom’s friend share it?

Strengthen any obvious weaknesses now. You’ll be grateful for it later.

20. Don’t forget the only thing that counts.

Well done on writing your first guest post! Now it’s time to focus back on your goal.

Your author bio is your call-to-action – your chance to get your readers to e.g., visit a “landing page” where they can subscribe to your blog by email.

  • Keep it short: no more than 2 – 3 sentences.
  • Keep it simple: Say who you are, describe your target audience, and explain how you’re helping them.
  • Make it clickable: Include one link only, this counterintuitive tip will actually increase click-through rates. Make the benefits of the call-to-action clear.

For example:

Arthur
Arthur is a learning freak, traveller, and writer who loves to help curious, busy people digest chewy topics fast. One of his passions is language learning. Send yourself his free Ultimate Language Learning Guide to save thousands of dollars and hours on your journey to fluency.

21. Don’t stumble at the last hurdle.

It’s finally time to submit!

Follow the submission and formatting instructions from Step 13 carefully. If you submit by email, send your guest post as an attachment.

Now, be patient. Go back to Step 7 to build a pipeline of articles across multiple blogs as you wait for a response.

If you don’t hear anything back, follow up politely every couple of weeks (see Step 13).

If your post is rejected: Ask for and apply feedback quickly and carefully. Now resubmit.

If your post is accepted: Congratulations! Give yourself a high five and move on to the next step.

22. Help others to help you.

It’s totally normal for it to take several weeks for a post to go live after it’s been accepted.

When the day comes, be sure to promote your guest post as you would any post on your own blog:

  • Post it to social media.
  • Send it to influencers in your niche.
  • Write a summary for your email list.

Not only will this increase the post’s momentum, it will also build valuable goodwill with the publisher.

If the deadline passes and you can’t see your post, check in gently and politely to see if you can help things along.

23. Your job isn’t over quite yet.

One of the most important steps in guest posting is the follow-up.

Reply to at least 25 – 50% of the comments people leave. This will:

  • Build a dialogue with the people who care about your writing.
  • Usually be expected by the publisher of your guest post.
  • Promote your work by increasing the total number of comments.

Always take time to thank the people who helped make your post successful. These include:

  • The target blogger or editor who took time to edit and publish your post.
  • Anyone who greased the wheels through introductions or coaching.
  • The supporters who took time to read and promote your work.
  • Anyone who links to your post. Why not leave a comment on their blog?

24. Don’t forget: What gets measured gets done.

What simple, single metric could you use to measure success? Pick something that relates to your blogging goal from Step 1.

Don’t know how to use Google Analytics? Learn, or use basic ‘before and after’ numbers within a 48h time frame as a rough proxy.

Be results oriented. Adjust your guest blogging strategy based on these results. Double down on publisher and topic combinations that drive your metric of success.

25. And remember: A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Congratulations! Having your first guest post published is a huge high. Take a moment to enjoy it. Quickly catch your breath. Now return to Step 7.

Momentum is your friend. Do everything you can to maintain it. Make guest posting a habit. Build pitching and writing into your weekly routine.

Chip diligently away at your guest blogging goal with each guest post. Your success is guaranteed.

The Feeling You’ll Never Forget

Maybe it’s happened to you.

You invested deeply in a piece of writing, carefully crafting each paragraph, sentence, and phrase.

But this time, when you hit ‘publish’ your voice was heard. The shares, emails and comments came streaming in. You landed thousands of new subscribers or customers. You feel fearless, happy and fulfilled.

Not only did people read and care about your message, you actually made their day, you filled them with hope, and you may even have changed their lives.

What’s more, you realised something eye-opening in the process. With sufficient grit and curiosity, given just the right approach, you can conquer just about anything you put your mind to. There’s no secret to getting published and changing lives, it’s just a question of attitude and approach.

So tell me, friend: What’s your guest blogging goal? And what are you going to do about it?

“The Elements of Style”, William Strunk, Jr.

The Elements of Style, William Strunk
7 MINUTE READ

The Elements of Style, William Strunk

“The Elements of Style”, William Strunk, Jr.
Print length: 70 pages. Buy on Amazon.

Perfect for you if:

  • Writing good concise English is important to your success.
  • You can’t spot the simple, common and ‘obvious’ mistake in this sentence.
  • The idea of someone crunching such a sacred work fills you with rage.

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favour you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” Dorothy Parker

Reading Strunk’s Elements of Style is like eating your grandmother’s Brussels sprouts. Though you know it’ll make you big and strong when you grow up, you still occasionally feel like stabbing whoever suggested it with a fork.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some absolute gold inside: omit needless words, write actively and positively, structure your paragraphs and sentences effectively.

And yet, Strunk’s choice to open with ‘the correct use of possessive apostrophes’ is so bizarre, his writing, at times, so concise and so technical, that the book often feels much harder going than it needs to be.

That said, if writing good concise English is important to your success then The Elements of Style is a classic. Its rules are powerful and practical. Its relevance is timeless and enduring. Its ~70 pages have sold over 10 million copies since its first edition in 1918.

In the crunch below I’ve reworked Strunk’s main points into something more digestible. If you’re serious about writing, and enjoy the gist, then do read the original; not only is it something of a rite of passage, you’ll also find more detail and examples than I give below.

WRITE CONCISELY, ACTIVELY AND POSITIVELY.

Good writing is concise, forcible, and emphatic. To improve yours, remember to:

WRITE CONCISELY.

Write your first draft freely. Now remove needless paragraphs, sentences and words. Don’t aim for a word count; instead make every word count.

The question as to whether
Whether

He is a man who
He

For more ideas, see Strunk’s “Words and Expressions Commonly Misused” or SmartBlogger’s excellent “297 Flabby Words and Phrases“.

Remember: If it doesn’t improve it, remove it.

WRITE ACTIVELY.

Unless for specific emphasis, always write in the active voice.

Passive: He was taken by the police.
Active: The police took him.

Passive: She was deeply touched by the gift.
Active: The gift touched her deeply.

Remember: Rewrite passive phrases actively.

WRITE POSITIVELY.

Don’t use ‘not’ to soften your writing. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

He was not honest.
He was dishonest.

She did not remember.
She forgot.

Remember: Rewrite negatives in their positive form.

STRUCTURE YOUR WRITING FOR EASY READING.

Build a framework that is easy for your reader to climb; ask them to keep as little in their working memory as possible.

STRUCTURE YOUR PARAGRAPHS.

Think of paragraphs as bullet points. Each bullet makes a single important point. Each sub-bullet is a table leg that supports its parent.

For each paragraph: the first sentence should state your main point; the middle sentences should elaborate on and support it; the final sentence should re-emphasise the first.

Use words like ‘again’, ‘therefore’, and ‘for the same reason’ to relate paragraphs back to the larger composition. If you need more than one linking phrase, consider setting them apart in their own paragraph.

STRUCTURE YOUR SENTENCES.

Place emphasis at the end of a sentence to help the reader flow from one to the next.

  • This steel is used for making swords, because it is hard. (emphasises hardness)
  • Because of its hardness, this steel is used for making swords. (emphasises swords)

Express similar ideas in the same way to make it easy for the reader to compare them.

In spring, summer, or in winter.
In spring, summer, or winter.

Keep related words together to maintain flow and help the reader identify relationships between them.

All the members were not present.
Not all the members were present.

BUILD ROCK SOLID SENTENCES.

Separate standalone sentences with semicolons or periods.

It’s nearly half past five; we can’t reach town before dark.
It’s nearly half past five. We can’t reach town before dark.

Or join them with a comma and a conjunction (e.g., and, but, if).

  It’s nearly half past five, we can’t reach town before dark.
It’s nearly half past five, and we can’t reach town before dark.

N.B., this kind of joint creates a ‘loose sentence’. Avoid using too many. Instead try tighter constructions.

The situation is perilous, but there is still one chance of escape.
Although the situation is perilous, there is still one chance of escape.
In this perilous situation, there is still one chance of escape.

Enclose extra information in commas or parenthesis, not periods.

The best way to see a country is to travel on foot. Unless you are pressed for time.
The best way to see a country, unless you are pressed for time, is to travel on foot.
The best way to see a country (unless you are pressed for time) is to travel on foot.

But remember, information you can’t remove without changing a sentence’s meaning is not ‘extra information’.

The candidate, who best meets these requirements, will obtain the place.
The candidate (who best meets these requirements) will obtain the place.
The candidate who best meets these requirements will obtain the place.

And finally, keep the subject of an opening phrase the same as the subject of the main phrase.

Young and inexperienced, the task seemed easy to me.
Young and inexperienced, I thought the task easy.

Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap.
Being in a dilapidated condition, the house was very cheap to buy.

GET YOUR GRAMMAR ON.

COMMAS.

With lists of three or more terms connect each term with commas except the last.

red, white, and blue
honest, energetic, but headstrong

The only exceptions are:

  • Business names, e.g., Brown, Shipley and Company; and
  • Etc., which is always preceded by a comma even after one term: bread, etc.,

N.b., Abbreviations like ‘etc.’ and ‘jr.’ are also always followed by commas except at the end of a sentence.

POSSESSIVES.

Form the possessive singular of nouns with ‘s.

Charles’s …
Burns’s …
witch’s …

Except with:

  • Possessives of ancient proper names in -es and -is
  • The possessive Jesus’
  • Forms such as for conscience’ sake and for righteousness’ sake

WORD BREAKS.

Divide words at line-ends in accordance with their formation and pronunciation.

There are no hard and fast rules, the following guidelines are most frequently applied:

Divide the word according to its formation.

know-ledge
knowl-edge

Divide “on the vowel”.

edi-ble
ed-ible

Divide between double letters, unless at the end of the simple form of the word.

refer-ring
referr-ing

POLISH YOUR STYLE.

HEADINGS.

Leave a blank line, or equivalent, after the title or heading of a composition.

NUMERALS.

Do not spell out serial numbers (including dates), write them in figures.

PARENTHESIS.

Punctuate a sentence with parentheses as if the parentheses were absent.

  • I went to his house (my third attempt to see him), but he had left town.

The final punctuation mark in parenthesis is omitted unless it is a question mark, an exclamation point or the expression is wholly detached.

  • He declares (and why should we doubt him?) that he is now certain of success.
  • (This is an example of a wholly detached expression in parenthesis.)

QUOTES.

Formal quotations are introduced by a colon and enclosed in quotation marks:

  • The provision is: “No tax or duty…”

In-line quotes, or those that are the direct object of verbs, are preceded by a comma and enclosed in quotation marks.

  • Aristotle says, “Art is an imitation of nature.”

Entire lines of verse are begun on a fresh line and centred but without quotation marks:

Bliss it was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!

Proverbial expressions, colloquialisms, slang and indirect quotes are not enclosed in quotation marks:

  • Keats declares that beauty is truth, truth beauty.
  • He lives far from the maddening crowd.

REFERENCES.

Abbreviate references and give them in parenthesis or footnotes, not in the body of the sentence.

TITLES.

Give the titles of literary works in italics with capitalised letters.

Omit the initial ‘A’ or ‘The’ when placing the possessive before them.

Strunk’s The Elements of Style.
Strunk’s Elements of Style.

That’s it for today! If you enjoyed this post, why not:

In the meantime, I’d love to know:

  • What did you think of The Elements of Style?
  • How many mistakes and improvements did you spot in this post?
  • Which important details do you think I missed from the original?

I love being corrected and finding out new things. If you have some feedback or anything to share then please do leave a comment below.

Things You Don’t Know: Computer Viruses, Dinosaurs, Snakes and Medieval Street Performers.

WhyWhatHow: Things You Don't Know
6 MINUTE READ

WhyWhatHow: Things You Don't Know

Perfect for you if:

  • You love interesting factoids and trivia.
  • You’re a fan of “No Such Thing as a Fish” but always forget what you’ve heard.
  • You’re a Podcast lover, or a Podcast virgin: come share your favourites or learn something new!

I love little factoids. They make us laugh or stop and think. They remind us how little we really know. They add colour and meaning to the world around us. This post is a little window into that world of unknown unknowns.

The facts below are from last Friday’s episode of “No Such Thing as a Fish“: a light-hearted, meandering, and informative podcast that brings together four researchers from Stephen Fry’s QI to discuss their favourite four facts of the week. If you’re not already a listener I’d definitely recommend visiting their website or Facebook for a weekly dose of laughter and learning.

So, without further ado, it’s time for fact…

1. Avril Lavigne is the celebrity most likely to give you a computer virus in 2017.

Source: McAfee’s “Most Dangerous Celebrity” Study

Mainly driven by people searching for pirate music. Her spike in popularity is down to two things. First, the announcement that she’s working on a new album due for release later this year. Second, she’s become the subject of a bizarre conspiracy theory that she’s died and been replaced by an imposter.

The first ever human to get a computer virus was Dr. Mark Gasson of the University of Reading in 2010. He self-infected a chip he’d implanted his hand as an experiment to see if it would be possible to hack e.g., pacemakers.

The “first” computer virus ever was the Cookie Monster virus in the late 1960s which froze your computer until you typed the word “cookie”. After a while it would freeze again so you had to keep feeding it cookies incessantly. It was created at Brown University to wind up fellow students. A later version could be cured completely by entering the word “Oreo”.

Another early virus “Casino” gave you five spins to get a jackpot or it would swear at you and then remove all the files from your computer.

The American government has finally stopped providing updates on how they will deal with the Millennium (Y2K) bug. There was an obscure rule that meant that federal agents had to keep providing updates on how they would deal with the bug even 17 years after the threat had passed.

At their recent hacking conference, DEF CON participants managed to Rickroll US voting machines. During the conference local guests and companies (like the USP printing store) have to take extra security precautions to avoid themselves being hacked.

John McAfee (founder of the company) claims to be the most targeted hacking target in the world.

One hacking group was recently discovered to be using comments on Britney Spears’s Instagram account to hide updated addresses of its virus’s Command and Control servers.

2. One type of dinosaur is almost always found fossilised on its back: the Ankylosaurus.

Source: The Canadian Museum of Nature in Ontario.

This is because of “Bloat and Float”: they were swept out to sea; turned upside down because the gas in their belly was lighter; sank to the bottom of the ocean and became fossilised. The scientists at the Canadian Museum of Nature used Armadillos to study this effect.

Plesiosaurs had the longest neck of any dinosaur (23ft / 7 meters long) and may have had to keep it extended like a javelin to stop it from snapping when swimming underwater at high speeds.

The latest theory on dinosaur necks is that they had a swan-like curve to them. To hold their necks upright they would have needed to use half their energy pumping the blood up to their brains.

When horses go to sleep, their legs lock so that they don’t fall over.

3. Snakes that eat other snakes can eat snakes that are 139% of their body length.

Source: Snakes Are Long

They must eat the whole other snake in one go to stop it from rotting and because they can’t physically bite it into pieces. To fit it in they squeeze the snake they’re eating into their stomachs like an accordion.

A common snake keeping myth is that snakes stretch themselves out next to their owners or pets to measure them to see if they can eat them. This is not true.

Snakes sometimes mistakenly eat their own tails if for some reason it smells like prey.

An Australian snake was once observed eating another snake. A short time later, the snake was observed hauling itself back out of the other snake’s body. It had managed to turn itself around inside the predator snake and used the predator’s jaw to drag itself back out.

When snakes eat other animals they almost become another animal. Their:

  • Metabolism gets 40x faster
  • Blood becomes milky from the fatty acids it contains
  • Heart grows by 40%
  • Oxygen consumption increases between 36x and 100x depending on the relative size of the prey (from +60% to +150% of their size).

Up to half the energy a snake gets from eating a large meal is taken up digesting the meal.

N.b., When humans eat we increase our oxygen consumption by 25%; when we sprint we only increase oxygen consumption by 10x.

4. Medieval street performers used to multiply numbers together in public for entertainment.

Source: Lost Discoveries: the Source of Ancient Science.

In late medieval times, Arabic numerals were coming over to Europe from India and were more useful for e.g., division and multiplication than Roman numerals.

Initially they were distrusted and banned so street performers used to use their secret knowledge to perform otherwise “incredible feats” of multiplication e.g., (12 x 16)

Arabic numerals were actually known to exist from the 6th Century. There were failed attempts to introduce them to European thinking by Pope Sylvester II in the 10th Century but failed. People thought his ability to multiply was a kind of black magic. His subsequent reputation as a sorcerer dogged him throughout his papacy.

Zero in particular was seen as a particularly ungodly number. Due to the usefulness of Arabic numerals, Merchants began using them in secret. They would check each other’s mutual understanding by signalling “Zero” to each other.

The word “Cypher” comes from the same base word as “Zero”. The Persian polymath Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi named “Zero” and also invented the “Algorithm” the word for which comes from the Latin form of his name – Algoritmi.

German Zacharias Dase was a famous 19th Century “human calculator”. He once multiplied two 20 digit numbers together in six minutes in his head. He then multiplied two 100 digit numbers in eight and three-quarter hours. He is said to have had “an uncanny sense of quantity, he could just tell, without counting, how many sheep [up to 30] were in a field”.

In Moscow, buskers have to go through a rigorous assessment process to perform in the subway. The process included performing to a panel of professional musicians and judges from the TV talent show “Voice of Russia”. Prospective buskers must be able to perform at least two hours of original material.

That’s it for today! If you enjoyed this round of Trivia from “No Such Thing as a Fish” leave a comment and I’ll keep them coming. I was searching online for an existing write-up but couldn’t find anything similar.

Erin and I recently spent some time driving around the Baltics and Scandinavia. On the way, we discovered a few favourite podcasts that never failed to get us talking about the world around us. There’s many to choose from (yes, we’ve listened to “My Dad Wrote a Porno“) but here’s our top pick of brain busters for now:

What podcasts are you listening to at the moment? We always love finding out about more so please share your favourites with us below!

The Art of Journal Meditation – Finding Zen and Solving Problems

Journal Meditation
7 MINUTE READ

Journal Meditation

Perfect for you if:

  • You’ve ever felt confused or overwhelmed by an emotional situation.
  • You’re struggling to make sense of a difficult idea or topic.
  • You’ve tried keeping a journal but never made it stick.

Have you ever had a great conversation? Perhaps you got everything off your chest. Or felt like you took the world’s weight off your shoulders. Perhaps you solved a difficult problem you’ve been struggling with for some time. Or got some level headed advice or encouragement when you most needed it.

What if I told you there was a way to have conversations like that every day? That you could have them whenever and wherever you want? And that the answer is cheap, simple and available whenever you need it?

A Simple Experiment

To illustrate the point I want you to try a simple experiment.

First, find a nearby pen / pencil and a piece of paper. It doesn’t much matter what the paper is; a fresh piece or the back of a torn up scrap with writing already on it. Whatever’s to hand. If you’re really stuck: load up your favourite digital note taking app.

Ready? O.K. Now start a timer for 10 minutes. Use a watch, phone, tablet, computer or a good old fashioned wall clock. Whatever.

Now, wherever you have room to write, start with the words “What I am feeling now is…”. If you just rolled your eyes then try to reserve judgement. I know how you feel, trust me. Just go with it for now, even if it feels stupid.

Now Write – Write. Write. Write. Write. Write.

Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. Don’t worry about neatness, straight lines or readability. Don’t worry about getting off topic or whether to talk about or to yourself in the first, second or third person. Don’t even worry about having nothing to write about. Just write whatever feels right.

Write even if you have to write something like: “What I am feeling now is that this experiment is stupid and a waste of my time and I don’t have anything to write about anyway and what I should really be doing is working on my …” – BOOM. Now write about your “…” – let your brain off the leash. Go crazy.

Write until the timer goes off. This is the only rule of the experiment.

For some of you ten minutes may not feel like enough – if so, feel free to keep writing. Otherwise, when the timer goes off, feel free to put down your pen.

How are you feeling now? Excited? Surprised? Shocked? Angry? Happy? Sad? Calm? Clear?

Great! Transfer any next actions to another piece of paper or your productivity system.

Now take your piece of paper and shred / burn or tear it to pieces.

The Art of Journal Meditation

There is something about the power of “Journal Meditation” that never ceases to amaze me.  I’ve been using it to solve problems big and small for the last 10 years.

I use it for anything from 10 minutes to two hours. I use it first thing each morning, last thing at night and frequently between.

In fact, over the last ~15 years I’ve used it almost daily to help me:

  • Deal with regret, anxiety, loss and grief;
  • Solve difficult conceptual problems at work and in my learning;
  • Bring me up when I’m feeling low / bring me down when I’m flying too high;
  • Clarify the unclear, identify false assumptions and make difficult decisions;
  • Become friends with uncomfortable parts of myself I didn’t understand or like; and
  • Better understand and empathise with the people around me.

Why is it so powerful? There are a few reasons. Among them, Journal Meditation:

  • Slows you down;
  • Concentrates your mind;
  • Acts as a cathartic release;
  • Unloads your mind of facts and feelings; and
  • Opens a dialogue with your subconscious.

As a result its benefits include helping you to:

  • Identify, acknowledge and let go of your emotions;
  • Move forwards in your thinking; and
  • Teach you a huge amount about yourself and others.

Journal Mediation vs. Journaling

There are two main reasons that people journal:

  1. To record things for posterity.
  2. To bring order (a story) out of chaos.

For many people, Journaling serves both purposes. They get great pleasure from recording and recalling the events of the day. At the same time, the act of writing forces them to make sense of their emotions and impressions to those events.

But committing to a regular record of the day can quickly become an overwhelming burden. You need enough time, at the right time, and with the right equipment. You need to stay on top of it. You need to make it legible. You may even feel the need to make it profound and interesting.

As a result, many of us give up on our initial attempts at Journalling. We start strong but before long the prospect of catching up on a few days of backlog just doesn’t seem worth it.

That’s a shame, because giving up on Journalling entirely means losing out its second and arguably most beneficial aspect: story telling.

Unlike standard Journaling, Journal Meditation does away with the need to keep a record of past entries. Instead, it isolates precisely the second aspect of the process. Its power comes not from the output but from the process of writing. This gives it some curious properties and advantages.

Think about it: how many of the life changing conversations you’ve had were powerful because you kept them and listened to them over and over again? My bet is very few. The power of those conversations wasn’t in recording them – it was in the act of having them.

The same is true of Journal Meditation. The fact that nobody (not even yourself) will ever read what you’ve written again means:

  1. It doesn’t matter when you do it;
  2. It doesn’t matter how you do it;
  3. It doesn’t matter what you write.

This gives Journal Meditation two distinct advantages over standard Journalling:

  1. It is much easier to turn into a habit: you can do it any time, any way, any where with whatever you have to hand.
  2. You can be far, far more honest with yourself: harbouring unspeakable thoughts? Go crazy. Now destroy the evidence. No one will ever find out.

In past years I’ve used Journal Meditation as a safe way to explore my most vulnerable self: from my closest relationships to my deepest values and sense of purpose. Challenging yourself constantly, tugging always at “Why? Why? Why?”, relaxing in to the things that make you most want to scream and run away: these are the only ways to get smarter in life.

Journal Meditation is magical because it is one of the most effective, cheap and reliable ways to do just that.

How to Journal Meditate like a Ninja

One of Journal Meditation’s most magical properties is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. Test, review, adjust, repeat. These are all the steps you need to become a Journal Meditation Ninja.

For now though; here’s a quick cheat sheet of my own practice as it stands today. Hopefully it should be enough to get you started:

When:

  • Morning: ~10 mins first thing. Usually a no rules brain dump of whatever’s on my mind.
  • Evening: ~10 mins as part of a PM review. Usually oriented around the day: “What went well? Badly? How can I make tomorrow 1% better?”
  • Whenever I’m overwhelmed, confused or procrastinating:
    • “What I am feeling now is…”
    • “The reason I’m procrastinating is…”
    • “I can’t work out XXX and it’s driving me nuts…” etc.,

How:

  1. Sit down with pen and paper.*
  2. Set a timer (ideally for <10 minutes).
  3. Write non-stop until the timer goes off.
  4. Re-write any next actions on a new piece of paper.
  5. Throw the original piece of paper away.

* Writing on paper is slower, more deliberate and harder to go back over than typing on a keyboard. This is exactly why it is more effective than digital alternatives. That said, a paperless solution is better than no solution at all!

Don’t:

  • Keep hold of what you’ve written;
  • Worry about making it neat or profound; or
  • Overthink or try to get too much from the process.

Do: Write about…

  • Feelings: “What I am feeling right now is…”
  • Thoughts: Whatever’s on your mind.

If you’re feeling Zen consider reflecting on:

  • A thought starter such as:
    • “What motivates me is…”
    • “What I want more than anything is…”
    • “I sometimes feel afraid that…”
    • “I worry because…”
  • One of your values; or
  • An inspirational quote.

Also try inverting your reflections:

  • Internally vs. Externally:
    • “What I am feeling now is…” vs.
    • “What XXX is feeling now is…”
  • Blessings vs. Challenges:
    • “I am grateful for…” vs.
    • “I am struggling with…”

Optionally:

  • Make a note of 5 things you’re grateful for before you start.
  • Run/swim/meditate/do some yoga before or after your session.

That’s it for today! If you enjoyed this post you might also like this one on how to turn anything into a new habit.

Have you tried this exercise or some variation before?

If so:

  • What extra tips can you share?
  • How and when do you practice Journaling?

If not:

  • How did you find the experiment?
  • What did you like?
  • What did you write about?
  • What did you find challenging?

I love being corrected and learning new things so if you have anything to add then let me know in the comments!.

The Art of Memorisation and the Power of Spaced Repetition

WWH Memorisation and Repetition
15 MINUTE READ

WWH Memorisation and Repetition

Perfect for you if:

  • You’ve always wanted to be better at remembering things.
  • You’ve heard of or tried Spaced Repetition but aren’t sure what’s next.
  • “Why would I memorise things when I can look anything I want up in two seconds?”

Memorisation is a powerful learning technique that is often misunderstood, misused and misrepresented.

In fact, there are at least four compelling reasons why making time each day to memorise new things will change your life:

  1. It works out your brain: Memorisation is hard. Practising it trains discipline and focus.
  2. It improves mental speed: Looking things up is powerful but slow and limited by working memory.
  3. It creates meaning: More information improves our ability to identify and connect ideas in the world around us.
  4. It unlocks creativity: Memorisation gives our creative subconscious access to information that stimulates creative insight.

So, in today’s article and with those points in mind I’d like to:

  • Break down a recipe for faster learning with a story about the construction of the great city of Amsterdam;
  • Introduce you to some powerful techniques in memorisation, knowledge maintenance and understanding; and
  • Show you not only “What” to learn but also “When” and “How” to get started right away.

Whether you want to:

  • Nail an exam;
  • Learn a new language;
  • Understand more about the world around you; or
  • Become more proficient in your work;

You’ll find find something in here that helps. And by the end of our journey I hope you’ll:

  • Have some clear ideas of “When” and “How” to implement memorisation in your own life.
  • Understand how to avoid common pitfalls in memorisation and spaced repetition; and
  • Feel excited about the impact of a few simple tools in helping you reach your own goals.

For now, though, what better place to begin our story than a deserted marshland that would one day give rise to a bustling metropolis.

HOW TO BUILD A CITY ON A SWAMP

The city of Amsterdam is a marvel of engineering. Not for its cobbled streets, postcard perfect houses or infamous red-light district. Not even for its many canals, bridges or grand buildings.

Amsterdam is a marvel of engineering because, like a surprising number of cities, it is built almost entirely on a swamp. And swamps, as I’m sure you can imagine, are not the easiest places to build cities. Not least because things have a tendency to sink and disappear into them.

So how do you build a city on a swamp? The answer, of course, is on stilts; and Amsterdam is built on millions of them.

The Dutch discovered that if they drove long tree trunks deep enough into the swamp they would eventually hit firm ground. Sink enough posts and eventually you can even build a house on top of them.

Today, Amsterdam is home to roads, homes, museums, parks, palaces and cathedrals – all built on stilts. From this simple technique rose a powerhouse of trade that was, at one point, the wealthiest city in the world.

But there’s a catch: you’re still in a swamp!

Eventually, the posts begin to rot; and when the posts rot, the buildings start to sink, distort and lean on their weakening foundations. To this day, Amsterdam needs a clever maintenance system to keep their city above water. A system that regularly checks and maintains not only all the posts, but also the right posts at the right time.

So what does Amsterdam have to do with an article on learning and memorisation? Good question: the answer is that the analogy is just too good to pass up.

You see:

  • Our brains are a lot like the swamp that sits under Amsterdam;
  • Facts are like the posts we need to create stable platforms for learning;
  • Memorisation is like the act of driving those wooden posts deep into the swamp;
  • Spaced Repetition is like the process used to check and maintain them; and
  • Understanding and fluency are like the houses that we build on top.

Your brain is a marvel of engineering. Not for its neural highways, beautifully evolved structures or billions of interacting cells. Not even for its unlimited potential or incredible plasticity.

Your brain is a marvel of engineering because everything you known is built on a swamp; and, with the right tools, you too can turn that swamp into one of the finest cities on Earth.

THE ART OF MEMORISATION

Before we launch into practical tips it’s worth noting quickly that not all subjects benefit as much from memorisation as others.

Can you think of any subjects where the concepts don’t need much support from facts? The early stages of math, physics and most sports are good examples. These subjects are like little patches of firm high ground in your swamp: there’s not a lot to gain from fortifying their foundations. Instead, you’re probably better moving straight on to building understanding and fluency. Of course you may want to e.g., memorise proofs or complex new formulae as you advance but this is usually overkill early on.

Other subjects are located on swampier ground: Languages, History, Medicine, Geography, Chemistry, Biology, Law and games like Chess are all good examples. In these fact-based subjects, memorisation is fundamental to understanding and fluency. Time invested here is well worth the effort.

But time isn’t the only important factor in memorisation; quality is important too. Sure, you can throw a house up quickly taking shortcuts – sometimes you may not have a choice. Just remember: rush-jobs result in low quality or poorly sunken posts that rot faster and need way more maintenance. If you’ve ever crammed for a test only to find almost everything has sunk back into the swamp within the week then you know what I mean.

So how can we improve the quality of memorisation? Here’s a few tips to get you started:

STRUCTURE FIRST

Every building starts with a plan, whether it’s a quick sketch or an architect’s drawing. The same goes for memorisation.

So, before you jump in, always take the time to:

  1. Sketch a full picture: Make sure you can follow and understand the overall structure of the topic that you’re memorising.
  2. Fill in any gaps: Take the time to plug any gaps in your big picture sooner. They will become much harder to work around later.
  3. Break it up: Structure your thinking as much as possible into clear, bite-sized chunks. If your big picture is hard to follow it will be hard to memorise.

Once you have a clear and structured overview of the topic you want to memorise it’s time to…

USE MNEMONICS

Take a look at the following list of 15 random items: dog, chair, car, cow, wall, bottle, key, plate, king, phone, cup, ball, clock, carpet, window.

Now, take 30 seconds to try and remember the list – no tricks. Now try and recall them. Difficult right? We’ll come back to the list at the end of the section.

In the meantime we’re going to quickly learn about “mnemonics” (silent first ‘m’). A mnemonic is just a “memory trick”. and whatever their shape or size they all work in the same way:

  • By connecting many small bits of information together in a single new chunk.
  • By anchoring that new chunk as deeply as possible to existing knowledge in the brain.

If you’re not used to using mnemonics then this section may feel like overkill. You may even be tempted to skip it. Don’t. Why? There are two very good reasons:

  1. Time invested now will save you a ton of time in the long run (trust me); and
  2. These tricks will become easier and easier as you get used to them.

Some well known types of mnemonic include:

But most powerful of all are a number of way to tap in to our sizeable visual and spatial memories: E.g.,

  • Chaining: Creating a vivid mental image of two items in a list interacting with each other.
  • Peg System: Chaining items with nouns that have themselves been chained with numbers.
  • Memory palaces: Chaining items to places or objects within a well known space (like your home).
  • Journey method: Chaining items to places of objects on a well known journey (like your commute).

Whatever Mnemonic you choose, they will have much more sticking power if you make them:

  • Personal: by including as many of your own experiences and personal connections to people, places and things as possible.
  • Emotional: by creating or using examples that trigger an emotional response like anger, fear, curiosity or arousal.

For more detail on the above methods and a run down of even more, check out:

I would strongly encourage you to try out one or two of the methods and examples of these techniques. Anyone can master them and they become very powerful, very quickly.

What’s more, you can use them for almost any imaginable memorisation task: from learning facts or vocabulary to names, telephone numbers and entire speeches.

As an example, let’s take another look at our list of 15 items: dog, chair, car, cow, wall, bottle, key, plate, king, phone, cup, ball, clock, carpet, window.

Now take 30 seconds to try and remember them, but this time, I want you to create a clear mental picture of each item interacting in some weird way with the next item on the list.

The weirder the better: you might picture a dog sitting like a human on a chair, then a chair with four wheels that are cars etc.. whatever, go crazy.

Now try and recall them. Chances are that this time you remembered every single item on the list. Not only that, I bet you could remember it backwards! Why not have a go?

At this point we’ve carefully selected our posts from only the best tree trunks in the land and we’ve driven them deep into the swamp.

Now it’s time to talk about maintenance…

SPACED REPETITION

If mnemonics answer the question of “How”, spaced repetition answers the question of “When”.

Spaced repetition is an every day phenomena. In fact, as we go through our lives we are naturally exposed to important concepts over and over again. We constantly reinforce ideas and knowledge through e.g., personal experience, practice, reading, problem solving, discussion and teaching.

And, so long as frequency is a good predictor of (a) objective accuracy and (b) importance, all is well and good in the world.

But there’s a well documented and studied problem with this assumption. It turns out that frequency, at least in today’s world, is often a very bad predictor of both:

  • Partly because of the biased way we process information;
  • Partly because we tend to seek out biased information; and
  • Partly because the information itself is often already biased.

When it comes to learning and memory this is most obvious in our natural tendency to be lazy at maintenance. For example, we often:

  • Focus most on the posts we come across naturally; and
  • Prefer to maintain the posts we already know well and which don’t need that much work.

The result is self-delusion. An illusion of confidence where we:

  • Know a few things very well;
  • Rehearse them often because it is easy and feels good; and
  • Take that as evidence for a broader and more stable knowledge base than we actually have.

Meanwhile, the remaining posts in the foundation tend to rot away. As a result, whether we realise it or not, the buildings constructed on them become dangerously distorted or even collapse entirely.

In our analogy, the solution to this problem is a methodical maintenance plan that forces us to confront, check and maintain all the posts in the system. What’s more, to be efficient the best plans must know not only exactly which posts need checking most but also exactly when.

In the brain, it turns out that the most effective and efficient time to review a fact is just before you’re about to forget it. And our the solution to our neural maintenance problem is “Spaced Repetition Systems“.

THE POWER OF FLASHCARDS

There is no better way to maintain knowledge than through complimentary active recall techniques like:

  • Testing, testing and re-testing yourself;
  • Synthesising concepts in your own words; and
  • Teaching others.

(Incidentally, mindless rehearsing, copying and (re-)reading are all commonly used but terrible approaches.)

And yet, when it comes to spaced repetition, there is no tool more powerful, systematic or democratic than a simple, well designed flashcard.

HOW TO CREATE GOOD FLASHCARDS

Flashcards are not an easy shortcut. Creating good flashcards is a skill in its own right and often the end product of the active recall techniques listed above.

Of course you don’t need to do any of this, but, as with mnemonics, taking the time to think about your flashcards up front will save you a lot of wasted time down the line.

The exact formula of a perfect flash card is half science, half personal preference. The best way to learn is just to get started, experiment and discover what works for you over time.

For now, here are a few guiding principles to help you get started:

Keep it simple.

  • Keep information to a minimum:
    • Test yourself on just one thing at a time.
    • Never use 1 flashcard when you could break it into 5.
  • Minimise wording: Omit needless words.

Make it memorable.

  • Use mnemonics: Combine flashcards with memory techniques for the best effects.
  • Avoid sets: Break lists down into shorter sections.
  • Make it personal: E.g., link a foreign word for “chair” to your favourite chair at home.
  • Use emotion: Use shocking or emotive examples to illustrate points.

Make it unique.

  • Lead with context cues: If ATP stands for:
    • “Adenosine Tri-Phosphate” make the card “Biology: ATP” not “ATP: Biology”; or
    • “Association of Tennis Professionals” make the card “Tennis: ATP” not “ATP: Tennis”.
  • Use deletion: Keep cards unique by blocking:
    • Words out of sentences (cloze deletion); or
    • Sections from images pictures (graphic deletion).

Keep it accurate:

  • List a source: To help keep you clear on conflicting e.g., dates / figures.
  • Date stamp it: To help identify when a card may need updating.

For more detail on creating great Flashcards check out this fantastic guide from Supermemo or these language focussed tips from Gabe Wyner.

Perhaps the most important rule of flashcard creation is this:

  • Make your own flashcards

Downloading and/or using other people’s flashcard collections (also known as decks) does make things easier. It can even be a helpful way to learn how to make your own flashcards better.

But here are a few reasons it’s worth taking the time to create your own:

  • It sense checks your understanding: By not sense-checking your own understanding, you may end up learning other people’s misunderstandings.
  • It makes them yours: Your experience and decisions creating the cards as well as your personal connections on them are a big part of what makes them memorable.
  • They are easier to learn: Focussing on a specific fact for the short time it takes to codify it is a powerful reinforcement process on its own.

Congratulations! You now have the “What”s in your maintenance system. The question to turn to now is “When”…

SPACED REPETITION SYSTEMS (SRS)

Spaced Repetition Systems (SRSs) is the name given to systems and tools for scheduling flashcard reviews. They come in two flavours: Manual or Automatic.

Manual SRS

Perhaps the best known manual approach is the Leitner system. This is physical flashcard territory: it’s low tech, accessible and great for small numbers of cards.

The focus of this section is going to be on automatic digital systems. So, if paper and pen are your tools of choice checkout out Wikipedia and Google for some great pointers.

Automatic SRS

Automatic SRSs are digital tools that specialise in managing flashcard maintenance schedules. Their main advantages over manual systems include:

  • Managing customised review schedules for individual flashcards;
  • Automatically generating many related flashcards from just a few fields of information;
  • Scaling easily up to tens of thousands of flashcards; and
  • Embedding mixed media (e.g., pictures, videos, sounds) right into the card.

If you’ve learned a language recently the chances are that you’ve used an SRS. Notable implementations include Memrise, Duolingo, Lingvist, Skritter and (my personal favourite) Anki.

When it comes to SRSs, the main difference between tools are their self-imposed limitations. Anki is free and by far the most flexible and powerful of the options. And yet that does come at a cost in terms of its initial learning curve – luckily their extensive manual is excellent.

If you’ve never used an SRS before then you’re in for a treat they will totally change the way you learn almost anything you care to think of.

For example, as of today, my own Anki decks contain over 20,000 cards that teach me:

  • LanguagesGerman, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish and English;
  • History: Important dates and people;
  • Philosophy: Important philosophers and terminology;
  • Art: esp. taxonomical info for important artworks and terminology; to
  • Poetry: English and German for now;
  • Geopolitics: Locations, names and details of countries, cities, mountains, rivers etc…; and
  • Other: Random facts I’ve wanted to learn like the names for the phases of the moon etc…

Whatever floats your boat: from medicine, politics, music, economics, chemistry or wine to physics, sports and theology; the potential for digital SRSs is basically unlimited.

GETTING STARTED WITH SRS

The best way to get started with SRS is to:

Decide what you want to learn, implement the tips in this guide and follow the magic formula of “read, test, improve, repeat”.

You are already on a much faster trajectory than I ever was!

COMMON SRS PITFALLS

As your experience with SRS grows you will discover two common pitfalls:

  • Review overload: Suddenly finding yourself with a backlog of 1,000+ cards to review.
  • Leeches: Cards that you just can’t seem to learn no matter how often you review them.

The first point is not to get stressed about either. These are common issues everyone wrestles with.

Review overload is often caused by either:

  • Getting carried away learning new cards; or
  • Taking an extended break from your daily reviews.

The best solution is prevention:

  • Set an amount of time aside each day that will be consistent and manageable over time.
  • Work out how many cards you can generally get through in that time and work to those levels.
  • Avoid the temptation to load lots of new cards if you have a quiet review day (this will come back to bite you).
  • If you are planning to go away, try and create some space by reviewing ahead (this isn’t best practice but it’s better than nothing!)
  • Be patient: We often greatly overestimate what we can achieve in day and greatly underestimate what we can achieve in a year.

If you do get stuck with a huge backlog of reviews:

  • Don’t panic.
  • Stop adding new cards – there’s no point making things worse.
  • Break the backlog down into manageable chunks – e.g., focus on cards in X topic or from Y date range.
  • Focus on working for X many minutes, instead of worrying about clearing X many cards
  • Be patient: Forgetting is an important part of learning. Everything will come back eventually.

Leeches are a common inhabitant of any swamp. They’re also nothing to worry about. When confronted with leeches simply:

  • Identify cards that you’re struggling with (Anki will do this automatically).
  • Review your leaches and ask yourself: Why am I struggling to remember this card?
  • Use the Flashcard checklist above. What can you include to make it more memorable?

A common cause of forgetting (even for easy cards) is interference:

  • Are there any other flashcards that are very similar to this one e.g., snap v.s., snaap?
  • If so, can you use contextual cues, personal links or deletion to make the cards more unique?

In a worst case scenario, just delete the card. Chances are your house will still be perfectly fine with one less post.

CONCLUSION

Memorisation and spaced repetition are part of an incredibly powerful learning toolkit.

Like all tools, they are perfect for some jobs and less so for others. They can be used skilfully or misused horribly.

With luck, you’ll now have some better ideas of “When” and “How” to implement memorisation in your own life.

Hopefully you feel like you understand how to avoid some common pitfalls in memorisation and spaced repetition.

What I hope most of all is that you feel excited about the impact a few simple, powerful tools in helping you to reach your own goals.

But perhaps one of the most valuable lessons we can take away from learning brings us full circle back to the city Amsterdam.

Learning is like building a city in a swamp. It isn’t easy, it isn’t always glamorous and it doesn’t happen in a day.

But if we stick at it, if we apply ourselves thoughtfully, if we can work each day a little harder than the forces that work against us, if we do all of these things with energy and diligence:

There’s pretty much no limit to what we can achieve when we set our minds to it.

That’s it for today! If you enjoyed this post you might also like these two on How to Learn a Language and 10 Steps to Learn Any Skill!

  • Have you had any good or bad experiences with memorisation or repetition?
  • What are your favourite tips and tricks?
  • What are you learning right now?

I always love new ideas on “What” and “How” to learn so if you have any then let me know in the comments!

“Bounce”, Matthew Syed

Bounce, Matthew Syed
9 MINUTE READ

Bounce, Matthew Syed

“Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice”, Matthew Syed
Also available as: “Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success”
Print length: 410 pages. Buy on Amazon.

Perfect for you if:

  • You believe “I am not a Language/Athletic/Math/etc… person”.
  • You, or someone you know, wants to become the best, or even just better at anything.
  • You’re fascinated by the psychology of learning; be you learner, teacher or parent.

“Bounce” is a book for anyone who believes they are “not a Language / Athletic / Math / etc… person” and never will be.

Matthew Syed, a top ranked table tennis champion and journalist, has two clear messages:

  1. There is no such thing as “Natural Born Talent”; and
  2. Becoming an expert at anything is primarily a question of:
    • Mindset;
    • Motive;
    • Practice; and
    • Opportunity.

To be clear, Syed doesn’t discount the role of genetics entirely. Instead, he argues that:

  1. It is simply not as important as we often believe; and
  2. This slight shift in perspective makes all the difference.

Syed’s athletic career adds depth and colour to his conclusions. His evidence base is full of cutting edge research, interviews, and historical fact. His suggestions are immediate and practical.

In short, if you like what you read in this crunch:

  • Whether learner, expert or teacher;
  • Be you academic, athlete or professional;
  • Whatever your age, size, gender or nationality;

then “Bounce” is be a compulsory addition to your already bursting bookshelf.

Its insights will surprise, entertain and inform you. They may even change your life.

Overview

  • In learning, people tend to adopt either a “Fixed” or “Growth” mindset.
  • The “Growth Mindset” more accurately reflects what we know about learning today.
  • And yet we still use the comfortable “Myth of Talent” to make sense of the world around us.
  • Even though it is based on partial and inaccurate information.
  • And grossly distorted by our cognitive biases.
  • This is important because our expectations have great consequences for ourselves and those around us.
  • In fact, there are four main ingredients to learning:
    • Mindset: a “Growth Mindset” gives us a love of learning and a resilience to failure.
    • Motive: an “Internal Motive”, once sparked, sets intention and sustains drive and motivation.
    • Practice: “Purposeful Practice” with enough quantity, quality and feedback, is the bedrock of ability.
    • Opportunity: “Good Luck” in Where, When, What, Who and How separates the top 10% from the top 10.
  • Managing “Belief” is a final “X Factor” in balancing conflicting demands of “Learning” and “Performance”.
  • In conclusion: Your most basic abilities can be developed to extraordinary levels through dedication and hard work.
  • Do not let the “Myth of Talent” hold you and the people around you back.

Detail

In learning, people tend to adopt either a “Fixed” or “Growth” mindset.

  • In a Fixed Mindset:
    • People believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits.
    • They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them.
    • They believe that talent alone – without effort – creates success.
  • In a Growth Mindset:
    • People believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.
    • They understand that brains and talent are just the starting point.
    • This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.
  • It’s interesting to note that this mindset can and does change:

The “Growth Mindset” more accurately reflects what we know about learning today.

  • Learning relies on chunking and habit formation; a basic physiological process.
    This is true in all individuals and across all skills and learning types (e.g., perceptual, cognitive and motor)
  • Ability/intelligence is actually highly domain specific.
    Chess masters are good at chess but novices at general memorisation tasks.
    Reaction times in one sport (e.g., table tennis) do not generalise to other sports (e.g., tennis).
  • The main differentiating factor in performance is practice.
    I.e., the 10 year / 10 thousand hour rule.

And yet we often use the comfortable “Myth of Talent” to make sense of the world.

  • e.g., Experts and “Child Prodigies”
    Child Prodigies “Do not have unusual genes, they have unusual upbringings.”
    e.g., Polgár Sisters, Mozart, Williams Sisters, Tiger Woods, Bobby Fischer, David Beckham  etc…
  • e.g., “Black Athletes”
    There is no evidence for meaningful genetic differences at a racial level.
    In fact >90% of genetic variation occurs between individuals/small populations.
    Instead mostly a combo of environmental, social, political and momentum factors.

Even though the “Myth of Talent” is based on partial, inaccurate information due to e.g.,:

  • Iceberg Illusion.
    We can only see/consciously understand a fraction of the work it took to become an expert.
    We fail to spot the accumulated impact of many small factors or one small factor over time.
    See “Combinatorial Explosion” below.
  • Expert Amnesia.
    The subconscious nature of expertise means we can only describe and report a fraction of it.
    See “Combinatorial Explosion” below.
  • Expert Delusion
    Sometimes to boost performance (e.g., in deliberately eliminating doubt to improve performance)
    Sometimes to mislead (e.g., lying about performance and effort to others)
    Sometimes unintentionally (see Expert Amnesia)
  • Linear vs. System Dynamics.
    We assume linear relationships where complex systems and feedback mechanisms are at play.
    We miss the compounding impact of many small factors or one small factor over a long time.

And grossly distorted by our cognitive biases:

  • Combinatorial Explosion
    We are terrible at visualising exponential functions.
    E.g., How thick is a piece of paper after 103 folds? 93 billion light years (as thick as the Universe). 
  • Confirmation Bias
    We give more weight to information that confirms existing stories.
    This makes it hard to shake pre-existing biases.
  • Attribution Error
    We misattribute or find causation where there is only correlation.
    We mistake the direction of causation (which can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies)
  • Availability Bias
    We are better at remembering surprising or extreme examples.
    We tend to confuse how easily memorable something is with how likely it is.
    As a result, we weight extreme examples over “normal” ones in our mental models.
  • Halo Effect
    We extrapolate results from small to large populations without regard to sample size.
    We extrapolate performance between one or many domains (e.g., chess >> general memory).

This is important because our expectations have great consequences for ourselves and those around us.

  • Mindset: “Natural talent” based praise induces a fixed mindset in others. “Effort” based praise induces a growth mindset.
  • Motive: The “Myth of Talent” denies us/others the opportunity for self-improvement: “Why bother if I have no ‘natural gift’?”
  • Practice: In a “Fixed Mindset” we seek confirmation of our innate gift through easy tasks and risk avoidance. So we do not learn.
  • Opportunity: Our biases create self-fulfilling prophecies through both positive and negative discrimination (e.g., black athletes).

In fact, there are four main ingredients to learning:

Mindset:
A “Growth Mindset” gives us a love of learning and a resilience to failure.

  • In a Fixed Mindset:
    • People believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits.
    • They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them.
    • They believe that talent alone – without effort – creates success.
  • In a Growth Mindset:
    • People believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.
    • They understand that brains and talent are just the starting point.
    • This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

Motive:
An “Internal Motive”, once sparked, sets intention and sustains drive and motivation.

  • Motive must be independent and internal: “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.”
  • Anything can spark it but “Motivation by Association” (e.g., through a shared local or national identity) is a powerful example.
  • Once sparked, motive must be “sustained” either internally or by virtue of its own momentum (see Learned Industriousness).

Practice:
“Purposeful Practice” with enough quantity, quality and feedback, is the bedrock of ability.

  • Quantity: “10 year / thousand hour rule”. Consistently proven as biggest single differentiator of ability across all domains.
  • Quality: Practice must be constantly challenging. If something feels easy or subconscious, it is not improving (e.g., driving to work).
  • Feedback: “If you don’t know what you are doing wrong, you can never know what you are doing right”.
    • Must be timely (quick to follow the action), objective and attributable (See “Kaizen“).
    • Try to look for or design feedback loops in your practice (e.g., by standardising procedure).

Opportunity:
“Good Luck” in Where, When, What, Who and How separates the top 10% from the top 10.

  • Where: In the right place. Determines Who and How. E.g., “Reading” for UK Table Tennis; Eldoret for distance running.
  • When: At the right time. Timing, at the start of an up-cycle, is everything. E.g., Hockey players born early in season cut off. Reading in the early 80s for Table Tennis.
  • What: Genetics, injury. Some genetic factors make a difference sometimes. Injury/burnout can unravel even the most promising career.
  • Who: With the right people. Ourselves, peers, parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, judges – all influence the course of our journey.
  • How: And the right facilities. Tightly linked with Where and When. E.g., It’s hard to be a tennis champion with no tennis court.

Managing “Belief” is a final “X Factor” in balancing conflicting demands of “Learning” and “Performance”.  

  • Our beliefs have a profound and physical impact on our experience and actions (see the Placebo Effect).
  • And it turns out it doesn’t matter what they are (e.g., divine, scientific) so long as our beliefs are sincere.
  • But “Learning” and “Performance” place conflicting demands on belief:
    • Learning: Openness to criticism, understanding of our own flaws.
    • Performance: Unwavering self-confidence and belief.
  • And believing the wrong thing at the wrong time can greatly disrupt both.
  • So, the ability to believe in and appropriately manage two conflicting realities is critical to optimising growth.

In conclusion: Your most basic abilities can be developed to extraordinary levels through dedication and hard work. 

  • Our ability to improve our intelligence and abilities is more in control than we ever imagined.
  • Luck and genetics do play a role but this is much less significant than we assume.

Don’t let the “Myth of Talent” hold you and the people around you back.

  • Get out there and take more responsibility for your own destiny!
  • Don’t let a few weeks of half hearted effort at some skill confirm your false beliefs.
  • Purposeful practice is not easy, it is hard, but it is also mostly available to everyone.
  • Understanding this will not only change you, it will also change those around you.

Related Reading

“Outliers: The Story of Success”, Malcolm Gladwell: Heavily referenced by Syed and for good reason. Gladwell’s pursuit of the truth is relentless. His book deeply debunks “The Myth of Talent”, including many deep and widely held biases, across a wide range of domains. Incidentaly, his new podcast “Revisionist History” is also fascinating.

“Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential”, Carol Dweck: Another primary source for Syed. Dweck’s decades of experiments and insights into the psychology of learning have deeply influenced today’s thinking on the topic. The idea and evidence behind “Growth” and “Fixed” mindsets began and come from here. A fascinating read.

“The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance”, Joshua Waitzkin: Waitzkin’s book tells the story of his rise to both International Master at Chess and a World Champion in Taichi Push Hands. His first hand insights of mastering not one but two domains to a World Class level make for fascinating reading. A wonderful and insightful book.

“Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”, Cal Newport: In this fascinating book, Cal Newport guides us into the requirements, benefits and importance of “Deep Work”. His concept overlaps almost perfectly with the idea of “Purposeful Practice”. For anyone looking for more practical tips on single minded progress, this is a must read. See the WWH Book Crunch here.

“The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”, Charles Duhigg: If you’re looking for more on the power of the subconscious then try this book for size. An amazing insight into the importance of habit in every aspect of learning. Also full of practical tips. See the WWH Book Crunch here.

“A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science”, Barbara Oakley: My final reading suggestion is another fascinating journey into the physiology and psychology of learning. Barbara’s book is as deeply practical as it is informative. If you’re looking for more on Chunking, Discipline and Creativity then look no further. See the WWH Book Crunch here.

Engaging With Art – from Appreciation to Criticism and Connoisseurship

The Black Square, Malevich
18 MINUTE READ

The Black Square, Malevich

“The Black Square”, Kazimir Malevich

Perfect for you if:

  • You need two hands to count your gallery/museum memberships on.
  • You’re art-curious but have never really worked out what it’s all about.
  • “Leonardo” and “Michelangelo” are Ninja Turtles aren’t they?

N.B., To keep things tight this guide is skewed heavily towards a single format: painting. It can, however, be applied to almost any art form. From dance to architecture to hardcore German rap – whatever floats your boat, you’ll hopefully find something here to help you think about art in new ways.

I like art. I grew up with the Tate, the V&A and the British Museum. In my travels, I’ve visited hundreds of galleries and museums across dozens of countries. I’ve even read a couple of books on the topic.

And yet, if I’m honest, I still don’t really have a clue what it’s all about. I can recognise a Hirst, a Banksy or an Emin. I can nod knowingly at a Warhol or a Weiwei. I know that Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Picasso were important. I’m aware that impressionist art fetches tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars at auction.

But could I tell you why? I mean really give you a good explanation? The short answer is No. No I can’t. I don’t have a clue. Despite decades of engaging with art I still walk in and out of galleries and museums feeling like a fraud. Despite hundreds of hours of exposure I’m still constantly troubled by the same two questions:

  1. What the hell am I supposed to think about this?
  2. Why is this piece of art more important/valuable than that one?

“Enough is enough,” I decided, “I’m going to solve this once and for all!” And here, mis amigos, are the fruits of my labour.

What I discovered is this: there are no easy answers.

Art is a language and fluency takes years of hard, purposeful practice.

At the top end of fluency are two disciplines: Art Criticism and Art Connoisseurship.

Art Criticism is about placing and evaluating art in the context of other works. Which are more influential? More beautiful? More powerful? Your opinion is part of a group effort. The degree to which you are “right” or “wrong” is judged against the most common currently accepted ideas of art theory and history.

Art Connoisseurship used to be a technical role. The kind of person who could spot a Caravaggio from 1,000 paces based on brush stroke and technique. That’s still true to some extent. These days though, connoisseurship is more about placing artworks within a contemporary hierarchy of taste. Unless you’re one of a handful of influencers your opinion means very little here. Instead, connoisseurship means understanding changing trends and tastes in society. The accuracy of your opinion is weighed in cash. You may not like a piece of art, that doesn’t mean someone else won’t buy it for $300m.

Whatever the art form, these hotshots pretty much dictate what is accepted today as important and unimportant art. And that power extends into the past, present and future. Their decisions have surprisingly far reaching consequences for the development of our society and culture as a whole. That’s important because their judgement hasn’t/doesn’t always live up to the standards of objectivity and inclusiveness that our societies look up to today.

Though it takes a lifetime of dedicated work (and a good measure of luck) to reach those lofty heights, there’s also some good news:

  1. Anyone who wants to can become more fluent in art; and
  2. You don’t need ninja levels to transform the way you engage with it.

In fact, with a little thought, you can make more progress in a few weeks of purposeful practice than in a lifetime of walking aimlessly around galleries and museums.

So how does one practise art purposefully? It all starts with learning…

How to Appreciate Art.

Art Appreciation is all about you. You and a single work of art. Everything starts here, without it neither criticism nor connoisseurship are possible.

There are no right or wrong answers in art appreciation. Just your personal perception of and response to the facts.

To appreciate art you must first learn to…

Step 1: Experience it.

The first step in art appreciation is to take at least a couple of minutes to experience an artwork as mindfully as possible.

Slow down and take your time. If you have 30 minutes, you will get far more from engaging six pieces of art than sixty.

If you’re in a museum or gallery try this on your own, before you read any accompanying information. This is your opportunity to engage with art on your own terms. Enjoy making the most of it before you consider the perspective of the curator or other external sources.

If it’s a painting, don’t simply look. Try to see. If it’s a piece of music, don’t use it as a backing track to your thoughts. Really listen.

Take the whole thing in. Then isolate the details. Then soften and expand your observation back out to the whole.

As you do so, keep a gentle eye on your immediate and changing sensations, emotions and thoughts:

  • What physical sensations are you aware of?
    Scan down your body: what is your first impulse / instant reaction?
    Did your shoulders tighten? Did you cross your arms? Are you frowning or smiling?
  • What emotions do you feel?
    Confusion? Joy? Sadness? Repulsion? Frustration? Anger?
    Is the emotion strong or weak? How does it change?
  • What thoughts come and go?
    Are they pleasant or unpleasant? Related or unrelated?
    Don’t analyse or intellectualise at this stage, there’s plenty of time for that later.

Stay curious and open minded towards your own reactions. There are no right or wrong answers. Isn’t it interesting what does/doesn’t come up?

It is totally O.K. if you catch your mind wandering off. Simply make a note of what you were thinking about and bring it gently back to the artwork.

Mindfully experiencing a piece of art like this is emotional rather than analytical. It is surprisingly difficult to do without getting lost in internal narratives or judgements.

Stick with it, it does gets easier with practice. Learning to find that balance of focus is the first step to getting more from art than you ever imagined.

Step 2: Place it.

The second step in art appreciation is to place the artwork in your mental art map.

Read the accompanying placard (or ask someone else) to get a sense of “What”, “Who” and “When”.

Whatever the art form, this taxonomical information will sound something like:

  • This is a [Movement/style] [Sub-format] [Format] called [Name] created by [Creator] in/on [Date]
  • e.g., This is Fauvist oil painting called “Dance” created by Henri Matisse in 1910

This information is only a tiny part of the puzzle but it’s a useful way to organise art in your head.

If you’re serious about learning the language of art, write this information down and make a conscious effort to memorise it (there’s more on this in the tips you can send yourself at the top of the page).

Over time you’ll begin building up a sizeable mental art library that is essential for understanding art in its wider context.

Step 3: Understand it.

The final step in appreciating art is to try and understand it.

“Textual details” are those you can’t get from simply experiencing a piece of art. Instead you’ll need prior knowledge or external sources.

Don’t be afraid to look up more details on the spot. This one tip alone will totally change the way you experience your next gallery or museum visit.

You would be amazed at the scandal and gossip behind even the most forgettable portrait of a 17th Century noble. And the life of many artists or your average Greek myth contains more violence, sex and betrayal than an entire season of Game of Thrones.

In the case of much contemporary art, textual detail is often not just a bonus, it is essential. The experienceable artwork itself can be more like evidence at a crime scene: irrelevant and meaningless except in the context of the action or thought that created it.

When trying to get to the “Why” of an artwork there are thee questions you must ask:

  1. What?
  2. Who?; and
  3. What for?

Even if the message of a piece seems straightforward, you’ll soon discover that the full story is “rarely pure and never simple”.

Depending on the work / your levels of interest, you may also find it interesting to ask:

  1. Where?; and
  2. How?

Let’s cover each of these questions in more detail now.

i. What?

The first question to try and understand is “What?”

An artist’s intentions for any given work can range from stunningly simple to bewilderingly complex.

Consider the whole work and also its details. Ask yourself to what extent they are:

  • Representational/figurative
    Who/what/where are the subjects? What are their stories? Why were they included? Common figures in Western art range from characters in popular Greek and Roman myths to Biblical and political figures.
  • Abstract
    What elements of the photo are partly or totally devoid of references to the physical world? Why has the artist chosen abstraction? To express or elicit an emotion? To test an idea? To challenge the viewer’s preconceptions of art?
  • Metaphorical
    What obvious/hidden metaphors is the artist employing? Are the metaphors common or unique? How have they used the specific to comment on the general? Have they subverted the metaphor in some way?
  • Symbolic
    What traditional/subverted symbols has the artist included/omitted? What animals? What plants? What objects? Why? See Living Arts Originals and this Dictionary of Symbolism for  great introductions to symbolism in art.

Read the placard. Look it up on your phone. Ask a guide or gallery attendant. Contact the artist if they’re still alive!

Stay patient and curious. You can’t solve every puzzle in a single sitting.

Especially since many of the pieces are likely to be tied up in…

ii. Who?

In today’s art world, the artist almost always takes centre stage.

And yet, the truth is you will always find five important stakeholders behind any work:

  • The Patron commissions and pays for the artwork.
  • The Artist (and/or their workshop) creates the artwork.
  • The Collector owns the artwork.
  • The Exhibitor makes the artwork available to the viewer.
  • The Viewer experiences the artwork.

What do you know about these stakeholders today/historically?

  • Who are/were they?
  • What sort of time did they exist in?
  • What are/were their wider goals/motives?
  • If they’re an institution; who funds or owns them?
  • How and why have they changed over time?

Don’t underestimate the importance of this piece of the puzzle.

Without it you’ll find it much harder to fully understand…

iii. What for?

“What for?” ties together “What?” and “Who?”. It is the critical piece of the puzzle.

The two most immediately relevant “What for?”s to think about are:

  • Why was this artwork originally created? and;
  • What is the exhibitor trying to achieve by showing me this artwork today?

You might be surprised at how different the answers to these two questions are. What does this tell you?

Put yourself in the shoes of each stakeholder. Keep asking Why? – Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

  • Why did the patron commission this work? Why from this artist? Why in this format?
  • Why did the artist take on the work? Why did they choose to realise their idea in this way?
  • Why did the collector acquire this piece work? Why have they lent it to the exhibitor?
  • Why is the exhibitor displaying this work? Why now? Why in this collection? Why in this way?
  • Why are you here? Why are other viewers here? Why was this work important to the original viewers?

Remember: Artworks are tools. They serve different purposes for different people at different times.

They record and tell stories. They express and elicit emotions. They communicate or comment on the balance of power and authority. They attract money, fame and prestige.

Understanding these purposes will uncover new levels of meaning within an artwork. They will reveal hidden as well as public motives.

Perhaps most importantly, they will prompt you to challenge, rather than simply accept, the work as it’s being shown to you today.

iv. Where

Many artworks are commissioned and created with a final exhibition point already in mind. This spatial context has probably influenced the artist’s choice of content, format and technical approach.

This is important because exhibiting an artwork outside of its intended context can deeply impact its meaning. The power and authority of a work can disappear or even be reversed entirely by simply changing where and how it is presented. This is especially true for religious and political art.

Some things to consider include:

  • Location
    Was the artwork originally destined for a gallery? a church? a palace? a house? outdoors?
    Was it meant for a specific location? Was intended to be public/private?
  • Space
    What kind of space was the artwork destined for? Was it prominent? Or supporting another work?
    Was it meant for a stairwell or a corridor? On a wall? Above a door?
  • Lighting
    What kind of lighting was the artwork designed for? Were the levels of light high or low?
    Was the source natural? candles? an electric bulb?

Take a moment to think about the artwork in its original space.

Ask yourself:

  • Why has the exhibitor chosen this new context?
  • How could this have changed the way I relate to the work?
  • Is/how has the meaning of the artwork changed with the context?

You may learn things about both the artwork and the exhibitor that surprise you.

v. How

As of writing, Wikipedia lists the following formats under its article “The Arts“:

Some items may seem strange to you. You may feel outraged that others haven’t featured at all.

Where are calligraphy? Or metallurgy? Or textiles? Or gastronomy? Or any other number of creative forms of expression?

It is worth noting that the formats we traditionally consider as artistic vary considerably between individuals, societies and time periods.

One thing though is certain: whatever the format of a piece of art, learning more about that format will give you new meaning and perspective on the artwork.

If you’re interested in a specific format: start by reading or watching a good video on it (e.g., this superb video on sculpting in stone).

Even better, do a basic course in it. Nothing will give you more appreciation for oil paintings than learning the basics of the craft. Or for a killer guitar solo than learning to play the guitar.

Ask yourself:

  • Why the artist may have chosen this format?
  • What were the benefits? And the tradeoffs?
  • How has this work been influenced by their skill or experience in other formats?
  • How could/have others presented the same idea in different formats?

Do this and you may find the insights you reveal both surprising and rewarding.

How to Criticise Art.

Art criticism is the process of evaluating a work of art in the context of art theory and art history.

The most important word in this definition is “context”.

  • Art Appreciation requires no knowledge of art beyond the work being examined.
  • Art Criticism demands it.

There are many different ways to approach art criticism. All of them rely on building a deep and wide base of knowledge.

The good news is that the longer and more diligently you appreciate art, the richer and more meaningful your criticism will become.

Here are a few steps you can use to get started:

  1. Make the work part of a wider collection.
    If you’re in a gallery or museum, why not start with the collection the work is currently being presented in.
  2. Take a moment to consider this collection as a whole.
    What story is it telling? Not telling? What else could be included? What omitted?
  3. Now come back to the piece of art. How does it compare to the other works?
    In its ability to fulfil its function? In its influence? Aesthetically?

When art is displayed in galleries/museums, collections are commonly filtered and ordered in one of four ways:

  • By format – e.g., painting, sculpture
  • By/through time – e.g., Roman, 16th – 18th Century
  • By movement/style – e.g., impressionism, fauvism
  • By artist – e.g., as a biographical retrospective

Challenge this presentation and ask yourself: “If I could wave a magic wand, what other works might I compare this one to?”

You can create an infinite number of imaginary collections using any one or more of the following lenses:

  • Who – remember the patron, artist, collector, exhibitor and viewer.
  • When – what other works were being created at this time?
  • What for – how does this work compare to other e.g., political works across any other lenses?
  • Format – how does this work compare within its format? how about with works in other formats?
  • Movement / style – what explicit/implicit broader cultural movement was this work part of?

Go crazy. Consider works of the same size, shape or colour. Compare works that are similar or at different extremes of a spectrum.

As you go through this process it should hopefully become clear how deeply subjective and infinitely varied the field of art criticism is.

The stories commonly told in galleries, museums or text books are not “the” way art should be collected and interpreted. They are simply “a” way.

The fact of the matter is that there is no single best lens or right answer. There may be a number of “most currently accepted” answers but like all inter-subjective realities these too change over time. Don’t be afraid to challenge the assumptions and choices behind the collections you’re being presented.

In the meantime though, the idea of a “most currently accepted answer” brings us neatly to…

How to Become an Art Connoisseur.

What is an Art Connoisseur?

An art connoisseur is someone with excellent judgement in placing artwork within a hierarchy of taste.

In English, that means they’ll tell you not about how good or bad an artwork is but about how good or bad other people will think it is.

In particular, art connoisseurs busy themselves with the tastes, trends and theories of elite and educated segments of appreciators and influencers.

Art connoisseurs come in many forms and with a variety of different motives:

  • Advisors, auction houses, agents, brokers, fairs/festivals, galleries and the like are mostly financially driven; meanwhile
  • Artists, collectors, curators, museums and publications have motives than can be more complex and opaque.

An artist or collector might be driven to create or collect by money, prestige, aesthetics or even some political or social motive.

A curator might be driven by fashion, theory or the desire to make a name for themselves.

The Danger of Museums and Public Galleries

Museums and public galleries are an especially important type of connoisseur for two reasons:

  1. They are how most of us experience the majority of traditional art forms.
  2. Their claims of greater objectivity can create a dangerously false sense of security.

Though museums and public galleries may genuinely aspire to educate objectively, the truth is more complex. For example:

  • Many (e.g., most national) museums were set up specifically to promote artists of a particular nationality or format.
  • Most museums simply do not have the resources to collect and display the best of the best.
  • Every museum is curated by individuals with their own opinions and biases.
  • Every museum needs visitors and prestige to attract funding.

The result is that museums tend to display artworks:

  • That are similar to things we already know and like,
  • In ways that we feel comfortable with; or
  • That overhype the value and importance of their own collections.

This can, in turn, perpetuate a status quo which feeds back into narrow acquisition and exhibition policies.

Don’t get me wrong, museums and public galleries are great – many work extremely hard to do the best they can under conflicting pressures.

Just always remember: no matter where you are, you are never experiencing fact, you are experiencing someone else’s judgement of value.

The Path to Connoisseurship

People say you’re either born with “good taste” or you aren’t: that’s a load of rubbish. Like anything, “good taste” is a learned skill.

That’s not to say it’s easy. Good luck and “Who” as well as “What” you know play an even more important part in connoisseurship than in art criticism. If you work out a reliable formula for either of these then come back and tell me.

For now; here are two things that you can do to set off in the right direction:

First: Learn as much about the art market as possible.

  • Learn the mechanics: From artist and agent through to high-street gallery, art fair/biennale, major gallery and auction house. A superb book for this is Don Thompson’s “$12m Stuffed Shark”.
  • Stay up to date: Stay on top of latest art news. Follow auction schedules and results at major houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s. These will all help you develop an understanding and intuition of “Who” is buying “What” and maybe even “Why”.
  • Get to know the people: Meet as many other fledgling and experienced connoisseurs as possible. Visit galleries and shows with them. Ask them for tips. Ask them for insights. The most rewarding and enlightening sources for learning about art are the people who think, live and breathe it every moment of every day.

Second: Make art and art appreciation as full time as you can. 

  • Appreciate as much art as possible. When it comes to connoisseurship, a working fluency of art is a given. Getting there will mean appreciating as wide a range of art, exhibited in as many ways a possible, as often as you can. Don’t let geography limit you. Do this online or through books and catalogues as well as in person.
  • Read around the topic. Read. Read. Read. Try to understand current theories of Art History. Try to understand the History of Art History. Develop an extensive database of textual details that you can call on whenever required.
  • Learn continuously. Take courses in art theory. Take courses in art practice. Ideally both. Take up drawing, or ceramics or photography. Join a dance school or improv class. Understanding the struggles and limitations of your own creativity will give you new found respect for the works of others. You might even make some new friends!

I know this list sounds intimidating. The good news is that it’s not an all or nothing deal. Start somewhere and keep chugging along. As long as you’re motivated and excited by the world of art, your growth will come steadily and naturally.

And remember, with art, as with pretty much anything in life, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.

Conclusion

I wrote this guide as a way to help me engage more thoughtfully with art when I encounter it. I hope that it’s encouraged you to do the same.

There’s a tendency to view continuously investing in art literacy as an indulgence that’s only accessible and relevant to a select few.

In reality, I don’t think this can be much further from the truth.

Art – be it painting, sculpture and architecture or music, film and dance – permeates and shapes every aspect of our culture and society. It impacts every moment of our day to day lives through the beliefs and attitudes that it reinforces.

What art is harmful and what art is helpful? What art is good and what art is evil? These are the questions that art literacy helps us to answer.

When we engage actively with art we begin recognising and challenging “truths” as they are presented to us rather than just accepting them.

  • What kind of message does it send our children that the Western Canon (the list of artworks recognised as influential for all art) is almost exclusively White, Western and Male?
  • What impact does it have to listen to music that continues to objectify women in way that no other part of our culture will accept?
  • What does it imply to perpetuate art theories that label anything pre-16th century or non-European as “primitive”?

If we don’t make those decisions ourselves then someone else will make them for us. History is full of examples where the few have dictated an unquestioned truth and that path is not one littered with inclusive or benevolent outcomes.

What’s at stake here is not just a nice afternoon wandering around a gallery or museum.

  • It’s our say on what kind of art outlasts us and becomes part of our past.
  • It’s our choice about what kind of art, society and culture we want in our present.
  • It’s our decision as to what kind of step we choose to lay on the path towards the future.

Perhaps you agree. Perhaps you think that’s all a bit melodramatic. In either case, that’s what inspires me to keep going back to art, even if I continue to have very little idea about what’s really going on.

In any case, I hope you’ll agree that with a little bit of work and thought, the world of art can, at least, become a much more interesting and meaningful place.

Thanks for reading. Good luck, enjoy and have fun!

P.s., There’s a very good chance I’ve missed things out and got other things totally wrong. Wherever that’s the case, please tell me! I love being corrected.

Further Reading

“The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art”

“The Value of Art: Money, Power, Beauty”, Michael Findlay

“A Very Short Introduction to Art History”, Dana Arnold

“The Story of Art”, Ernst Gombrich

“Art: Over 2,500 Works from Cave to Contemporary”, Iain Zaczek, Mary Acton

“How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie

How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie
13 MINUTE READ

How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie

“How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie
Print length: 360 pages. Buy on Amazon.

Perfect for you if:

  • You have a deep desire to improve your ability to deal with people.
  • You’d like to improve your relationships at home and at work.
  • This isn’t the kind of book you would normally read.

“How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a treasure trove of practical tips for building better relationships.

If you asked me for just one book that you should read this year, this would be my recommendation. Its timeless wisdom will change your life.

Think that’s an exaggeration? Consider that:

  • It has sold over 30 million copies since its first edition in 1936.
  • It is consistently voted among the most influential books in American history.
  • It still, to this day, sells hundreds of thousands of copies each year.

So why haven’t you read it yet?

There are two reasons why I almost passed over it when I first picked it up 10 years ago.

  1. The title sounds like a manipulative book on Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP).
  2. I didn’t think I needed advice from someone else on how to make friends or influence people.

Neither of these points could have been further from the truth.

I’ll use Carnegie’s own words to answer the first point:

“The principles taught in this book will work only when they come from the heart. I am not advocating a bag of tricks. I am talking about a new way of life.”

Or perhaps you’d prefer something from Henry Ford:

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

Neither of those statements entails manipulative shortcuts. As you’ll see, it is impossible to apply Carnegie’s tips without genuinely becoming a kinder, more thoughtful person.

As for the second: If you feel uncomfortable reading books on self-improvement, I hear you. The question to ask yourself though is, “What have I got to lose?”

Carnegie’s wise words on the topic are:

 “Nothing will work in all cases – and nothing will work with all people. If you are satisfied with the results you are now getting, why change? If you are not satisfied, why not experiment?”

And it’s an important argument that authors like Timothy Ferriss are are still using today:

“Much of what I recommend will seem impossible and even offensive to basic common sense – I expect that. Resolve now to test the concepts as an exercise in lateral thinking.”

A bet with minimal downside, and a high upside, is one that you should take every time.

And how big is the upside? It’s high. According to the late John D. Rockefeller:

“The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee, and I will pay more for the ability than for any other under the sun.”

Convinced? The good news is that this book is not only good on “Why” and “What”, it’s also great on “How”.

Carnegie ran his popular self-improvement programs for decades with participants from every conceivable walk of life. His book is full of their stories. Stories about how they applied these principles. Stories about the huge changes they made in their own lives.

Reinventing the wheel is an extremely difficult and masochistic pastime. You may remember these wise words from Seneca: tutor to Roman emperors and (at one time) one of the wealthiest men alive:

“There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living; there is nothing harder to learn.”

Read this book. Learn from it. Keep it handy. Refer back to it often (I wish I had followed this advice more faithfully).

It will make you a better person. It will improve your life. Most importantly, it will improve the lives of the people you love and the people you meet each day.

And remember:

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world… as in being able to remake ourselves.”
Mahatma Gandhi

N.B., this feels like a bit of a cheat book crunch as the material is already extremely well organised. You’ll notice a lot more direct quoting than usual. Mainly because “If it ain’t broke…”. Enjoy!

3 Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

  1. Don’t criticise, condemn, or complain. “Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance and arouses resentment.” Put as much time and space between emotion and action as possible. Empathise and forgive. Do not measure others by the standards you set for yourself.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation. “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” but avoid hollow flattery. Instead, make your appreciation heartfelt, sincere and unselfish. Flattery is easily detected and universally condemned.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want. “The only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it… you may want to persuade somebody to do something. Before you speak, pause and ask yourself: ‘How can I make this person want to do it?'”

6 Ways to Make People Like You

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people. “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them, than in two years by making them interested in you… If we want to make friends, let’s put ourselves out to do things for other people – things that require time, energy, unselfishness and thoughtfulness”. Make it a priority to keep an eye out for things that might improve other people’s lives.
     
    A great practical tip from Carnegie is as simple as follows:

    1. Take the time to find out the birthday’s of friends and acquaintances.
    2. Make a note of them in your calendar.
    3. Take the time each year to send a physical card.

    This kind of thoughtfulness costs very little but has a huge impact.

  2. Smile. “The expression one wears on one’s face is far more important than the clothes one wears on one’s back.” Smile in everything that you do. Smile sincerely, “An insincere grin… doesn’t fool anybody. We know it is mechanical and we resent it.”. Don’t feel like smiling? Consider Abraham Lincoln’s remark that “most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Still struggling? Fake it until you make it. Force yourself to smile and the mind will often follow.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. “The average person is more interested in their own name than in all the other names in the world put together.” Remembering a person’s name is a question of effort not ability. Ask a person’s name. Pay attention. Make sure you’ve heard it. Spell it out if need be. Repeat it several times. Build a mental picture. Write it down. Don’t then become the weirdo who thinks repeating the other person’s name after every sentence will make them like you. That’s not how it works, be cool.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. “Exclusive attention to the person who is speaking to you is very important. Nothing else is so flattering as that.” Doing so will soften and subdue even the most violent critic and you may also learn a thing or two. “To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that the other person will enjoy answering.” And remember: “A person’s toothache means more to [them] than a famine… which kills a million people.”
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interest. “The royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most.” Take the time to understand or even research a topic you know is of interest to someone else. Ask them about their past: “Almost every successful person likes to reminisce about their early struggles.” Doing so will not only improve your relationship, it might enlarge your life.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Obey this golden rule “All the time, everywhere”. Use little phrases like “I’m sorry to trouble you,” “Would you be so kind as to – ?” “Would you mind?” and “Thank you.” “Almost all the people you meet feel superior to you in some way, and a sure way to their heats is to let them realise in some subtle way that you realise their importance and recognise it sincerely.”

12 Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. “You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lost it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.” because “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still”. Instead try to:
    1. Welcome the disagreement: This might be an opportunity to avoid a serious mistake.
    2. Watch out for and distrust your first instinct to be defensive.
    3. Control your temper.
    4. Listen first.
    5. Look first for areas of agreement.
    6. Be honest about and apologise for your mistakes.
    7. Promise to think over your opponent’s ideas and study them carefully.
    8. Thank the other person sincerely for their time and interest.
    9. Postpone action to give both sides time to think through the problem.
  2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say “You’re wrong.” It’s “tantamount to saying: ‘I’m smarter than you are.'” Instead, consider that “you will never get into trouble by admitting that you may be wrong” and see the above point. Even if you know you are right, try something like: “I may be wrong. I frequently am. If I’m wrong I want to be put right. Let’s examine the facts.”
  3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. “By fighting you never get enough, but by yielding you get more than you expected.” Have the courage to admit your errors. Let the other person take the role of a collaborative and benevolent forgiver rather than an opponent.
  4. Begin in a friendly way.  Friendliness begets friendliness. Glow with it. Overflow with it. Remember that “a drop of honey can catch more flies than a gallon of gall.” and see also Aesop’s fable “The Wind and the Sun”.
  5. Get the other person saying ‘yes, yes’ immediately. “Begin by emphasising – and keep emphasising – the things on which you agree… that you are both striving for the same end and that your only difference is one of method and not of purpose.” Try to begin with questions to which the only conceivable reply is “Yes”. This will help things get off on a collaborative foot. And remember, “he who treads softly goes far.”
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking. “Let other people talk themselves out. They know more about their business and problems than you do. So ask the questions. Let them tell you a few things… Don’t [interrupt]… They won’t pay attention to you while they still have a lot of ideas of their own crying for expression”. Don’t waste air boasting about your own achievements: “If you want enemies, excel your friends; but if you want friends, let your friends excel you.”
  7. Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers. “You have much more faith in ideas that you discover for yourself than in ideas that are handed to you.” Allow others to design and become invested in their own solutions. Consult with them, collaborate on and influence a half finished idea rather than presenting a final solution. Avoid self-importance, instead remember “The reason why rivers and seas receive the home of a hundred mountain streams is that they keep below them.”
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view. Take the time to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If you can, sit down with a piece of paper and a pen. Set a timer for 10 minutes and begin with the words: “What X is probably feeling now is…” Keep writing from their perspective until the timer goes off.
  9. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires. Begin always with “I don’t blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you I would undoubtedly feel just as you do.” Be honest about your own flaws and idiosyncrasies. It will help you be more sympathetic with those of others. Remember “Three-fourths of the people you will ever meet are hungering and thirsting for sympathy. Give it to them, and they will love you”.
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives. “People are honest and want to discharge their obligations, the exceptions to that rule are comparatively few”. They “will in most cases react favourably if you make them feel that you consider them honest, upright and fair”.
  11. Dramatise your ideas. Present your ideas in an interesting, creative and dramatic way that captures attention. Think laterally; how can you present tabular data in a creative way that encourages interaction and engages more of the senses than just sight? Take your inspiration from television and advertising – they’ve been in this game a long time.
  12. Throw down a challenge. “The way to get things done is to stimulate competition. I do not mean in a sordid money-getting way, but in the desire to excel.” Pay is not enough to motivate people. Instead the work itself must be motivating and exciting. Make performance metrics public. Let people enjoy a challenge. “That is what every successful person loves: the game. The chance for self-expression. The chance to prove his or her worth, to excel, to win.”

9 Ways to Be a Leader and Change People Without Giving Offence or Arousing Resentment

N.b., the judgement and skill behind the “How” in this section is more advanced and subtle. Carnegie illustrates them with some superb examples that are well worth reading in full.

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation. “Beginning with praise is like the dentist who begins with his work with Novocain. The patient still gets a drilling, but the Novocain is pain-killing.”
  2. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly. A great tip given here is to use the word “and” whenever you feel like using the word “but”. This avoids devaluing the initial praise and move feedback to a “good to greater” mindset.
  3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticising the other person. “Admitting one’s own mistakes – even when one hasn’t corrected them – can help convince somebody to change his behaviour.”  Call attention to or remember back to when you also struggled with whatever it is you are giving feedback on. Be open and specific with your examples. Talk about how you (wish you’d) worked through them instead of criticising directly.
  4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders. “Asking questions not only makes an order more palatable; it often stimulates the creativity of the persons whom you ask.” N.B., this doesn’t work with obviously leading questions. Instead, see “Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers.”
  5. Let the other person save face. “I have no right to say or do anything that diminishes a man in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him, but what he thinks of himself. Hurting a man in his dignity is a crime.” It’s also a quick way to shutting down collaboration completely. Even if you must correct or criticise someone, never do it in front of someone else. “Even if we are right and the other person is definitely wrong, we only destroy ego by causing someone to lose face.”
  6. Praise every improvement. “Abilities wither under criticism; they blossom under encouragement.” Can you look back on your own life and see where a few words of praise have sharply changed your entire future? Be specific and sincere. Remember, “we all crave appreciation and recognition, and will do almost anything to get it. But nobody wants insincerity. Nobody wants flattery.”
  7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to. “If you want to improve a person in a certain respect, act as though that particular trait were already one of his or her outstanding characteristics.”
  8. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct. “Be liberal with your encouragement, make the thing seem easy to do, let the other person know that you have faith in his ability to do it, that he has an undeveloped flair for it – and he will practise until the dawn comes in the window in order to excel.”
  9. Make the other person (as) happy (as possible) about doing what you suggest. Even when the task is irreparably undesirable. Try the following approach:
    1. Be sincere. Do not promise anything you can’t deliver. Forget about yourself and concentrate on the benefits to the other person.
    2. Be clear. Know exactly what you want the other person to do.
    3. Be empathetic. Ask yourself what the other person really wants.
    4. Consider the benefits the other person will receive from doing what you suggest.
    5. Match those benefits to the other person’s wants.
    6. Convey the request in a form that highlights those benefits.

Extra: How to make the most of the book

I’m including Carnegie’s own list of tips for making the most of his book because they’re solid advice for reading and self-improvement in general.

  1. Have a deep desire to learn and a determination to increase your ability to deal with people.
  2. Review each chapter quickly. Then go back over it thoroughly.
  3. Stop frequently to reflect and recall.
  4. Highlight and annotate as you read.
  5. Reread and review frequently.
  6. Apply the rules at every opportunity. See this post on the Power of Habit.
  7. Make a game of it. E.g., offer a 1 USD bounty to your friends and family if they catch you breaking its principles.
  8. Conduct a weekly review. Set aside 30 minutes. Ask yourself, what mistakes did you make? Successes? Lessons? What actions can you take to improve?
  9. Record your small wins. Write them down, be specific, review them often!

Start as you mean to go on! These points are worth dwelling on and putting into practice.

TANQ entries for 'How to Win Friends and Influence People'

TANQ is WhyWhatHow’s growing central library of thoughts, anecdotes, notes, and quotes.

“The person who has technical knowledge plus the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership and to arouse enthusiasm among people – that person is headed for higher earning power.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee… And I will pay more for that ability than any other under the sun.”

John D. Rockefeller How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Health is the prime interest of adults… their second interest is people; how to understand and get along with people; how to make people like you; and how to win others to your way of thinking.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.”

Herbert Spencer How to Win Friends and Influence People

“For years I kept an engagement book showing all the appointments I had during the day. My family never made any plans for me on Saturday night, for the family knew that I devoted a part of each Saturday evening to the illuminating process of self-examination and review and appraisal. After dinner, I went off by myself, opened my engagement book, and thought over all the interviews, discussions and meetings that had taken place during the week. I asked myself:

What mistakes did I make that time?

What did I do that was right – and in what way could I have improved my performance?

What lessons can I learn from that experience?

… This system of self-analysis, self-education, continued year after year, did more for me than any other one thing I have ever attempted.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Criticisms are like homing pigeons. They always return home.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Don’t complain about the snow on your neighbour’s roof when your own doorstep is unclean.”

Confucious How to Win Friends and Influence People

“A great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men.”

Thomas Carlyle How to Win Friends and Influence People

“When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices nd motivated by pride and vanity.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“I will speak ill of no man… and speak all the good I know of everybody.”

Benjamin Franklin How to Win Friends and Influence People

“I will speak ill of no man… and speak all the good I know of everybody.”

Benjamin Franklin How to Win Friends and Influence People

“There is only one way under high heaven to get anybody to do anything…. and that is by making the other person want to do it. Remember, there is no other way.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The deepest urge in human nature is ‘the desire to be important.'”

John Dewey How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Some of the people most things want include:

1. Health and the preservation of life.
2. Food.
3. Sleep.
4. Money and the things money will buy.
5. Life in the hereafter.
6. Sexual gratification.
7. The well-being of our children.
8. A feeling of importance.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“If you tell me how you get your feeling of importance, I’ll tell you what you are. That determines your character.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among my people the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement. There is nothing that so kills the ambitions of a person as criticisms from superiors. I never criticise anyone. I believe in giving a person incentive to work. So I am anxious to praise but loath to find fault. If I like anything, I am hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise.”

Charles Schwab How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Here lies a man who knew how to get around him men who were cleverer than himself.” (Epitaph)

Andrew Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The difference between appreciation and flattery? That is simple. One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other universally condemned.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Don’t be afraid of enemies who attack you. Be afraid of the friends who flatter you.”

General Alvaro Obregon How to Win Friends and Influence People

“I shall pass this way but once; any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Disputed How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Every act you have ever performed since the day you were born was performed because you wanted something.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Action springs out of what we fundamentally desire… and the best piece of advice which can be given to would-be persuaders, whether in business, in the home, in the school, in politics, is: First arouse in the other person an eager want. He who can do this has the whole world with him. He who cannot walks a lonely way.”

Hard A. Overstreet How to Win Friends and Influence People

“[Andrew Carnegie’s] sister in law was worried sick over her two boys. They were at Yale, and they were so busy with their own affairs that they neglected to write home and paid no attention whatever to their mother’s frantic letters.

Then Carnegie offered to wager a hundred dollars that he could get an answer by return mail, without even asking for it. Someone called his bet; so he wrote his nephews a chatty letter, mentioning casually in a postscript that he was sending each one a five-dollar bill.

He neglected, however, to enclose the money.

Back came the replies by return mail thanking ‘Dear Uncle Andrew’ for his kind note and – you can finish the sentence yourself.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Most people go through college and learn to read Virgil and master the mysteries of calculus without ever discovering how their own minds function.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring.”

Alfred Adler How to Win Friends and Influence People

“You have to be interested in people if you want to be a successful writer of stories.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“[Howard] Thurston’s method was totally different. He told me that every time he went on stage he said to himself: ‘I am grateful because these people have come to see me. They make it possible for me to make my living in a very agreeable way. I’m going to give them the very best I possibly can.’

He declared he never stepped in front of the footlights without first saying to himself over and over: ‘I love my audience. I love my audience.'”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“We are interested in others when they are interested in us.”

Publius Syrus How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The expression one wears on one’s face is far more important than the clothes one wears on one’s back… That is why dogs make such a hit. They are so glad to see us that they almost jump out of their skins. So naturally, we are glad to see them.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“You must have a good time meeting people if you expect them to have a good time meeting you.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not. Thus the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.”

William James How to Win Friends and Influence People

“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

William Shakespeare How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Abraham Lincoln How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Whenever you go out-of-doors, draw the chin in, carry the crown of the head high, and fill the lungs to the utmost; drink in the sunshine; greet your friends with a smile, and put soul into every handclasp. Do not fear being misunderstood and do not waste a minute thinking about your enemies. Try to fix firmly in your mind what you would like to do; and then, without veering off direction, you will move straight to the goal. Keep your mind on the great and splendid things you would like to do, and then, as the days go gliding away, you will find yourself unconsciously seizing upon the opportunities that are required for the fulfillment of your desire, just as the coral insect takes from the running tide the element it needs. Picture in your mind the able, earnest, useful person you desire to be, and the thought you hold is hourly transforming you into that particular individual… Thought is supreme. Preserve a right mental attitude – the attitude of courage, frankness, and good cheer. To think rightly is to create. All things come through desire and every sincere prayer is answered. We become like that on which our hearts are fixed. Carry your chin in and the crown of your head high. We are gods in chrysalis.”

Elbert Hubbard How to Win Friends and Influence People

“A man without a smiling face must not open a shop.”

Chinese Proverb How to Win Friends and Influence People

The Value of a Smile at Christmas

It costs nothing, but creates much.
It enriches those who receive, without impoverishing those who give. It happens in a flash and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever.
None are so rich they can get along without it, and none so poor but are richer for its benefits.
It creates happiness in the home, fosters goodwill in a business, and is the countersign of friends.
It is rest to the weary, daylight to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and Nature’s best antidote for trouble.
Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed or stolen, for it is something that is no earthly good to anybody till it is given away.
And if in the last-minute rush of Christmas buying some of our salespeople should be too tired to give you a smile, may we ask you to leave one of yours?
For nobody needs a smile so much as those who have none left to give!”

A New York Department Store How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The average person is more interested in his or her own name than in all the other names on earth put together.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Few human beings are proof against the implied flattery of rapt attention.”

Jack Woodford How to Win Friends and Influence People

“There is no mystery about successful business intercourse… Exclusive attention to the person who is speaking to you is very important. Nothing else is so flattering as that.”

Charles W. Eliot How to Win Friends and Influence People

“If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments. Remember that the people you are talking to are a hundred times more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems. A person’s toothache means more to that person than a famine in China which kills a million people.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Whenever Roosevelt expected a visitor, he sat up late the night before reading up on the subject in which he knew his guest was particularly interested. For … the royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Jesus Christ How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The unvarnished truth is that almost all the people you meet feel themselves superior to you in some way, and the sure way to their hearts is to let them realize in some subtle way that you realize their importance, and recognize it sincerely.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Talk to people about themselves and they will listen for hours.”

Benjamin Disraeli How to Win Friends and Influence People

“There is only one way under high heaven to get the best of an argument – and that is to avoid it… You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lost it; and if you win it, you lose it.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“A man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still.”

Anon How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Hatred is never ended by hatred but by love.”

Gautama Buddha How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Yield larger things to which you show no more than equal rights; and yield lesser ones though clearly your own. Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in contesting for that right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite.”

Abraham Lincoln How to Win Friends and Influence People

“When one yells, the other should listen – because when two people yell, there is no communication, just noise and bad vibrations.”

Jan Peerce How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Men must be taught as if you taught them not
And things unknown proposed as things forgot.”

Alexander Pope How to Win Friends and Influence People

“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him to find it within himself.”

Galileo Galilei How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Be wiser than other people if you can; but do not tell them so.”

Lord Chesterfield How to Win Friends and Influence People

“You will never get into trouble by admitting that you may be wrong. That will stop all argument and inspire your opponent to be just as fair and open and broad-minded as you are. It will make him want to admit that he, too, may be wrong.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“We are incredibly heedless in the formation of our beliefs, but find ourselves filled with an illicit passion for them when anyone proposes to rob us of their companionship.”

James Harvey Robinson How to Win Friends and Influence People

“When we are wrong, we may admit it to ourselves. And if we are handled gently and tactfully, we may admit it to others and even take pride in our frankness and broad-mindedness. But not if someone is trying to ram an unpalatable fact down our oesophagus.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“By fighting you never get enough, but by yielding you get more than you expected.”

Anon How to Win Friends and Influence People

“If you come at me with your fists doubled, I think I can promise you that mine will double as fast as yours; but if you come to me and say, ‘Let us sit down and take counsel together, and, if we differ from each other, understand why it is that we differ, just what the points at issue are’, we will presently find that we are not so far apart after all, that the points on which we differ are few and the points on which we agree are many, and that if we only have the patience and candour and the desire to get together, we will get together.”

Woodrow Wilson How to Win Friends and Influence People

“He who treads softly goes far.”

Chinese Proverb How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The reason why rivers and seas receive the homage of a hundred mountain streams is that they keep below them. Thus they are able to reign over all the mountain streams. So the sage, wishing to be above men, putteth himself below them; wishing to be before them, he putteth himself behind them. Thus, though his place be above men, they do not feel his weight; though his place be before them, they do not count it an injury.”

Lao-tse How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Stop a minute to contrast your keen interest in your own affairs with your mild concerns about anything else. Realise then, that everybody else in the world feels exactly the same way! Then, along with Lincoln and Roosevelt, you will have grasped the only solid foundation for interpersonal relationships; namely, that success in dealing with people depends on a sympathetic grasp of the other person’s viewpoint.”

Kenneth M. Goode How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Sympathy the human species universally craves. The child eagerly displays his injury; or even inflicts a cut or bruise in order to reap abundant sympathy. For the dame purpose adults… show their bruises, relate their accidents, illness, especially details of surgical operations. ‘Self-pity’ for misfortunes real or imaginary is, in some measure, practically a universal practice.”

Dr. Arthur I. Gates How to Win Friends and Influence People

“A person usually has two reasons for doing a thing: one that sounds good and a real one.”

J. Pierpont Morgan How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Nothing will work in all cases – and nothing will work with all people. If you are satisfied with the results you are now getting, why change? If you are not satisfied, why not experiment?”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The way to get things done is to stimulate competition. I do not mean in a sordid money-getting way, but in the desire to excel.”

Charles Schwab How to Win Friends and Influence People

“All men have fears, but the brave put down their fears and go forward, sometimes to death, but always to victory.”

Motto of the King’s Guard in ancient Greece How to Win Friends and Influence People

“That is what every successful person loves: the game. The chance for self-expression. The chance to prove his or her worth, to excel, to win.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“It isn’t nearly so difficult to listen to a recital of your faults if the person criticising begins by humbly admitting that he, too, is far from impeccable.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“I have no right to say or do anything that diminishes a man in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him, but what he thinks of himself. Hurting a man in his dignity is a crime.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry How to Win Friends and Influence People

“If you want to improve a person in a certain respect, act as though that particular trait were already one of his or her outstanding characteristics.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear to do and get a record of successful experiences behind you.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People