Sparring Mind

Creative work and human behavior.

Under-appreciated Benefits of Creative Consistency

Consistency doesn’t count for everything, but it sure counts for a whole lot.

With the many landmines out there, ready to derail even the most talented of people, “showing up” regularly offers undeniable benefits. Some of these perks often go overlooked.

For those excited to make progress this year, let’s keep in mind all of the advantages at our disposal when we have an enviable attendance record:

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How to Start Your Own Podcast: Getting Your Voice Heard, Literally

I felt both my electronic music blog and this blog could really benefit from providing different content other than my writing, and it would be a great chance to branch out and maybe get some more eyes on my content (something any blog wants).

After doing a ton of research on podcasting, I figured it would be a waste not to also do a post letting you know how to set up your own podcast, so I can share what I’ve learned about setting up a podcast.

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Don’t Do Something You Might Regret

Regret is the worst emotion to base your decisions on. Regret is negative reinforcement. It is self-loathing and destructive.

Why do we often parrot the advice of “Don’t do something you might regret?” On the surface, it seems a message made to encourage caution, but it could be structured without the worry and pessimism.

Why not: “Do something you’ll be proud of.”

Or “Do something you would respect someone else for doing.” This places emphasis on allowing your values to drive your choices, rather than letting anxiety control your actions.

It is impossible to completely avoid regret—whether it comes through criticism, personal disappointment, or an undesirable outcome, the potential for regret is the cost of entry for progress.

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Beethoven’s Surprisingly Simple Habit for Creative Breakthroughs

Creativity does not rest on eureka moments; it is a process, designed to consistently bring abstract ideas into the tangible world.

For creatives, this emphasizes the importance of routines. Random bits of profound inspiration are few and fleeting; consistent work in your craft requires a sustainable way to develop good ideas into great ones. Recall the wise words from Chuck Close: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just show up and go to work.”

Perhaps one of the best ways to improve your own processes is to study the masters. Thanks to books like Daily Rituals, our desire to see what “go to work” means — by getting a peek into regular routines — has been thoroughly satiated.

Though the output of these geniuses is often intimidating, how they conduct their work is often surprisingly easy to relate to. One such person I took inspiration from was Ludwig van Beethoven.

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The Most Important Mindset for Long-term Success

Psychologist Dr. Grant Halvorson has published excellent essays like The Trouble With Bright Girls, where she has addressed how this fixed mindset is setting students up for failure.

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The Psychological Benefits of Writing

When you attempt to envision a “writer,” I’d posit most of you see a quirky recluse, hunched over a desk in some cabin, crumpled paper strewn about as they obsessively work on the next great American novel.

To me, writing is so much more than that. Writing is thought put to page, which makes all of us writers — even if we don’t have the chops to spin beautiful prose.

Personal and non-fiction writing is a fascinating topic because I get the sense that many successful people are secretly regular writers:

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Don’t Let Critics Pick You Apart

Criticism is a good and necessary thing despite what the fragile ego may think.

One has to wonder about the labeling of haters in the first place. Are there any grounds to assume that there are people out there who truly find fault with everything?

Personal observation might point to “Yes,” but so does the research. In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers sought to examine the nature of predispositions towards topics the subjects knew nothing about.

They found a reliable trend in the responses of certain participants. Despite being asked about a myriad of unrelated topics — and asked again about new topics at a later date, to confirm they weren’t just in a bad mood the first time — they found two groups who seemed to be likers and haters.

The ‘likers’ tended to rate most things positively with zero external information, and the haters… well, you see where this is going. From the study:

So someone’s attitude toward architecture may in fact tell us something about their attitude toward health care because both attitudes would be biased by a disposition to like or dislike stimuli.

The “dispositional attitude” of certain participants had the very real effect of influencing their opinion about things they knew nothing about. They ended up liking with no reason to, and hating things in the same vein.

So there are certain people who are simply prone to focusing on the negative features of things, even if there are positives.

This is what I would describe as an Option B personality: the person that always has to go against the grain. No matter what you create, a small group of people will spite you for it, without reason.

I hope that opens a new perspective for you, because you need to recognize that even with the supremely good creations of the world, somewhere out there a person ruled by their negative disposition is going to find something wrong with it. And that’s okay!

Subjectivity is the nature of creativity. Nobody owes you praise or even silence, and as someone who makes something you’ll need to accept this very important truth: you can’t be everything to everyone.

Not everyone needs to like what you create. You should perhaps be most fearful of eliciting a mediocre reaction. Truly creative works naturally lead to the formation of split opinions. Despite what we all like to say, research shows that people are generally averse to unusual ideas: “Although [most people] they want creative ideas, the evidence suggests creativity gets rejected in favour of conformity and uniformity.”

If you aren’t seeing any hate, are you really dreaming big enough?

Criticism is something you can avoid easily — by saying nothing, by doing nothing, and by being nothing.

—Elbert Hubbard

Give a Person a Mask

A lot has been said about how the Internet affects our social interactions and communication with one another, but what’s the deal with the web and “empowering” haters? Is there any truth to that?

Psychologist John Suler proposed what is perhaps the best known analysis of the phenomenon in the Online Disinhibition Effect. It lists six primary factors as to why we may treat others differently online than we do in person:

  1. You don’t know me. Anonymity protects the critics “real life” reputation and shields them from retaliation and owning their actions.
  2. You can’t see me. Face-to-face interactions tend to have more empathy because we can see the person we are engaging with. It’s hard to feel ashamed when you don’t even know who’s affected. You’re just a screen to me, not a person.
  3. See you later. I don’t have to deal with your instant response, or even wait for it! I can dump my thoughts on you and never return.
  4. It’s all in my head. Suler argues that online interactions can distort reality. I can make up whatever attributes about you that I want, justifying my actions.
  5. It’s just a game. The overused response of critics who do sometimes get called out: “It’s just the Internet, man!”
  6. Your rules don’t apply here. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve been guilty of this! I’ve closed out of support live chats after I received my answer, without a word of thanks. How rude would that be in person? If you could reach through the screen right now, I’d tell you to give me a smack.

When you shed your identity, do the usual constraints of your behavior simply melt away? Since comments are a growing form of communication on the web for creatives, I thought we’d take a closer look into that.

This study noted that anonymous comments were more likely to be contrarian and extreme than non-anonymous ones. Another study found that enabling anonymous comments often made people more uncivil: 53% of anonymous commenters were uncivil, as opposed to 29% of registered, non-anonymous commenters.

As a writer, I’ve certainly noticed that locations where users go by login names rather than their actual name (Reddit, HackerNews) generally have far more vitriolic commenters.

When anonymity isn’t the issue, I’ve found a trend in the commenter not expecting to ever hear from the author. When I’ve followed up with people like this, just to see their reaction, it’s almost always apologetic and tries to backpedal on the initially exaggerated response.

Another issue is “piling on,” or the mob mentality. Popular Science decided to shut down their comments for this very reason, explaining that:

Even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story.

This is an example of social proof in action. People often check comments to confirm their own bias, or to see what other people are saying so that their opinion “fits” with the winning side. If the top comment happens to be a negative one (even if it is wrong or unjustified), it’s already too late: grab your ticket, all aboard the hate train.

The Lasting Impression of Negativity

Why is criticism often able to drown out even an abundance of praise?

Professor Roy F. Baumeister explored this topic on the basis of emotions in is his paper Bad is Stronger Than Good. He found that generally speaking, bad emotions, impressions, and feedback are “quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”

Clifford Nass, a professor at Stanford University and author of The Man Who Lies to His Laptop, posits that negative emotions stick because they are more likely to be dwelled upon:

Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.

“Hey, great job on this!” “Nice,” you think to yourself, and then you move on with your day.

“You have no business [doing X ], this is absolutely awful.” Cue thousands of thoughts racing through your mind. No wonder you can brush off dozens of compliments and stress over a single hateful comment. This leads to imposter syndrome from people you’d never expect.

Steve Sobel, the software developer and creator of the Reddit Enhancement Suite, recently shared why he is often overly critical of himself thanks to a small handful of negative comments:

For every 100 “thanks for RES” messages I get, all it takes is one “X part of RES is shit and you’re a garbage developer and have no business writing software” to level those out.

Hate is stronger (and arguably easier and more common) than praise. That’s just the nature of the beast.

I don’t sit and count all the positives vs. the negatives… to be honest, I shrug off the positives as “well that’s nice but any monkey could’ve made this thing, I’m just the twit who was bored enough to actually go DO it,” and the negatives as an affront to my ability as a software developer.

Is that a right or fair way to do it? No. But in the moment that’s what my brain does.

(Baumeister found on average, it can take at least 5 positive events to make up for a single negative one.)

If you ever deal with something similar, first remember that some people are going to hate what you make no matter what. You have to be the bigger person, forgive them, and move on.

If it’s online, also remember that this probably isn’t how they would act in person. Be the bigger person, forgive them, and move on.

Last but certainly not least, you have decide whether or not to respond at all.

That’s what I’d like to address next.

How to Respond to Critics

Sometimes you should talk back.

I mentioned above about how when I personally reach out to overly negative commenters, they almost always apologize for their initial language. That said, you need to first take the time to decide whether or not you should be responding at all.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Don’t respond. Anything that is stupidly short is the equivalent of some loser heckling a comedian at a comedy club: are you going to stop the show for that? In addition, if a comment is overtly hurtful, racist, degrading, or anything in between, delete/ban with impunity and feel no remorse for doing so.
  • Maybe respond. A comment that makes a few logical critiques and is elaborated on, but it is still an attack, is up to you. I sometimes respond to these.
  • Always respond. Critiques with fair points and a reasonable tone should almost always be responded to. I prefer a personal email, because one-on-one is always better for these situations.

Opinions are like… well, you know. They’re easy to have, and come with very little repercussions. Creating takes guts. It’s why so few people do it, especially on the web. That’s why you should only respond to people who you feel are owning their opinion. As they say, most of the ‘boos’ are coming from the cheap seats.

For those criticisms that do deserve a response, you need to keep two things in mind: (1.) Always be friendly (2.) Focus on the goal: what this critique will allow you to understand that will help you improve your craft.

No one ever improved their skill within an echo-chamber of praise.

A good critique is a form of failing forward, or getting your mistakes acknowledged and explained, which in turn makes you better at what you do.

That’s the one problem with articles about haters that I’ve encountered — the “don’t listen to haters” mentality is taken too far, to the point where you are encouraged to outright ignore all criticisms and critiques.

You can’t chalk everything up to people hating you. The key is to simply understand that:

  1. You’ll never avoid hateful commentary in it’s entirety. You should ignore hurtful people and fly-by-night trolls; they don’t deserve your time.
  2. You need stay friendly to anyone you choose to respond to.
  3. It is your job to decide whether a critique is valid and is useful to your work, or is just another hater hatin’.

Be very careful with who you choose to listen to, and that includes yourself. You are probably your own biggest critic, like I was when I assumed I was going to get a negative response from Dr. Mitchell.

Sometimes you simply need to tell you to just shut up and get back to work.

 

The Best Way to Change Your Habits? Control Your Environment.

There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.

—Dr. B.J. Fogg, Director of Stanford Persuasive Lab

Most of us would like to think that our habits follow our intentions.

The truth is that one of the mind’s chief functions is to spot and utilize patterns as shortcuts, in order to process the multitude of information we observe each day.

We are more reliant on environmental triggers than we’d like to think.

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How The BufferApp Grew To 70,000+ Users With A Solid Product & Content Marketing

How does one of the hottest social media tools grow to 70,000+ users in such short time?

Advertising? SEO? Taking a loudspeaker to the street and yelling at people? Black magic?

No, the real answer is good ol’ fashioned smart content marketing.

And today, you are going to get insights from the mind of the Buffer App’s content manager.

No more intro, let’s do this!

PS: You can follow Leo Widrich on Twitter @LeoWid.

1.) Glad to have the time to talk to you today Leo. Obviously the BufferApp is a solid product that has benefited from your content marketing & blogging efforts.

First things first: just a little background on you and the Buffer team: when did this all start? Why was the BufferApp decided on as a needed product? How has growth (users) and usage of the product been so far?

LeoThanks for having me today Greg.

Sure, so Buffer was founded by Joel about 1 year ago.

Joel built the first version of Buffer within 7 weeks and after only 3 days the first person started paying.

This was a fabulous validation and the first sign to push for more.

About a month later I got involved to help with the marketing of Buffer.

To do that, I actually dropped out of college and focused solely on Buffer from then onwards.

The key painpoint we are trying to solve is that it is very hard to consistently and at the right times share on social networks.

With Buffer, you can spend 10 minutes in the morning and for the rest of the day, don’t have to worry about your social streams.

It was been going great so far, we are at around 70.000 users and are seeing really strong growth!

Now on to your content marketing efforts.

“How do you believe your posts on the Buffer blog and your guest posts have effected your growth in users, and do you believe that all products need to utilize content marketing, even those built as well as the BufferApp?”

Absolutely, content marketing has been the most vital thing for us.

Actually up until the past 2 months, content marketing accounted for over 70% of our daily signups.

This is just a great way to provide value for readers, without full self-promotion.

If someone likes your content, they are most likely interested in finding out more about what else it is you do.

This is what I found to work really well.

Of course it is important to be smart and we gradually targeted larger and larger blogs for our guestposts so we could grow traffic accordingly.

Takeaway: Just to clarify, that bold section above was done by me, Leo is much more modest!

I really wanted to examine this part just as a friendly reminder for how powerful serious & smart content marketing is for real businesses and products.

People often see blogs and don’t take them seriously.

To be fair, these people are typically not in touch with any sort of marketing, let alone content marketing, and don’t understand how far the web has come.

As we’ve seen here, content marketing is real, and it’s really effective.

Over 70% of sign-ups up until the past 2 months for one of the hottest new social media tools out there, that’s some powerful stuff.

I’ve been reading Leo’s content for a while, and he is definitely an inspiration to me in that he is one of those guys that seems to be “everywhere”, or at least everywhere relevant to his offering/niche.

There is definitely something to be said for that.

When building something from the ground up, it’s best to be everywhere at once.

Then, as you start to get your name out there, you should begin to focus on the sites & marketing techniques that have really been working.

Say for instance, that Leo found through his guest blogging that certain blogs were working much better than others.

He would then focus on those blogs (as he said above, he’s been pursuing bigger blogs as time goes on) in the next stage in his content marketing efforts.

The first stage though?

Be everywhere.

Be all over your niche, don’t let it be possible for people to ignore you.

That means writing a ton of great posts, but luckily I asked Leo a few questions about that as well…

2.) What methods have you to be effective in content marketing? Specifically, I’d first like to ask you about content on your own blog (Buffer Blog).

What types of posts seem to perform well? When you are writing a post for your topic, what things do you keep in mind? What are some strategies you use for finding knockout post ideas?

LeoSure thing, that’s a great question.

There are a few types of posts that perform extraordinarily well.

One type of posts are data driven articles.

With this one for example, we could hit well above our normal retweet and traffic rate for our blog.

If you can aggregate or find any data driven insights, I highly recommend putting them on your blog as a post.

Secondly, I believe list posts perform particularly well.

7 Reasons Why.. or 10 Tips To.. help the reader to understand exactly what they can expect by simply reading the headline.

I also suggest to closely keep an eye on the top blogs in your niche to find inspiration for articles.

In my case this is browsing Mashable, Social Media Examiner and the like.

They produce top notch content and always keep me inspired to do the same.

Takeaway: Maybe I’m biased, but I loved Leo’s answer about data driven articles.

Here’s the thing: when you are new in your niche, why/how are people supposed to respect your opinion?

How can they be sure that what you are saying is “forreals”, and not just some mindless dribble that you’ve managed to sputter out convincingly?

I’ll tell you how.

Data.

It’s hard to argue with the facts, and people LOVE seeing data supporting arguments in posts much more so than you would believe.

Not to go off topic, but just check out You Are Not So Smart.

It’s a blog that pretty much posts about logical fallacies, nothing earth shattering to any college psychology students, but because it’s presented in a “bloggy” way (easily read), and because the author uses real research, it has become hugely popular in a very short amount of time (the author puts a lot of effort in each article though, just check out the lengths of those posts, I’m jealous ;)).

The thing is, I’m going to go ahead and just say it, I sincerely doubt that a majority of people really sit there and read these scientific papers.

They most likely just read the post.

So why add the data? Is the credibility that it adds to your post really that valuable?

Yes.

Readers just want to have some confirmation that what you are saying is worth their time.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to dig into research articles for your blog.

Just offer some sort of proof, and you won’t need a huge subscriber list to get people to believe what you are saying.

Are you going to offer some personal finance advice? Show people instances where it really worked.

Are you going to discuss something in personal development? Use real research (articles from places like the NYTimes will do) to show that the topic/strategy/method that you are talking about is really utilized in the real world (like I did on my post describing how to practice like an expert).

Now, this won’t apply to every blog out there, but adding that “professional” touch can really boost your image and credibility, especially if you are new on the scene.

Ever wonder why I am so big on interviews & actual data?

I had something to prove on this blog, so what better way to prove it than with people (and research) who can actually back up any advice that is given.

This same technique can work for your blog, and all it takes is to dig a little deeper into what you are writing about.

3.) Next I’d like to ask you about your posts on other blogs. You are obviously a guest blogging fiend, I’ve seen you everywhere! What are some guest post types that do well?

When guest posting for another blog, what things do you consider about the readers/audience and the blog itself in order to right a guest post that will be well received?

LeoSure, so I believe guest blogging can have a tremendous effect.

Not only does it build backlinks for you, you are also able to create great relationships.

Look at us two for example.

You have provided such amazing content for the Buffer blog, it is only natural for me to stay in touch and see how I can help with your projects.

For guestposting, I would suggest to always fill it with personal experiences, yet not too much self-promotion.

The more personalised the articles are, the more interest you can raise from the reader.

If you describe a tool, describe how it helped you specifically, if you explain techniques, give specific examples.

It’s also key to really understand what the blogger is writing about in order to get considered.

Therefore, I always read their posts religiously beforehand, commented and Tweeted them out.

You then internalize what they are all about and you can start an email conversation much easier.

Takeaway: Leo offers some great advice packed in a fairly small space here.

First, I have to highlight something in his post, where he discusses us as an example of the benefits of guest blogging.

One thing you might not have guessed: this blog’s biggest referring traffic source is Twitter.

Yes, of all those guest posts (3 on Problogger alone!), Twitter is sending the most traffic to this site.

You know why?

Leo.

Leo, through his own account and the BufferApp Twitter page, reguarly tweets (ahem, Buffers :)) my articles directly from my site.

In fact, through my best estimates, I’ve found that Leo’s tweets are not far behind the actual traffic I get sent from posting on the Buffer blog.

My point here is that guest blogging can have a bigger impact on your site than just a single guest post can tell, creating connections of people who support your content (and who link and tweet to you without being asked) is the real key to having a successful blog.

PS: Here’s my first email to the Buffer team!

That’s why building a “tribe” (least favorite buzzword) is so important, and why people harp on about email lists and really getting in touch with your readers (and why I have a contact page at the top of my site, and always will :)).

All of this started when I emailed Leo out of the blue, saying that I had a lot of info about Twitter, but nowhere to post it (since TwiTip is practically dead now).

I offered to send over a single guest post, and it brought it some decent traffic for the Buffer blog, and as you’ll remember from my latest update, things went from there and now I am going to regularly contribute for a while.

How to sum this up in a quick thought…

You should be writing almost as much in your email client as you should in your WordPress dashboard!

Maybe you’re an established blog and you can skip this step, but seriously, email anyone that you might be able to make a genuine connection with, or who you support.

You never know what might come of it.

4.) Lastly, I’d like to ask about your marketing efforts on social media, especially Twitter. Obviously the BufferApp makes things easier, but what are some ways in which you try to effectively tweet to give your content good exposure?

Is there a “right amount” of tweets to send out during a day? What ways do you try to make sure your tweets are read and shared?

LeoSure thing, so like you mention, I do most of my Tweeting of links with Buffer.

One thing that we recently found out was that it is important to, ever so often, post value Tweets, that don’t contain links.

That can be a quote, insight or simply a “status update”. 1 per day of these, can really drive a lot of discussion and mix up your patterns.

I also suggest to always add a comment to your Tweets if it contains a link, saying who wrote the article or whom you are retweeting.

Doing so, you can build stronger ties with these people and really show your appreciation.

I don’t think there is a “right amount” of content, yet, more is always better if you can maintain the quality! :)

So, that means if you don’t go over 1-2 Tweets per hour. Personally, we are posting 10 top content Tweets every day, which seems to be a great amount.

Having said that, as people start out on Twitter, it might be better to stick to 2-5 great content Tweets, so you aren’t overwhelmed.

Great question!

I think “A/B testing” of Tweets is definitely something to play around with.

What I would try out here is to change the headline of the same article and tweet it out 2 or 3 times.

Then I normally go into our analytics via Buffer and see how well the two have performed and which headline was better.

Often it is crazy to see that some headlines do a lot better than others when testing this, some that you wouldn’t even have considered to do well.

I described more on this technique here.

Takeaway: Not surprisingly, Leo is very skilled at both proving value and creating conversations via social media, especially Twitter.

I love the idea of proving “value Tweets”, putting out short bits of information that isn’t looking for a click.

The thing is, these types of tweets can still get you exposure.

If you use quotes, info, and witty updates as your “value Tweets”, people will generally retweet them and you’ll get more exposure without using a link.

Onward, we see Leo obvious uses Buffer to send out his tweets.

Timing of tweets actually matters quite a bit, since updates on Twitter get buried so frequently.

The solution?

Tweriod + BufferApp.

Tweriod tells you when your followers are online the most, and Buffer schedules your updates on pre-determined times (determined by you, that is).

Find out when your followers are online the most, and then tweet at those times.

Tweriod

You might be surprised at the difference that this makes.

Lastly, we come to the bane of many bloggers: testing.

I’ve talked about the importance of testing before in my best web analytics roundup, but it applies to social media as well.

If you didn’t think so before, Leo stated it above: it’s amazing the difference another type of headline can make on the same tweet.

If you aren’t familiar with Twitter, it’s regular practice to send the same tweet out multiple times (since as I said, updates get pushed down so fast).

Not in a row of course, but I’ve seen accounts tweet a new post over the course of 3-4 days.

The thing you should try: time it perfectly with Tweriod & Buffer, and mix up the headlines a bit.

See which ones get a lot of retweets and responses.

In the same way that headlines for you posts get people to read, the content of you tweet is what gets people to click.

Over To You

Have you been actively building relationships with your fellow bloggers and other influential people in your niche?

What do you think about this concept of “being everywhere” in blogging, is it really necessary?

PS: Two huge posts on creating a good looking blog for cheap (a few of you emailed me about this) and a post on clever email conversion techniques is coming up, stay tuned!

Thank you for reading!

How to Build Good Habits

Taking a long term view of success is critical. Discipline is how you get from Point A to the often elusive Point B.

As Aristotle would aptly put it:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.

But how can we actually form good habits and make them stick?

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