Jerry Seinfeld on Morning Guy vs. Night Guy

“I never get enough sleep. I stay up late at night, because I’m Night Guy. Night Guy wants to stay up late. ‘What about getting up after five hours sleep?’ Oh, that’s Morning Guy’s problem. That’s not my problem, I’m Night Guy. I stay up as late as I want. So you get up in the morning, the alarm [rings], you’re exhausted, groggy… Oh, I hate that Night Guy! See, Night Guy always screws Morning Guy. There’s nothing Morning Guy can do.”

(Jerry Seinfeld from the opening monologue of Seinfeld Season 5 Episode 2 – The Glasses)

This is funny…because it’s true. It’s how our brains are wired. “The future’s uncertain and the end is always near”, as The Doors’ Jim Morrison sang. Something may eat us tomorrow. Live today. Food may not be found tomorrow. Eat it tonight….preferably at 3 AM before finally turning off the TV and stumbling to bed

This is why ‘scared straight’ programs that have inmates and ex-cons talk to kids are entertaining – who doesn’t love a good story? – but they don’t work. It’s why classic drivers ed movies like Highway of Agony and Red Highway also don’t work. And those stop-smoking scare tactic commercials also don’t work. And warnings on cigarette packs and beer cans don’t work. Along with ‘live for today’ hard-wired in us, we also can’t see ourselves in the future, and especially can’t link today’s actions with tomorrow’s regrets or pain. 

When we try to imagine ourselves in the future, the same parts of our brain fire as when we’re thinking of someone else. We just can’t do it.

One solution that has helped me is to think of what I do as an act of generosity towards Morning Guy. Or ‘Fifty year old guy’ or ‘summer guy’ or ‘senior citizen guy’. I’ve even written notes to myself as a little gift card for my future self. And I always appreciate

Try it! Do something small and vaguely distasteful to prepare for something, write yourself a little note and stow it in what you’ve completed. I guarantee when you read it you’ll smile and be grateful for the little present. That positive blip of emotion is what you can build on for the big stuff. Morning Guy will thank you.

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What sport does Peter Gabriel play?

When Peter Gabriel decided to record his fourth album, he rented out the Aschcombe House in rural England. The building was less than ideal. 

“It was a typical sort of landlord situation because there was never any money spent on it; there was rain coming through, rats and dry rot. We had a serious outbreak. It’s a fascinating fungus actually, because once it catches and the temperature and the moisture are right, it reproduces at extraordinary speed and you get the spores almost like a mist, then these amazing mushroom shapes growing out of all parts of the house.” 

This was a particularly intense album, with a heavy emphasis on rhythm, percussion and drums. Cymbals were once again banned from the album, creating a heavier sound. Shock the Monkey was the lone hit. 

Any recording is extremely difficult. Doing so in these situations must have been doubly so. How did they recharge? They played. What did Peter and his bandmates play? 

The game – the obsession of that time – was croquet. There was a lawn at Ashcombe, which was pretty flat, and we’d set up either car lights or some vague attempt at nightlights so we could play at night as well as in the daytime. Whenever there was a break we’d get out there and this stayed with us on tour. We travelled with a mobile croquet set. I remember we set up in Newcastle on one foggy, winter night on a roundabout outside the hotel… it was quite a big roundabout and had a good game because it was floodlit.”  

And true to Gabriel’s playful spirit, he ended the story with a joke.  

“What’s great about croquet is that it’s a really vicious game and you can do horrible things to your opponents’ balls, if you’ll forgive the expression. So that would keep us very entertained.” 

As Joni Mitchell once sang, “heart and humor and humility will help you bear your heavy load.”  

What game could you play to help your difficult life?  

And where can your sense of humor help you get through what’s hard? 

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Six Things to Say No That Will Make Your Next Meeting The Best One Yet

“I remember there were a couple of calls, but I ripped the phone out of the wall and threw it in the ravine.” – Daniel Lanois, producer of Peter Gabriel’s album So. 

In both our Influencing Without Authority training and Speaking & Presentation Skills training teams learn how important focus is to get someone to be moved enough to change their mind.  

Distractions need to be removed and ‘thrown in the ravine’.  

In the next meeting you’re running make any of the following a rule. Each rule will help focus. 

  1. No phones 
  2. No laptops
  3. No Powerpoint
  4. No handouts
  5. No chairs
  6. No table

Now try any of the above on your own. If some part of your day requires you to actually get something done, you need to focus. That means you rip out the distractions and throw them in the ravine. 

PS: Influence Without Authority team development training is completely revamped. It’s shown proven results that lead to more effective influencing. Who do you want to influence? 

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“No phone calls” How Daniel Lanois produced Peter Gabriel’s masterpiece So

“Phone calls in the studio are the enemy of making good records. If you’re taking calls and trying to line up your next project, your mind isn’t going to be on the matter at hand. If I can give one piece of advice to anybody making music in the studio, it’s get rid of the phones. “

How did that play out in recording So?

“We just kept going in the same location, in an old farmhouse that had a studio set up in a cattle barn. It was nice and private, and I liked that. It’s in the west country of England, a little village called Ashton, so there weren’t too many distractions. When I work, I don’t do anything else, so the less distractions the better.”

“As I said earlier, I don’t take a bunch of phone calls or try to line up the next big thing. This was the opposite of cellphone times because we didn’t have cellphones then; you couldn’t even make a phone call out of the west country of England, so that was a plus. I remember there were a couple of calls, but I ripped the phone out of the wall and threw it in the ravine. [Laughs]”

According to others in the studio, he actually did.

Contrast that with what you see around you every day. The whole world is looking down. And think of all the great, lasting works of art created and deep thinking done lately. Just kidding! If you’re looking down, you can’t look up at the same time. Distraction is the enemy of focus. Distraction is also the enemy of boredom, something we have a collective phobia of. 

Rip out your phone from your pocket or from in front of your eyeballs. Place it gently in the ravine. Now you can look up and get the work you want done…done.

PS: Influence Without Authority team development training is completely revamped. It’s shown proven results that lead to more effective influencing. Who do you want to influence?

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“All the children on the record” Daniel Lanois on U2’s Unforgottable Fire

Producer Daniel Lanois first worked with U2 in 1984 for The Unforgettable Fire

“It was a lot of traveling for me, and I got to work in a location outside of the average studio. We were in a castle, so I had to make that work. For me, it was the beginning of mobile recording and flying equipment around in cases. On a sheer physical level, it was a very new experience, doing something outside of a conventional studio.”

“The band wanted to be in a location that had some life in it, a place that had a sense of history. We were treating it like a show, really. We set the whole studio up around the band rather than bringing the band to the studio. It’s a more renegade way of working, but I see it as bowing down to the music as opposed to bowing down to the studio. I think it was a milestone in that way.”

This type of orientation shift is what is called for when we want to influence someone. We leave our comfort zone. We meet them where they live. That is what empathy is. We walk in their shoes. We put ‘the band’ in the center. Not the tools. Intuitive apps are like that. And lots of things – forms that need to be filled out for example – aren’t. If we’re asked to do something more mechanistically so a computer or a Simpsons-esque ‘drone in sector C’ unskilled worker can have an easier time of it, that isn’t an attempt to positively influence you. 

And what about the title of this post?

“I treated the song Pride just like all the other children on the record.”

Each song a child, a living, breathing vulnerable thing that needs tending or care. Not a product. What if we looked at our work, no matter how mechanistic it appears, as our children? That email, that meeting. It may be maddening, and it may bring enough passion into something so dry that you could actually influence someone for the better today.

Bonus: You can check out the video for the song here.

PS: Influence Without Authority team development training is completely revamped. It’s shown proven results that lead to more effective influencing. Who do you want to influence?

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The grass grows all by itself

While sitting here with nothing to do—

Yet spring comes, and grass grows all

by itself.

-Zen Master So Sahn

Feel like you’re spinning your wheels, like your stuck or trapped? The modern world’s solution is usually to try harder, to move faster. Of course, pushing ahead when you’re stuck usually means you’re getting yourself even more stuck. Think of Pooh with his head in the honey jar.

It’s helpful to remember that spring always comes whether you’ve worked for it to happen or not. And the grass grows all by itself.

If you’re stuck, do less. 

Then keep doing less until, like So Sahn, you’re doing the most difficult work of all – sitting here with nothing to do.

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Bernard Malamud six steps to persisting and the real mystery to crack

Interviewer: What about work habits? Some writers, especially at the beginning, have problems settling how to do it.

Malamud: There’s no one way—there’s so much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place—you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time—not steal it—and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.

To sum up Malamud’s advice for persisting:

  1. There’s no one way to persist.
  2. You do what you want done…by sitting down and doing it.
  3. You know you best – pick when and where works for you.
  4. Discipline is key.
  5. Block off time. Don’t just try to stuff it in.
  6. You are the real mystery to crack. You.

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Bernard Malamud on what first drafts are for

“First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about. Revision is working with that knowledge to enlarge and enhance an idea, to re-form it. D.H. Lawrence, for instance, did seven or eight drafts ofThe Rainbow. The first draft of a book is the most uncertain—where you need guts, the ability to accept the imperfect until it is better. Revision is one of the true pleasures of writing. ‘The men and things of today are wont to lie fairer and truer in tomorrow’s memory,’ Thoreau said.” – Bernard Malamud

After the first step of a project or fulfilling a passion, there’s a pause. And you either go on or you don’t. You either persist or you don’t. You need two things to begin: gutsand the ability to accept the imperfect until it is better. The imperfect is where play lives. Failure is the only option here.

After you’ve begun, you either keep going…or you don’t. Continuing after the first initial burst of inspiration can be a slog – joyless persistence. 

Or not. 

Malamud obviously loved the rewriting process. He called revision “one of the true pleasures of writing”.I believe him. He only published eight novels. He wrotenine novels – he burned the manuscript of his first book in 1948. His first published novel came out four years later – it’s called The Natural. You may have seen the Robert Redford movie adaptation.

Passion sparks. Play welcomes the imperfect. And the joy that can be found in persistencelets us “enlarge and enhance an idea, to re-form it.” That certainly sounds like true pleasure.

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What to do if you’re not a genius (and what to do if you are)

The Pulitzer-prize winning writer Bernard Malamud, in an interview in The Paris Review, had some advice for writers. This advice applies to all of us.

First, for those of us who are non-geniuses. He said, “if you’re not a genius, imitate the daring.”

This is pretty specific. Artists of all kinds – painters, musicians, writers, etc. – are routinely advised to imitate the great artists in their field. Ironically, this imitation, when fully learned, provides the technical skills and foundation for real originality.

Malamud goes further. Don’t just imitate the great ones. Imitate the daring. Daring is what is required. Leaps into the unknown are not for the faint of heart. And leaps into the unknown are the only actions that can move your life closer to what you dream of. 

I’m endlessly inspired by people that are daring. They might be musicians or other types of artists, or they more likely are living a quixotic life. When in doubt, us non-geniuses could use more daring.

But what if you are a genius? Malamud has different advice for you. “Assert yourself, in art and humanity.” No need to imitate anyone or anything. Just assert yourself and your passion. Don’t hide any longer. That is of course its own form of daring. Assert yourself in your craft and your work. And assert yourself in your everyday life, your interactions at home, in the shop, everywhere. 

There you have it – two bits of advice for everyone – geniuses and non-geniuses alike. Although I suspect we all have parts of us in each category. So we might as well follow both pieces of advice. 

 “…if you’re not a genius, imitate the daring. If you are a genius, assert yourself, in art and humanity.” – Bernard Malamud, Paris Review interview

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Awkward in a hundred ways, clumsy in a thousand, still I go on

“Awkward in a hundred ways, clumsy in a thousand, still I go on.” 
-Chinese Zen master Yueh-shan  ?

The word humility comes from the root of humus or earth. When we play close to the ground, when we screw up, when we fail we’re ‘brought down back to earth’. 

The Zen teachers were good friends with failure. Failure was welcome in their homes. Imagine the puffed up presences dominating the news cycle admitting to being awkward or clumsy! This kind of lack of acceptance of being fundamentally human, and thus fundamentally imperfect shows the presence of a delicate ego that needs the constant bicycle pump of adulation to keep from landing.

Much better to play our way through life, experimenting, failing, and learning. Like the baby animal taking its first steps or first flight, the awkardness and clumsiness is essential for success. It’s welcomed. It’s the necessary ingredient. 

And when it’s welcomed, nothing can stop us. And still we can go on.

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