Use Synonyms

Last Monday, I summarized a book about communication. It’s a 1,200-word piece. The word “conversation” appears 21 times. That might not sound like much, but imagine talking to someone for five minutes, and in those five minutes, they use the word “conversation” 21 times. It’s a lot.

In that same piece, I used the word “discussion” four times. I also used the word “exchange,” but only once. So it’s not like I lacked creativity. I lacked discipline. Why? Because thinking of new words to express the same idea is hard, and if you rely on sheer will to do it, you will fail. That’s why opening a thesaurus — a dictionary for synonyms, if you will — is one of the biggest acts of service you can perform for your readers.

On a better Monday, I’d have kept a tab with a thesaurus open during my editing. I’d have used the word “conversation” less to begin with, and I’d have replaced it with beautiful terms like “dialogue,” “discourse,” or “debate” wherever it piled up a little too frequently.

This kind of creativity takes zero genius thought. It’s a matter of effort and effort alone. As long as you’re willing to spend 15 seconds browsing synonyms and picking one that’s appropriate — and to do so time and again — you’ll reap this precious activity’s rewards: Your writing will be three times more colorful, twice as nuanced, and you will look like a genius despite simply being dedicated.

The English language has 171,476 words. To get through everyday life, we rely on a mere 3,000 of them. It’s a myth that we only use 20% of our brain, but it seems we are using only 2% of our language. That’s a shame for our “conversations,” but in our writing, it’s an outright disgrace.

Open a thesaurus. Use synonyms.

Family, a Definition

It was a small candleholder inside a glass display offering all kinds of decorative products. One of those cylindric ones with text on them that you can read once you put a tealight inside. Here’s what it said: “Family — We may not have everything we want, but together, we are all we need.”

What a great definition! Who those people are and when you start using the word, that’s up to you. But in the end, as long as you feel whole together, all bases will be covered.

Life is about connections, not possessions — and the best way to decorate a room is to fill it with hugs and roaring laughter.

Ask for Your True Worth

Nothing over nonsense” was one of the first lessons that emerged from my theme, “Rise,” this year. It might be painful to watch an income stream trickle slowly towards zero while you’re figuring out what’s next, what’s better, but sometimes, that’s superior to frantically trying to save something not worth saving.

This week, I learned another: Ask for your true worth.

My writing course was the most expensive product I had ever sold. It started from around $200. I had no problem asking for that much, since it was filled with over 100 lessons, a solid 15 hours, of writing experience and lessons acquired over many years. That course sold hundreds of units in its lifetime and made around $70,000.

In hindsight, I should have priced it higher. It was worth a lot more still — but it was also the closest I ever came to asking for my true worth. Everything else I’ve done, from my books to the Four Minute Books membership to my writing on Medium, was far too cheap for its value.

One of my most-read articles on Medium, for example, made $11,873. That sounds like a lot for one essay, and it is. But that essay was viewed almost a million times, and more than 250,000 people actually read the nine-minute piece. That means everyone who read it paid, in essence, less than five cents for a truly glorious dose of inspiration. No one would ask me to sell it directly to people for that much. Even the idea feels insulting. And if I took as little as $1 for it, that’d still make it worth 20 times as much as I was actually paid.

The irony, of course, is that if we pay less, we perceive less value. It’s much easier to talk down a $20 product than a $200 product. After all, it makes you look like a fool for spending that much on a mistake. Plus, the math messes with our heads.

With my writing course, the price also established important boundaries. People could easily identify whether they could afford it or not, and there was little haggling over the price. Everyone wants a deal on a $20 fruit basket, but no one asks for 5% off on a Gucci handbag. One feels like a smart play, the other is just embarrassing.

I’ve spent a long time trying to be the guy who gives away everything for next to nothing, and so far, that has never led to a sustainable source of income. I think I’m done trying. I’d rather have a lasting business than a good-samaritan reputation, because if giving away your last shirt leaves you without anything to give, then how much good will you ultimately really do?

People don’t appreciate cheap pricing on good value as much as they appreciate fair pricing on great value. Stop selling yourself short, and ask for your true worth.

When Imagination Is Worth the Most

When you’re sick on Monday, it feels almost impossible to imagine that, by Sunday, you’ll be well enough to go on a five-hour train ride. Almost. In that “almost” lives the little bit of perceived probability you need to fill your seemingly unlikely vision with color.

Because of course, in reality, it is far from impossible to recover from a cold within a week. You’ve done it plenty of times. In fact, it is a more likely outcome than not improving at all — but right now, your bedridden brain just won’t allow you to see it.

Like many things, imagination is worth the most when it’s hardest to practice. Have faith, and continue to book tickets against the odds.

On Losing the Simple Things

When you can speak only in a whisper, you’ll think twice as long about what you’ll say, if anything. My voice has been gone for a day, likely due to the flu, and I’m already adjusting my speaking habits.

It doesn’t take much for the simple things to be taken away, and it’s not your most prized possessions that must take a hit for you to deeply shift your perspective. Remove a man’s ability to eat what he wants, to hear, see, or feel things touching his skin, and he’ll adapt quickly and drastically, even if the change is only temporary.

What are you taking for granted that might not be granted to you tomorrow? And how would you adjust if that gift were truly gone for a week? What about a lifetime?

Seneca once said that “nothing ought to be unexpected by us.” We should “send our minds forward in advance to meet all problems, and we should consider not what is wont to happen, but what can happen.” Anticipate the unlikely but possible, and learn from it before you have to.

The Leaf Above Your Head

When the two Viking worshippers Ubbe and Floki finally reunite in a strange new land after being apart for years, Ubbe asks his old friend: “Are the gods here? Have you seen them?”

Having spent a lifetime trying to please Odin and co. without much result, Floki can only scoff: “Don’t bother me with that. What business is that of mine? I am an ant, toiling on the forest floor. I see only the leaf above my head. That leaf brings me some relief from the sun.”

Like Floki once used to, Ubbe thirsts for knowledge. But after seeing knowledge be of little use and even less permanence time and again, Floki reminds him of the only fact that matters: the present. “You don’t need to know anything,” he tells him. “It’s not important. Let the past go.”

How much time do we spend wondering: “What if I had done this differently? What motive lies behind that person’s actions? Why is what used to work no longer working?” In reality, none of it matters.

We are ants, toiling on the forest floor. When there’s a leaf above our heads, we walk into its shadow, and we enjoy some relief from the sun. And when there isn’t? Then we keep toiling away. Sooner or later, a new leaf will appear.

When you catch yourself spending too much time in your head, ask: “Do I really need to know?” Chances are, the answer is “No.” You just need to return to the present, pick up the next blade of grass, and be on your way.

Crisis Benefits

The good thing about a crisis is that it inhabits so much of your mental space, you won’t have time to indulge some of your usual mistakes.

An urgent deadline with a last-minute reboot might get you so focused on work, you forget to eat here and there, leading to less snacking. An upcoming performance with high stakes might make you cut your drinking by 50%, seemingly without effort.

The real win, however, is maintaining your crisis benefits after the crisis has subsided. Can you emerge from a career disaster or financial setback not just with a better job or healthier bank account, but also as a more loving mother, fitter runner, or less frequent nail-biter? Of course you can!

Never waste a good crisis, they say. Why? Because in solving a dilemma, you may eliminate more problems than just the one staring you square in the face. Use the momentum, and rise stronger than ever before.

You Are Not You

Have you ever told someone an anecdote from your past, perhaps about one of your youthful indiscretions, and then heard them say, “Really? You did that? I can hardly imagine!” Maybe, you even agreed with them. “Neither can I!”

If not for laughs, then at least thinking quietly to yourself, I’m sure you’ve experienced this. A memory including your former self that, today, feels so far away, it seems unfathomable that the person in the story was you. “Was that really me? It seems like that was someone else altogether.” That’s because it was. You were someone else. But now you’re not.

It’s easy to excuse ourselves from making a change, especially when the change is hard. “I’ve always been bad at running. There’s no way I can get better now.” But you are not “just you,” the same you you’ve always been. From one day to the next, it sure feels that way. But year after year, decade after decade? Almost nothing about you is fixed.

You are not who you were ten years ago, so there’s no reason why you must be the same you you were yesterday either. You are not you. All of “you” is in the past. You are only whoever you choose to be today. That choice can be one that makes people say, “Oh yeah, that totally sounds like him!” but it can also be one that makes them — even you — react with something like, “Really? You did that? I can hardly imagine!”

Sad Statistics

Whatever your art, chances are, you can look at sad statistics all day long. Your posts don’t get enough views. Your affiliate links don’t get enough clicks. Your invites don’t get enough responses.

Even home life can be dominated by numbing numbers. Your average heating bill is too high. Your bakery keeps raising prices. Your kid’s scores at school are too low.

Don’t get me started on the news. Your country’s GDP is in trouble. The population is aging. Chronic diseases are on the rise. The media is one big rodeo of fear-inducing figures.

You can look at all the numbers in your life, feel depressed, and zone out on the couch, or you can ignore them, put on some pants, and make something anyway.

Life happens one good deed at a time. Numbers are just observations, and without you trying your best, there’d be nothing to observe at all. Focus on the doing, not the tracking. Life is better that way.

When to Push Through

Usually, the days when you most wonder why you even continue to do what you’re doing are the days when it’s most important to push through. Not because of the results you’ll generate on that day but because it reinforces a big decision you made a long time ago.

You may no longer be sure whether it was the right decision to make, but if you quit when you feel down, you’ll never know. Only if you re-evaluate from a strong, healthy position can you really adjust course — and to get back to that position, you’ll have to push through. For now, maintain the decision, and live to fight another day.

It is far better, and much easier, to stay on the wrong path a few days too long than it is to reset the counter to zero, warp back to the beginning, and start from scratch only to realize you were right all along.

When in doubt, first, keep going. You can always backtrack later, but on your journey so far, every step has mattered — and perhaps taking a few more is all you need to do to get back on track.