Understanding the dopamine and addiction connection

Have you ever wondered what makes something addictive?

As I was reading Dopamine Nation by Dr. Anna Lembke, she talks about how dopamine (the feel good chemical) is the cause of addictions and that we are all living in a world designed to optimize and increase our dopamine production (such as instant gratification, easy access to food/shopping/etc.).

Throughout the book, she uses addictions as a way for all of us to learn lessons on managing our dopamine exposure and improving our lives.

Photo by Catalin Pop | Accessed on Unsplash.com

Main impacts

Here are the main topics or themes that stood out to me:

  1. Anything can be addictive
  2. Pain and pleasure are connected
  3. Tell the truth

Continue reading to find out more about each.

Anything can be addictive

In this book, Dr. Anna Lembke discusses how our world revolves around dopamine and how it affects us. Specifically, she discusses addictions, as they are just an extreme version of what we all go through with dopamine, and provide us lessons on how to handle our own dependence on dopamine.

You can get addicted to anything.

Basically, anything can cause you to release dopamine. Or more specifically it’s often the anticipation of something that releases dopamine. Dopamine is what you get addicted to, and anything can start to trigger dopamine if it gets you excited. Somethings are more pleasurable (think sex, drugs, alcohol) and are more common addictions, but you also hear of people getting addicted to odd things (think of the tv show My Strange Addiction).

With far greater connectivity and the fast paced life we live now, there are so many more opportunities for us to get addicted to things or to become dependent on dopamine. Addiction can be to anything from drugs, sex-related activities, positive feedback through social media, working out, or even reading romance novels. Anything that provides you pleasure, excitement, or dopamine can become a source of addiction.

Addition can be encouraged or enabled by many things. Some people are more prone to addiction (for a variety of reasons), but anyone can get addicted. Addiction is not dependent on having specific genes or being in a certain situations, it can affect anyone.

This book talks about how we can learn from addicts to better understand how we deal with the large amounts of dopamine and instant gratification in our everyday life. This universality of addiction and dopamine dependence is why we can all relate to some extent what addicts go through.

Taking a step away

The first step in dealing with addiction is to abstain from whatever you’re addicted to. That’s the only way to fully understand the impact it’s creating on your life and if a problem you’re experiencing is from that addiction or something else.

Usually an addiction grows gradually, with you needing more and more to satisfy your craving, so it’s only by abstaining that you are able to see how much it’s really affecting you. I believe she usually suggests abstaining for at least a month, if not longer, to get past the withdrawal stage and see how you really feel.

If you are struggling with addiction, please seek professional help. If you find you’re starting to become reliant or dependent on something (maybe social media), it might be worthwhile to take a break or find ways to distance yourself from it.

Pain and pleasure are connected

Pain and pleasure are connected, but too much of either is a bad thing. Avoiding pain can cause pain, and pain can sometimes cause pleasure but too much can also be addicting.

What a strange thing that which men call pleasure seems to be, and how astonishing the relation it has with what is thought to be its opposite, namely pain! A man cannot have both at the same time. Yet if he pursues and catches the one, he is almost always bound to catch the other also, like two creatures with one head.


There are benefits to experiencing a bit of pain. Pain can provide some pleasure, and even make you more in tuned with pleasure by noticing it more clearly. You even get indirect dopamine from pain, which is longer lasting than the dopamine you get from pleasure. Also, you can become less vulnerable to pain if you’re exposed to small amounts, making you more resilient. Finally, once you feel less pain (based on exposure to it) you can actually gain prolonged relaxation and joy.

But you don’t want too much pain, as you can get addicted to pain and start to see less positive results.

One strong example of the impact of pain on pleasure and progress is exercise. There are so many studies showing the profound impact that exercise can have on our lives, that a bit of pain or discomfort from physical exertion can provide so many benefits (well being, mood, health, etc.). Even just a 30 min walk each day can provide great benefits. Exercise doesn’t have to be extreme, you just need a bit of movement to see results. But too much exercise, especially when it’s too painful, is bad for you and you’ll stop seeing progress or benefits because you’re not giving your body time to heal.

Interestingly, it used to be quite common to treat pain with more pain, such as cupping, blisters, scraping, bleeding, etc. Some are still practiced today in traditional medicines. It’s also commonly understood that one pain can be reduced by introducing another source of pain, as it distracts from the initial pain.

Pain can serve a purpose, but as with anything, you don’t want too much pain.

Tell the truth

Part of what helped people with addictions heal was the power of radical honesty.

When they were completely honest with friends, family and partners around them, it built back the trust they had lost. Radical honesty was especially important because people who struggle with addiction tend to lie a lot to hide their addiction or to fuel their addiction, some even become addicted to lying.

Once you start being honest about what you’re doing and why, then people can start trusting you again. Even if you slip up or if something comes to light from a previous addiction, once you tell the truth it lets the other person know that you’re willing to be honest and it gives them less reason to doubt you.

Radical honest can also cultivate intimacy, which can provide its own source of dopamine. Being honest helps develop relationships and can bring you closer to each other. However, if honesty is faked or used to exploit others, it can backfire and create even more distance.

You can’t fake the honesty and hope to see the same results. These benefits only come from being honest with those you are rebuilding relationships.

Final thoughts

This was really insightful on how to deal with addiction and the struggles that everyone goes through. I never fully realized that anything can become an addiction, and that really opened my eyes to how we all experience the world.

It also highlighted how our current world is ripe for addiction. We live in a world that moves so fast, with access to more content and things than ever before. Even normal parts of everyday life like social media and email are so instantaneous and have so much potential for emotional impacts.

I found the book relevant not just for those that are struggling with addiction or who know someone struggling, but relevant to everyone. I think it helps build empathy for others and provides tools to notice when you’re getting on a slippery slope towards addiction. It also highlights how everyday life stimulates dopamine (instant access to stimulating food or people’s attention) and how they may impact you.


How to tell a good story

Have you ever wondered what makes a story stand out or how to tell a good story? As I was reading, Stories that Stick by Kindra Hall, she discusses the key elements of a story and how you can use storytelling for your business. She highlights that everyone has stories to tell and the importance of using the right story.

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Main impacts

These are the main themes that stood out to me:

  1. Four parts of a story
  2. Everyone has stories to tell
  3. Tell the story that fits

Continue reading to find out more about each one.

Four parts of a story

Kindra starts the book by outlining what she believes to be the key parts of a story. Interestingly, these are not stages of a story, but rather elements of a story.

These are the four parts of a story according to Kindra:

  1. Identifiable Character(s):
    • These are characters that your audience can relate to, care about and connect to. Importantly, these are not “heros”, you don’t need a “hero” for a story, you just need relatable and authentic characters.
  2. Authentic Emotion:
    • You need to have clear emotions felt by the characters that your audience can easily identify. This allows your audience to build an emotional connection with the story and characters, and have empathy for the story.
  3. Significant Moment:
    • A story tends to focus on a specific moment or experience. As well as showing the difference in the characters before and after that moment, such as how their lives changed because of that experience.
  4. Specific Details:
    • Finally, a story needs to have specific details that make it relevant and connect with the audience. If your audience are primarily parents, highlight a moment that is specific to being a parent, such as a first day of school or the endless amount of laundry that piles up.

I feel like when most people talk about the parts of a story, they discuss the stages of a story (see my other post here), such as the the hero facing a problem or the climax of the story. But the parts of the story that Kindra outlines are unique because they are more general, and are elements or aspects of a story.

I find these parts of a story more open ended, which makes them easier to incorporate into any story, from an epic novel to a short 10-30 second advertisement. They are also easy to use along side other storytelling advice (ex: the stages of a story) to add even more depth to your story.

Everyone has stories to tell

We all have stories to tell and any moment can spark a story. It doesn’t need to be revolutionary or life changing, it just need to focus on a specific moment. Any moment can be made into a story, it just needs to be framed properly and highlight the right details.

If you’re struggling to come up with a story, sometimes you just need time to think about your experiences. Everyone has stories to tell, you might just need some prompting to view it as a story.

Here are some ways to find a story to tell:

  • You can ask yourself: “When did I first realize….”
  • Use nouns to get you started on a story or thinking about firsts: think about specific nouns and build your story around it (nouns such as an item, place, person, etc.).
  • Start with a specific moment, and describe how it was before and after that moment: what changed, why did it change, how did you feel, etc.

The more experience you have with telling stories, the easier it will be to frame any moment as a story. It’s definitely a skill that gets better with experience.

It’s also a skill that benefits from being exposed to good examples of stories, so pay attention to what movies/books/ads/shows/etc. stand out to you and which stories you find the most compelling. There are also good examples of stories throughout this book, with explanations of why we find them compelling.

Tell the story that fits

The book starts by outlining parts of a story, then discusses different types of stories that most businesses will need. Stories are useful not just to build your brand or sell your products, but are useful throughout your business’ growth and development.

When discussing the type of story, a key part was finding one that is relevant and conveys the message you want to share.

You don’t want to share just any story, it needs to fit the moment and complement your message. Pick the story that has the same elements as your message. If you want to highlight a specific emotion or character trait, make sure the story reflects that.

You don’t need to pick the most traumatic or shocking story. Sometimes those are not a good fit and may even cause more harm to those you’re trying to help.

For instance, if you are trying to fundraise, you don’t need to share the most traumatic or tragic story. Rather, you need the story that conveys the themes you want to share and give people a reason to contribute. Spend time thinking about the purpose of the event/organization and how can you show that you’re accomplishing it. That way others will feel compelled to aide in your ongoing success. If fundraising for a school, rather than focusing on struggling students, focus on how the teachers are successfully supporting the students.

Final thoughts

This is the second book that I’ve read about storytelling, the other one was called Building a Storybrand (you can find my post on it here). However, this book was very different than the storybrand discussion, especially when discussing parts of a story. The storybrand book focused more on the stages and progression of a story, whereas this focused on general aspects of a story. Since the two perspectives were so different, I find you can integrate the two together to make your story even stronger.

The two books differed on the type of stories they talked about. Building a Storybrand was all about branding your organization and product, whereas this book discussed multiple types of stories a business may need throughout their development, each having their own focus or purpose.

I found this book further developed my understanding and thoughts around storytelling, which just goes to show how useful it is to hear different people’s thoughts on similar topics and read multiple books on the same topic. No two people will discuss a topic in the same way. The more you read on a topic, the more you may see similarities, but you’ll likely still learn something new.


Why you should be writing regularly for yourself

Have you ever wondered if you should write more? As I was reading The Power of Writing it Down by Allison Fallon, she discusses how incredibly beneficial writing can be and that everyone should be writing regularly. She discusses how writing for yourself, especially expressive writing, can improve your life.

Photo by lilartsy | Accessed on Unsplash.com

Main impacts

These are the key ideas that stood out to me from this book:

  1. Writing provides so many benefits
  2. Doesn’t need to be published
  3. Makes the unconscious conscious

Keep reading for more details on each one.

Writing provides so many benefits

The key message of this book is really to highlight how beneficial writing can be for you and why everyone should spend some time writing. Even if you just spend 20 min a day, four times a week, you’ll start to see benefits.

Writing has so many benefits. For instance, writing can:

  • improve your well being or mood
  • help improve self awareness and deal with difficult situations
  • help clarify your thoughts and feelings
  • help when making decisions, by helping you find clarity on what to do.

In the book, Allison discussed an example of how writing helped individuals when searching for a job. There was a large group of middle aged men who had recently been let go from a company after working there for 15+ years. While they were all job searching, half of them did expressive writing exercises while the other half did not do any writing. Those that did the exercises were ~30% more likely to be hired, despite both groups getting a similar number of interviews.

What they found was that the men’s attitude affected the interview results, and the expressive writing had a significant impact on the men’s attitude. The men without the expressive writing exercises were still harbouring resentment from being let go, especially since they were not given any warning and they had devoted so much of their time and effort to the company. These feelings often came out during the interviews. Whereas those men that had done the writing exercises were more likely to have already dealt with their emotions and unlikely to have a negative attitude during the interview.

Writing and therapy

Writing can even help you while you go through therapy (it does not replace therapy). When used in collaboration with a health care professional, expressive writing can help you make faster progress. For instance, expressive writing can help you reinforce the lessons or skills you’ve learned in therapy by writing about it regularly. Writing can also help you discover insights into yourself and what you’ve gone through that you can then bring to discuss with the health care professional.

You need to be careful when relying too heavily on expressive writing without having someone to discuss your problems with. One issue that can arise by doing expressive writing in isolation is that you might mistake your own thoughts or opinions for facts. An example might be that you think “I’m fat” or “I’m a horrible person”, which is unlikely to be a fact, but is just your perception of yourself. When you work through these kinds of thoughts with a professional, they are able to give you perspective and make sure you’re not confusing an opinion as a fact.

If you suffer from any kind of mental illness, it’s always best to seek professional help, just as you would for any physical illness or injury.

Doesn’t need to be published

This book is all about getting people to write more and to write frequently as a form of self reflection and expression. To support that goal the book also debunks the idea that only certain people can write. Writing is not an elite skill. Almost all of us write throughout the day anyways, whether by sending emails, posting on social media, or just communicating with others. We are all writers.

Writing doesn’t need to be done any certain way, nor is it done by any certain people. You don’t need to wear fancy old-fashioned clothes (most writers write in comfy, casual clothes — think pyjamas). You don’t need to have a degree from a fancy school to be a writer. You just need to write. If you write, you are a writer.

Along with people’s perception of what a writer is, everyone has their own idea of what a good writer is. There’s no one definition of a “good writer.” But even if you never become a best selling author, that doesn’t mean you can’t be a writer. External validation from others isn’t necessary to be a writer (all you need to do is write).

In line with that, you don’t need to write with the aim of being published one day. Writing doesn’t have to exist for other people, some of the best writing is done for yourself. Not to mention that sometimes the purpose of writing is to simply go on a journey of self discovery or understanding and to determine what you really need.

Allison has helped many people with their writing projects. Often times the book or project that others expect from you is not what you need to write, make sure you’re being true to yourself.

Sometimes the process of writing can help you understand what you really need, and it may not be the current career path you’re pursuing. She’s had clients who started writing projects only for them to realize that they actually need to be doing something else. Even though they never finished writing the book or project, they are thankful for the experience because writing gave them clarity on what they really needed.

Writing for the sake of writing can lead you places you might not expect.

Everyone should be writing, even if writing is only ever for yourself.

Makes the unconscious conscious

I find this ties in closely with the two points above, as it’s both a benefit and the type of writing you may not want to publish. Expressive writing can help you make the unconscious conscious, by helping to bring your feelings and thoughts to the surface.

Writing can help you make sense of feelings and situations. The act of writing makes you slow down (especially writing by hand and not typing) and makes you take time to process your thoughts. Writing gives you a chance to sort through everything that is happening — similar to talking to someone about it.

Writing lets you take everything that’s been internalized (feelings, emotions, thoughts) and put them externally, so you can start to view them in a different way. Putting it all down on paper can help provide clarity, as you can also gain perspective on the situation or find ways to put your feelings into words.

Writing can be especially helpful with emotionally-charged situations or for working through fights that you continually have with your partner, especially when you feel like you are unable to communicate what you need or want. By spending time reflecting and writing about these situations, you may find the words you need to later communicate more effectively about what’s bothering you and what you need or want from the other person.

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed this book. I’ll be honest I wasn’t sure what the book was about before I started it, as I borrowed it from my library without reading the description. But I’m so happy that I read this book.

I have always been a journaler, even if inconsistent and infrequent. But there’s always been a part of me that’s understood how useful writing can be to process my own emotions. Personally, I struggle to process things when talking to people, but rather I find it so much easier to process my thoughts and feelings by writing it down. Writing also helps me find the words to clarify how I’m feeling and to communicate what I need.

I feel like this book just reinforced so many things I already believed. Now I want to be much more diligent in writing almost everyday. I used to just journal when I was faced with large decisions, going through stressful situations, or when I was unsure of why I was feeling sad/upset/frustrated/stressed/etc. But now I know how important and beneficial it is to journal regularly that I want to do be more intentional about writing regularly. Plus I love filling up journals, it’s just so satisfying and I love having an excuse to buy more journals.

I think one of the best parts of this book was focusing on how writing is beneficial for yourself. Publishing a book does not need to be your goal, you don’t even need to make your writing public. Rather writing is best used to help you process your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions. You should be writing simply for yourself, if others end up benefiting from it too that’s a bonus.

If you found this post interesting, or felt like you wanted to learn more, I would highly recommend this book. There are some great writing exercises throughout the book that you can use to connect with yourself. The book talks about the benefits of writing, with lots of clear evidence to back it up, along with giving you tools and activities to practice expressive writing.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!


Why it’s important to focus on developing the best product

Have you ever wondered about the relationship between product development and marketing? In this book, Purple Cow, Seth Godin discusses how important it is to develop an amazing product or service (a purple cow) as the foundation to a successful business. Once you have a strong product/service, the rest can easily fall into place.

Photo by Kai Winckler | Accessed on Unsplash.com

Main impacts

Here are the key points that really stood out to me:

  1. Focus on making something amazing
  2. Market to the sneezers
  3. Don’t compromise

Keep reading for more details on each point.

Focus on making something amazing

The basic foundation of most successful businesses is to create something amazing. Once you have something amazing, it’s relatively easy to market it and find people interested. Marketing is an important step, but it’s made so much easier when you have an outstanding product or service. It’s no longer easy to build a business from products that are something similar but just cheaper.

The key message of this book is really to focus on making the best product or service possible. Once you have something incredible, marketing and other things can easily fall into place, and people will be interested in what you’re selling.

The emphasis should really be on developing what you want to sell first. Marketing is important, but that should all come after product development. You don’t want to spend all your money on marketing if you don’t have a strong product or service to sell. A quality product/service is the most important part.

Even for companies that have been around for a while, Seth discusses how part of your budget should be on improving your product. The better your product, the easier it will be to sell it.

When you develop a purple cow, aka an amazing product or service, then it makes everyone’s job easier when selling it. All supporting services (such as marketing, sales, etc.) will benefit from having an incredible product/service.

Market to the sneezers

Once you’ve got an amazing product/service, the first people you want to market it to are the “sneezers.” These are the people who want to try new things and share what they’ve tried with others.

I’m sure you’ve often heard that word of mouth is the best form of marketing, and that’s the goal with these sneezers.

Sneezers are unique because they are actively looking for new things to try. Whereas most people are comfortable with what they already know and are hesitant to try something they may not like.

Another key part of sneezers is that they like to share their discoveries with others. Having customer recommendations and testimonials is one of the most powerful forms of marketing, simply because they’re coming from an objective third party. They can say all the same things that your own marketing might say, but because they aren’t the one trying to sell it and don’t get any benefit from others buying it, it is so much more powerful coming from them.

However, it is vital that you have a good product or service so that the sneezers can help grow your company. If your product isn’t that great, then they won’t want to share it with others, or may even tell others not to buy it. That’s why the first step is to develop an amazing product or service, something so good that the sneezers want to share it.

Then once you target the sneezers as your initial audience, then your audience will grow naturally.

Don’t compromise

This point is closely linked to the first one (focus on making something amazing), while including the idea that you don’t need to compromise. There’s no benefit to compromising on your vision, especially not to make some people happy or to appease complainers.

By not compromising, you ensure that you will stand out.

This can open you up to criticism and parody, but it also tends to attract more attention and boost sales. It’s okay if not everyone likes you. You don’t need everyone to be successful, you just need a group of people that really want your product. Generally, you don’t need a huge market or audience to make a living. Rather you need a small group of people who really like your products or services, and want to keep supporting you.

Don’t try to please everyone. When you end up compromising, you often make the product/service more bland to accommodate everyone’s tastes. But then you may lose those that are truly excited about your vision. Compromising can also dilute your product/service, making it less amazing (aka less of a purple cow) and thus harder to market and sell.

Ideally, you want to make a strong impression, stay true to your vision, and be comfortable focusing on those that like what you do. The stronger your vision, the more you’ll stand out, which will likely result in more enthusiastic customers.

Final thoughts

This book was a good reminder to focus on your product or service, and that developing quality products/services should be your main focus. The rest will fall in place.

It also was a good reminder that marketing is easier when you have something amazing to sell.

The ideas in the book didn’t seem revolutionary, in the end it seems fairly intuitive and makes a lot of sense. It’s definitely a change from the business model of just outcompete your competitor by cutting costs, which is so unsustainable in this global economy. The focus on quality seems much more effective and sustainable over the long term.

I also know that it can be so easy to get caught up in all the ways you can grow your business (social media, marketing, email campaigns, advertisements, etc.) without first focusing on what you’re selling. This book felt like it was really taking you back to the basics. Reminding you to get back to what’s important (what you’re selling), and then you can deal with the rest.


Did you know timing can be a science?

Have you ever wondered how important the timing of events is? As I was reading When by Daniel Pink, he discusses the science behind the timing of experiences and events. He discusses that when things occur can be as important as what is happening, and helps you to understand when you should be scheduling your time so that you get the best outcomes.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao | Accessed on Unsplash.com

Main impacts

These were the key points that stood out to me:

  1. The power of endings
  2. When can be just as important as what
  3. Breaks are important

Keep reading for more details on each.

The power of endings

Endings tend to be much more memorable than the rest of the experience. You rarely remember experiences as an average of how you felt throughout it, rather you’re more likely to remember an experience based on key moments and/or the ending.

Therefore, endings can significantly impact how you felt about an experience or situation. If the overall experience was either bad or just not great, a good ending can change your memory of the experience to be much more favourable. It’s not just good endings, but poignant or memorable endings can also override a negative feeling from an experience.

Even if the experience is longer and more painful, you’re more likely to judge the experience by the ending. See my post on the book The Power of Moments by Dan and Chip Heath, that talked about an experiment where people showed this bias when having to keep their hand in cold water.

Generally, how the ending makes you feel is how you will judge the rest of that experience. Whether it was a day, a vacation, an employment, or a conversation, the ending can have a huge impact on your memory and feeling of the experience, whether or not you consider it to be a fair judgement.

But you can use this to your advantage! Whenever you are planning something, be mindful of the ending and find ways to make it more memorable or enjoyable.

A tip for a better work day!

Here’s a tip to having better work days. At the end your workday, take a few minutes to reflect on what you did, make a note of what you’ve accomplished and how it went, and maybe even send a short thank you message/email to someone. Taking a moment to reflect on the positive aspects of the day and your accomplishments (small or large), will help to end your day in a positive way and can leave you feeling better about your entire day.

When can be just as important as what

When you do things can be just as powerful as what you choose to do. Which means you should always take into consideration the timing of your schedule, such as big decisions (made by you or someone else), life changes, etc.

There are certain times of the day when we are more likely to pick the easier option, whether or not it’s the right decision. We tend to default to the easiest option. One of the examples in the book was judges deciding if a prisoner should be released on bail, and the study showed that judges were consistently less likely to release prisoners on bail if they were making the decision right before lunch or a break (taking into consideration all other factors).

Another example was talking about when we should, or rather shouldn’t, go to the hospital. Apparently the worst time to go to a hospital is in the afternoon, because that’s when they tend to make the most mistakes. The afternoon is usually at the end of a very long shift, meaning the doctors or nurses have been working long hours and are more likely to make a mistake.

In the book, Daniel also talks about sleep chronotypes, which identify if you’re a morning or evening person, or somewhere in between. Understanding which chronotype you have, will highlight when you will have peak energy levels and help you to plan your activities throughout the day. Some parts of the day are best for deep work, whereas others are better for the less intensive work, but these times differ based on your chronotype.

There are so many interesting details in the book on knowing when to do big life changes, decisions, or even daily routines. In the end, timing is a science, and there’s a lot of information on how to use that timing for the best outcome.

Breaks are important

Taking breaks can make you even more productive. Breaks are important on a daily basis, throughout the workday, and also over longer time frames. A break can help you reset and give you fresh perspective, not to mention help improve your energy levels. All of this allows you to return to your work refreshed.

During the day, it’s important to give yourself a break from focused work. It’s great to have dedicated time for focused work, but don’t forget to break it up with time away from your work. It’s always better if the break also includes movement by stretching, walking around, etc. or other people such as making it social (think water cooler talks).

In the theme of breaks, one of the types that Daniel advocates for are naps. Naps can provide so many benefits, and leaving you feeling so fresh. Just make sure that the naps are not too long, around 20 min or less is ideal. There are also a handful of locations around the world that have naps (siesta and others) built into their culture.

Ideally, you should integrate breaks into your daily routine and long term thinking. Make sure to be strategic and deliberate, by picking the time that works best for you and scheduling your break (otherwise you might not take them).

Final thoughts

This was a really interesting book, with so many useful details. I want to re-read it as I realized I don’t remember all of the details.

There’s so much that affects how we feel and we don’t even realize it. The more we understand the science of timing, the better we can use it to get the best outcomes and have great days.

I like this because it wasn’t another productivity book about how to do THE MOST amount of work in a day. That wasn’t the purpose at all. It was about understanding how to schedule your days (and life) to get the best results. It wasn’t about working more, it was about finding what works best for you and understanding why it works for us.


Here are some useful links:

  • You can buy the book on Amazon here.
  • You can find more information on the book on Goodreads here.
  • You can find information from the author here.
  • Here’s the author’s website here: https://www.danpink.com/

How marketing can help you build meaningful customer relationships

Are you wondering how to market your business and connect with your customers? As I was reading This is Marketing by Seth Godin, he discusses how marketing is just another way to connect with people and solve their problems. This book is filled with useful information and is an accessible way to learn more about marketing. It seems like a book that you would be able to re-read and each time have different key takeaways or find new interesting information. Continue reading to find out what points of the book stood out to me.

Photo by Tom Barrett | Accessed on Unsplash.com

Main Impacts

These are the three points that stood out the most to me:

  1. Find your niche
  2. Get comfortable saying “this isn’t for you”
  3. Connect your product to a desire

Find your niche

I know this is a common phrase, but this was hugely emphasized in the book, you need to find your niche.

Interestingly, your niche should be as small as possible. Don’t be afraid to exclude people, or to only appeal to a select group of people. You want to find “people like us”, the individuals who are actually interested in what you’re doing.

You want to make your niche as small as possible, while still profitable.

Most importantly, it doesn’t take that many people to have a profitable business, especially if you have followers that actually want to interact with your content. I’ve heard people mention that you only really need around 1,000 dedicated followers to make a reasonable living. The key aspect is that you’re providing value for those interested in your work, so that they want to buy what you’re producing.

In this way, quality over quantity of followers is vital. Having 1,000 people who actually want to buy your products is far more valuable than having 10,000 people who barely notice your content. Those that actively engage with your content and look forward to what you produce will want to support your work, and it becomes a mutually beneficial relationship.

You want to find people who resonate with you and your work. Focus on a niche, find your people, and build a community.

Get comfortable saying “this isn’t for you”

You want to target the right people for your business, it won’t be everybody, and that’s okay. When you get comfortable saying “this isn’t for you”, it will help you focus on building meaningful relationships with the right people.

This goes hand-in-hand with the point above of finding your niche. It’s just as important to understand who your content is NOT for. It’s okay to say “this isn’t for you”, people appreciate that you’re not lying to them or trying to sell them something they don’t need. Being honest about who your work will benefit and what they will get from it, builds trust with anyone who interacts with you.

As mentioned above, you do want to cultivate a dedicated following, which is not everybody. If you stop catering to people outside your niche, you’re able to focus on the ones that really want to be there, which is better for everyone.

I found this really powerful, because part of us feels like we want to just have everyone following and supporting our work. We hear so much about finding your niche, but the idea of getting comfortable turning people away is very different than targeting certain individuals. It reframes the concept from a passive lack of focus on other people, to an active rejection of those that won’t benefit or find value in your work.

I think it’s a powerful way to understand your audience and be content with a smaller but more dedicated following.

Connect your product to a desire

We often hear how it’s best to ensure your product or service is solving someone’s problem, and that makes sense. If you are able to solve someone’s problem (ensuing they acknowledge it is a problem) then it’s easier to sell it to them, as you’re showing the value and purpose of what you’re selling.

But I found this took it a step further, it’s not just about solving a problem, but connecting that problem to an innate desire. If you can show how your product or service not only solves a surface level problem, but also connects to an internal personal desire, then the product or service becomes even more appealing.

Internal personal desires can be things like social status, personal improvement, or something moral/ethical, like helping to save the earth by being environmentally friendly. By connecting your product to both the surface level problem (such as dirty dishes) and a moral desire to save the world from chemicals (environmentally friendly), you make a deeper connection with the customer. It may make your ideal customer more specific (narrower focus), but as mentioned above, that’s usually a good thing.

Generally, the more emotional you can make it, the easier it is to sell. The emotional appeal builds a strong connection and makes your product or service stand out. They look to solve their physical problems, but buy products or services based off of their emotions or personal philosophy.

Final thoughts

I found this book surprisingly hopeful and inspiring. Marketing doesn’t need to be complicated and you don’t want to please everyone. In a way, parts of this book felt counter-intuitive, such actively cultivating a very small audience and being willing to turn people away. You think you need to appeal to as many people as possible, but that’s not how you’ll be successful. When you try to please everyone, you tend to dilute what you create to make it more palatable for everyone, rather than tailoring it to those who would truly appreciate it.

I found this a useful reframe of what it really means to build a successful business. A successful business is targeted at a specific audience to suit their needs. It does not appeal to everybody and that’s okay.

Have you read this book? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!


Understanding the power of moments

Have you ever wondered about how special moments can shape the memory of our experiences? As I was reading The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, they discuss both how moments shape our experiences and how to create more of these special moments. The book defines what makes a moment special, the impact special moments can have on individuals and groups, and gives clear directions on how to create special moments of your own.

Photo by Muhammadh Saamy | Accessed on Unsplash.com

Main impacts

Some of the key things I learned from this book are:

  1. Experiences are defined by moments
  2. Four elements of a moment
  3. We can create moments

Note, there’s so much more information and examples in the book. If this sparks your interest, I would encourage you to check out the book.

Experiences are defined by moments

Often times we remember our experiences, not as a sum of what has happened but rather defined by the moments we had or based on key parts of the experience (like the ending).

For instance, a trip may be remembered not by the long waits or hot weather, but rather by the joy of connecting with family or friends and the special shared experiences. When considering a family trip to Disney, there may be uncomfortable or inconvenient parts, but they can be overshadowed by the joy felt and shared with family, or the excitement of your children going on rides and meeting their favourite characters.

Having an experience evaluated on key moments is described as the “duration neglect”, meaning that an experience is defined by either the best/worst moments that happen or the ending. One example of this is the pain experiment, where people are asked to do three trials:

  1. Put their hands in very cold water for 60 seconds.
  2. Put their hands in very cold water for 60 seconds, and then their hands in slightly less cold water for 30 seconds.
  3. Then they got to pick which of the previous two they wanted to repeat. What do you think they picked?

For each of these, they were not told how long they had to wait in each water (only the researchers tracked the time), and had to go simply based on their experience.

Interestingly, for the third trial, 69% chose to repeat the longer experiment (#2)! The choice for the longer option was usually due to the fact that the second one seemed a little more comfortable than the first based on the ending. Even though it was longer, the slightly warmer water made it seem less painful.

Four elements of a moment

The moments that make an impact on us tend to have similarities, with common traits that affect us. Understanding what makes a moment special, helps us identify them and even consider how we can create more moments.

These are the four key elements that make a moment special:

  1. Elevation: moments that transcend the normal
    • These are extra-ordinary, exciting, memorable, and standout from the mundane.
    • It could be anything that differs from your normal life/routine. Anything special that we experience and can even change how we perceive time, for example, driving or walking somewhere new can seem longer, as we’re experiencing it for the first time.
  2. Insight: may reframe our understanding of ourselves or the world
    • It could be a moment of insight, such as it’s time for me to start this (like a new career) or to stop doing that (like smoking).
    • Generally, something triggers a change, which leads to realizations & transformations either on a personal level or greater.
  3. Pride: captures us at our best
    • A moment that highlights some kind of achievement or milestone.
    • Usually, it’s focusing on what you’ve accomplished, maybe landing a big client, finishing a project, or graduating from school.
  4. Social: connecting with others
    • These are common moments society often finds important, such as weddings, graduations, vacations, team achievements, events, etc.
    • Whenever others are involved in a moment, it has a stronger impact because it’s a shared experience.

All key moments will have at least one of the elements above, and some of the most impactful will have all of them. But usually it’s a combination of more than one.

For example, at graduation it’s usually a mix of social, pride, and elevation. It’s not part of your normal routine (elevation), you usually invite people you care about to join and your friends from school are there (social), plus it’s spotlighting your academic achievement (pride). All these elements come together to make it a memorable moment.

We can create moments

The more that we understand about what makes a moment special, the more likely we’re able to create moments to make experiences more memorable. We can create moments for ourselves and for others.

These three situation types are great opportunities for creating moments:

  1. Transitions: natural moments of change throughout our life
    • For example, coming of age, weddings, first day of work, or any moment that denotes a life change or when starting something new.
    • A lot of these are commonly celebrated, but you can also highlight smaller changes, or put more emphasis on existing changes that people experience.
    • For example, when a new employee joins a company, this is a great opportunity to create a moment and build a connection with the employee.
  2. Milestones: moments of significance, usually based on amount of time or a type of achievement
    • For example, a 10th anniversary (work or relationship), graduation, beginning or end of a school year, or a promotion.
    • There are lots of typical milestones we celebrate, but you can also look for new opportunities, like the 100th day of class or work.
  3. Pits: negative moments, which should be filled
    • For instance, by making long waits more interesting using displays, TVs, or decorating the area where you’re waiting. Disney does a great job of this by having the line go through areas decorated based on the ride’s theme, with videos and other things to capture your attention during the long wait.
    • If done properly, pits can be flipped into peaks. The best feedback from service surveys were often the result of employees reacting to a pit (such as delayed flights, lost baggage, etc.), and making it better. By giving your employees the freedom to provide special accommodations when disaster strikes, you’re allowing them to turn pits into peaks and create some of the most memorable experiences.

Example of a pit turned into a peak

One of the best examples of flipping a pit into a peak was when children had to use an MRI machine. When designing the machine, they forgot to consider the experience of children, and it was too scary for them. They hated going for an MRI and it usually took a long time to convince them to get into the machine.

So with a diverse team of experts, they came up with a creative solution to make it more playful and an exciting experience for the children. They developed a whole story for them that went along with using an MRI machine. For instance, one experience is that the children are told they’re going to ride a rocket ship, and the whole experience from start to finish is based around that theme. They made it feel like an adventure, not just a hospital visit, and they created a different adventures that focused on areas of kids’ anxiety (loud noises, small spaces, etc.).

These adventures with the MRI machine drastically changed how the children felt about the experience. They were actually excited for their appointment, and would ask, when can we go again? Which made the appointments go smoothly, with a better experience for all involved, and they were even able to increase the number of individuals served by reducing the time needed.

Final thoughts

I found this book really interesting. Some of the information is not that surprising, as we all have special moments in our lives, but the power in this book is reframing our general knowledge to understand the impact these moments have and how to create our own moments.

One of the impactful parts of this book is all the examples of moments that people have either intentionally or unintentionally created, along with the impact on those experiencing it. I included very few examples in this post, but if this peaked your curiosity at all, it might be worthwhile to read the book or listen to the audiobook.

Another valuable part of this book was that the knowledge provided by the authors can be so widely applicable, either to your own lives, to a company trying to improve their customer or employee experiences, or for an organization trying to impact those they help. The lessons learned in this book can be useful to anybody.

Personally, I want to create more moments for myself and those I care about.


How to market your business

Have you ever wondered how to market a business? As I was reading, Marketing Made Simple by Donald Miller, he outlines exactly how to market your business effectively. He covers all the basic aspects of marketing, from designing your website to email campaigns.

This book links closely to Donald Miller’s other book, Building a Story Brand, which focuses on clarifying your business’s message through a story (you can read my post about it here). Using the story branding that you developed, this book guides you through the marketing basics to move your business forward.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi | Accessed on Unsplash.com

Main impacts

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Focus on your customer
  3. Ask for what you want

Keep it simple

One of common threads throughout this book is to keep your marketing simple. Simple meaning direct and to the point, without any added frills. You want to keep all your communication clear and concise, so that you don’t confuse your customer. A confused customer is a disinterested one.

Part of why you want to keep it simple, is because you need to ensure repeated interactions with the customer. You need to be constantly interacting with your customer and having them be exposed to your company. Often times people need to see or interact with you 10 times or more before they buy anything. You need to build trust and a relationship with the customer and the best way to do that is through repeated actions.

In line with keeping it simple, you need to always be thinking of the value you provide to your customers. Every interaction you have with them should provide them with value, that’s how you make it worth their time. If you’re consistently providing value, either through useful information or sample products, then they will want to keep coming back for more. Samples are a great way to show what you have to offer and why they should want more. Samples basically give them a taste before they buy a full product or service from you. There’s a reason why so many companies give free samples, think of the food samples at grocery stores.

Finally, remember to focus on the people who are actually interested in your product. You don’t need to appeal to everyone, and it’s usually better if you don’t. The best way to keep it simple is to focus your efforts on those who want to hear from you, as they will be the most likely to buy one of your products/services. They’re also the ones who already enjoy the value you’re sharing in your free content. It’s a win-win relationship, they like what you’re offering and you want to offer them more.

Focus on your customer

Marketing is really just a way of communicating with your customer and getting your story brand across to them. Everything you do for marketing should focus on the customer.

Using the story brand concept, the customer is the “hero” of the story and you are the “guide.” As a “hero” they have a problem and as their “guide” you can show them how to fix their problem and improve their life. You can read about the story brand concept in my post here.

All your messaging should be focused on the customer. They don’t want to hear about you or how you built your business. They only want to know how you can help them. You need to make your story clear, showing the role they play and how your product or service can make their life better. Most critically, they need to understand why this is important to them and why they should pay attention to you.

While crafting your marketing content, make sure to frame the story around the customer. Ask questions like:

  • What problem do they have?
  • How can you help them?
  • What will their life look like if they do or do not engage with you?
  • How is life better with your product or worse without?

The more you focus on answering questions that they want to know, the more effective your marketing will be.

Ask for what you want

In line with keeping it simple, make sure you ask for what you want from your customer. You need to make your call to action clear and obvious. If you want them to sign up for a newsletter, ask them. If you want them to buy a product, ask them. If you want them to interact with your post by liking, sharing, or commenting, ask them.

Customers want to know what to do next, or how to get more information if they’re interested. If they like the content you’re producing, they’ll also want to know how to support you, so give them options. Not everyone will be able to buy your products/services, but there’s usually ways people can support your business without contributing financially (like sharing and liking your content).

Those that like your content and have some money to spend on your content, will also want to know how to do business with you. For those that are interested, make it obvious how to buy your products or services, just don’t be annoying. You don’t want them searching for how to buy your products/services or where to get more info. The more difficult it is to buy something, the less likely they will end up buying it. So if they’re interested, make it easy for them.

There’s a huge difference between having a clear “Buy now” button (easy to buy) versus endless pop-ups and pestering emails (annoying). The best way to think of your marketing approach is to consider, how would it make you feel? Do you like when companies do this, that or the other thing? If you wouldn’t like it, don’t do it.

Final thoughts

I thought this book tied in nicely with his other book, Building a Story Brand (see my post on it here). This book really built on the concept of the story brand by providing clear actions on how to use the branding through implementing basic marketing concepts.

There are lots of hands-on activities discussed throughout the book, from building your website, setting up a marketing campaign, and creating lead generators. All the activities had concrete advice on why these activities are essential and how to actually implement the strategies within the book. There are also clear steps on how to do each activity and what will make it effective and successful.

If you’re looking for a clear, simple approach to marketing, either because you’re new to marketing or looking to refresh your approach, I found this book quite useful and easily to understand.

I would start with his other book, Building a Story Brand, to focus on crafting your business’s story, which can be the foundation for your marketing efforts. Then using your newly crafted story, you can then develop your marketing approach with this book.


How to use stories to brand a business

Have you ever wondered about the best way to market your business? As I was reading Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller, he explains that branding your business as a story helps to clarify your message and make it much more effective. The book has lots of useful, concrete activities if you’re working on branding (or re-branding) your company, and keep reading this post for some overarching, key points from the book.

Photo by Maegan Martin | Accessed on Unsplash.com

Main impacts

  1. Stories are how we make sense of the world
  2. Stick to the structure
  3. Your customer is the hero

Stories are how we make sense of the world

We use stories to make sense of what’s happening around us. It’s a way of making music out of all the noise around us, and provides clarity.

Stories are an easy way for us to make sense of what we see and hear. We naturally put stories together even based on small details that we see – thinking naturally in terms of cause and effect.

Stories are also very easy for us to understand. We easily apply stories to ourselves and see ourselves within them. We tend to understand information better when it’s told as a story. Think of times when you learned about history as a story with clear cause and effect versus as a series of dates and names of people/places. It’s much easier to remember and understand the story version.

Since stories can powerfully and easily communicate information, they can also be used to improve marketing. If you can use stories to describe what you do and what you’re selling, you’re likely to be much more effective when marketing your business. The goal is to connect with a customer easily and clearly, and there’s no better way than through a story that centers them.

Stick to the structure

Stories can be applied to anything. They can convey any kind of information, it’s simply a matter of framing it in a way that follows a basic structure. Pretty much all stories follow a very similar structure, seen in the image below.

Basic story structure (Credit: Donald Miller @ Storybrand)

Generally, a character or hero has a problem and meets a guide, who gives them a plan and calls them to action. Then the stories either ends in their success or helping them avoid failure.

Once you understand the structure, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. You’ll see the structure in all the movies and even in advertising. Take a moment to think through some of your favourite movies, can you apply the structure to them?

Here’s an example from The Hunger Games. Katniss is the main character or hero, and has a problem. In the image it shows the various types of problems she’s facing (external, internal and philosophical), but they all stem from the external problem of having to survive the hunger games. Then she meets Haymitch, who is her guide, and has a plan to get her more sponsors by having people support her. She gets called to action by actually competing and doing her best in the game. Katniss avoids failure (dying in the games) and ends the movie by successfully winning the game. See the diagram below for a visualization matching the story structure.

Story structure shown through The Hunger Games (Credit: Donald Miller @ Storybrand)

This basic structure applies to all things story related. All you need to do is stick to the basic structure and your story will make sense. The more you see it in the content around you, the more possibilities you’ll see to tailor stories within the structure.

This story structure can also help you tell your company’s information. If you frame it as a story, it’s incredibly easy to remember and understand for both your employees and customers. A story can also be very effective and persuasive, especially if you are able to frame your product or service as the plan to overcome your customer’s problem.

Your customer is the hero

As outlined above, your story needs a main character or a hero. When branding your business as a story, the customer is the hero and you’re the guide.

Generally, the hero/main character has lots of good qualities, but doesn’t usually understand how to overcome their problem, which is why they need a guide. The guide is both how they learn to overcome the problem and are called to action (meaning they actually do something to overcome the problem).

The key to a successful business story is that you frame the customer as the hero, and most importantly, you show how you can fix their problem. Remember they are the hero with a problem and you are the guide who has a plan to help them.

Part of framing yourself as the guide, is proving that you have the authority and expertise to help solve the problem. You need to show that you understand the problem and can actually help them. You also need to show them a plan, outlining how to solve the problem. People are more likely to engage with you if they understand what’s going to happen next.

Just remember, your customer is the one with the problem, and your business is what’s going to help them fix it. Make sure your story (and all your content) is focused on them – not you. They don’t need your life story, they just need to know how you can help them.

Final thoughts

A fascinating way to think about branding your business. Framing everything as a story is such a good way to position the things you’re doing. It’s easier for people to understand and for both customers and employees to easily remember your business and describe it to others.

I personally haven’t studied that much about marketing, so I’m not sure if this is a common way to discuss marketing, but I found it very useful.

There’s also so many activities and concrete actions that you can use to apply these concepts directly to your business. If you found this at all interesting, it might be worthwhile to try out some of the activities for your own business.

I was also able to borrow this from my library on Libby (a mobile app), which can be a great way to get a taste of the book before buying it.


How to eliminate competition for your business

Have you ever wondered about the best way to strategically position your business? While I was reading Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim & Renee Mauborone, they talked about how to completely eliminate competition by creating your own market (a blue ocean). They talk about how successful it can be (with lots of examples), how to find a blue ocean, and the best way to position your business.

Photo by Anastasia Taioglou | Accessed on Unsplash.com

Main impacts

  1. Create a new opening
  2. Don’t focus on benchmarking
  3. Price it based on potential customers

Create a new opening

The main focus of this book is discussing the concept of a blue ocean, which is contrasted by typical businesses in a “red ocean” that has a lot of competition. A blue ocean is a place without competition because it’s a totally new concept, as it’s empty of other businesses. You’re not trying to fit in where there are already so many others doing the same thing.

One of the examples frequently discussed throughout the book is Cirque du Soleil. They created something totally new, it wasn’t a circus, a play, or any other live entertainment that was currently available. It is typically seen as a spin off of the circus, but they were able to reduce the overhead costs by removing the animals (which also reduced concerns about animal rights) and make it more expensive by comparing it to a play or high-end live entertainment. They were able to create something totally new, which allowed them to be so successful and well-known.

To find a blue ocean, look for what people need, but address it differently than currently being done. For example, when Ford developed the Model T, he wasn’t looking at the current automobiles of the time, but rather comparing against the horse and buggy. He wanted to market it to the masses, and make their transportation faster and more reliable. He was addressing their needs, not the needs of the elite with their highly customizable cars.

Finding a blue ocean requires a very different kind of market research. It also requires you to look at the world with an inquisitive mind to find a new way of addressing people’s problems. You need to start looking past what’s currently done to find what could be the solution.

The beauty of creating something entirely new is that there’s no one else doing the same thing. Obviously, this can be a good thing by having no competition, but it can also be more difficult to ensure the right people, those who would benefit from it, can actually find your product/service.

Don’t focus on benchmarking

Tying into the point above about your market research being different, that also means you won’t be doing the typical benchmarking exercise. Generally, companies do benchmarking to see what their peers are doing, where they are being successful, and how you’ll compare to them. If you’re creating a blue ocean, you won’t have any peers.

Without any peers, you’ll have to define a lot of things for yourself, such as what’s considered successful. By creating a blue ocean, you’re able to carve out your own space and do things how you want to.

You’ll also have to be creative when determining how to gauge your price-point and how to fit into the market. You’re doing something new, so you’re not trying to be better or cheaper, you just need to be different. To find a price-point, you’ll need to look at other markets and figure out how much value you can provide them.

Price it based on potential customers

Once again, tying in nicely with the points above, you need price your product/service based on your potential customers, not what’s currently available. You should base it on those you can give value to and how you may take away from other markets. For Cirque du Soleil, it’s priced as a very nice night out, comparable to a Broadway play, even though it’s completely different.

You’re looking at how to solve people’s problems and at what cost will the product/service be worthwhile to them. For Ford’s Model T, he priced it against the horse and buggy, not the fancy customizable cars of the time. He wanted to make it close enough to the cost of a horse and buggy, so that the majority of people could start considering and even justifying the switch to a car. Another example was the school lunch caterers, who simply considered how much would parents be willing to pay so they don’t have to pack their children’s lunches everyday.

The goal is to look around and find new problems to solve. Then determine how much your potential market would value the product/service. How much time, effort, and money does your product save them. It’s not the typical business planning, but it can be hugely beneficial if you do it correctly.

Final thoughts

The book was quite interesting. I enjoyed learning about how others have created a blue ocean, such as Cirque du Soleil. The book provided so much more context for these landmark inventions, most of which isn’t typically common knowledge. I feel like I learned both about business and history, which is always an insightful combination.

Overall, I feel like the idea is very simple and straightforward. Of course if you create a new market you initially have less competition. But the problem is finding a way to create that blue ocean. It’s an easy concept to grasp, but incredibly difficult to implement successfully.

But I do think the book provides a lot of food for thought on the power of being different and finding a new way to solve people’s problems. Especially in this day and age where there is always someone cheaper or faster. Now you really do need to be different or more creative to start a successful business. With the increased connectivity of the world, there’s just so much competition, it’s even more important to find a blue ocean.


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