Monthly Archives: September 2011

Want to Be More Interesting? Try the 20 Second Story

People love stories.  Stories are used constantly in advertising, teaching, and of course entertainment.  You can make almost any conversation more interesting by telling stories.

What? You don’t consider yourself a good story teller?  No worries, you are in good company. Most people would rather let the “talkative” person regale the group with entertaining and engaging stories.  If you despise the idea of being the center of attention for too long, the 20 second story is your solution.

It’s not easy to entertain groups of people with interesting stories.  The good news is that stories don’t have to win be Pulitzer-Prize worthy for your listeners to enjoy them.  In fact, some of the best stories are simple stories about every day events that may describe a unique twist or occurrence.  Stories do not need to be elaborate and long.  Did your pet dog accidently nibble on your new shoes?  Did your toddler throw up at the grocery store?  These events can make great stories, and most stories can be squeezed into 20 seconds.  Even better, if your story completely bombed, you will be forgiven because you barely took up anyone’s time. And if your story received a great reaction, then by all means elaborate and go beyond 20 seconds!

20 Second Story Structure

Good stories have a common structure.  When you only have 20 seconds, you have to choose your phrases wisely.  Try to include most of the following types of phrases and you will be on the right track:

  • Set-up phrase
  • The Norm phrase
  • One or two Detail phrases
  • Reaction phrase
  • Turning point phrase
  • Post-commentary phrase

Set-up Phrases

Set-up phrases help you introduce the story into the conversation.  They can also establish the mood of the story and allow your audience to quickly figure out the scene, the background, and the type of story you’re about to tell.  For example, “That reminds me, I was just at that store two days ago and I saw the strangest thing…”  Keep the Set-ups general but also enticing.

The Norm Phrases

Good stories and humor are created by moving the audience down one path and then hitting their expectations against an opposing path.  The Humor section goes into detail about this as well.  Let your audience expect one thing, and then introduce the unexpected.  The Norm phrase is excellent at establishing an expected path, which you can contrast against later on in the story.  For example, “So normally I would just ask for my receipt, but…” or “…so I was watching this movie and I figured it was just going to be some boring chick flick, but…”


It never hurts to add a few details.  Details add color and imagery to any story.  The aforementioned phrase could be upgraded to, “…so I was watching this Lifetime movie about two heroin addicts who fall in love, and I figured it was just going to be some boring chick flick, but…”

Details also give the listener something else to comment on, in this case, they now could comment on the use of “Lifetime” or “heroin.”  For example, “See there’s your problem, you were watching Lifetime movies by yourself again!” or they could respond to your other detail, “Yeah, heroin movies never usually end well…”  You get the idea.

Reaction Phrases

Tell your listener how you reacted to the event.  A standard reaction phrase could go something like, “He bought me lunch, and I was stunned, I couldn’t believe it.”  However, adding actual dialogue can take the phrase to another level.  A dialogue phrase is almost always more interesting than describing what you said.  Additionally, adding dialogue gives you so much more freedom to exaggerate.  Instead of saying, “I was so mad at him, I told him to get out…” you could re-enact what happened, “I was so mad…I was like, ‘Get the HELL out of my house you piece of crap!…and I wanted to say, ‘and never come back!’ but I thought that may be too dramatic.”

Turning Point Phrases

Good stories always have a turning point.  There are many ways to phrase the turning point.  You can always mention something “the moment in time” it happened.  For instance, “It was that moment where I felt…” or “…and this is where everything breaks down…” or “that’s the moment where I was like ______!”   The turning point is often the height of the action and the climax of the story you’re telling, it is where everything changes as a result of the thing that just occurred.  Here are more examples:  “He was standing in line, when all of a sudden he leaned over and said…” and “So I finally pulled up to her house and out of nowhere came the…”

Post Commentary Phrases

The post commentary allows you to reflect back on what happened and make witty comments about it.  It also helps you wrap up the story and possibly point out the interesting part so your audience catches on to the full meaning of the story.  Talk about what you think about the event currently, and/or what has happened since the story events took place, and any other way you want to wrap up the story.  The commentary about the story is sometimes the best part – don’t leave it out!

Here are some examples:

“If it wasn’t for Joe, I don’t know where we’d be right now! Probably stuck in a ditch somewhere…”

“I don’t know how they ever got a job…but he made it somehow…I guess that goes to show you that nice guys do sometimes finish last.”

“I almost died from embarrassment…I wanted to jump out the window after that!”

You certainly do not have to use every type of phrase, but even four or five of these phrases could tell an entire story in under 20 seconds.  Try it.  Write out a few stories using these phrase types and see how you do.  Writing out stories using this structure will help re-shape your brain to naturally use the 20 second format.


Muhammad Ali’s Top 5 Tips for Punching Through the Wall

1. Take a risk.

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

To get what you really want you will pretty much always have to take risks. Of course, that can be scary.

Every time you take the leap and take a risk – even if things might not go your way that time – you can build confidence in yourself. By getting more experiences where you took action instead of sitting on your hands it will over time becomes easier to start moving in the direction you desire and take a chance.

So how can you overcome this, take a leap and take the risk? I don’t have some simple and easy solution. But I do have a few tips.
  • Really, really want it. When you really want it simply becomes easier to push through the inner resistance you feel. You are so motivated to achieve whatever it is you want that the risk may be scary but smaller than your desire.
  • Ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen? We often build big, negative fantasies in our heads of what may happen if we do something. Huge scary monsters. But probably 90 percent of what you fear never come into reality. This is of course easy to say. But if you remind yourself of how little of what you feared throughout your life that has actually happened you can start to release more and more of that worry from your thoughts.
  • Detach from the outcome. When you are actually doing and taking the risk in real-time detach from the outcome. Instead of thinking about what the results of your actions may be, just focus on what’s in front of you. Things will become easier. You’ll create less inner anxiety and pressure for yourself. And you will perform better because you are totally focusing on what’s right in front of you and not weighing yourself down with a lot of self-created negativity and doubts.
2. Steer clear of self-sabotage and creating inner obstacles.

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”

This is a big problem because often you don’t even know that you are for example self-sabotaging. You think that the thought loops that spinning around in your head is reality. But you can’t predict the future. But you are so stuck in your thoughts that you believe them as if they where the absolute truth.

Again, one way to gain a sober perspective is to ask: what’s really the worst that could happen? And then you can make a plan to handle that worst case scenario if it were to come into reality.

Another important thing here is to do what you think is the right thingin life as much as you can. Why? Because when you do that you start to build an image of yourself as someone who deserves the good things that come to him/her. Self-sabotage comes from thinking that you on some level simply aren’t worthy of what you want. So you sabotage for yourself along the way to get yourself back into the place or level of success you feel you deserve. So you have to make yourself feel more deserving.

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. But you choose to go and work out instead of lying on the couch and watching TV. You choose to be kind instead of petty or judgemental. You choose to take a chance instead of not taking it. And a lot of the time you might not do the right thing. But by just increasing the number of times you do it during your week little by little you can really change how you view yourself. And over time this habit can become stronger and stronger.

Now, another essential thing to avoid self-sabotage and creating mind-monsters is this…

3. Keep your self-talk positive.

“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.”

“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.”

If you are always negative and down on yourself it will be a lot more painful and sometimes pretty much impossible to achieve what you want. Keeping the self-talk in your head positive is essential. You can make that easier to by following the tips above.

Another helpful thing is just to be mindful of how you think about things. To say “Stop!” and cut off negative thought threads before they become strong. Just cut them off as often as you alert enough to do so. And replace them with more positive thought spirals by asking yourself questions like “What’s awesome about this?” and “What can I learn from this?”.

Keeping your self-talk positive may seem cheesy or uncool. But beating yourself up all the time is far worse and really not helping you at all.

Plus, the thing is that your self-talk is contagious. Because how you talk to yourself affects how you feel. And as we know from bumper stickers, enthusiasm (and any other feeling) is contagious. And as we know from Ali, this self-talk can also start to seep out into what you say out loud too.

As you interact with people, there is always a social feedback loop. People tend to treat you as you see yourself and as a reaction to how you make them feel. Someone with very positive self-talk will probably be perceived as confident and positive and therefore be treated a certain way. Someone who thinks s/he is a loser and is always down on him/herself may be met with sympathy but also irritation or simply that people tend to avoid that person.

And since people and support is essential to just about any success you may desire your self-talk – and how you talk out loud – becomes very important.

Now, the social feedback loop is about what you really feel about yourself. Not that you repeat affirmations all day that you don’t believe in. So you need to start doing the right thing too, because positive real-life experiences have a deeper impact on how you feel about yourself than just making the self-talk more positive. At least in my experience.

4. Don’t make a big deal out of it.

“It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”

So you create a more positive self-image by doing the right thing and keeping your self-talk more positive. But it’s also a good thing to not go overboard. To not grow a huge ego and come off as arrogant or well, like a jerk.

This may be a bit counter-intuitive but not making a big deal out of what you are good at have some big benefits.
  • Less defensiveness and negativity. I could for instance create a big ego around the fact that I have many readers on this blog. And that would feel awesome for a while. But sooner or later my head would become too big and I would come off in a negative way. And if people would question what I am saying I would start to feel more and more threatened and nervous. Because I would have a big image to live up to and defend each day. I think it’s a lot easier to keep the self-talk positive but also just be a guy who knows some stuff, has done some things and who write about all of that.
  • Makes the doing easier and more enjoyable. If you think it’s a big deal then it becomes a big deal. And things become unnecessarily hard and complicated. You start to create monsters in your mind again. Your ego may want you to think that it’s big, big deal because it means that you are a big, big deal too. That effect is enjoyable but makes the doing harder and less fun after a while as the inner pressure starts to ramp up.
5. Use your emotional leverage to succeed.

“Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.” 

If you have an interest in personal development then you have probably hit a point sometime in your past where you said “Enough of this! Something has to change”. Or you felt like you hit rock bottom. Now that isn’t fun. But as Ali says, it’s also there you can find that extra motivation and power to push through.

If you were unhealthy and overweight you feel like you never want to go back to that again. If you didn’t get anything done, procrastinated all day and felt like crap you don’t want to go back to that. If you were buried in a mountain of debt you never want to go back to that place or headspace again.

When you have had enough you will find a way to change your life. And I’m not saying that you should be driven by a fear to never return back to where you were. But to simply remind yourself of how it where back then when things get tough. And realize that yes, it may be hard right now. But it is temporary. And it’s definitely better than it used to be.

Your worst times may not be fun at all when they are happening. But later on they can  be some of the most helpful and powerful experiences of your life.

How to Be a Good Conversationalist

Do you possess all the traits of a good communicator? Even if you do not, that doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to. Are there areas you know you could work on? Could you be better at telling stories? Are you slow to reveal information about yourself? Are you hesitant to offer opinions?

Studying great communicators reveals a lot of commonalities. Conversations are driven by two main forces – you need to do something, or you want to share information. Shy people tend to view conversation as a means to accomplish something and thereby keep it at a more serious / literal level. Good conversationalists enjoy the act of conversing itself – of sharing information, of small talk and deep talk, of telling funny stories, of learning about each other. Good conversationalists, first and foremost, can quickly express their opinions, interests, hobbies, likes/dislikes, favorite things, and memorable stories. If you can’t do that, you may have work to do.

Be Playful

This is the most common trait of likeable conversationalists – they sometimes play with the conversation. They do not take everything literally. Let’s say that you’re at a restaurant with a friend. You get up to use the restroom, and your friend asks you, “Where are you going?”

What would you say? The literal response is always, “to the restroom.”

But the playful response could be said with a smile, “it’s a secret…” or a sarcastic “I’m leaving, I’m sick of your attitude” or “you’re so demanding” or “who wants to know?” or “I’m gonna go find someone more interesting to talk to.” You get the idea. Play more – don’t take conversation so literally.

One way to play more is by injecting hypothetical situations and scenarios into your conversation. For example, “If she does ____, that would be hilarious.”

Let’s look at a very normal response: “It’s a good thing he didn’t…”

Now let’s add a hypothetical situation to it, “It’s a good thing he didn’t… because who knows, he could have been fired!” or “…he could have been arrested!” or “…he could have been captured by pirates!” You get the idea.

Here’s one more example: A friend visits your house and sits on your couch. Before you know it, your cat, Felix, jumps up and starts rubbing against your friend’s head. You may say, “Felix is very friendly…” But you could make your phrase much more interesting by adding, “…he’ll be making out with you next time!”

Be Modest and Positive

Good conversationalists are always humble and have a positive outlook.

They may qualify phrases with modest setups like, “I don’t know a lot, but I do know that she…”

When they respond to someone, they look for the positive parts. Rather than saying, “That sucks…” they say, “Well at least you didn’t have to ____ .”

Share Interesting Information

Good conversationalists bring new information to the table. And not necessarily theories on nuclear physics – but information that is fun and relevant to the audience. They choose information that their audience would probably enjoy.

If they introduce new knowledge, they do not come off as arrogant. For example, they may say, “…did you hear about the new ____ that just came out? I’m pretty sure it will change ____…”

Make references to pop culture, “Jake totally reminds me of ____ from that ____ show.”

They are quick to offer fun and light hearted opinions on trivial subjects, “If I had to eat the peppermint fudge deluxe ice cream every day, I’d be a happy man.” By keeping it light and fun, everyone can enjoy it. They are careful not to bring up heavy subject matter like religion or politics.

Reveal tidbits of interesting information about yourself and your likes/dislikes. “My favorite lunch spot is definitely ____…” They disclose information in small chunks instead of dominating the conversation about their own interests.

Likeable conversationalists are also terrific at bringing up shared past experiences and stories. For example, “Whatever happened to ____? Is she still teaching ___?” or “That reminds me of the time that Bill did…”

Be Interested in Them

As the great Dale Carnegie once said, the best way to be likeable is to be interested in the other person. Ask good questions – go beyond, “what do you like to do?” Ask follow up questions, ask questions about specific details they bring up, like, “So tell me about how you found the…?”

Initiate conversation and bring up topics that they are interested in. Seek out commonalities. For example, “This coffee is wonderful, don’t you think?” and “I love ___ too! That’s so funny…”

And when they do share information, make sure you pay attention and listen. Reflect, paraphrase, and prove that you were paying attention. For example, “Yeah…I can only imagine how horrible that would feel…”

Don’t Forget Your Non-Verbal Communication

Psychologists have consistently discovered that people are the most drawn to those who have energy in their voice and mannerisms. It’s important not to forget that how you express yourself is often just as important as what you say. Here are a few tips to better non-verbal communication:

Vary your energy and inflection. Stay away from a flat, monotone voice. When you speak, vary the energy you put into each word or phrase. Try to emphasize the important words. Vary your volume; speak slightly louder for important phrases.

Control your speed. Great conversationalists can change their speed at will. Is it important? Then try saying it more slowly.

Speak in chunks. Great conversationalists speak in chunks. They pause between phrases and don’t quickly string phrases together. This prevents mumbling and misunderstandings and helps keep your words clear and lucid. It also helps you the speaker focus more on each phrase.

Use gestures. Gestures help paint pictures and give your audience something else to look at to keep them interested. Study a talk show host for some good ideas – they constantly gesture when they’re delivering a monologue.

Remember, try to find what works best for your personality!

7 Ways to Inspire Yourself

1. Be decisive. Decide.  Make a decision and “go.”  If you waffle back and forth on things, or can’t make up your mind, you spend a lot of energy in analysis paralysis.  Instead, decide on something you want, and test it.  Take action and test your results.  The act of making a decision and taking action will build momentum, and fuel your fire and fan your flames.  Rather than trying to figure everything out up front, start taking action, test your path, and learn and adapt along the way.

2. Act like you mean it. Maybe you want to get in great shape, but are you acting like you mean it?  How many hours are you putting in each week?  What routines are you trying?  Maybe you want to be a rockstar at work.  Who are your mentors and models?  What bold actions are you taking that walk the talk?  If you act like you mean it, you’ll make better choices, show more confidence, and build energy that helps you spiral up.

3. Draw from inspirational words of wisdom. Quotes are your friend.  Whenever you need to summon your inner-strength, it helps if you have little one-liner reminders that keep you going.  One of my favorites is by Winston Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

4. Stand on the “shoulders of giants.” Find some role models and heroes to use to lift your spirits and paint a canvas of possibility.  Just having some examples under your belt can inspire you to new levels.  For example, for me, I always look to the amazing physical and philosophical accomplishments of Bruce Lee.  Chances are, no matter what problem or challenge you’re up against, somebody’s been there and done that.  If not exactly, then at least you can draw from similar experiences.

5. Play the favorite scenes in your mind. We all have favorite scenes from movies over the years.  It’s those scenes of triumph, or courage, or an incredible move that inspires us.  Have these at your mental fingertips and draw from them.  Continue to fill and expand your collection by paying attention to the scenes that move you.  You can also draw from scenes in real life.  We all have our shining moments.  Keep those close, and think of them as flash cards to whip out when you need it most.  Simply see the scene in your mind, remember the feeling, and use that to fire you up.

6. Shift to the future. Dwelling on the past is a quick way to bring yourself down.  To lift yourself up, switch to the future and envision the possibilities.  See what’s possible.  This is where hope springs from.  By having a compelling vision, you have something to shoot for.  Now instead of having to “push” yourself to something, you will literally be “pulled” by it.  Like a magnet.  The more compelling the vision, the stronger the “pull” will be.  A few simple ways to shift to the future are … “How can I solve this?” … or “What would good look like?” … or “What’s the end in mind?”  Questions are a powerful way to shift gears.

7. Connect to your values. You can connect everything you do to your values.  This is a powerful way to inspire yourself with skill.  For example, let’s say you value “continuous learning” or “growth”.  Whenever you take on a task, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” or “How can I improve this?”  Simply by connecting to your values, you tap into your inner source of power.  Your values fuel you and get you jazzed.  For example, one of my values is, “adventure”, so at work, I turn every project into an “epic adventure” and make it about the journey.  There’s always a big villain or challenge to conquer, and an epic win to shoot for.  And plenty of “growth” along the way.

Epictetus Top 7 Timeless Pearls of Wisdom

Here are seven excellent pearls of wisdom from Epictetus.

If you are going your own way, prepare for reactions.

“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

Besides being a funny quote I believe it is very relevant to self-improvement.

If you start changing then people may react in different ways. Some may be happy for you. Some may be indifferent. Some may be puzzled or react in negative and discouraging ways.

Much of these reactions are probably not so much about you but about the person who said it and his/her life. How they feel about themselves is shining through in the words they use and judgements they make.

And that’s OK. Most likely they won’t react as negatively as you may imagine. Or they will probably at least go back to focusing on their own challenges pretty soon.


You choose to be insulted.

“It is not he who reviles or strikes you who insults you, but your opinion that these things are insulting.”

What you feel and how you react to something is always up to you. There may be a “normal” or a common to react to different things. But that mostly just all it is. You can choose your own thoughts, reactions and emotions to pretty much everything. You don’t have to freak out, overreact of even react in a negative way. Perhaps not every time or instantly. Sometimes a knee-jerk reaction just goes off. Or an old thought habit kicks in.

But as you realize that no-one outside of yourself can actually control how you feel you can start to incorporate this thinking into your daily life and develop it as a thought habit. A habit that you can grow stronger and stronger over time. Doing this makes life a whole lot easier and more pleasurable.

Forget about what you think you know.

“It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows.”

If you think that you already know something then your mind will not be open to actually learning it. Whatever someone is telling you your mind will sort through based on what you think you know. You’ll only hear and learn what you what you want to hear and learn.

So whenever you want to learn anything it may be a good tip to disregard as much as possible of what you think you know. In my experience this makes it easier to pick things up and not disregard important stuff.

Of course, the ego often wants to jump in to meddle and strengthen itself by making you think that you already know whatever you’re about to learn. Be careful in trusting that somewhat arrogant inner voice.


“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

This is a useful piece of advice in just about any interaction. It’s useful when learning something new. And it’s helpful just while in a regular conversation. It’s not always easy to stick to it though. Sometimes you get too excited about something to keep quiet. Sometimes you just want to brag or recount what happened. Having the attention of all the other people feels good. So how do you get around this habit of hogging the spotlight?

One useful way is to just forget about yourself. Focus your attention outward instead of inward in a conversation. Place the mental focus on the person you are talking and listening to instead of yourself. Placing the focus outside of yourself makes you less self-centred and your need to hog the spotlight decreases.

If you start to actually listen to what people are saying it also becomes easier to find potential paths in the conversation. By asking open-ended questions – the ones that will give you more than a yes or no answer – you can explore these paths and have better and more fun conversations.

Appreciate what you have.

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”

One good way to live a miserable life is to constantly focus on what you don’t have. If you appreciate what you have you’ll find everyday life more pleasurable. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t focus on what you want.

To me it’s more about focusing on what you want and not keeping your focus in a more popular place: on what you lack. This will make it easier to get what you want since you always seem to notice and receive more of whatever you focus you mind upon.

Notice what is reflected.

“When you are offended at any man’s fault, turn to yourself and study your own failings. Then you will forget your anger.”

I really like this one because I’ve become more and more interested in how we relate to each other. Like how what someone says about you may not be much of a reflection of you but of the person that said it. This is a good thing to remember whenever someone is saying something negative about you. It’s also useful to remember whenever you feel negatively about someone else. It can not only help you forget about your negative emotion. It can also help you to learn more about yourself, what you fear and how you may be fooling yourself.

Suffering is optional. And so is happiness.

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”

“I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment?”

“It is not death or pain that is to be dreaded, but the fear of pain or death.”

Suffering is optional. And so is happiness. What you choose to think about determines how you feel. Now, again, it may be “normal” and common to go through a lot of mindmade suffering after the initial pain that ignited the suffering. And it’s easy to slip back into old thoroughly ingrained thought habits.

One tip that I have found helpful for this is to learn to reconnect as much as possible with the present moment (you can do that by for example just focusing on your breathing for a minute or two). Suffering is to a large extent created when your mind is thinking thoughts about either the past or a possible future.

It is also very useful to realize that you are not your thoughts or emotions. They are just things that are flowing through you. But they are not you. You are the one observing them. This realization can gradually free you more and more from keeping negative thought and emotions going. Whenever they arise and you realize that you aren’t them, that you don’t have to identify with them their power over you fades and vanishes quicker than if you had identified with them completely.