Thank you! “Positivity is the Worst Response to a Problem”

Oh, it’s not that bad. You’re just too close to it, you can’t see the upside. Give it a day and you’ll see you were right all along. If you’ve heard things like that or if you’ve said things like that, it’s not helping. So says Fast Company writer Stephanie Vozza and she must be right because she’s saying what I think.

True, she’s saying it better than I am, but.

In math, multiplying a negative by a positive gives you a negative answer. Ever notice the same thing happens in life? When a coworker complains and you try to inject something positive, the outcome is usually more negativity.

“When we hear negativity, our instinct is to try and cheer up the other person,” says Peter Bregman, author of Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Stop Counter-Productive Habits and Get the Results You Want. “But often it’s the worst thing you can do.”

That’s because listening to negative conversations makes us uncomfortable, and saying something positive in response only serves as a way to make the listener feel better, not the person who is complaining. This reaction doesn’t help the person who is venting because the listener’s comments are perceived as being argumentative.

“You are basically disagreeing with the other person’s feelings,” says Bregman. “You’re saying that they’re wrong; things really aren’t that terrible. This just makes them entrench more deeply in their perspective.”

Why Positivity Is The Worst Response To A Problem – Stephanie Vozza, Fast Company (19 March 2015)

Read the full piece. Mind you, I’m intrigued by the book she refers to, the Four Seconds one. The cynic in me is thinking it might take more than four seconds to read the book, but.

Screens Are Bad

I think we knew this. What I really want is for someone to explain that monitors and phone screens are bad for us – and here’s the solution. Er, the solution that continues to allow us to do what we do and use what we use. In the meantime:

FOR MORE THAN 3 billion years, life on Earth was governed by the cyclical light of sun, moon and stars. Then along came electric light, turning night into day at the flick of a switch. Our bodies and brains may not have been ready.

A fast-growing body of research has linked artificial light exposure to disruptions in circadian rhythms, the light-triggered releases of hormones that regulate bodily function. Circadian disruption has in turn been linked to a host of health problems, from cancer to diabetes, obesity and depression. “Everything changed with electricity. Now we can have bright light in the middle of night. And that changes our circadian physiology almost immediately,” says Richard Stevens, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of Connecticut. “What we don’t know, and what so many people are interested in, are the effects of having that light chronically.”

Screens May Be Terrible for You, and Now We Know Why – Brandon Keim, Wired (18 March 2015)

Read the full piece – on your screen.

Not convinced: making Sundays better

Didn’t we just do this with Mondays? Now we’re attacking Sundays which, I grant you, are usually in a a bit of shadow because of the following Monday. And also they are nearly as boring as Bank Holidays. But there are ways to make them better:

Do Sunday on Saturday. [T]ake care of buzz-killing chores, errands, and commitments on Saturday, when you’re naturally in a better mood. This… leaves you open for ‘moments of unencumbered joy’ on Sunday when your psyche is in need of them most.

Become a forward thinker. [End] your workweek with a plan… Create a Monday-specific to-do list, line up necessary files, and tag e-mails that require attention.

How to Make Sundays Suck Less – Allison Stadd, 99U (5 March 2015)

Notice that citation is for 99U, not Real Simple. This is partly because I found it first on 99U but also because for once Real Simple is a sort-of real magazine: you go through it like someone has scanned each page of a print title. It’s good, it’s interesting, it’s just hard to link to a specific line of text.

So do go read the full 99U feature but then click through to Real Simple, would you?

The thirty-minute quick win

When I say go, I’m going to set a timer for thirty minutes and make a pitch. I don’t know what yet. But a friend has sent me a bundle of things that are so interesting, I want to do them all. And I’ve felt a bit blinded by which to pitch to first. Plus I’ve been a wee bit busy. So the result is that I’ve had the list for few days now and nothing is happening.

Let’s make something happen. Especially as today was a rubbish day. Got barely anything done and if I can whack out a pitch now, in front of you, I’ll feel better. I like feeling better.

So, here goes:

ME: Set a timer, thirty minutes
SIRI: Okay, your timer is set for thirty minutes. Remember, a watched iPhone never boils.

(It really said that.)


And… stop.

With 15 minutes and 28 seconds to go, I’m done. Read the pitch list, found one I fancied – it didn’t have to be the best, it just had to be there and be one I liked. No selection, or at least as little selection as I could manage. (There was one about poetry, for instance. Nice opportunity, lovely idea, completely outside my capabilities. So I moved on. But only a bit.)

Read the detail, did a swift email to them, gone.

And it worked, I feel better.

It’s so easy to break habits

Well, I could do with fixing my tea drinking habit. And my Pepsi Max addition. I could lighten up on the curries too, or at least if I stopped having so many I could perhaps lighten up.

But about six months ago I made a plan – and put it in OmniFocus – that every day I would post one article to this Blank Screen news site. Just one. After a while, it became a habit. And there was certainly never a shortage of material.

After a spell, that became frustrating: there was always more that I wanted to say.

So I worked out timings and figured out the average time per article – it’s ridiculously variable – and also reckoned that doing two together would take less time than doing one then coming back later for the next.

In my head I was about to change the repeating daily OmniFocus task to “Post three new articles” and I began typing exactly that. But somehow the word ‘three’ changed itself to ‘five’. A slip of the mind.

But I tried it. And for at least five months, I did five stories a day. It got so doing the five was a normal part of my day. Until the end of September.

Then various events I’ve been producing all year came along and last preparation, new marketing and new research followed by the performance, it clobbered me and I failed.

I failed to post at all one day.

I remember sitting by the bed, iPad in hand, not really able to focus my eyes let alone my head. It was probably a sensible decision to fall asleep, even if my body made that choice for me.


Having broken the chain once, that chain became china: it shattered at the break. It became very easy to not post at all.

Now, I don’t think you were waiting for me every day. But I was. And I’m jolted by how hard it was to break the pattern the first time yet how very, very easy it was to break it the second.

So I’m back. I promise myself and you that I’m back. But do please take a telling from my admitting to having been poor like this. You can do more than you expect with a habit and if you don’t break it, you feel great.

Be bad. A bit.

Seriously, this is not the point of a 99U article I read today and that I want to recommend to you. The article is really about being good all the time: specifically, don’t reward yourself with bad treats just because you’ve been good and productive this week.

But there is more to life than being steadily productive and good. And if bad is a dark chocolate Mars bar, you need to live a little more. What’s the point of being a writer if you don’t stray from the Boy Scout code?

Within limits, said William thinking of the legal ramifications of anything illegal you might now be considering.

That’s what I believe, as a writer with a chocolate problem. But take a look at 99U’s position – if not to agree with it, then at least to enjoy feeling bad.

Make it worse for yourself

There are jobs I don’t like doing.


That’s not actually true. There isn’t a single thing I’m working on that I don’t relish. That’s nice for me, isn’t it? But nonetheless, there are always elements of most jobs that I really just don’t enjoy doing. Things that I put off for one reason or another. You’re the same, I can see it in you, so let me suggest something to help.

Find a thing you hate even more.

If that’s hard for you, bugger. I mean, it’s good that you can’t find bad things, but it’s a bugger because I need you to. For me, for instance, I don’t like invoicing and I don’t enjoy cold-calling. (I’m not a salesman who relies on cold calls but so many successful pitches and projects have come from my just ringing up a firm that I am compelled to keep doing it. Compelled. But still, I don’t like it.)

So I try to rig my time such that my choice is between doing an invoice or making a call.

Invoicing wins.

More than that, invoicing becomes the lesser evil at first, then it’s a near-as-dammit a pleasure because it’s the thing that means I don’t have to do this horrible other thing. I start looking for more invoicing to do so that I can postpone phoning people.

You may think I’m stupid and I will not disagree with you. But at the start of this, I hated invoicing enough that I wasn’t doing it, I was at best postponing it for as long as I could. And now at the end I’m looking for invoicing to do.