We are nothing special. And that’s great

We all have our own experiences, world views, principles, priorities, dislikes, and moral ideas. Each of us has unique talents, loves different things, and likes or dislikes doing something. Sometimes we do it better, sometimes worse.

This complexity can make us feel unique and special, which may cause some to feel good or bad. Perhaps it makes us feel especially valuable or even elevated to others. But maybe we also feel like we don’t belong anywhere, precisely because we are so different. We feel like outsiders who don’t fit the norm, which can be agonizing.

But the more we open up and the more people we get to know, the more we realize that we are not alone with our idiosyncrasies. We learn that there is no reason to feel shame or haughtiness about being the person we are.

We understand that the world and life are full of connections. People with the same interests do not find each other by chance. They are attracted to each other. They read the same books, attend the same events, comment on the same YouTube videos, and follow each other on social networks.

Perhaps this realization helps us accept who we are and find the courage to put this into the world so we can learn from each other and meet like-minded people.

Writing about the same topic a thousand times is okay

When I start to write about a topic, I sometimes think, “I’ve written about this before, haven’t I?” But that doesn’t stop me from writing about it again.

I know that today I will use different words. Maybe I’ll use another example this time because I’ve had a new experience in the meantime. I may even contradict my previous thoughts. That’s perfectly fine.

With each day and each event, we learn. We see things today in a new light than we did yesterday and tomorrow. This certainty makes it easy for me just to write away.

About the future of creativity

So many great thinkers write and talk about creativity and their experiences in finding ideas and solutions. Remarkably, there seem to be methods, incentives, exercises, and guides for creative thinking. There are common denominators for such a complex and, at first glance, intangible topic. One example is the so-called Osborn Checklist.

If there is a pattern behind creative thinking, it means that it can be analyzed, categorized, and measured. And we know from our own lives, for example, on social platforms, that systems can be automated (keyword algorithms).

Therefore, we should not be surprised if the development of advertising campaigns, illustrations, logos, movies, or even election campaigns will eventually be taken over by artificial intelligence.

4 Steps to develop a new habit

When I started to work as a freelance illustrator, I was forced to develop new habits in my life more than ever. There was no longer a boss telling me how and when to work. All the critical decisions were up to me from now on.

How do I find my illustration style? How and where to present my work. How do I get the attention of potential clients? How to use social networks? The list was endless, and I didn’t even consider time for family, friends, and sports.

I knew that I needed a plan. And to fulfill it, I had to create new habits. Drawing alone would not be enough. I had to get into the habit of taking small but consistent steps. Every day I worked on my style, I informed myself about the benefits of social networks and marketing methods for illustrators. I set fixed times for sports, which is essential because you move even less in your own home than when you work in a company.

Over time, I’ve noticed four methods for myself that help me develop new habits:

  1. Baby steps:
    Let’s do a little bit every day. Our motivation for the next day fades as soon as we overload ourselves. Let’s say we want to read more. We can set a limit like five pages, ten minutes, or half an hour each day. How much we want to spend is up to us. It should only be realistic and not overambitious. In a few weeks, we will have internalized the habit of reading like brushing our teeth.
  2. Track our new habits:
    A simple calendar helps. As soon as we read, we make a checkmark for the day. The best thing is that the chain of checkmarks eventually motivates us over time. We don’t want to break it.
  3. Backup plan for super-busy days:
    Some days are just different than others: deadlines, personal commitments, or dark days when we can’t get our minds up. No problem. We have already made a plan for that. In those days, we don’t read for x minutes. We read one paragraph only. It takes a few seconds, and that’s perfectly fine. We make our checkmark here, too.
  4. Having mercy on ourselves:
    If the chain breaks, it’s not the end of the world. If it happens, it does not mean we have failed—quite the opposite. If we get upset or feel bad about it, we take it as a sign that we care. Let’s keep going tomorrow.

A simple hack to do more of what you love

Let’s make the tools we need more accessible. Do we want to draw or write more? Let’s put a sketch or notebook in our back pocket. Do we want to jog more? Let’s put our running shoes by the front door. Do we want to read more? Let’s put it on our nightstand.

If we have to search for the tools first, we’ll quickly lose motivation. The trick is to keep our future self away from as much resistance as possible. Going home after work to pack the gym bag requires a lot of self-discipline and motivation. After all, the couch and the remote are already in sight. However, if we prepare the bag already in the morning and put it in the trunk, the way to the gym will already be easier later.

2 methods to develop good habits and achieve goals (2/2)

No. 2 – The introverted method:

The last post was about the extroverted method. Now it’s about sorting out most of our plans with ourselves first. Here, especially in the beginning, we don’t discuss it with anyone. At this stage, my grandma used to say, “It’s not yet ripe to speak about,” while my grandpa used to say, “Never say I will, always say I did.”

The advantages of this method:

THE SECRET – Our dreams are the most precious thing we carry inside us. But they are so fragile. People, circumstances, words, and ourselves can easily shatter them. Therefore, we must protect them from ourselves and from others. By not talking about it, we create our secret and put it in a save. We do not allow people to judge or decide our goals, influence us, or dissuade us. The temptation to talk about it is enormous. After all, we think about it all the time. But the more we resist the urge, the firmer and stronger our will to achieve the goal develops. We become aware that other people, be it our loving parents or best friend, cannot make the decisions and take the path for us. So who benefits from talking about it?

AVOIDING TOXIC PRESSURE – When we work on our goals, we already put a lot of pressure on ourselves and have expectations of ourselves. We are our worst critics and work daily to develop better habits. The fight against our self-doubt and inner resistance requires much effort from us. We quickly feel alone in the process. But if you look at it closely, that’s where the power lies. We learn a lot about ourselves, how we work, think, and decide best to get closer to our goal. Since we don’t talk about it, we eliminate any outside pressure. We don’t have to prove anything or be accountable to anyone. Only ourselves. And that is by far enough.

The downside:

A SOLID BUT LONG ROAD TO GO: as mentioned in the last post, people can support and encourage us along the way. They can give helpful advice and introduce us to people who can get us to our goal faster. If we don’t talk about our plan, we will have to learn only from our own mistakes. This will strengthen us internally. But there is nothing reprehensible about learning from the mistakes of others and embracing help. For that, however, we would have to tell them first.

I have somewhat exaggerated both methods, and there is not only one or the other way. As always in life, the dose makes the poison. The more we try and observe ourselves, the quicker we find out which method is more appropriate for our personality.

Personally, I have found that the introverted method suits me. Looking back, this has always been the case. The most significant decisions in my life I first negotiated with myself, i.e., the decisions to study design, travel abroad for several months, and to become self-employed. Only when the determination in me has grown enough, do I find the courage to share it with others.

How is it with you? Where do you see yourself? Feel free to let me know via email.

2 methods to develop good habits and achieve goals (1/2)

No. 1 – The extroverted method:

We tell everyone about our plans. Do we want to quit smoking, write our screenplay, or exercise more? Let’s share our ambitions with family, friends, and people around us. 

The advantages of this method:

THE PROMISE – We consciously create external pressure and a constant reminder of our intention. “Are you still smoking?” “What about your movie? “Have you lost any weight yet?”. We have not only made a promise to ourselves to achieve our dreams. By telling others about it, we’ve also made a promise to them, or at least a statement that we don’t want to break. 

THE TIME AND MOTIVATION BOOST – People with the same interests attract each other. We connect with whom share a common passion, ambition, and dreams by talking about them. These encounters can help our project move forward by receiving feedback and advice. We may even be introduced to more people willing to believe in us, support us or invest in us. Unexpected opportunities can arise if we just share our vision. Each encounter can be a valuable piece of the puzzle or a shortcut to our dream path.

The downside:

BECOMING A PAIN IN THE A… – We will find people interested in us and in our dream sooner or later. But most people will have no interest in it. They will not relate to it at all, and our passionate fire will not touch them. If we constantly talk about our goals with friends and relatives, it may cause them to be annoyed with us. In the worst case, they will not look forward to meeting us. To avoid this, we should read the signals of the person we are talking to.

BECOMING A WINDBAG – Everything around us is constantly changing. That also applies to our dreams and plans. In the beginning, we may have found them exciting or even for weeks and months. But suddenly, we stop. We lost interest in them. The fire we felt was a flash in the pan instead of a torch in the dark. If that happens once or twice and we actually have a concrete result the third time, that’s fine. But if we constantly over-promise and under-deliver, we become nothing but chatterboxes. Not just on the outside. Much more threatening is that we might get used to it on the inside instead of changing our attitude that leads us to the goal. 

In such cases, we might want to try the second method: The introvert method, which I will write about later.

Every dream job is packed with little nightmares

We usually refer to earning a living doing what we love most as a dream job. Waking up every day and can’t wait to get started is what we all want. But let’s not delude ourselves. No dream job comes without nightmares.

The dream of owning your own restaurant means taking a loan, seeing your family rarely, dealing with the health department, looking for capable employees, etc.

Being a film producer means being responsible for dozens of people. It means keeping a cool head when the lead actor gets sick on the day of the shoot, the requisites don’t arrive in time for the shoot, or the director doesn’t act on the schedule.

Being an illustrator means years of practicing, experimenting, working alone, enduring frustration over one’s own inadequate skills, acquiring clients, and tough price negotiations.

Even ultimate dreams of being, i.e., a professional soccer player, means that other people make decisions about them. A professional soccer player must be ready to pack his bags at any time, separate his children from his new friends, and move to another city, another country, or even a foreign continent. A professional must be aware that a severe injury can mean the end of his career and a financial downgrade.

When we decide to go for our dream job, it is essential to know that, deep dark days with stomach aches and headaches are inevitable. We are prepared for this, so we don’t turn back when facing the first headwind. We must be honest with ourselves. Are we willing to put up with the downsides of our dream job? If love and passion are such that we can answer yes to this question, then there is no stopping us. If the answer is no, great. We were honest and can now leave this illusion behind and continue our search for our calling.

Freelancers: When the phone rings, let’s pick up!

What sounds so simple and obvious is actually not so easy for everyone. When we talk eye to eye with someone, we have so many possibilities to communicate our concern or present ourselves. Mimics, clothing, body language, voice. Even our fragrance sends signals.

On phone calls, our ways of expression are limited. All tools are omitted, except for our voice. To underline our interest in the conversation and convey our concerns clearly and unmistakably, only our words and how we express them remain.

This can be challenging, especially when we go through briefings with business clients, share feedback, or negotiate prices. As freelancers, it can be intimidating, especially in the beginning, even though we’ve waited so long for that first client call.

In the worst cases, we would procrastinate until the ringing stops. But we don’t let that happen at all. It wouldn’t be fair to ourselves. We’ve worked too hard to be found, and now we’re letting it slip away just because our heart is pounding faster? No way. Instead, we keep reminding ourselves that the phone is usually only ringing because someone is interested in us and our work.

To all of you who relate to this, let’s make a promise here and now: If the phone rings, we’ll pick it up. That’s our decision today, so we don’t have to worry about it tomorrow when the phone rings. Who knows what creative adventure awaits us on the other side of the line.

Writing for ourselves. Blogging in the hope of helping others

Daily writing, whether about our activities, our jobs, our lessons learned, our experiences, our setbacks, our successes, or just how our day has been, is first and foremost for ourselves. For some, writing down thoughts and feelings can be an outlet or a way to express themselves creatively. For others, it helps create order and structure in their minds.

The moment we share this with the world, we have no expectations. We don’t wait for likes, comments, and feedback. We have already received the reward of the written words while writing. Now we can only hope that other people can benefit from it as well. We can’t do more, and we can’t expect more.

Sketching is visual access to your brain and emotions

Sketching and visual note-taking of ideas and emotions are visual blueprints of our thoughts. It is not the quality of the sketches that matters. It’s the quality of the content. No masterpiece can save a bad idea. On the other hand, a good idea can stand on a napkin with stick figures and simple shapes.

Capturing it pictorially forces us to organize our thoughts beforehand and target the topic’s core. When writing, we can quickly get lost in complex and incomprehensible sentences. When visualizing, our mind works in a more compressed way. The best thing about it is that we can share them immediately with others and thus achieve results more quickly.

Developing new 2-in-1 habits is possible

When we are developing a new habit and incorporating it into our daily lives, we can try to link it to another new habit.

An example: When reading books, I mark text passages that particularly interest me with a highlighter. I have marked many exciting sentences in many books, but I don’t pick them up again, or only rarely. Therefore, I have made it a habit to open one of the books daily and record 1-3 sentences or text passages in the Evernote app.

That’s the primary habit. Within that, I have implemented another new habit. Even though I was typing on my grandpa’s analog typewriter on a keyboard by the time I was 12, my typing speed slowly increased. To this day, I type with a maximum of three fingers and have to constantly look at the keyboard.

I wanted to change this for so long but never found the time. Now that I have internalized the first habit, I have started to type the book passages with 10 fingers and without looking at the keyboard. In doing so, I’ve built two new habits in one.

We can apply the same to a wide variety of areas. If we’ve started jogging for an hour every morning, we can turn on that audiobook or podcast we’ve been meaning to listen to for so long. If we’re learning a new language, we can draw the vocabulary instead of writing it down to improve our drawing skills. Discovering the possibilities may take a little time. But they are there.

Let’s work the way Lionel Messi plays football

Playing soccer has always been my hobby and passion. I used to play in local football clubs three to four times a week. Most of the time as a goalkeeper.

As a teenager, I played as a striker in football clubs. I thought that was a suitable position for me. After all, I scored many goals on the small pitches in my neighborhood or in the indoor sports hall during school sports.

But in championship games, the pitch is larger. Here you don’t play 5 against 5, but 11 against 11. I was utterly overtaxed. Suddenly it was a completely different game. I didn’t know how to move right, I was blindly chasing the ball, and after a few minutes, my lungs and thighs were burning like hell.

On the big pitches, it’s not just about physical condition and skills. “Football is a game of the mind,” said Holland’s legend Johan Cruyff, and a game lasts at least 90 minutes. That’s why it’s essential to manage your energy, judge the timing for a full sprint, and let the ball run instead of the legs. A striker cannot afford to waste his energy carelessly. A striker lurks, then explodes at the decisive moment when a promising pass reaches him, or the opponent makes a mistake. Then he focuses all his energy, concentration, and talent on the objective: to score a goal.

I didn’t understand that at the time. Instead of using my energy effectively, I was constantly trying to be moving. I thought that if I didn’t, my coach would substitute for me. The problem was that I lacked strength and concentration in the few offensive situations. I was simply scoring hardly any goals.

In my working life, it helps to keep reminding myself of this. Being diligent or busy does not automatically mean being effective. I need to focus my energy. As an illustrator, I can’t afford to start a commissioned project immediately if all the necessary points and questions haven’t been clarified. I risk wasting my client’s and my own energy and time. It usually helps to hold off, review the situation, and go full throttle when the path is clear.

Let’s instead do it like seven-time record world footballer Lionel Messi. He’s already a living legend and scoring machine. According to sqaf.cluband besoccer.com, a striker runs, on average, 9.5 km in a game. On the other hand, Messi runs an average of 7.906 in Champions League games, making him the second least running player in the competition. If that’s not a role model for effectiveness …

Good advertising, evil advertising (1)

There is something hypocritical about the way we humans deal with advertising. One moment we’re complaining when the YouTube video is interrupted once again. At other times, we’re shivering the whole night in front of a store to get the latest smartphone, which, from a technical point of view, is barely more powerful than the cheaper competition.

If we despise advertising, it is because we are aware that we are not only distracted by it but influenced by it. Advertising triggers our most diverse emotions, which are supposed to animate us to take action. We feel manipulated, guided, glided. We don’t want to be treated like that.

But where is the line between “good” and “evil” advertising? Does it even exist? When I go to the supermarket to buy milk, I’m facing a shelf full of different milk cartons, all carrying the more or less same liquid: Whole milk with 3.5% fat.

But the packages, on the other hand, differ significantly. Some are lost in quantity. They seem to have been designed without much affection. The package shows a glass in which the milk is poured. Since the background is white overall, the milk appears grayish, almost like wet concrete. In addition, the information is kept too small, making it harder to read than the competition’s designs. An interchangeable logo makes the appearance even less attractive. Price 1.39€.

The situation is different with one of the competitor’s products. Again, the packaging says whole milk with 3.5% fat. But here, the info is concise and evident at first glance. The manufacturer’s coat of arms crowned adorns the azure packaging. In the background, radiantly bright milk also flows into a glass with illustrated cold drops of condensation. The packaging design makes you want to drink a fresh glass of milk while conveying a sense of tradition and quality. Price 1,69 €

We eat with our eyes first! Let’s assume that this sentence is true and that the milk in both packages is from the same cow. Have we been manipulated by the excellent design when we reach for the more expensive one? Were we tricked and cheated out of the 30 cents? Or did the manufacturers simply invest more time and money in a sophisticated presentation to offer the customer an exceptional drinking experience? Maybe the manufacturer sees milk as something holy. To him, it’s not just something we pour over our cereal every morning as a matter of course. He sees milk as an elixir. It’s Mother Nature’s gift to humans to survive and enjoy.

We do not know the reason for the additional effort. Maybe it’s about pure profit motive or the founder’s deep appreciation and love of food. But the fact is, we as consumers get more for the 30 cents extra cost. The decision as to whether this “more” justifies 30 cents is then entirely ours.