Get back in your comfort zone!

A cup of coffee or hot chocolate and female feet with socks on a white sheets.

I’ve had a Bodyline week, except with none of Bradman’s finesse: challenges and opportunities have been hurtling towards me at 150kph and all I’ve been able to do is swing wildly at them, hoping they didn’t conk me on the head. But still: I swung, all the while wondering what was happening to my comfort zone.

One of the things I have learned in my work with the iWAM and the LAB profile, which are psycholinguistic tools, is that yes, we invented language, but the kicker is that language also invents us. Either one of those things is, when you stop to think about it, remarkable; that both exist is mind-boggling.

Steven Pinker tells us that “language is not so much a creator or shaper of human nature, so much as a window onto human nature.” I’m not about to argue with Steven Pinker, but words have tremendous impact on us. We have a kind of symbiotic relationship with language. We inform it, and it informs us. Even the simplest words can affect us profoundly. They can even change us.

So back to my Bodyline week.

What does the term “comfort zone” mean to you? A quick experiment with Google tells us that most people want to get out of it:

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As does my stock photo provider when I type in “comfort zone” in the search bar:

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Nothing good, it seems, is to be found in our comfort zones.

Except that it is. You know it is, deep down. And this is the reason why, as soon as someone says, “I’ve gotta get out of my comfort zone!” they have just shot themselves in the foot. Their nonconscious (or subconscious, or unconscious if that’s more your bent) is going to make sure they stay put – or at least come back to that comfort zone eventually.

Our nonconscious intimately knows all the good stuff that’s in our comfort zone. Loved ones. Hobbies and interests. Places. Traditions. Mashed potato and gravy on Sundays. Stuff too good to leave behind.

So if you decide that you’re going to leave it behind, you’d better believe that a part of you is going to put up a fight.

And how do you fight your nonconscious? You don’t. You work with it, because ultimately, your nonconscious mind is 100% busy serving what it thinks is in your best interest. The key in getting it to work with your conscious self is in the language you use. If you need to make a change, to take a risk, to try new – possibly scary – things, instead of saying that you’ve gotta get out of your comfort zone, try saying something like this: “I’m going to expand my comfort zone!”

Expanding instead of exiting. Immediately you have exchanged language of exclusion and abandonment for language of inclusion, stability, and plenty. And if you don’t believe that such a small change can make a big difference, try saying both out loud. Which one feels better? Which one do you think you can actually, truly, work with?

Maybe there are things in your comfort zone that you could really do without. Should you talk about leaving your comfort zone then? Well, let me ask you this: if you had a really crappy boarder staying at your house, would you abandon your home? I mean really: is this your best or only choice? Unless you’re some sort of patsy, I say an eviction is well and truly in order, and instead propose something like, “I’m going to get smoking/procrastinating/dead end jobs out of my comfort zone”. Sorted. It’s your comfort zone, dammit, and there’s no reason why you should have anything there that makes you feel as though you should get away.

And that’s it. Subtle language changes, huge impact.

Next time you need to take a few swings at life, choose the words that work with you rather than against you. Then swing wide. There’s plenty of room.

 

 

Photo © NikiLitov via Depositphotos

The Lesson of the Supermarket Flowers

Rose

My lovely husband of five years came a little late to the party of bringing me flowers, but now does it wonderfully regularly. And then he brought me a bunch from the supermarket.

“They’re only from the supermarket…” he muttered apologetically, holding them out.

My reaction surprised him.

I did what I always do, and pounced, with much kissing and hugging.

Yes – flowers from the flower shop are lovely. All flowers are lovely. But let’s think about this bunch. It’s the end of a long, long day, and my husband is doing a supermarket run before coming home. The day that’s been is on his mind; he’s exhausted; he’s trying to remember whether it was one bottle of milk and two loaves of bread, or two bottles of milk and one loaf of bread; he’s negotiating a supermarket full of tired, hungry people doing the same thing; an Air Supply song is playing over the PA; and he suddenly thinks of me. That thought of me somehow manages to pierce through all the mental, emotional, and literal noise, and he chooses a bunch of flowers to bring home. To me. Me.

Hence the pouncing.

Grand gestures are just grand, but they aren’t what set us apart for the people around us, whether they are loved ones or clients. What sets us apart are these regular thoughtful actions, often made when it isn’t convenient and the time isn’t right, and when we’d be quite justified in just thinking of ourselves and the million things we’ve got going on. They are actions that pierce through the noise to tell us, “You are important.”

Here’s to making those gestures, and recognising them when they happen.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Persona stories

 

Typewriter with Story buttons, vintage

I’m big on voice. (I also have a big voice. Call it the Latin in me, call it lack of consideration, but despite one of my trainers and colleagues calling it “a caramel voice”, I actually had someone tell me off in a café for being too loud the other day. But I digress.)

You can study the components of writing, engagement, and branding until information is leaking out of your ears, but voice is what brings the whole shebang together. This is something I’ve been banging on about for the last twenty or so years. Why? Because it’s all been said and written. It’s only individual voices that differentiate it all. Voice is what makes you stand out; it’s what connects you to your market and audience.

There are many worthwhile ways to an engaging, individual voice, but if you are approaching it as a business or organisation, the one thing that will get you there the fastest is the persona. If you’re serious about engagement, you need a persona.

The persona (known to writerly types as The Little Old Lady in Peoria) is a fictional character created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic. A persona is an invaluable marketing tool because it puts a human face on what you’re trying to do, and because it helps you find your voice. When you address the persona directly rather than a nebulous “audience”, your words come to life. To give you an example, I once worked with an organisation whose online and offline content was, unlike their readers, formal, clunky, and circumlocutory – a real snoozefest that few bothered to read. Creating a set of personas (or personae, if you’re so inclined) that the staff writers kept in mind when they created their content completely transformed the voice of their communications. Suddenly: sweet, sweet engagement!

Now let me introduce you to another use of the persona: persona stories.

Building stories around your persona gives you profound engagement from your market and audience. This is because stories push us beyond theories and issues: if you can demonstrate the impact that your services or products can have on a person, those services and products become very real and worthy of consideration. Suddenly it’s not about what you have to offer, but about what your offerings actually mean. This is as powerful as engagement gets. (And in case you’re wondering, no, it doesn’t matter that the persona story is fictional; fiction delivers truth all the time.)

Creating persona stories might seem risky to you. What, you might ask yourself, if the story isn’t the precise story of your clients or customers? Or of the person reading it? Wouldn’t that specific detail alienate them?

The short answer is no.

The slightly longer answer is that as paradoxical as it might sound, the more personal the story, the more universal it is, and the clearer the voice telling it. This makes for ultimate engagement. Whether you’re writing popular fiction or marketing copy, it’s true that the more you try to make stories that are intentionally “universal”, and to appeal to everyone, the less they will mean to the market or audience, and the blander your voice will be. Once you’ve created your persona or personas, you have to take a leap of faith and trust that they can be the intermediary between you and your market or audience, just like they did here:

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I created these persona stories (plus another six, here) for Living and Learning, Inc. They began as a reference point for their marketing efforts, but then became an engagement tool for clients, stockholders, and the many organisations that Living and Learning liaises and works with. The stories communicate its purpose and mission concisely and eloquently, have a clear and individual voice, and simple as they are, have great power. Not because the people at Living and Learning lack communication skills, eloquence, and voice – quite the opposite – but because quite simply, that is the power of stories. We humans may tell them and create them, but still… they transcend us. Even at their most basic, they are the best part of our communication, and succeed where other forms of communication fail.

So don’t just create your personas. Write their stories, and see your voice change into one that is individual and clear. Use them as a reference, or send them out into the world, where they will influence real people to come to you.

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If you haven’t created your persona/s yet, go over to my mates at the Content Marketing Institute and they’ll see you right. And if you’re interested in voice or persona workshops for your business or organisation, get in touch.

Photo credit: © leszekglasner at Depositphotos