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Interview with Steve Pavlina

Interview with Steve Pavlina
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If you like to read personal development blogs and articles, you must have read Steve Pavlina’s blog. His posts like How to Give Up Coffee and How to Become an Early Riser are definitely popular among the self-development blogs. He started his first business, Dexterity Software when he was 22 years old. Now he has moved on his career on writing about personal development. His life is very organized and I am interested what created a man like him. So I prepared a few interesting questions and organized a time to interview Steve.

Steve Pavlina Photo

    Lifehack.org: Would you tell me more about yourself? I read from your About page that you were in game publishing, and now you have moved to writing and speaking full-time on personal development. What makes the change of career?

    Steve Pavlina: I’ve had a long-time passion for personal growth which pre-dates my game publishing business. In fact, I started the games business in 1994 largely because I wanted a challenge.

    As I ran the games business, I began writing articles on game development topics. I wrote a couple dozen articles to help fellow game developers, and I also spoke at industry conferences. Over time these articles became more motivational in nature, and I soon learned that people who didn’t even work in the gaming industry were coming to my site to read them. In the long run, I found I enjoyed writing and speaking more than developing and publishing games, mainly because I saw that I was providing more value to others.

    I started the games business when I was 22 years old. At age 33 after publishing about two dozen games, I had accomplished much of what I had originally set out to do. Plus I had grown a lot and wanted to do something more meaningful than putting out entertainment products. At first I tried to stretch the business to grow along with me, but it was the wrong kind of medium for that and was holding me back. I realized the best thing would be to transition to a whole new career, one that would be based around my interest in personal growth and my increasing desire to contribute.

    I did a lot of self-assessment and planning to figure out what kind of career would suit me best. I didn’t want something that would be inflexible, since I was concerned I’d outgrow it too quickly. So I opted to build an information business based around writing and professional speaking on personal development. I felt this would be much harder for me to outgrow, since I could always adapt the topics as I grew older.

    Lifehacks: From the older articles on “Do it now” and “How to get more done in less time”, to the recent “Self-discipline” and “The meaning of life”, I must say you are pretty good at personal development. How do you get your material to write all those articles?

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    Steve: Presently I average at least 1-2 hours a day soaking up new ideas. This includes reading books, articles, and blogs (including lifehack.org); listening to audio programs; going to seminars and club meetings; and asking questions of people more knowledgeable than me.

    I estimate I’ve read about 600 books and listened to dozens of audio programs on some aspect of personal development.

    These sources give me plenty of ideas — every day I’m taking in far more ideas than I can possibly share with others.

    I have no interest in regurgitating ideas from these sources though because then I’m not producing any new value. So I focus on making new connections that other people haven’t already figured out (or at least I’m unaware that they have). This usually results in me going through many perspective shifts — I think about old ideas in new ways and find links between them that I never saw before. If I think the ideas have merit (usually meaning that they’ve worked for me), I turn them into articles or speeches to share with others.

    I keep flooding my brain with new ideas on a variety of different subjects because I’m constantly looking to form these new connections. I’m always asking questions such as: What’s the connection between self-discipline and motivation? What’s the relationship between selfishness and selflessness? What would an optimal time management system look like, given the way human beings actually behave under real-world conditions? Why is procrastinate such a difficult problem for people; are we perhaps looking at it the wrong way?

    Lifehacks: Like “The meaning of life” series, you are able to deliver heavy content article everyday with quality. Are there any quick writing skill tips you want to share to lifehack.org readers?

    Steve: I average about 3-5 new articles per week, but I definitely don’t write every day. I do have some tips to share though.

    1) Keep your ideas ahead of your writing. I maintain an ideas list for new blog entries on my PC. It currently has over 40 ideas listed, any of which could be developed into a new article. Whenever I come up with a new idea or receive a suggestion via email, I add it to this list. If the list ever drops below 20, I’d do a brainstorming session to bring it back up again. Having an abundance of ideas means that I’m never stuck trying to think of a topic.

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    2) Invite topic suggestions from readers. A few weeks ago, I made a “Suggest a Topic” post and received lots of suggestions for future topics. This also helped me see which topics were in the highest demand, so I could bump those to the top of my list. For example, I received many suggestions for an article about self-discipline, so I wrote a six-part series on that topic.

    3) Write articles in batches and set them to post throughout the week. I often write a week’s worth of articles on the weekend and then set them to be posted at various times throughout the week. This is easy to do with WordPress. This allows me to do my blogging in a single session each week while readers see a steady flow of new posts. It also allows me to capitalize on creative bursts while giving myself a break. So even though visitors might see a new post every day one week, it’s possible that I’ve taken six days off from blogging during that time.

    4) Write first, then edit. Writing a new article is like giving birth. Just get the thing out first, and worry about cleaning up the mess afterwards. I often write a very sloppy first draft just to capture all the ideas, then I set it aside for an hour or a day and make another editing pass. I find that writing and editing at the same time is very slow. When I write I want to get all the ideas out of my head. When I edit I improve the structure of those ideas and make them comprehensible.

    Lifehacks: Besides writing articles for your blog, what else are you doing during your normal day?

    Steve: I work at home, so on a typical day, I get up at 5:00am, get dressed, and exercise (normally running or weight training) for 30-45 minutes. Then I shower, connect with my wife, and have breakfast. At 6:30 I start my workday while my wife handles the kids and takes our daughter to preschool. I spend the morning writing (blog entries, articles, speeches, or my book), and then I check blog comments. At noon I have lunch and feed my son (who’s almost 2). Then I usually work on other projects in the afternoon, like improving the web site, marketing, reading, etc. My son is playing in my office during this time, so it’s harder to do creative work like writing. At 3:30pm I pick up my daughter from preschool (she’s in summer school now), and then from 3:45 until about 5-6pm, I handle my routine tasks like email, checking my stats, processing my inbox, filing, and planning my next day. Then my family and I have dinner together, and my wife and I spend time with the kids and put them to bed. In the evening I’ll read, go to Toastmasters meetings, spend time with my wife, play games, work on personal projects, or sometimes run errands. Yesterday was the 4th of July, so last night we all went to a nearby park with a great view of the Las Vegas Strip and watched the fireworks. I usually go to bed around 10-11pm.

    Lifehacks: Would you tell me more about the book you are writing? What sort of topics are you writing?

    Steve: The book is called Personal Development for Smart People. This is for people who seek a deep understanding of how they can grow and improve as human beings, not those seeking simplistic solutions to complex problems.

    Mainly the book is about how to take conscious control over the different parts of your life in order to improve your results across the board — better health, better relationships, a better career, etc. The chapters are organized conceptually, so each chapter dives deeply into a particular concept and then explains how to apply it to the various parts of your life. I include plenty of personal stories and examples.

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    For instance, there’s a whole chapter on courage. This is a subject that I feel has been terribly overlooked today, yet it’s essential for personal growth. This chapter explains why courage is so important and how you can build your courage. Fear holds people back far more than they realize, and courage is the antidote. But most people don’t even know it’s possible for them to become braver, nor do they have any idea of how to do so intelligently. What could greater courage do for your relationships, your career, your finances, your self-esteem?

    Other topics include perception, self-discipline, focus, motivation, emotions, action, and purpose. Again, these are all high-level concepts, so each chapter begins with something very abstract and drills down to the level of practical application and real-world results.

    Most personal development books I’ve read don’t take a conceptual approach. They typically use either a topical or a chronological structure. For example, you might see a book with chapters on health, relationships, career, money, etc. I opted not to write a book like that because I think it’s more important that people understand and master the high-level tools of personal development and learn how to apply them to different areas. I want people to understand why something works and understand the logic behind it, so they’ll have good reason to apply it. It also forces me to explain why I expect a certain approach to work from the top down.

    If you understand the concepts, you can take conscious control of your own personal growth. If I teach you a way to make more money, that’s not going to help you directly improve your health or your relationships or your spiritual growth. And someday that method of making money may become obsolete anyway, or it might not even work for you. But if I can show you a way to build your self-discipline, that can benefit you in every area of your life, and the benefits will be permanent.

    Lifehacks: In your recent article of “Six months of Goal-mongering”, you have categorized your accomplishments through Physical, Work/Career, Toastmasters/Speaking, Mental/Skill-Building, Social, Financial and Personal/Home. How are those aspects affecting your life? Which one would be the most critical aspect for your success in life? How do you manage all those different tasks together?

    Steve: I think all these areas are important. If I put any of them ahead of the others, my life would be out of balance. But since my primary value is growth, you’ll notice that the areas represent different aspects of my own growth, so that’s the guiding force behind them.

    I’ve written previously about how I manage these different goals. I maintain a Personal Accountability System to keep myself focused.

    And I also use a heavily modified version of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system to manage my goals, projects, and tasks as explained in this article – More on planning.

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    Lifehacks: What are your future plans on your home page?

    Steve: My short-term plans include adding more free content and releasing my book. Long-term I intend to add more books, audio content, and probably some video as well. I’m keeping my long-term plans flexible because as technologies like podcasting and RSS mature, unforeseen opportunities may arise, and I don’t want to be stuck with overly rigid goals. The main goal of the site will remain the same — to be a strong resource for those who want to take conscious control of their lives. But the precise media involved are likely to evolve considerably over the next several years.

    Lifehacks: Besides writing your book, do you have other projects coming up on your plate?

    Steve: Yes. My book is my primary project, but I have two large secondary projects. The first has been the most visible — building StevePavlina.com’s content and growing it’s traffic. The site is loaded with free content now, and traffic has increased 600% over the past six months, so that’s been going well.

    The other significant secondary project is launching myself into professional speaking. I’ve spent over a year just building my skill in this area. I’m also learning the business side of speaking to prepare myself for going pro.

    I’m keeping my project options open for after the book is done. If it sells well, I’m likely to develop an audio program based on the same material. But I’ll decide which primary project to tackle next after the book is released and I get feedback from the readers.

    Lifehacks: Thanks for your time, Steve. It is my pleasure to interview you. Looking forward to your book and more articles in your blog.

    Steve: Thank you, Leon. And keep up with the great work with Lifehack.org!

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    About Steve Pavlina
    Steve Pavlina’s Blog

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on July 20, 2021

    How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

    How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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    You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

    Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

    Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

    Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

    1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

    According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

    “Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

    Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

    Warming up

    If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

    If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

    Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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    1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
    2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
    3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

    Stay hydrated

    Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

    To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

    Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

    Meditate

    Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

    Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

    Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

    Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

    2. Focus on your goal

    One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

    Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

    Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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    Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

    If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

    3. Convert negativity to positivity

    There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

    ‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

    It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

    Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

    Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

    Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

    4. Understand your content

    Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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    However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

    “No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

    Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

    Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

    One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

    5. Practice makes perfect

    Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

    In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

    Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

    6. Be authentic

    There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

    Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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    Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

    To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

    With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

    Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

    7. Post speech evaluation

    Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

    Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

    We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

    You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

    Improve your next speech

    As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

    Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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    • How did I do?
    • Are there any areas for improvement?
    • Did I sound or look stressed?
    • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
    • Was I saying “um” too often?
    • How was the flow of the speech?

    Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

    If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

    Reference

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