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William Zinsser’s 3 Tips for Being Unique

William Zinsser’s 3 Tips for Being Unique


    According to scientists, we’re 99% the same, genetically.

    Yes, the same.

    Not similar, not close, not related. Exactly the same. And that’s actually a good thing.

    Here’s why:

    Imagine a world where we were all very different. What would it be like? Well …

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    Pharmaceutical companies would have to invent a different drug to cure the same disease for every person in the world. No one would read Stepcase Lifehack or any other personal development and productivity blog because useful tips about being successful for one person won’t work for someone else. Research institutes would collapse overnight. What would our children look like?

    You get the point.

    But take a look around you. What do you see? Do you see how similar we are or do you see our differences?

    We’ve been trained and wired to notice the 1% that makes us different and this is the same 1% that separates ordinary people from extraordinary people. Those who showcase their 1% are the ones who become great.

    Think of every remarkable person you know. Were they unique or just like the rest of us?

    Despite advantages to being similar, professional and personal success does not come from being generic. You have to be yourself.

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    Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to pick the brain of William Zinsser in the form of an in-person interview. For those who are not familiar with the name, William Zinsser is the author of the bestseller On Writing Well, the writer of an award-winning blog on American Scholar and a teacher that has inspired many to write for themselves. He was still teaching a memoir writing class up until last year in New York.

    Did I mention he’s currently 90 years old and also an accomplished jazz pianist?

    He has quite an extraordinary life and I did this interview for the Modeling Success Series on my blog. The focus of this series is to get into the heads of successful people and to learn their way of thinking, doing and feeling so that we can model it to become successful as well.

    We talked about many facets of success and one of the important takeaways for me was to be yourself and to enjoy it. We are all born unique. Unfortunately for most of us, formal education has conditioned us to hide the 1% that makes us unique and by the time we are out of school, working and starting our families, we are running on autopilot. We forgot where we put that 1%.

    Until now.

    Here are Mr. Zinsser’s three excellent tips for generating uniqueness — and ultimately — being unique:

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    Challenge Your Life

    What beliefs and assumptions do you have? Ask yourself if they are valid. Most of our beliefs came from our parents, our education and our friends and we’ve taken them on automatically. Many of the assumptions about life that served you well when you were younger might actually be holding you back from moving on to the next level in your life. You can choose what you believe. Start this by asking yourself “What If”.

    Be Proud of Who You Are

    We live our life pleasing others. That’s why we buy nice things or do things we really don’t want to do. We have placed the way we look at ourselves in the hands of others. This is both foolish and irrational. If you want to be unique, stop pleasing others and start doing the things that make you happy. Don’t be afraid to be a rebel. You need to believe in your own limitless possibility. Do something for yourself today. Don’t be afraid to have a sense of ego.

    Experience New Things

    Your life experiences sets you apart from everyone else. Even if you have an identical twin, your view of the world will be different because you have experienced different things. The more you broaden your horizons by doing things you’ve never done before, the more combinations you can create from your experiences. This directly leads to your uniqueness.

    Do you know anyone that is unique? What are they doing? Do they always do what is easy for them? Probably not. I can bet they are stretching beyond their comfort zone and doing interesting things.

    How are you stretching yourself? Do something different right now. Go to Pandora or YouTube and listen to a musician you’ve never heard of. The next time you choose a book to read, read a genre that you rarely read. Travel to different places and try different foods.

    You’ve read this far because you want to be unique and that’s great.

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    Just remember: Knowing what to do won’t get you there. Only action will. Take the advice of William Zinsser and do work that showcases your uniqueness.

    What are ways that you generate uniqueness?

    (Editor’s note: For more wisdom from William Zinsser, read the original article of the William Zinsser Interview which contains audio snippets of the actual interview.)

    (Photo credit: Sharpened Pencil Standing Out via Shutterstock)

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    Robert Chen

    Executive Coach

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    Last Updated on October 20, 2020

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

    We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

    The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

    Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

    1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

    Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

    For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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    • (1) Research
    • (2) Deciding the topic
    • (3) Creating the outline
    • (4) Drafting the content
    • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
    • (6) Revision
    • (7) etc.

    Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

    2. Change Your Environment

    Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

    One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

    3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

    Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

    Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

    My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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    Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

    If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

    Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

    I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

    5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

    I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

    Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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    As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

    6. Get a Buddy

    Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

    I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

    7. Tell Others About Your Goals

    This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

    For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

    8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

    What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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    9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

    If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

    Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

    10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

    Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

    Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

    11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

    At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

    Reality check:

    I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future. Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

    Bonus: Think Like a Rhino

    More Tips for Procrastinators to Start Taking Action

    Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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