Perd Hapley is a Dimension-Traveling Alien

will-the-real-perd-hapley-please-stand-up-2-26474-1428472335-14_dblbigIf you’re like me, then you have a strong and abiding love for Parks & Recreation. I can admit that it is one of my favorite comedies in recent memory, due in large part to the brilliant casting and writing. And Ron Swanson, always Ron Swanson.

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However, I came to an interesting realization the other day: Perd Hapley is a dimension-travelling alien observer who is clearly the most powerful being in the shared TV universe. For eagle-eyed fans, you will notice that Jay Jackson, the actor who plays Perd, has a penchant for reading the news on your favorite TV show.

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What you never noticed though, his how closely he likes to stay to danger and intrigue. Much like the Observers from Fringe, I think that Jay Jackson has created a kind of shape-shifting constant character that is not unlike Stan Lee in every MCU movie.

Starting in 2007, Jackson has played a report or news anchor no less than 14 times, including:

Bones (TV Series)
Scandal (TV Series)
The Catch (TV Series)
Supergirl (TV Series)
Pretty Little Liars (TV Series)
Parks and Recreation (TV Series)
Revenge (TV Series)
Battleship (Movie)
Fred: The Show (TV Series)
Body of Proof (TV Series)
The Mentalist (TV Series)
Fast Five (Movie)
The Closer (TV Series)
Dexter (TV Series)

Now, perhaps you can say that he has been typecast as a reporter/news anchor or even that Jay Jackson likes playing these parts. However, I like to think that a casting agent, writer, producer, director, or even Jackson himself is purposely creating one of the greatest easter eggs in all of TV history.

So, the next time you are watching a TV show and they cut to a reporter in the field or an anchor delivering the news, don’t be surprised if it is Perd Hapley looking back at you.

On Strong Female Characters, Face-less Heroes, and Myriad Personalities

Sixth Prime

When I started writing Sixth Prime, I decided early on to do something very deliberate: I would make half the main characters women; I would make sure the personalities better reflected the myriad of the human experience; and I would describe characters without using skin color or any physical identifiers.

You might be wondering: what exactly is the point of that?

Women represent half the population

I would be remiss if I ignored the statistics right in front of me. More than half of the world’s population is female, so why wouldn’t I include a representative number of female characters? I’m talking about adventurers and villains, scientists and soldiers, and everything in between. The goal should be to tell the best possible story. I waited until I had outlined everything, and then randomly assigned characters as men and women (this includes romantic relationships as well, so buckle your seatbelts).

Personality guides behavior and decision-making.

I went to graduate school for psychology, and as such I’ve always had a fascination with why people do what they do. This, naturally, translated into thinking about how I could smuggle personality psychology into a narrative. The Prime saga, beginning with Sixth Prime, is an attempt to do just that. I wanted readers to feel like they were represented by one of the characters in such a way that the decisions and consequences felt more real to them.

The reader should decide how the characters look.  

I know it’s a long shot, but maybe (just maybe) the Prime Saga becomes a movie or limited series. I bring this up because nothing is worse than people arguing how characters should look or the kinds of actors or actresses who should play them. Really, even if an adaptation is not in order, I love the idea of people coming to their own conclusions about how a character should look based on their choices, personality, and behavior. I want the characters to be defined by how they make readers feel; I want a reader to be able to see themselves in the character and as the character.

 

Here is the working teaser:

2.3.5.7.11.13.

A war brews as a galaxy struggles to maintain a peace treaty signed in haste. The Commonwealth boasts sprawling cities built upon slums. The Sovereignty has placed the yoke of industry upon its citizens. Sixteen men and women are connected in a way they cannot yet understand. A murder of a prominent artist begins a chain of events that will ultimately determine the fate of the universe.

Only thirteen will remain.

In the end, there can be only one Prime.

Are you a Prime?

 

Interested yet? I sure hope so. If you are, then how about a brief excerpt? Check it out at: https://authordanobrien.com/2016/07/28/preview-of-sixth-prime/

Perhaps you want to grab the Kindle version for only $2.99? http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01ENLPOVG

 

 

Is impatience the real enemy of reaching your goals?

If you are like most writers, the excitement of writing a book can very nearly be everything you need to finish and publish, to reach your goal. In many ways, this is true of all goal-setting behavior. I was lamenting the other day that I really wanted to be done with Sixth Prime (seriously, click and give it a read) because I think it will resonate with readers. Even though there is still another draft to go before several rounds of edits, and then design, I wanted it now.

Why is that I wonder?

The impatience paradox. I talk a lot about starting goals and setting goals, but very little about completing a goal when you have stalled in the middle. I like to call this the impatience paradox. This is the overwhelming feeling that creeps in mid-goal, which is usually accompanied by fatigue with the process and a burning, irrational desire that people should already be supportive of the finished product (or goal). For writers, this is often the moment when you think this book could be “the one,” and you really just want everyone to be sharing and reading and writing and freaking out over it. As normal as that sounds (impatience happens to everyone in pursuit of a goal, especially if that goal is within reach), it can be a productivity and discipline killer. It can make you switch your focus or collapse beneath the weight of wanting it to be done. So what can you do?

Overcoming impatience. Don’t let impatience keep you from reaching your goals. In order to get past impatience, you need to recognize it for what it is: fear. More than likely, you are having anxiety about the outcome of your goal, or how achieving your goal will affect you. Once you publish that book, people will react to it. What if they hate it? What if they love it? What if it doesn’t sell? What if people want more? Regardless of how it makes you feel, you need to remember that you started down this path for a very good reason. You had a goal; don’t give up now.

Reaching your goals. So, how do you get back on track? Simple: remember why you started down this path in the first place. Return to both the long-term goal you set in the beginning and the smaller goals in support of it. Rebuild those behavior-reward dyads once more and trend toward discipline; make the goal more important than the smaller roadblocks you put in your way. Use the simple formula of pairing the behavior that needs to be completed (writing every day) in order to reach your goal (finishing your novel) with a reward you only get when you perform that behavior (writing every day, just in case you forgot).

Being able to embrace that you are impatient, and can still reach your goals, sets you up for success in the future. The real enemy is giving up.

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Why I’m A Coward

04fWe all have something that we really want in our lives. Perhaps it is a dream that we actively and purposefully ignore; maybe it is something just on the periphery of our awareness. In my opinion, either we are honest about what we really want or we allow ignorance of it to guide our actions.

For me, it is wanting to be a screenwriter.

I’ve found a way to work on my own terms and make money; I’ve created a universe where I can write novels and short stories, while working freelance, without having to show up to a traditional 9-5 job. Even so, if I’m being honest, I have failed to really pursue what I want to do.

It is right there, in the forefront of my mind, when I wake up every morning.

It is right there, within reach, in everything I do.

But I don’t go after it.

Why? Fear.

I’m afraid of what it will cost me to pursue it.

Or at least what I think it will cost me.

I make excuses about not wanting to move to LA or put my wife in the position of us not making enough money. I talk about wanting to be able to provide a standard of living as a means to not jump in with both feet. The reality is that it is achievable if I wanted it bad enough; if I wanted more than I wanted comfort, more than I wanted to succumb to fear and let it guide my behavior.

I’m a chicken-shit when it comes to the thing I will regret as I lay dying.

Sure, I’ve published a lot of books and I’ve manged a modicum of success. However, I talk about becoming successful enough with my books that Hollywood will take notice. If I were being truly fearless, I would doggedly pursue that dream, hustling and working toward it without regard for failure. I wouldn’t wait for my success and my dream to overlap. I would go out and get, leaving nothing on the table when I do.

I wanted to end this with something powerful like no more or  I will pursue it now that I have laid it bare. But really, I remain afraid of upsetting what I have. I will continue down the path of least resistance, holding the idea with me each day that my dream will remain beyond my reach as long as I don’t pursue it. I will continue to be honest about not pursuing it, but will likely remain afraid to go after it in some misguided notion of homeostasis.

I will live a great life with the woman I love, but I will always know that I was too scared to pursue the personal goal that, objectively, would not have upset my life, but more than likely given a rich texture to it I would have cherished.

I will continue to be a coward hiding behind a veil of simpler personal success accented by easy-to-attain personal goals that are easier to recover from if I fail.

I can do better.

You, dear reader, don’t have to be a coward like me.

Take chances. Chase your dreams.

The Psychological Advantage

Business-Psychology-Learning-how-to-Make-your-Products-Stand-out-to-Potential-CustomersAccording to Forbes, 39.2% of psychology majors coming right out of college had an offer for a job somewhere. Of course, the knowledge and skill base of your average graduate is pretty variable, but it does speak to the utility of a background in psychology. Most companies, at some point or another, fall into a trap of the latest psychological-metric trend guaranteed to increase growth and productivity, or lend a hand to HR in order to hire the right folks.

However, let’s talk about using psychology to your benefit.

Watson and Skinner, the pioneers of behaviorism, taught us a lot about human behavior and how to understand behavioral contingencies. It was Skinner, however, who gifted us operant conditioning and a quick path to behavior modification that could yield actionable goal-setting (and adherence) behavior.

Alright, let’s back up.

That was a lot of jargon coming at your fast.

Understand the behavior. So what is that you are trying to do? Be accurate and honest here. Are you trying to write more every day? Do you want more conversions from your marketing campaign? Do you want to be more productive and complete more things on your to-do list? Whatever the thing is that you want to do, define it, and describe it well.

Salient, powerful reward. This is really the tricky part for program adherence. When we think of rewarding ourselves, we generally land on something that we could do without, or something we have a lot of ways to get. What you want to do is choose something specific, salient, and powerful; and by that I mean something that you couldn’t go through the day without. How about an example? A good friend of mine really wanted to finish the novel he had been talking about for a decade. The problem was: he didn’t make the time; and he lacked the discipline to stick to a writing schedule. He asked me what he could do differently since I am a productivity and discipline junkie. I asked what he did every day; he shrugged. As we were sitting over coffee, I noticed that he checked his phone a few times. I asked him what had captured his attention. Apparently, he had become addicted to one of those app games where you built little towns and went to war with other players. He explained that if he didn’t check in often, his town and little digital population would be decimated. That was the a-ha moment: I had successfully found what he couldn’t live without. The solution was simple. He would have to write a certain amount of words in order to check on his digital world. Lo and behold, the strategy worked because the reward was very clear.

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Volume. Behavior change takes time; as such, you will have lots of opportunities to fail (which is the currency of success), but, more importantly, you will be able to repeat the behavior-reward dyad enough times to truly turn it into a habit. The actual amount of time it takes for this kind of habituation varies based on psychological makeup, the task, the reward, and a host of other things. Some estimates put it as low as 10 days and more conservative suggestions put it at closer to eight weeks. Either way, volume is your friend; when in doubt, keep working that behavioral contingency.

Make the behavior as easy as possible to guarantee program adherence. Human beings like to complicate things. We want difficult explanations to simple problems, because we can’t imagine that the answer shouldn’t be multi-faceted and complex. You might talk about looking for a simple solution, but what you really mean is you want an easy answer, which is not the same.

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Procrastinate Procrastination (Or How I Learned to Love Setting Goals)

Procrastination_(No_Wall_Uncovered_VII)There are countless articles spread across the vast universe that is the internet on how to eliminate procrastination; to put a finer point on it, all that has been said on the subject has been studied, collated, optioned, and opined about. We all know that procrastination is kryptonite for successful business practices (and not to mention writing goals). But what can we do about it?

I love talking about time management; no, seriously, that was not meant as joke. (Stop laughing.) Being productive means growth, and I am all about growing early and often. Here are some of my favorite methodologies:

Chunking. This method is often used to memorize numbers and names. If you wanted to remember a phone number, remember it as two numbers: 434 and 7133 (instead of 434-7133). For tasks in a given day, put a few different tasks together as a block and complete all of them together before taking a break or rewarding yourself with something salient or moving on. (More on behavior modification in a bit.)

Momentum and motivation. Motivating yourself can be difficult; often, people hide behind a lack of motivation when explaining away why they didn’t complete a project r finish that novel. The easiest way to overcome this is to give yourself some motivation: do something you really want after completing the task. Even better, once you get some momentum, knock out some more goals!

Location. Some places lend themselves to procrastinating more so than other places. Sitting in front of your TV binge-watching a show is not the best place to get some work done (or meet your writing goals). Relocate to a distraction-free zone (as best you can) and set yourself up for success.

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Establish rewards and consequences. Behavior modification remains one of the few tried and true methods for creating behavior change (like procrastinating less). For the purposes of simplicity, let’s say that it is building a contingent relationship with clear rewards and consequences. For instance, if you wanted to write a certain number of words a day, say 2000, then you would want to reward the action of writing 2000 words with something you can only get from completing the task; you don’t write the words, you don’t get your reward. Pretty simple, right? Building your day out of a series of contingent relationships like this can pay real dividends in terms of getting things done.

Create and adhere to deadlines. Setting deadlines has been proven to help people reach their goals. Knowing that there is a finish line helps you to think about your time in a meaningful way. Adhering to those deadlines, over time, makes you averse to procrastinating in the future.

Share your goals for increased accountability. Sometimes, letting other people know about what you need to do can create a network of accountability: people asking you throughout your day whether or not you finished what you intended can keep the task on the top of your mind. Fair warning: this can be very exhausting, especially if you are have difficulty adhering to your plan (or if you are easily upset).

Adapt your goals accordingly. In many ways, this might be the most important tool. Things change, and it is important to change with them. Too often, we just keep doing things the same way to reach the same goals with little real success. We become accustomed to doing something because we have always done it this way. If you want different results, think about doing things a different way.

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