The Power of Habit, or “Target Knows You’re Pregnant.”

The Power of Habit

Target is stalking you.

This is probably not a revelation for any one of us, since it’s a well-documented fact that women LOVE Target, though none of us can put a finger on exactly why. I think we all just assume that Target has gotten a PhD from Retail Manipulation School. The same school that tells Kroger to put the produce up front (if you buy veggies first, you’re more likely to buy ice cream and pizza later) and to the right (no one knows why, but people tend to turn right upon entering a store) is probably telling Target a thing or two as well. Something about lighting, color, shelf height, and signage. If anyone’s put any of that in a book, please let me know, as I find all of that terribly interesting. But wait…didn’t I say Target was stalking you?

 

If you’ve ever paid for anything at Target and used a credit card, Target knows you. Not just what you’ve purchased or where you live; they know if you’ve gotten divorced recently, what you do for a living, and possibly what you look like. There are business that find information about you online and then sell it to companies like Target, which is creepy, but a little unstoppable unless you want to spend your life obsessing about paying for everything with cash and never, ever using Facebook. Target knows if you’re pregnant, even if you haven’t told anyone or signed up for a baby registry. The fascinating, creepy, brilliant details of this are all laid out in Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit.

In one story, an angry father shows up at Target waving some ads that had been sent to his daughter that contained coupons for baby care items and nursery furniture. “What are you trying to say to my TEENAGE daughter?!” he asks. The Target manager apologizes profusely, but when Target calls the man a couple weeks later to check in and re-apologize, the angry father apologizes first. His daughter was due in August, she just hadn’t told anyone.

OK, so maybe that’s creepy and wrong and teenage girls shouldn’t be getting outed by coupons. But it’s also fascinating, no?

Usually, when I read nerdy psychology books like this (which I do…a lot), I leave you all out of it. My sister commented at Christmas that my GoodReads queue would make her want to shoot herself, and I don’t blame her. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea to be on the elliptical machine, reading about neuroplasticity and synapses while sweat drips down the side of your face. However, I wanted to point you all in the direction of The Power of Habit because I found it to be a really easy read while also being really fascinating on a “not too sciency, but also not too flippant” level. Duhigg is a slightly more well-researched version of Malcolm Gladwell, who can be a little too anecdotal for me. You can’t just put a theory in a book and present it as truth without actually testing it, and Gladwell tends to come a little too close to that.

Other topics presented in The Power of Habit include the story of how Febreze almost didn’t become a thing, why the Montgomery bus boycott worked, why making your bed might make you more productive at work, and how to form new habits or break old ones. It has case studies backed up with research, and a bit of advice on how to implement the ideas in your own life. And also the stuff about Target…though he still doesn’t explain why you go there for laundry detergent and end up spending $100. Where’s THAT book? I would totally read that book.

 

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Flow and The Eye

It is a Friday night and I’m on a treadmill at the local YMCA reading one of Martin Seligman’s books about positive psychology. As I crank the incline down to 13%, I hit the chapter about “flow.”

You know when you get really into some hobby that you’re doing and lose all track of time? That’s flow. It’s not physical pleasure (having sex or eating chocolate) and it’s not the kind of gratification that you get from doing charity work. It’s what happens when you’re doing something you’re good at, which makes you think, but which also makes you feel fulfilled. You’re not even thinking about being happy about what you’re doing…you’re just doing it. You’re so into what you’re doing that you forget to be happy about it.

This happens to me when I’m building a web page, playing the piano or doing a crossword puzzle. But when I read that chapter on Friday, it reminded me of a hobby recently rediscovered.

“It just makes you rethink the way you look at everything. The whole world is no longer just STUFF that is THERE. The world is a playground for light and shadow. You keep wanting to climb under or on top of things, just to see them from a different angle. It makes the whole world newer and more fascinating.”

Those are my words from last weekend, and I am trying to explain to Male Suitor why I was excited about a camera someone had sent me. I hadn’t used an SLR camera in about 5 years, so I am rusty. I need to relearn all of the camera techniques, but most of all I need to relearn how to see a shot when it’s right in front of me. My brain is so used to getting up, going to work and going to the gym that I forget to stop and LOOK at things. With an SLR camera back in my hands, all of the ability to see a picture in front of me is starting to come back. The mindfulness is slowly returning.

I probably suck pretty hard right now, and I don’t care. Photography was in me once. It wasn’t put there by years of schooling; it was just there. Once it was let out, my teacher starting badgering me to change my major. It must still be in there somewhere and all I have to do is dig it out from under all of the obligations and corporate key cards and bills and loads of laundry.

“The light is the whole point, and it’s like a liquid. It flows around the bones of your face, like right now when the shadow is pooling into your crows’ feet.”

I wished that I could take a picture of him standing there with the light hitting his crows’ feet. All I had were parentheses around my mouth from sleeping on my face. But he is camera shy.

“I like those crows’ feet on you. It makes you look like you’ve spent your life smiling.”
“Nice save,” he said, kissing me on the forehead.

I stood and memorized the picture in my head, loving the light and still secretly loving those crows’ feet.

The Heathcliff Theory

“Heathcliff,” of course, refers to Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, not the annoying cartoon cat. Heathcliff is a pretty tragic guy: he runs around making everyone miserable, nabbing people’s fortunes and generally being unpleasant to everyone in his incestuous little moor neighborhood. Why, then, am I strangely drawn to him?

He’s horrible because someone broke his heart. He loved so deeply that, when it went wrong, he lost his damn mind. It’s tragic and goth as fuck, but it’s also kind of romantic because it never happens anymore. In present day, Heathcliff could have just deleted Catherine from his friends list, moved to another town and pretended she never existed. He’d either shrug her off and get over it or end up drinking himself to death in the privacy of his own home. Or he could pretend he was OK and whore around with every girl he knew, subconsciously taking out his wounds on every girl who would have him. Or he’d just become married to his work. I have seen male friends do pretty much all of the above. At any rate, he probably wouldn’t end up exhuming the skeleton of his beloved, just so he can sleep next to her. (Toldja. Goth as fuck.)

To get back on-task, I think women are drawn to Heathcliff because, even in his complete dysfunctional insanity, he’s still an example of a male heart that, while surrounded by rocky crags, is secretly very delicate.* It’s the double-edged sword: any man capable of feeling anything deeply enough to be driven insane by it is probably worth knowing. Unfortunately, he is also insane.

This isn’t simply the old “women find a bad boy and want to ‘fix’ him” phenomenon. I have never been particularly into that one, as it seems like a lot of work to put into something that doesn’t come with a 401k and full dental. I have actual craft projects; I don’t want to date one.

The thing that makes me drawn to Heathcliff isn’t that he’s messed up. It’s that he felt deeply enough to get messed up.

Ladies, don’t lecture me. I didn’t say I was seeking Heathcliff. The fantasy of Heathcliff and the reality of him are two very different things, and not something to tackle unless you thrive on drama and don’t mind never getting a good night’s sleep. I am not seeking Heathcliff. I’m seeking Rochester. You see…I’m still screwed.

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*You heard me. I used the moors in the story as a metaphor for Healthcliff’s heart. Rocky, but blessed with fertile soil. Do not front on my mad 10th grade English skillz.

So, Your Girlfriend Loves Bill Compton (part two)

Without further ado, let us finish up yesterday’s post:

5. “But isn’t this guy in love with…his lunch?”

Oh, you guys and your literal, pragmatic brains. Don’t overthink it. The idea of a vampire saying, “technically, you are my lunch, but you’re special so I love you” is suspiciously similar to the way women always want to “change” the bad boys. We grow up and realize that a manwhore is just a manwhore, but the seed of the bad boy fantasy lives on in what we read. “Oh, but he’s going to CHANGE for ME!” It’s stupid, but it’s still alive way, way back in the middle school parts of our brains. (We are ashamed of this.) Besides, the idea of a guy singling us out and saying, “you are not lunch, you are special” is also a variation on what we really want to hear. We don’t want to believe that men think of us as useful, yet tiring foils (as we are almost always portrayed in Super Bowl commercials). We want to believe that you’re with us because we’re special, not because we’re tolerable.

To clarify, guys, women don’t run around always doubting your sincerity. It’s just that we’re used to guys telling us whatever they think we want to hear. We can tell when you’re bullshitting us because it pretty much sounds like the last 10 guys who bullshitted us. We don’t believe you when you say you love us during naked time. We believe you love us when you introduce us to your friends and family. When you take one for the proverbial team. When you let us have the tv remote, or clean the hair out of the shower, even though we both know that it’s the female’s hair and not yours. Those things, much like not drinking our blood even though you really, really want to, mean a lot more than saying a bunch of stuff that you heard in a movie somewhere. (Did you see that guy on Tool Academy turn to his girlfriend and say, “you complete me!” after being caught admitting to repeated cheating? Classic.)

6. “This is 2010. Isn’t the concept of a man standing up for you and protecting you outdated?”

Now, there’s nothing attractive about a guy who gets in bar fights, but there’s something to be said for ol’ Bill Compton. We’ve let you guys think we can stand up for ourselves and protect ourselves because that’s life in 2010. We’ve been trained to do what needs to be done, but that doesn’t mean we necessarily enjoy it. Just because all us ladies are mentally prepared to beat the living hell out of a burglar doesn’t mean we don’t kind of wish the stereotypical baseball bat wielding guy weren’t around. In 2010, we do what needs to be done…and read about having a boyfriend who can keep the town serial killer from murdering us.

7. “Bill vs. Sam. Discuss.”

Your girl’s preference may tell you a lot. Then again, she may go my route and insist that she can’t decide. Any way you slice it, if you follow the question with “What is it about ______ that you like?” you’re going to get something interesting.

8. “Jason Stackhouse: comedic relief or moral scapegoat?”

Jason’s kind of a manwhore, and that manwhoredom lands him in the role of main suspect in a murder investigation. Maybe it’s just a device to move the plot forward. Maybe it’s a subtle morality tale about how one should reconsider hoing around with half the town (and videotaping it).

9. “There are undertones of dominance in Bill and Sookie’s love life. How do you feel about this?”

I should warn you that you should probably only ask your girlfriend this if you have a solid 10 minutes to listen. You may get quite the earful, whether she thinks it’s hot or patronizing. For best results, ask the question and say you’ll check back later. Your girl’s going to need to think about this one, and think about how much of she answer she’s willing to tell you.

10. “So, Sookie ends up with one of the few guys whose thoughts she can’t hear. WTf.”

It’s explained as Sookie not really wanting to hear everything a guy is thinking, but the flip side is that, by being telepathic (as I write this sentence, I can hear how stupid this sounds to you) she has something to keep her on some kind of equal footing with Bill. Without her telepathy, she’d just be a normal, naive, inexperienced waitress. In other words, she’d be Bella from Twilight (ooh, burn!). By being telepathic, she has something to offer, so we can, in part, understand why Bill would want to hang out with her.

So, fellas, go forth and converse with your Sookie-reading ladies. They’ll be taken aback that you care enough to ask questions and care enough to try to read what they’re reading. Hell, it’s even better than giving us the tv remote.

So, Your Girlfriend Loves Bill Compton (part one)

The more I read books from the Sookie Stackhouse series, the more I wonder why guys generally don’t read these books. The books have a female narrator and are largely considered “silly chick books” only one tier above Danielle Steele. If I may, I’d like to tell all you guys why you should be reading these, highlighting, and making notes in the margins.

Modern vampire lit is mainly written by women, for women.

Who cares if the guy at Borders thinks you might secretly be gay? If you’re good at reading between lines, you’re going to learn a lot about the female psyche if you read these things. You want to know what we’re thinking? What we talk about with our girlfriends, but not you? Read the books we’re reading and start asking questions. Odds are, you’re going to gain knowledge much more valuable than the 7 bucks you spent on the book.

(Sidebar: This comes from a chick who had a subscription to Maxim for 5 years. Don’t get me wrong, there was a huge grain of salt taken with Maxim, as it’s no more an accurate depiction of the male mind than Cosmo is an accurate depiction of the female mind…and Cosmo is some stupid, fascist bullshit. Never trust a magazine that runs a cover bearing the grabber “How to touch a naked man” unless the article is 6 words long and just says “ask him what he likes, dumbass.”)

If your girlfriend has read the Sookie Stackhouse books, and she’s probably read at least one if she reads, I’ll provide you with some conversation starters. In most cases, all you’ll have to do is ask the question and your girl will spew valuable intel at you for 5 minutes. I’ll point out that these questions pretty much only pertain to the first book. If you know where this plot is going, for the love of God, don’t tell me.

1. “Bill or Eric, and why?”

2. “Bill’s Victorian sense of chivalry: a wonderful expression of long-forgotten manners, or an outdated waste of time? And tell the truth.”

If pressed, even a militant feminist will admit that she’s got nothing against the occasional flower. Lots of guys think chivalry is pointless and outdated, because lots of guys (God love ya) are pragmatic. Sometimes the fun of romance is doing something that seems stupid (spending money on flowers, or opening a door for a woman with two perfectly-functioning arms) just because you want to and not because it makes any practical sense.

3. “What’s with all the talk of Bill braiding Sookie’s hair? Are you all into that?”

It’s not about the braiding. It’s about the idea of your guy doing something for you that is just about doing something for you and not about a ploy to get you naked or con you into going to his family reunion.

4. “This starts to get sort of porny, but then the chapter ends. What the hell?”

You know how horror movies are always much scarier when you don’t get a good look at the monster? Same concept. For women, the fun is in Bill growling things into Sookie’s ear, not graphic depictions of what happens after. This is why a lot of us eventually get bored with Laurell K. Hamilton’s books. They become nothing but graphic, monotonous depictions of sex lacking in sensuality, and that gets boring.

This is the part where I break in an effort to yield to the short attention spen of the internet. Tune in tomorrow for part 2!

Guest Post: Nick Valentino, author of Thomas Riley

It’s not just some crazy guy with a helium tank strapped on his back.

The purpose of a blog tour is for me, AKA new author trying to get in front of new people, to have little celebrity hosted, AKA (evil)amy, stops on blogs. My job is to tell you something witty or interesting about whatever it is I’m promoting or selling then give you a selling point at the end. No, I didn’t learn this in a marketing class.

So I’m going to get it over with right now and you can decide later if any of this interests you. I have a new book, just released on Echelon Press. It happens to be a Steampunk novel chocked full of alchemy, sky pirates, and goggles a plenty. It sounds contrived when I put it like that, but the truth is I wrote this a year ago when I was free to let my mind wander and create something well, new to me. While that doesn’t make me a grizzled veteran of the culture by any means, I do have to say the increased popularity of the culture in the last two years is striking. (And beware; you will be inundated with it in the near future.) All the big publishing houses are just now signing up Steampunk writers… So you have a year or two before you’re hit over the head with it. Then the monstrous abominations, yet probably very pretty looking movies will come.

Aside from the possibility of this (like anything) becoming mainstream and watered down, I’m sure you’re aware of the fun part of the culture as well. I guess it’s different for everyone, but for me, it’s the spirit of DIY that I most enjoy about Steampunk. There are varying degrees of creativity that go along with it. Some people go for “just a touch” by bringing their painted Nerf guns to cons, but some people go all out for the “demi-cog” status. These people are the ones that have literally hand crafted entire backpacks, jetpacks, and light up weaponry out of just about any mechanical gee-jaw they can find. And let me tell you some of this stuff is uber impressive. In San Diego and Atlanta the upper echelon of steampunkery could be seen with full on liquid tanked backpacks complete with working steam ejection hoses. It’s not just some crazy guy with a helium tank strapped on his back. This guy spent months on his wardrobe and I have to tell you it’s pretty amazing.

Interested? If so, keep reading.

My book, Thomas Riley, is out and here’s the blurb.

For more than twenty years West Canvia and Lemuria have been at war. From the safety of his laboratory, weapons designer Thomas Riley has cleverly and proudly empowered the West Canvian forces. But when a risky alchemy experiment goes horribly wrong, Thomas and his wily assistant Cynthia Bassett are thrust onto the front lines of battle and forced into shaky alliances with murderous sky pirates in a deadly race to kidnap the only man who can undo the damage: the mad genius behind Lemuria’s cunning armaments.

If you’re still reading then these links should interest you:

If you would like to find out more about the book, go to:
www.sirthomasriley.com

You can purchase a copy of the book at:
www.echelonpress.com

or buy directly at:
thomasriley.bigcartel.com

Xi, Axe and Jib

There are two kinds of Scrabble players in the world: the “if” people and the “is” people. The “if” people stare angrily at their letters, thinking of 7-letter words they could spell if they just had I-N-G. The “is” people do their best with the letters they’ve got, getting by on the crafty use of 3-letter words and multiplier squares.

I learned a little something about Scrabble during the time I spent working at Vanderbilt. The place was a huge machine, where it took five powerful people getting in the same room to fire a person. As a result, I spent five years at a job that I, with my German sense of efficiency, boiled down to one hour out of eight. What did I do with the extra seven hours of my day? I played a lot of Scrabble.

Unfortunately, the same five powerful people decided when to give raises. In the way that they could never agree that I was pointless, they could also never agree to give me more money. Even I didn’t have the balls to ask for a raise. It’s hard to feel entitled when a skit about your at-work backgammon habit is performed at the office Christmas party.

As a result of my years at Vanderbilt, I am now a person who doesn’t play Scrabble with friends. I play Scrabble with people who have pissed me off. I’m an “is” player. I’ll xi, axe, and jib your ass to death.

What I’m getting at is that, while it’s all well and good to be able to lay down “slaying” or “jazzed,” the game of Scrabble isn’t about what you could spell. It’s about what you can spell.

This came up years ago when record companies were approaching new media by suing the hell out of college kids. Now, as magazines and newspapers are soiling themselves and going out of business because of bloggers, paper costs and current lack of ad sales, we’re all running around like chickens, praying to jump onto the Next Big Thing before it’s over. I call this “MySpacing.” It’s cool for a while, but the party can only be so big and so fun before somebody invites some douchebags who come and puke into your return air vent. In the case of MySpace, it got overrun by friend requests from bands (are you also being stalked by Ligion?), corporations and people who over-customized their pages so hard that viewing the page crashes the browser. (PS: we hate you, we don’t want to watch all those damn videos, and you definitely shouldn’t have set them all to auto-play.)

Magazine industry, take a lesson. Suing people and whining isn’t going to change a market that has already changed without you. Hire some people who are entertaining and informative (or keep the ones you have), build a user-friendly site, and put all the crap that anyone would want to know in one place. Then encourage linking. Don’t hoard your stuff. It’s pointless anyway, because your kids are probably more computer-literate than you. Make it easy for people to link you and give you credit. If you really want to get crazy, hire someone to track the trackbacks, and have that tracker give props to everybody who gave you props. Hey, if there’s anything bloggers love more than making fun of Speidi, it’s validation. I know, this will mean validating people you not-so-secretly hate and mock. Suck it up.

You’ll have to pay developers and maybe designers (but you’ll probably just hire developers who THINK they’re designers…no one’s bitter), but you won’t have to pay for paper or shipping. From the looks of the graphic design industry, you’re all starting to get wise to this, because you’re firing all of my friends.

As for me, I am done shaking my fist at people who think that web development and web design are the same discipline (aside from the bitchy comment in that last paragraph). I can point out the douchiness of the “design is development” assumption all day, and it’s not going to change the market. The market wants what it wants. So, in the vein of music and magazines, I’m going to evolve. I’m going to become a developer.

I’m going to xi, axe and jib your ass to death.

Unless, of course, you hire me. That alone will save you 😉