Photo by Cem-Marvin von Hagen on Unsplash

Aesthetically Pleasing Tools

Are you getting ready to make a persuasive piece of content? A flyer for your club? A PowerPoint presentation for a speech? A YouTube Video? A blog post that needs a featured image?

If you are here are some resources available to you that can make you look great and help you avoid ugliness.
Free high-quality photographs. Almost all of DFLs toolbox post images are from here.
For developing color schemes
Design starting points. Includes a basic Brand Book.
Adobe’s free design tool like Canva. Includes video.
More free design resources
Unique business cards where you can have multiple backs.

Photo by Cem-Marvin von Hagen on Unsplash


Constraints, A Key To Creative Expression.

I recently created a budget and it made me more stylish.

Every medium has constraints.

I once heard an interview with the TV Writer and Creator of Babylon 5 J. Michael Strasinzki. During that interview he was asked about the fact that TV programs have been getting shorter over the years as more time is dedicated to commercials. He pointed out every medium has its constraints, including television. The shortening of total program time was just a new change.

He went on to talk about the fact commercial breaks are a defining constraint of TV writing. Movies don’t have to stop in the middle at least four times. But he went on to say this constraint can be a spur to creativity. A TV writer must learn to tell a story in pieces. Four for an “hour” long show. Similar to the way plays have three acts. It is just a different way to tell a story.

He also thought it created a better writer because you had to learn how to make people stick around. Imagine I had to stop writing right now and let you read someone elses highly crafted commercial message. All it would take is a twitch of your finger to get 100 other things you could read? I’d better write something you are hooked on and want to come back to.

A constraint can make you better because you have to overcome a barrier.

A constraint also helps you focus on what could be.  Blaise Pascal is quoted as saying, “Sorry for writing such a long letter, but I don’t have time to write something short.” It is much harder to write something short than long

A constraint by its definition eliminates things you can do. Those are things you don’t have to consider. In public speaking it is often easier to do a longer speech because you include everything on the subject you can think of. A shorter speech requires you to find what is most important and focus on that. By doing so you get a stronger more concise message.

This kind of constraint is why my budget made me more stylish. Or why a diet might make you a better cook.

You’d think having a budget would be foundational for someone interested in personal development, but I’ve never had one that I followed. Instead I have used constant, threshold based monitoring to stay out of debt. That’s a subject for another post though. Recently I decided I need to have a budget so in an uncertain future I’d have a little surity.

One of the things I learned when creating this budget was how much I was spending on clothing. I didn’t want to make an unrealistic budget, so I looked as where I was spending money last year. New clothes were in my top 4 categories. Then I look at my closet and noticed how few of the things there I’m willing to wear at all, or don’t wear on a regular basis. Clearly I have a selection problem.

I was working on a philosophy of clothing selection in my head for awhile. Some distinction, question, algorithm that would tell me when I should and shouldn’t buy a new piece of clothing. I came up with a few new ideas and I’ll share those in style hacks.

But the solution to my problem was my budget.

You see once I said you can only spend $200 per month on clothes, every choice became much more important. Those awesome Thursday Boots I wanted…that’s a month’s budget. That Robert Graham shirt I need for an event? Well it ate a significant portion of February’s budget. Now I have even less.

The monetary constraint of my budget made me think about each thing I could buy. Where is it going to fit in my overall wardrobe? How often can I use this once piece? (Cost per wear).

In the same way, a diet makes you consider everything that goes into your mouth. Detailed tracking of calories makes you have to choose if that thing you want to eat on the spur of the moment is really worth not eating anything else for the rest of the day. Or is that cookie worth dropping out of ketosis for 24 hours?

Not all Constraints are Limits

When I decided to write about distinctions I put a constraint in my head. Main Distinction posts had to be over 500 words.

You see I didn’t want to write the first thing that came to mind. I wanted to dig into the idea. Also if I can explain the concept in a couple hundred words or less, then it isn’t really a Distinctions with a capital D. It’s a life hack.

Such a constraint is much harder than a limit. It doesn’t eliminate as many options. It requires diligence and discipline to not to just pad to reach the word count. But it produces a better piece of work.

So the next time you are complaining about how some limitation is a pain, reconsider and see if that constraint is actually making you better.

Photo by Lysander Yuen on Unsplash


Smart Thermostat Wake up

Do you, like me, find it oh-so-hard to get out of a warm bed in the morning? Especially when it is cold outside?

Here’s a simple life hack to make getting up more compelling if you have a Smart Thermostat.

I have a Nest thermostat and instead of letting it determine when temperatures in the house go up and down, I changed it to use a schedule. When I did this I noticed that as it raised the temp in house in the mornings it made my bedroom uncomfortably hot. So hot I wanted to get out of bed.

That’s when it hit me. Use a rise in temperature like an alarm clock. It’s a gradual rise because that’s the way heaters work, but by the time your alarm goes off you’ll be very ready to get out of bed and won’t have the desire to stay in a warm bed away from the cold, cruel world outside.

This works in the Summer too, you just aren’t using the heater, rather you are using less AC in the morning to let your room heat up.



I think about how I’m thinking about what I’m thinking about a lot. I call this meta-thinking and it is the genesis of much of DFL.

That’s a pretty confusing sentence. Let me break it down for you.

Let’s say I want to think about the role of the Federal Reserve in America. Relevant because as I write this, I’m getting ready to go hear a member of the Fed board speak. I may contemplate what the Fed does, its relationship to the government, what people actually know and understand about the Federal Reserve and what it does.

As I contemplate the Fed’s relationship to the government, I may notice that I’m thinking about it in terms of the actual relationships of people on the Fed boards and in government committees. That is one meaning of relationship and it might be the thing I want to think about. Another aspect of relationship is the legal one. The fact that the Fed is a coalition of banks and not a government organization. 

That is two ways of thinking about “relationship between the Fed and the government.”

But what are my feelings about these relationships? What is my bias? What facts do I want to accept because it supports me? What do I want to challenge because I don’t want them to be true?

That’s is thinking about how I’m thinking, not what specifically I’m thinking about.

Meta-thinking and other people’s politics.

I live in the second most conservative city in Texas* but I’ve lived in some pretty liberal cities too and like to think I listen to all sides.**

The thing that amazes me over and over when I listen to strong conservatives and strong liberals is how they think exactly the same.

They obviously don’t believe the same things, or come to the same conclusions, but how they think about issues is exactly the same. If you want to live at an extreme of a belief system, there is a way of thinking that will always get you there.

My son likes to explain it like this, “Republicans think about cops the way Democrats think about unions and vise versa.” The both assume the best and defend everything they do. They concede there are a few bad actors, but the organizations are over all good. You could flip the subjects there too. Republicans think about unions the way Democrats think about cops and vise versa. (This of course is another mental fallacy on our part of generalizing a whole group of people, in this case a political parties.)

The ironic thing is how they condemn their opponents “logic” when they use the exact same process for their conclusions. 

A Lot of Distinctions Are About Meta-Thinking

A lot of the little changes I call Distinctions are actually ways of thinking. Examining your beliefs is thinking about how you think. Attention is about how you think, not what you are thinking about.  The Leadership Mind Traps are about how you think.

Since how you think is probably as important or more important than what you think, changing it will make a huge difference in your life.

How To Meta-Think

Meta-thinking is hard. Not because the process is all that hard, but because it is hard to get inserted into the process.

If I need to think about politics, it is hard to notice how I’m thinking. I’m trying to use all my cerebral energy on the subject, reserving some to notice what I’m doing is difficult.

I think it is easier for some people than others. I’m not sure if this is an inherent difference in the brain, or a learned response. Some people naturally seem to be able to step back from their own process and see it.

For most people you have to do it later. After you’ve thought about something you have to examine how you thought about it. Or you have to “pre-meta-think”, which is preparing yourself for the session of thinking to hopefully avoid your habitual pitfalls.

The best tool for both of these is good questions. Good questions are distinctions for life themselves, and you will find them all over this site.

Now you can’t meta-think everything you do, but you can practice it regularly. As you do, you will create new mental habits that will help you in the long run. You’ll catch yourself doing mental mind traps before you do them. You’ll “naturally” avoid thinking in certain ways.

* A city needs to have a population over 100,000.

** I’m sure at this point you want to know my bias. I consider myself a Libertarian, which means I’m in a weird middle.

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash (cropped)


“I Don’t Care” vs “I’m Fine With Either”

If you are in leadership people will bring you choices. Often you won’t have a preference between the options. You’d really prefer the other people decide and get on with it.

For many of us the habitual response is “I don’t care.”

That’s a bad choice. The person brought you this choice for a reason. To them it is important. There are a lot of reasons for this, but saying you don’t care belittles this sense of importance, and by extension the person asking.

Instead answer, “I’m fine with either.”

This says nothing about the importance of the issue or the person bringing it to you. If you want to go a little further you can add “I trust you to decide.” Which explicitly builds up the person asking.

Credit where it is due. I learned this in Toastmasters from my District Director Greg Pick and he learned it from his leadership team of Jamie Pickering and Robi Ley.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash