The basics: Instagram 101

As with any marketing tips/tricks/advice provided on this blog, please take all information with a grain of salt. This information is not provided as the ‘be all to end all’ word. So, take what works for you and leave what doesn’t.

Not everyone is interested in Instagram growth. So, if you’re one of those people who doesn’t care one way or another, this advice likely isn’t for you. Which is totally fine. This information is being shared for those who might find it helpful!

Without further adieu:


Hashtags are a tool that allows Instagram users to find other Instagram users who post similar images, share similar interests or are like-minded individuals. When you post an image to Instagram, if you would like the opportunity for others on the platform to find said image, it’s imperative that you use proper and relevant hashtags that depict what’s in your image.

Put the hashtags within your caption, do not put them as the first comment. When you do not put the hashtags within the caption of the photo itself, you’re losing valuable time and real estate within the Instagram algorithm for people who could potentially be viewing your image.

You can post up to 30 hashtags per image. If you are a blogger, or running a business account, it’s recommended that you try to keep hashtag use to 9-11 hashtags per image. There are several reasons for this, most important of which being, if you limit the hashtags you’re using to 9-11 hashtags at most, you’re focusing on only the most relevant hashtags pertaining to the image. When people start reaching hashtag 15 and 16, they start just using random hashtags that don’t really pertain to the image and it can become very spam-like, overcrowding different categories on the platform. This is why you can search ‘#TheGreatOutdoors’ and see pictures of hamburgers and french fries.

When selecting hashtags, select categories that you would search for. Why? Because not all hashtags are as valuable as others. If you’re searching for something on Instagram, there’s better odds that someone else is too. More people are going to be searching ‘#TheGreatOutdoors’ than ‘#Tree’. As you type in the hashtags to Instagram, the app will actually tell you how many people have used said hashtag and similar hashtags. Example:

Include a selection of both popular and less popular hashtags within the 9-11 hashtags used per image. Using the screenshot as an exampe, #LakeLouise will have the potential for more people to find your image, and in turn, your page. But, with more people searching this item, your image will more quickly slide down the Instagram algorithm than if you use #LakeLouiseLove. For this reason, it’s recommended that you use a mixture of both popular and less popular (STILL RELEVANT) hashtags when sharing your image.

If you want to connect with others, ALWAYS use a caption. There’s nothing worse than finding an image that you truly love on Instagram and realizing the person who shared it couldn’t care less about people finding their image and connecting with their content. Use a caption – share the store of the image, or share a story that has nothing to do with the image but speaks to you and your character. If you want to connect with people, a picture won’t speak for you… no matter how pretty it might be.

If you’re specifically looking for growth, there are hashtags that are for bloggers to connect with other bloggers to help support one another. Using #BloggersUnder500 or #BloggersUnder1k, etc… are like flashing the bat symbol for bloggers to find other bloggers and help one another grow their platforms. If you’re looking for growth, use these hashtags to connect with other bloggers and help them find and connect with you.

Promote your Instagram account on other platforms. I follow at least a dozen bloggers on WordPress of which I had no idea that they had Instagram accounts until they followed me. There is no mention of their Instagram accounts ANYWHERE on their blog. Why not? If you have a blog, let people know that you have an Instagram too. It can’t hurt.

Location searches on Instagram can help you to connect with people in your area that you might not even know exist yet. This one might be especially beneficial in this time of social distancing. Want to connect with people in your area without connecting with people in your area? Search your local, nearest airport code or city abbreviation in Instagram. Make new friends. Reach out to people that way. This is actually a great way for small/local businesses to reach out and let public in their city/surrounding area know they’re there and open for business.

You DO NOT have to post every day, but much like with blogging, it helps with the growth of your page if you post somewhat regularly. People like to come to instagram to see new content. If you post once and then don’t come back for a month, then post three times in a week then disappear for two months, you’re going to have a very difficult time convincing people they should connect with you and and your content. If they can’t rely on you to connect with, why should they follow you?

Share other’s images to your Instagram Story. This one doesn’t help you at all. It’s not for growth. It’s not for any other reason than you might like an image. If you like an image that someone you follow has posted, share it to your Instagram story. It furthers their reach, gives them a form of cross promotion they haven’t yet had. Also, it allows you to share images of places you might not yet have been, or might not have seen. This is also extremely beneficial for any small businesses that you might follow. Especially if they’re still operating during COVID. A little share here and there might help their business immensely during these stressful times. So… sprinkle a little kindness in whatever you do!

Don’t just post things because you think they’re trendy. People aren’t so dense that they cannot figure out who’s being a try-hard on social media. While you might like the instant gratification of sharing something that’s been going viral day after day after week after week, the tired, tried and done a thousand times means being a trendy Instagram user gets old real quick. You won’t build connections, you won’t have the interaction you’re searching for and, you’ll lack authenticity. It’s 2020, people. Real is the new real.

Be nice. Hopefully this one doesn’t require an explanation.

You have to have 10,000 followers in order to post links. Unlike Twitter where you link every tweet, you have to reach a threshold of engagement to earn that ability with Instagram. So, if you’re looking to use Instagram to promote your blog, you’re going to have to get creative.

Don’t spam people. I don’t even want to tell you how many unread messages I have in my inbox of people trying to sell me MLM products or sign me up to work under their MLM business. If you spam people, it will annoy them. And if you are looking to grow your Instagram profile, I would recommend you not annoy people in the process.

If, and only if, you’re not worried about privacy, make sure this option is checked off under your settings tab:

If you’re worried about your privacy, or family or friends finding your page, and in turn, blog, then make sure this box isn’t selected in your settings. This could recommend your page to people in your area or people who you share mutual friends with. So, if someone you know follows your page, but not everyone you know is aware of your blog, be careful with this function.

If you are running a small business, or any business for that matter, stick to business and keep your personal opinions out of it. I recently witnessed a cafe in Vancouver lose 10,000 followers in less than 24 hours after the owner got on his Instagram Story to proclaim that the government was ruining everyone’s futures so that fewer people would die and that we should risk the deaths of those that could catch it anyway to ensure that business can keep going as normal. This cafe is one that’s been on several TV shows (Diners Drive Ins and Dives, You gotta eat here and a couple of others) and had grown a rather large following online because of that. And he threw it all away when he started sharing his personal opinions. Whether someone agrees, or vehemently disagrees with your opinions, they don’t want these opinions from a business. No one followed his cafe on Instagram to get advice on economics, government or politics. They followed his business account to find out what soup of the day he was serving for take out. What baked treats he could deliver that day. A move like that could quite literally kill a business reputation.


Lastly, for lack of better conclusion, if you made it this far, follow me on Instagram! @MillennialMe88

I LOVE ANALYTICS.

What can your analytics teach you? What should your analytics teach you? If you have a blog, or any form of social media, you have access to analytics. Do you use them?

346 people have visited my blog today from 53 countries and territories around the world. How cool is that? People from all over the world have found my blog, my words, my little corner of the internet.

3,321 people have viewed my published tweets.

1,106 people have viewed my Instagram page.

18 people found my blog through search engine results.

6 people found my blog from Facebook. And I don’t even have a Facebook account.

I don’t say this to brag, I say this because analytics fascinate me. I love tracking visitors, hits, interactions, popularity (or lack thereof depending on the post) and reach.

I use my analytics to determine what the best time of day is to post something, as well, what the best day of the week is to post something. I also use my analytics to determine what topics will garner more hits, and what topics won’t really resonate with my community. Also, on that note, I use my analytics to understand my community.

Why?

An estimated 40% of the people who read #MillennialLifeCrisis are Gen X-ers. That’s right, the largest group of people who read this blog are not even Millennials. That tells me that these things that I’ve felt alienated me for so long now are in fact, not generational, but more so just the overall human condition.

Quite often I’m asked different variations of ‘what’s your secret? How’d you get so many followers?’ What’s my secret? I don’t keep secrets. I use analytics. I’ve been using them since I worked in corporate settings and I can say without a doubt, that if you’re looking to grow an audience for your personal blog, analytics are going to play a major factor in your success, or lack thereof.

How many people viewed your blog today? What countries did they come from? What did you do as a measure to help convince them to return to your blog? How can you use your analytics to your favour?

Here, I’ll give you an example:

Let’s pretend that you live in London, England. Now, upon reading the base analytics that WordPress provides to EVERY user (regardless of if your account is free or paid), you notice that far and above anywhere else, the majority of your audience is from the United States. If you want the most people possible to see your post, I do not recommend hitting publish at 9:00 AM Greenwhich Mean Time. Why? Because for the majority of your audience, that’s the middle of the night and they’re asleep. Instead, I recommend you schedule your post to be published at 9:00 AM Eastern Standard Time. Your post will be top of feed for all of your American audience to see, and you stand a much higher chance of having farther reach.

If you’e blogging for a hobby and you don’t care how many hits/visitors your blog gets, analytics probably won’t matter to you. But, if you want to build a community, your analytics can be one of your best assets. They will tell you what you’re doing wrong, what you’re doing right and how to improve upon all of it.

I still post what I want when I want. But, I also know that if I do something like… posting this after 7:00 PM Pacific Standard Time, it’s going to get far less hits than had I gotten by butt in gear and posted this 10 hours ago.

That is how I use, or don’t use, analytics in my favour. Whether I post it at the optimal time or not, I’m still going to track visitors, hits, interaction. Why? Because I’m a nerd who loves data. Because I believe in the value of analytics. Because this blog is my pride and joy and I really appreciate knowing all that I can about it.

So what do your analytics teach you? How can you use that information to your favour?


If you liked this post and would like to read more of my blogging tips, click here. All blogging tips/tricks/advice/suggestions are all categorized under ‘Marketing’ on my blog’s main menu.

If you would like to support myself and the content created on #MillennialLifeCrisis, I have an official Patreon account with patron options starting as low as $1 per month. Click here >

Blogging Tip: Stay True to You

Blogging isn’t about picking the right topic; it’s about finding the right voice. Your voice. What matters, what people really resonate with, isn’t so much what you say, but how.

People are going to tell if you’re being inauthentic. People are going to be able to tell if you’re writing for attention. People can always tell. Believe me when I say this, if you’re blogging well, people will know the motives behind your words.

My advice? Write from the heart. Speak your truth. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Not everything has to be polished, but everything should showcase who you are and what you stand for. The world, and the blogging community does not need more mindless drones pumping out the same thing over and over. People need creativity, words that speak from our innermost desires and pictures so beautiful that they make us stop in our tracks.

When you sit down to create your next post remember the fact that there is only one you. What piece of your personality are you going to bring to your brand, your blog and your readers? What piece of your story will bring people to your blog? I’m not talking about having the perfect logo, a beautiful title, the perfect formatting or any of that, I’m talking about creating content that speaks to who you are and why someone wants to read what you write. For example: anyone can share a product review so how are you going to make your review of that product different from everyone else on the web?

While I’m here, let’s also talk about the fact that too many people believe finding success comes from a high follower count. Finding success isn’t really about finding a lot of followers. Finding success is about finding interaction, about finding people who resonate with what you’re sharing. Whether that’s five people, five hundred people or five million people, be grateful for every person who takes time out of their day to view your content.

If you saw a YouTube channel that had one million followers and averaged ten thousand views per video and you saw a YouTube channel that had one hundred followers and was averaging 90 views per video, which would you deem more successful? Stop looking at follower counts and start thinking about your message and your reach. I encourage you, when you look at your blog posts, to look at something in the most positive light. It’s easy to say ‘Nobody liked my most recent post’. It sounds lackluster and can make you feel defeated. It’s also really easy to say ‘250 people read my most recent post’. 250 people stopped, took five or more minutes out of their day to check in with you and see more of your story. That’s HUGE!

Lastly, while I have you here, I just want to remind you that not everything you post is going to be a hit. Sometimes you’ll make killer content and sometimes it’s going to flop. That’s the trials and tribulations that happen when you’re building a brand… your brand. If something doesn’t work, take note, improve upon that the next time. If you’re smart though, you won’t let those flops speak for you. Improve upon them. Focus on making your blog, your brand and your content better each and every time you hit publish.

Be You. Find your voice. Fall in love with your creativity. And then, just do it.

“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” I actually don’t know where this quote is from. But, it’s pretty relevant.

On making your blog stand out…

I get a lot of questions about my blog. People ask when I started my blog, how it grew so quickly, how to encourage feedback, what type of content to share, etc… And, while I’m extremely humbled and flattered each time someone does ask me, I often wonder if they’re perhaps asking the wrong person. I don’t see my blog as anything all that exceptional, I just consider it a branch of my personality – the good, the bad, the happy, the sad, the real.

I started my bog in January of 2019. The truth is, I don’t know how it grew so quickly. Dumb luck, perhaps? Being in the right place at the right time? I’m not really sure how to answer that question because, quite frankly, I think it’s a better thing to ask someone following my blog than it is to ask me. I don’t mean that in an offensive way, I just mean that… I can only speculate as to why people follow me. You would have to ask them to find out for certain.

This blog has only been active for eight months, so I am by no means an expert. That being said, I do understand the whimsy and excitement that comes with someone reading your posts, liking what you’ve written and sharing a piece of themselves that lets you know your words have resonated with them. So, here are some suggestions that I’ve learned, through trial and error, and a decade of working in digital marketing, that might help you along with your blogging journey.

CHOOSE YOUR BLOG NAME WISELY. Give your blog a name that people are going to remember. Your blog name is your personal brand, so make sure that it’s something simple that will stay top-of-mind for readers to easily come back to. If your blog name is “Steve12432342352” people could have a hard time finding you. So pick something that is reflective of yourself, but also, easy to find.

FIND YOUR NICHE. It sounds cliche, but a niche integral to finding any success with blogging. Don’t just say that you’re going to write about life, dig deeper. What aspects of life do you want to share? What feelings and emotions, what experiences do you want to display? An established niche will help you to create more well-rounded content for your blog and help readers determine why they should or should not be coming back to your blog. Some people say that you’re supposed to establish your target audience and I vehemently disagree with that tactic. I believe that first and foremost, you should be writing for yourself and not for an audience that does not yet exist. Furthermore, establishing an audience closes the door to anyone who isn’t in your target demographic, and you don’t want to be closing the door to potential readers.

USE YOUR ‘ABOUT ME’ PAGE TO ANSWER WHY YOU STARTED YOUR BLOG. If someone accidentally stumbles upon your blog one day and they like what they’re reading, the chances are they’re going to want to see who you are and find out more of what your blog is about. A carefully written ‘About Me’ section will allow readers and potential readers to learn about who you are and why they should follow your blog. So please don’t neglect the ‘About Me’ section.

ESTABLISH GOALS. Real, reasonable, honest goals. Sure, it would be great to make a living writing a blog, but that is a by-product, and should not be your goal. The truth of the matter is, most blogs do not make money, and if they do, it’s not enough for someone to live off of. If you’re just blogging in hopes to make money, that will show in the content you produce and will likely lead to a lack of credibility and integrity. Establishing real, reasonable and honest goals for your blog will help to keep you motivated with what you’re doing. Do you want to share your DIY Crafts? Are you hoping to find a like-minded community to talk to? These are the things you should be seeking, and as your blog grows your content can continue to grow with it.

CREATE CONTENT THAT YOU LOVE. I have crossed paths with a few people over the past eight months in which you can definitely tell they’re writing for attention and nothing more. If attention is what you crave, you may find it in the things that you say, but that connection with people will be fleeting before they move onto the next. Use your blog to share things you’re passionate about and that passion and love will be conveyed through all that you do. If readers crave authenticity (and they certainly do) they’re going to adore you for sharing your content with love.

DEVELOP YOUR PERSONAL STYLE. Are you a minimalist? Do you like things to be flashy? What is it about your personality that can shine through in the layout of your blog and in the content that you post to your blog? Think of your blog like a brand. The best brands have a consistent tone to them. If you’re minimalist and quiet one day, flashy and raunchy the next, people will have a hard time following what you’re putting out. But, if you establish your personal style through the posts that you make, people will know what to expect when they visit your blog and will look forward to that.

FOCUS ON WHAT YOU’RE GOOD AT. Sure, it’s nice to think outside of the box every now and again, but do remember that your strengths are your best asset in blogging. If you suck at poetry but are amazing at short stories, perhaps you could make one out of every five posts a poem. That way, your short stories have their time to shine whilst you’re still practicing your poetry. This same example can be applied to virtually anything you desire to blog about.

IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA THEN DON’T BE. There are plenty of people in this world who would love to have their face plastered all over a blog because it helps to showcase their brand and their personality. Then, there are people like me who are awkward and uncomfortable in front of a camera. That awkwardness would be easily conveyed through any photos of me in existence and would likely turn people away. So I guess all I’m saying with this is, do what’s right for you. Don’t feel pressured to post photos of yourself because you think that’s what is going to make you popular.

ENGAGE. ENGAGE. ENGAGE. In this day and age people can spend their time doing a million things under the sun. So, the fact that they’re spending time reading your blog does and should mean a lot to you. If they leave you a comment, respond to the comment. If they send you an email, let them know that you got it. If they ask you to check out their page, check out their page. Let them know that you’re listening and that you’re grateful they took time out of their day to view your blog.

TAKE A LOOK AT WHAT OTHERS ARE DOING. This one, I got from a woman named Catherine on who runs a youtube channel called ‘Do It On A Dime’. Her biggest piece of advice for blogging and vlogging and sharing with the web is that you should take a look at what others are doing, find what you love and ask yourself how you can put a positive twist on that to make it your own. Someone who follows this blog of mine once pointed to me that the things I say aren’t anything that special or different from what anyone else experiences/shares, but that it’s the way in which I say them that draws her in. To me, that was a huge compliment, because that means there’s authenticity in what I’m conveying on my blog. I think that’s what everyone should be aiming for. Taking something that you feel, that others have felt, and putting your own spin on it.

ALWAYS KEEP LEARNING. There are so many tricks to the trade when it comes to digital marketing. Learning things like analytics, audience demographics, trending topics, these things will all help as you look to improve your blog. But just remember that you need to walk and not run. It’s not a marathon. The likelihood of 50,000 people viewing your blog overnight is slim-to-none. What you can do, however is focus on the small improvements to be made. How can you use analytics in your favour? What do demographics mean to you? How can you learn more to help consistently make your blog better in small ways with each passing day?

BE KIND. There’s enough assholes on the internet already. If you have an opinion, you can share it. Just remember that you don’t have to be an asshole in doing so. Because after all, if people think you’re an asshole, what reason do they have to come back to your page?

MOST IMPORTANTLY, HAVE FUN WITH IT. If you treat blogging like it’s enjoyable, it will be. If you treat blogging like it’s a nuisance, it will be.


P.S. – If you haven’t already read it, I did a post in May titled ‘On Building your dream blog’. To read that, Click here >

P.P.S – If you haven’t already read it, I did a post in July titled ‘Beginners guide to wordpress analytics (and using them to grow your audience)’. To read that, Click here >

How to tackle a shit day.

We all have days when we wake up sad, mad or filled with angst. It’s part of the human condition. And, when you get upset or are having a bad day, it can be really easy to crawl into bed with a bunch of junk food and hide from the world.

The thing is, when you’re having a bad day, that’s probably one of the worst things that you can do for yourself. If anything, crawling into bed is only going to prolong that bad mood. Feeding into negativity promotes more negativity and that, well that is a vicious cycle that no one wants to stay in for too long.

I’ve been writing this post over the past few weeks because I’ve been feeling as though when people make lists like these, they always say the same things, and those lists just aren’t doing it for me. Not everyone can find peace from meditation or trying to think positively.

Here are some suggestions of things you can do to help tackle shitty days.

Get up, get dressed and eat a healthy breakfast. Why? Getting dressed is going to (hopefully) keep you from crawling back into bed. Eating breakfast will jump start your metabolism for the day. If you’re dressed and have eaten, you’re telling your body that this day will not be spent in bed.

Go and buy your coffee, or smoothie or whatever your morning drink is. Whether it’s $1.50 at Tim Hortons, $7.00 at Starbucks, or a cup of joe or smoothie from your local cafe, go and get it. One, you owe it to yourself to treat yourself and two, going out will force you to get out of the house. Getting out of the house on a day when you’re not in a good mood will help give you motivation for the day. Not to mention, coffee houses are notoriously chill places and chill environments can help keep you calm when you’re in a shitty mood.

Exercise. Exercise is so integral to defeating a terrible mood. I was recently informed by a Psychiatrist that just a half hour of minimal exercise is the equivalent to a low-dose of Prozac to the brain. Thus, exercising can literally make you happier. And no, this doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym. Go for a walk! Climb some stairs. Turn on the Tone-It-Up Girls videos on youtube and follow along. All exercise is good exercise.

Do something good in your neighbourhood. Good deeds bring good moods. A friend of mine said that every time he is having a shitty day he goes to the park by his house and picks up trash. It’s a small thing but it means a lot to him and it means a lot to the kids who play in the park. You don’t need to pick up trash, but doing something nice in the area that you live will definitely help you feel better, both about yourself and the place that you live.

Make self care a priority. “With every act of self-care your authentic self gets stronger, and the critical, fearful mind gets weaker. Every act of self-care is a powerful declaration: I am on my side, I am on my side, each day I am more and more on my own side.” – Susan Weiss Berry . What does this look like? Well that depends on what your style is. For me, I love to put an expensive sheet mask on my face and do some foam rolling over my muscles. For other people, self care can mean getting a manicure, or a massage, playing an instrument or reading a book. Whatever self care looks like to you, take some time for self-care.

Listen to some upbeat music. And when I say upbeat, I mean upbeat. Don’t put sad songs on. Sad songs will mimic your mood and keep your mindset in the same shitty place. Put some upbeat songs on. Songs that make you want to sing along. Songs that have the potential to brighten your mood just by hearing them. Songs that motivate you. Suggestions include: Walking on Sunshine, Girls just wanna have Fun, Uptown Funk, Moves Like Jagger, Good Life, Wake me up before you Go Go… there are so many. Check upbeat playlists on Spotify and youtube if you need help finding any.

You are what you eat, so eat food that’s good for you. And I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a bad mood, I crave junk food. The thing about that is, junk food can most often make you feel lethargic and bloated, worsening the bad mood. Try and aim for healthy foods that will give you energy and fuel for the day. Leafy greens, complex carbs, foods rich in proteins that your body can literally turn into energy, that’s what will hep you. Just remember to boil or steam your cruciferous vegetables prior to consumption.

Make a ‘to do’ list for your day, and, make the top two items things you’ve already completed. When lacking in motivation, it can be difficult to feel as though you’ll accomplish anything with your day. Writing a ‘to do’ will help you to acknowledge realistic goals for the day, even with a shitty mood. Writing two items at the top that you’ve already completed is a trick that I’ve picked up over the years. See, a ‘to do’ list feels more do-able when it’s already been started. But purposefully putting something on your ‘to do’ list that you’ve already done, you’re tricking your brain into believing that your list is already started, and thus, more easy to conquer.

Write a blog post about it. This suggestion has been placed last because it may not be the same for everyone, but I know for many people, blogging about a bad mood or a shit day can provide some catharsis. If you’re looking for an outlet, pouring your heart out to strangers on the internet is a pretty good one. I’ve found people on wordpress to be a lot kinder about life’s struggles then most people I know. Don’t be afraid to show the real, messy bits of life on your blog. It could definitely help.

Turn on some episodes of Friends, or Seinfeld, or Frasier, or something from the late 90’s early 2000’s. Something that’s full of sarcasm with plenty of humour can be kept on in the background to make you laugh or bring a smile to your face. They just don’t make TV like they used to.

Distract yourself with someone else’s life. This sounds a little silly, but if you’re in a shit mood and nothing else has worked, sometimes distracting yourself with someone else’s life can be helpful. I have one person that I like to call when this happens. Hearing all about his life helps me to stop thinking about mine. If you have someone who can do that for you, give them a call, talk to them for a half hour, or an hour, or however long they’ll talk to you for. Lending an ear can provide catharsis.

Treat yourself. Don’t just purchase your coffee, remember to treat yourself in general. This doesn’t mean go and max-out your credit card. This just means… be nice to yourself. Buy yourself some dinner, or head to that Yoga class you’ve been thinking of. Do something that treats yourself. Why? You’re worth it.

If you’re having a bad day I hope that you’re able to find some peace. Stay calm, surround yourself with things that can make you happy, pick up your mood or, at the very least, limit your misery. And please don’t stay in bed all day. Staying in bed all day will only make you feel worse.

Sending some positive vibes to the universe, because as with all things in life, this too shall pass (the bad days).

‘Whatever makes you happy, my love.’

They’re simple words, so genuine and heartfelt. Spoken with truth to them they have the power to make you feel as though you’re the only person in the world who matters. Or, perhaps even, the only person in the world at all.

A few weeks back, I made a post titled Tips for coping with anxiety from a Psychiatrist.

One of the tips mentioned in that post, reads as follows:

Think of a memory, one happy memory, and keep that memory at the top of your mind, always. When you think of happy memories, it produces serotonin in your body that can help boost your mood. If you keep one happy memory at top of mind, always, you can use that memory when you’re feeling triggered. Forcing that happy memory on your brain when you’re feeling anxious/stressed can help trick your brain. It’s not going to take away the things in your life causing you stress, but it will help you cope with the stress better.

Because I have been implementing this step into my daily routine, and because my world needs a little more happiness in it each and every day, especially in the past week, I am making the effort to write down my happy memories that I choose to remember in times of stress. Here goes…

Knight likes to buy lottery tickets. I’m not sure if he did prior to meeting me, but, one of the things we talked about on our first date was what each of us would do with the winnings if we ever one the lottery. Ever since I’ve known him, he’s always purchased lottery tickets.

Whenever he goes to the store, he purchases two lottery tickets. One for him and one for me. He turns to me, smiles and tells me to pick wisely.

“What if I chose both?” I ask, specifically trying to be a pain in his ass.

“Then take both,” he laughs. He’s not kidding when he tells me to take both. I know that if I did, he’d let me keep them both.

I’ll give him a ticket back, naturally. I mean… I’m not totally selfish. (I am. But I can be fair, too) And then I continue the discussion explaining to him that if I win, I’m keeping all of the money to myself.

“Whatever makes you happy, my love.” There it is. There’s those words. Genuine. Heartfelt. Thoughtful. Truthful.

“You’re also aware that, if you win, you’re required to share half of your money with me, right?” Chuckling again, he says “I’d expect nothing less”.

It’s the small things, they means so much to me. The fact that when he speaks these words, I know he’s being truthful. The fact that I know he’d never ask a dime of me, if I ever did win the lottery with a ticket he purchased for me. The fact that I’m absolutely certain that if he did win the lottery, he’d want to split it me.

People talk a lot about hypothetical scenarios, and honestly, he and I do a lot as well. I think that our hypotheticals mean more to me though, because there is a layer of truth to them that I don’t get from anyone else I’ve ever known.

I’m not wealthy. I haven’t won… yet. But there’s always a chance. I guess that’s why he purchases them. While I know I like to joke, the truth is, I’d likely give him all of the money if I won on a ticket that he purchased for me.

Thinking back on these moments, it brings great happiness to my mind. It’s my trick to forcing serotonin in my brain when I need it most. It’s my light on the dark days and a means to make me smile, no matter what.

Tips for booking your next hotel stay.

A heavily photoshopped photo of the Tower Hotel, Niagara Falls from the hotel’s posting on Kayak.

Having spent a few hundred nights in hotels over the past few years, I’ve got a lot of opinions about them. In the past 3 weeks alone I’ve been in four different hotels, only one of which I deemed to be worth the value I had to pay for my stay.

When you’re booking a hotel stay, there’s a lot to keep in mind to ensure you don’t wind up having a terrible night in a shitty hotel. After all, if you’re spending your money to stay in a hotel, you want to make sure you’re not wasting your money. Right?

*Note – I mention Expedia a lot in this post because I use Expedia a lot. There are plenty of different good options to use for hotel research beyond Expedia. Just google it and you’ll see what I mean!

Tips for booking your next hotel stay:

  1. Determine what’s most important to you. Are you looking for the cheapest room? Are you looking for the best location? Start with a list ahead of looking at any hotels. That way, you can narrow down your search right away and weed-out the hotels you don’t need/want.
  2. Think outside of the box. If you don’t need to be right downtown in a city, there are plenty of available hotels for a lot cheaper that are just a five – ten minute drive from downtown.
  3. Read Reviews. Read all of the reviews! Trivago, Expedia, Hotels.com, all of these websites allow people to post real reviews about said hotels that you’re looking at. Whereas a hotel’s own website might be able to hide the negative reviews, any negative reviews that exist will definitely be on a place like Trivago or Expedia. Personally, I’m partial to Expedia.
  4. Don’t necessarily trust the pictures. Honestly, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. This is another suggestion that ties directly to the tip I have to read reviews. Websites like Expedia allow users to post pictures of their hotel rooms they’re staying in. So, whereas the photos the hotel posts might be heavily photoshopped, professional photographer taken photos – in the reviews you can see real photos from people who’ve stayed there, showcasing the state of the rooms as they are.
  5. Check if there are extra amenities. Some hotels have gyms for guests to use. Some hotels have free laundry services. Some hotels have pools. Some hotels have kitchenettes in them, for the same prices as a room that doesn’t have a kitchenette. Some hotels have no amenities. Knowing the amenities can help you to know if you’re getting more value for your dollar when you’re booking!
  6. PRICE CHECK. Price check on several different websites if you have the time. One hotel can have a different price listed on it’s company website, on Expedia, on Trivago, etc… Checking the prices before you book can help you to ensure that you’re booking your hotel room for the best available price.
  7. Check Groupon. This one came at the suggestion of a friend of mine, quite recently. If you’re headed to a tourist destination, there might be some options on Groupon that allow you to purchase heavily discounted packages that included your hotel stay, restaurant vouchers and activities to take part in all in one purchase. If you’re headed to somewhere that’s touristy in nature, there might be a Groupon package available!
  8. Collect Rewards. Most (I cannot speak to all as I have not researched all) hotels that have rewards programs are rewards programs that are completely free. Yes, it is an extra card for your collection, but if you know that you need to stay at a hotel then you might as well earn points for it.
  9. Book ahead of time, where you can. When you walk up to the front desk of a hotel and ask them if they have a room available for you to book for the night, they are going to charge you the highest possible price EVERY TIME. There’s no competition, there’s no need to advertise, you’re standing right in front of them asking them for a room. You, as a customer, as a guest, lose your purchasing power in booking your stay and they can charge you as much as they want for your stay. Even if it’s so simple as you viewing the price from the parking lot five minutes before you walk to the front desk, book ahead of time. I have, in the past, experienced a hotel quote me that rooms were $159 per night. I then told them I was thinking it over, walked out to the parking lot and booked a room at that hotel on Expedia for $101. When I returned to the front desk they had to honour that booking, knowing that I wasn’t going to be paying the $159 they had just quoted me five minutes earlier. ALWAYS BOOK AHEAD. Even if it’s just five minutes ahead!
  10. Pay ahead of time, where you can. Websites like Expedia allow you to pay for your stay when booking. To me, this is a convenience factor. Paying ahead of time means I need not give the hotel my credit card when I get there. It also means that I earn reward points for booking on Expedia.

If you have the time to research and plan ahead for booking hotel rooms, it can provide so much added value to the trip you’re taking. But, even if you don’t have time to plan ahead, I still strongly encourage everyone to book ahead of walking up to the front desk of a hotel.

PERSONAL STORY TIME:

Last week while in Calgary, I stayed at a hotel called ‘Park Inn by Radisson, Calgary Airport’ that was just a ten minute drive from downtown. This hotel, brand new on the inside, had full kitchenettes in each room, a gym, a laundry room for guests, a computer station for people to do business, a pantry stocked with food guests had access too and it cost me $83 per night. This hotel I chose based on believing it would provide me the best value for my money.

Two weeks ago, I stayed in a hotel called ‘Super 8 by Wyndham, Hamilton Airport’ that was old, run down, had paper thin walls allowing me to hear the conversations of those in the room next door, a bath tub that didn’t drain, cracked foundation in the walls and zero amenities. This hotel was $159 for the night. This hotel I chose solely because it was closest to the Airport that I needed to fly out of.

Both hotels had beautiful photos listed on their websites and promised comforting stays in memorable rooms that would make me feel at home while I was travelling. One succeeded with their promises, one did not. One hotel blocked my Expedia account from being able to book rooms via Expedia for their hotel, after they read my review. But, the important thing is that my review of their hotel is still there. Always read the reviews!

Tips for coping with anxiety from a Psychiatrist, part two.

In working with a Psychiatrist to help cope with the massive amounts of anxiety I’ve been dealing with this year, I’ve been learning a lot about myself. I’ve also been learning a lot of how deal with the anxiety that I have. It’s an invaluable lesson and I’m passing along the things that my psychiatrist is teaching me in hopes that it may resonate with others.

One of the things that she’s teaching me is that, when you’re anxious, it’s really easy to believe things that aren’t necessarily true.

When I get anxious, everything pisses me off. Things that would normally roll-off-my-back seem like insurmountable feats and, it really doesn’t matter what people do, it’s just going to make me angry. As a result, I tend to alienate myself from people. And, when I alienate myself from people, my head is filled with even more anxious thoughts and beliefs that I don’t belong around people and that the people in my life don’t like me. It’s a vicious cycle that I’ve been spinning in for months now. Spending some time sitting down with my psychiatrist and talking about this cycle, she’s provided me some tips to help keep myself calm when I get anxious.

So here are the tips:

  1. When you’re anxious and your spinning, thinking negative thoughts that you cannot control,ask yourself “Is this really true?” Really stop and think about it. Don’t just allow yourself to say ‘Yes it’s true’. How do you know it’s true? Are you thinking inside of said person’s brain? Do you know their thoughts? Do you have hard and fast evidence of what said person is thinking? Because if you cannot prove with 100% certainty that the thoughts/feelings that are making you anxious are, in fact, 100% truth, you need to reflect that on yourself, not on them. Learning to take those situations and put it on yourself, saying “Why am I thinking this? Why is my brain doing this?” will allow you to be more cognizant of your negative thoughts and how to see past them when you do get annoyed/anxious/frustrated.
  2. Self-care is so integral. Looking after yourself on the outside will help you to feel better on the inside. Exercise. Wash your face. Put your feet up when you get the opportunity. Take the little moments that you get during the day to treat yourself, or enjoy yourself. Go to a yoga class, if you can. Or, if you can’t go to Yoga, practice some at-home meditation. When your body is at peace, it will help your mind to be at peace, so don’t just do these things when you feel anxious, do them always.
  3. Don’t own anyone’s bullshit but your own. This one is a big problem for me, and it’s something that I bet a lot of people who struggle with mental illness struggle with. I think that, largely, when you’re anxious and struggling, it can be very easy for you to take on the burden of someone’s lies, bullshit or nonsense without even thinking twice about it. This is something that you need to recognize when it’s happening and put a stop to. If someone lies to you, don’t just accept the lie, call them out on it. Say ‘Thank you, but I do not deserve your lies’. If someone treats you unfairly, remind them that it’s a reflection of them and not yourself. Actually say it out loud… not just inside of your head. Speaking our truth, saying the words in a manner which they can hear will do more for your psyche than anything else in that moment. Feel free to leave the burden of their bullshit with them.
  4. Don’t let negativity people rent space in your head. This one ties back to my previous post (Tips for coping with anxiety from a Psychiatrist). When people in your life are being particularly negative, it’s really easy to let them eat away at you. What my psychiatrist recommends doing is keeping a happy memory, one happy memory, in your mind and regurgitating that memory in your head or out loud when someone’s negativity is tearing you down. Forcing yourself to think of happy thoughts in the moments when someone is being particularly shitty, it will force much needed serotonin into your brain and provide you the extra ‘umph’ you need in order to end the situation. Whether that be walking away from it, telling them to shut up, asking them kindly to move on, or however you end up doing it, when you’re thinking happy thoughts in your mind, it’ll be easier for you to kick their negativity to the curb.
  5. Find your strength. One of the things that my Psychiatrist tells me is that I’m really good at standing up for other people and for coming to the rescue of someone I love or someone that I care about, but when it comes to myself, I tend to lay down and die (so to speak). I have a feeling I am not the only one. One of the best ways to cope with your anxiety is to find your strength, she says. Knowing that you have the power to stand up for yourself is so integral to switching off the negative parts to your brain.
  6. Clean your space. This one should go without saying, but it can also often be a struggle for people. If you’re living in a space that is dirty, cluttered or dusty, it can contribute vastly to your mental health. Much like how SAD(Seasonal Affected Disorder) is a real thing, (Space Affected Disorder) is also very much a real thing. If your indoor space is the equivalent of dark, grey, rainy and gross days, it’s going to to affect the way in which you view the world. Pick up where you can. Dust when you have a few spare moments. Throw away or recycle clutter that you don’t need. It will help you long term.

Most of all, she says, is to go easy on yourself. Your issues are valid and you need time to properly grieve in order to move past them. This is a life-long commitment that you need to make to yourself in order to feel better. You owe it to yourself.

Stop wasting time, start getting things done.

It can be exceptionally easy to plop yourself down on the couch and kiss a few hours of a day goodbye, if you allow yourself.

I have an exceptionally easy time putting off tasks. I can waste the day away, I can waste a week away without even thinking twice about it. And lately I am realizing that I can’t be like that anymore.

For a lot of people, wasting time is not even about laziness. There isn’t so much a desire to just lay on the couch and waste the day away. For a lot of people, deep down, there’s an anxious mind propagating fears. The fears of messing up that keep us from even starting a task in the process, this is what contributes greatly to wasting time. I have a lot of those fears, and I have them often.

Note to self: stop wasting time, start getting things done.

  • Ask yourself ‘why?’ Why am I procrastinating? Do I know how to start? Do I know where to start? D I have the courage to do this, to get things done and to not stop until it’s complete? Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions.

Too many people live with the notion that if it can’t be done perfectly then it shouldn’t be done at all. This is wrong.

  • Don’t aim for perfection. Aim to get things done. Once progress has already begun, or a task has already been completed, it is much easier to edit or reorganize your work after the fact.
  • Clear distractions from your life. If having the tv on is going to cause you to lose focus, put the remote away. If having your laptop on is going to distract you, put your laptop under your bed. Don’t allow yourself the opportunity to get distracted.
  • Write shit down. Write it all down. Write down what you need to get done, and hey, if you can, write down some things you’ve already done. There’s a certain catharsis that comes from being able to cross something off your to do list. Just seeing something crossed off will provide you added motivation to cross more off.
  • Give yourself a window of time. Be it ten minutes, be it an hour, be it a day or a week or whatever time frame you give yourself, set a time limit. If you have a limit of time in which you can get things done, you will be more inclined to finish things before your deadline.
  • Celebrate your accomplishments. It’s important to note that when you get something done you need to celebrate the accomplishment. Celebrating finishing a task will help you with motivation for future tasks, and, if you are one of those people who gets anxious about things, or has fear of the future, celebrating the small victories can be really helpful for your confidence level.

Tips & tricks for smooth transitions through the airport.

As someone who’s been on a few thousand flights over the past 10 years, I’ve learned a few things about how to make the most annoying place on earth (aka the airport) as easy as possible when you need to get somewhere.

First and foremost – a very important thing to note – where at all possible, DO NOT BUY BLACK LUGGAGE. Everyone buys black luggage. If you want to identify yours when it’s coming down the conveyor belt, avoid the chance that random strangers will pull it off the belt thinking it’s their’s, or your luggage getting lost in general, don’t buy black luggage! Not to mention if your luggage does get lost the first thing they will ask you is “What does it look like?” If you say “Well it’s a black suitcase,” you’ll see the eyes roll. Everyone has black luggage.

As for the airport, here goes:

  1. Always check-in online. In this day and age where it costs for EVERYTHING, spending $50 for seat selection just seems like something I don’t want. But, here in Canada, you can check into your flights a full 24 hours early. And, if you’re one of the first people to check in, you’re assigned an aisle or window seat ahead of them assigning you a middle seat. So ALWAYS check-in online.
  2. Skip the jewelry when you’re getting dressed. (And belts) If it’s important to bring it, put it in a little baggy and slip it into your carry-on or suitcase. Then bring it out when the timing is right. By avoiding putting it on, you’ll avoid needing to take extra time in the security line taking it all off.
  3. Dress up to dress down. Combat boots are cute and all, but taking those bad-boys off to go through security to put back on immediately afterwards takes a considerable amount of time. Things like slip on shoes can, and will be, your best friend.
  4. Take a screenshot of your booking information/boarding pass. The screenshot on your phone will be a lot easier to access than trying to fumble through paperwork amidst everything else in your backpack/carry-on.
  5. Separate your electronics. This will make your time in the security line go much more smoothly and much faster.
  6. Figure out your liquids game before you get to the security line. Where at all possible, if you don’t have to bring liquids then don’t. But, if you must bring liquids, know the rules before you go. Don’t be that doh-head who needs their bag to get searched and have full-sized perfume and hand creams pulled out of it. I’ve seen a lot of times the TSA Agents be nice about this, but you can also get into a lot of trouble.
  7. Wear an item of clothing with a sports logo on it. This isn’t a certified fact, and I only do this in North American airports, but I have noticed on days when I am wearing certain jackets with sporting logos on them, the TSA agents will move me to the quicker line. Perhaps they like sports? Perhaps, they just think I’m some sort of coach and want to help me on my way. I’m not sure. But, when wearing the logo makes the security line shorter, I’m going to wear the logo.
  8. Bring an empty water bottle and fill it up inside of security. Buying water at the airport is no-bueno. I’ve paid upwards of $6.00 Canadian for a single bottle of water. Having a reusable water bottle with you can avoid a lot of unnecessary costs.
  9. Save your Starbucks rewards for the airport. It’s a well known fact of life that Starbucks costs 2-3 dollars more per drink when you’re at the airport. If you collect Starbucks rewards, save the free drinks for when you travel, for when you’re in the airport. And if you don’t collect Starbucks rewards, start collecting them. Seriously.
  10. When you’re travelling internationally add international data and roaming minutes to your cell phone plan. In the airport alone you can’t always rely on wi-fi in other parts of the world. If you’ve got the international data, you can still use your phone to help you get to where you need to be.
  11. Bring a phone charger. Always bring a phone charger. And, if you’re travelling internationally, bring a plug converter. You don’t want to find yourself in the Amsterdam airport, unable to speak the language, with a dead cell phone.
  12. Keep your money in your front pocket. Especially in busy airports, pickpocketing is a real issue. For guys that keep their wallets in their back pocket, put it in your front pocket while walking through the airport to avoid pickpocketing.
  13. Always arrive at your gate early. Why? Planes can leave early. I’s not a frequent occurrence, but they do leave early. You don’t want to be the doh-head that missed the flight because you were looking at overpriced magazines down the hall.
  14. Be kind. Don’t yell. Even when it’s frustrating. Even when someone pisses you off. You don’t want to find yourself in a foreign country where you cannot speak the language, with people unwilling to help you because you’ve been a tired, pissed off asshole. There was one instance in Frankfurt when the security guard was telling me to take off my shoe. I could not understand her because she was speaking German. Naturally, being Canadian, my response was “I’m sorry”. And then I said “English, English?” She called over the German police (at the time I was worried I was in trouble, but it turns out she was doing it because she knew they could speak English). The police officers were actually very kind to me. One of them told me I was very soft-spoken and told me thank you. Moral of the story – always be nice. Even when it’s annoying.
  15. Fly the flag. This is a big one, especially if you’re Canadian. Put a Canadian flag on your luggage, on your carry-on, on your backpack, etc… It’s a good conversation starter with strangers. There’s nothing cooler than striking up conversation with a badass human being half-way around the world and making your wait at the airport a little-less boring. And who knows, in this day of social media, perhaps you can stay in touch.