Hello. My name is Alexandra Franzen.

I work as a ghostwriter for brands in the health, wellness, creativity and personal development industries.

I also write my own books, send out an uplifting weekly-ish newsletter, and teach workshops & writing courses, like this one.

I love coffee, crystals, intense workouts, and exploring questions like, “Where does ‘motivation’ come from? And how can we dig deep and find more?”

I hope you find something here on this website that makes your day… a little brighter than it was before.

Good Question: How can I stay creative when I have to sit and type all day long?

Hi Alex,
 
Do you have any advice on how to stay creative and energized when your work requires you to sit in front of a computer all day? This is something that I have been struggling with. Any techniques you can share?
 
Cheers,
 
–Itai

Dear Itai,

This is a terrific question — one that I grapple with myself, as a full-time writer and computer-strapped person — and I have several techniques I can share.

Here we go.

If you are struggling to stay creative and energized when you have to sit and type all day long, my advice is…

– Don’t do it.

Just don’t. Don’t sit and type all day long. This is terrible for your mind, body and spirit.

Physicians now say that “sitting is the new smoking.” Sitting too much raises your likelihood of developing virtually every disease under the sun, from depression to hypertension to indigestion. It’s not good.

– Cry, mourn, and accept that you may need to overhaul your life in a significant way.

Oops! You chose a career that requires you to sit and stare into a screen for 70% of your waking life. You’re doomed! Well, not really. You’re still in charge of your life.

You can change your career (a lot or a little). You can change your daily routine. You can switch to a standing desk. You can say “Fuck everything!” and join a Bollywood dance troupe or become a forest ranger. You can say to yourself, “You know what? I’m not OK with being tethered to a computer all day long. I am going to work half-time and make half as much money and be twice as happy. That’s my new plan.” It’s all up to you.

No matter how “trapped” you think you are, you are always in charge of your life.

Realizing all of this might stir up a lot of emotions which is why… it’s OK to cry.

– Write standing up.

I like to write standing up beside my kitchen table. Sometimes I flop onto my stomach on my bed. Other people like standing desks or even treadmill desks. Experiment with different options. I repeat: just don’t sit all day.

– Schedule workouts, walks and playtime.

Your body was made to move. If you do not move, you will feel uncreative and sad. Even just a little bit of activity — like a brisk walk five times a week — can help tremendously. SCIENCE.

– Have sex with yourself or someone else.

You will have a flood of delightful neurotransmitters. You will feel relaxed. All of your problems will seem smaller. You might even feel inspired to write dopey, smitten love poetry. All great things!

– Look at interesting things and talk to interesting people.

I get my best ideas when I am milling about, wandering into random shops, staring at people, or having conversations with friends or strangers. Get out of the house.

– Read books.

Remember books? Read them. Read whatever interests you. Read things outside of your “industry” to get inspiration from new and diverse sources.

– Watch TV. (But not too much.)

I love TV and I don’t think it’s “bad.” I love shows with fascinating characters and gripping surprises and excellent writing. A little bit of TV energizes me. Too much makes me sleepy. I like to use TV as a “brain treat” to reward myself for finishing a project.

– Travel.

Your brain operates differently when you are somewhere “different,” which is why many people tend to have big creative epiphanies and bursts of creativity on airplanes, in hotels, at strange bars, in the car, or while traveling to new places. Another great reason to get out of the house!

– Take a shower.

When you’re blissed out in a warm, soapy shower, your brain produces dopamine, which is a happiness-boosting neurotransmitter that helps you to make creative connections and solve problems in new ways. Also you will smell better.

– Cry more.

Oh no! You just remembered that despite all of the great sex you just had and that awesome vacation and shower, you still feel shackled to your computer most of the day and it totally sucks. Cry more! You are allowed!

Then channel your grief into a poem, or sign up for an interesting class, or encourage your employer to switch to a 4-day workweek, or watch this tiny hamster eat a tiny burrito. It’s all going to be OK.

– Be grateful.

Computers are a miracle. Technology is a miracle. Being able to sit peacefully and wiggle your fingers over a keyboard so that ideas pour out of your brain and turn into sentences on a screen is a miracle.

Yes, technology can be stressful, overwhelming, or tiring at times. But try to avoid complaining because it will only irritate you and others. Instead, try to stay focused on the awesome wonderfulness of everything, as often as you can. Be grateful.

As my friend Susan says, “Stay in the miracle.”

I hope that helps, Itai (and others with similar queries).

Now please close your laptop, crumple your tablet, flick off your phone, dismantle your harddrive and go outside for awhile. I promise: you’ll feel more creative right away and you’ll have a much lovelier day.

-Alex

Good Question is an advice column about writing, communication, creativity, and how to be a decent human being in a complicated world. Looking for past columns? Go here.


The “Phone People.” Be afraid. Be very afraid…

“Table for two, right this way.”

The host called out my name and guided my boyfriend and I over to a spot on the patio.

It was a glorious, unfairly beautiful summer morning (thanks, global warming!) and we had been waiting an eternity to snag a table at the hottest brunch spot in town. (Portlanders take brunch very seriously. Waiting up to an hour or more is not uncommon.)

We ordered a round of pineapple mimosas, French toast and breakfast corn dogs (whaaat? now!) and sank into our chairs feeling gleeful. What a day!

Then, as we often do, we started scanning the tables around us.

Our favorite restaurant-game is to identify people who appear to be “on a date” and then invent stories about them. (“She’s a librarian who still believes in true love. He’s a computer programmer with a heart of gold, yet hiding a dark secret. They’re going to have their first kiss between the book stacks… tonight!”)

But this morning, we struggled to spot lusty couples.

Why?

Because every single table was full of people… on their phones.

We did a quick survey and literally every single table had a minimum (minimum!) of two smartphones resting on the surface. Many brunchers held phones in their hands or on their laps. Many were snapping photos of the food. I do believe one person was snapping a photo of someone snapping a photo of their food. Many were texting while peering over the top of their phone to simultaneously chat with their dining companions. Or ignoring their companions completely.

We started to play a new game.

When a new group of diners got seated at their table, we would place our bets.

“How many seconds before at least 1 person at the table pulls out their phone?”

I generously wagered, “40 seconds.” I was way off. The average was 14 seconds. Whoa.

I started to feel extremely distressed.

“What is going on here? This is really insane. I am quitting Instagram right away!” I declared, amidst bites of syrup-soaked toast. (And shortly after that, I did.)

I couldn’t stop thinking about “The Phone People,” as we dubbed them — a play on the 1980s horror film The Pod People — and even right now, as I look around the coffee shop where I am working, I see them. I see them everywhere. Texting. Tapping. Refreshing. Staring. Glued to their screens. It’s relentless.

It makes me feel very emotional and I just recently, I have realized why:

Because I am a Phone Person, too.

I don’t play video games on my phone. I don’t use social media anymore. I don’t snap photos obsessively anymore.

But I do spend 75% of my waking hours attached to some kind of screen, be it a laptop, phone, or reading device.

75% of my LIFE.

This is COMMON for Americans.

This is NOT GOOD.

I am starting to formulate my career / business plan for next year — 2016 — and several friends and mentors have asked me what kinds of writing services I plan to offer, if I will teach any workshops, or make any new e-courses, etc.

Honestly, at this point? I have no idea.

All I know is that next year, I do not want to spend more than 4 hours per day in front of a screen.

That is my #1 goal.

I am announcing it here, publicly, to make it feel even more serious and real.

I will hold that goal as my “bottom line,” and I will try to design the rest of my life / career accordingly.

Feeling similarly? Some questions to consider:

– How many years of your life are you willing to pour into a screen?

– How many hours or minutes per day?

– What does a “healthy, sane, reasonable” relationship with technology look like to you?

– How could you get closer to that kind of relationship right now, as well as long term?

– What’s the potential cost if you don’t?

These are big questions and we all have our own unique answers.

One thing is very clear for me:

None of us were born to be “Phone People.”

We are born for much grander lives and bigger adventures than that.

There has to be a better way of living in the modern world and engaging with technology.

I trust that, collectively, as a human race, we will figure it out.

Step #1 is simple:

Put your freaking phone… down.


Is it possible to run a business without using social media?

– Prefer to read with your ears? You can listen to me read the following post right here. –


I stopped using Twitter about one year ago and when I did, lots of people asked me:

“Aren’t you worried that if you stop using social media your business will suffer?”

My response was, “Well, I guess we’ll find out!”

Here is what happened:

Nothing.

Nothing happened.

Nothing “bad,” anyway.

My clients did not fire me.

My client waiting list (people who would like to work with me in the future, when I have availability) continued to grow. (70 people and counting.)

My blog readership (right here, on this website) remained consistent.

My newsletter subscription numbers continued to tick upwards.

I created a new e-course and it became my most profitable digital program, ever.

I did not receive any furious letters from Jack Dorsey, CEO and founder of Twitter, demanding an explanation for my sudden absence.

Also, I still have friends.

Everything was… fine.

I briefly dabbled with Instagram this summer (“Ooh, this seems fun!”) but quickly decided to sign off, returning back to my social media-free existence.

Everything is still… fine.

It’s understandable that people who know me, or follow my work, are curious about this.

People continue to ask me:

“How can you run a business without using social media to promote your work?”

In whispered tones, almost as if it’s a dirty secret, I get quiet confessions from people who say to me:

“I’m jealous of you. I want to cut way back on social media, or stop using it all together, but I am scared that my life / work / career / business / etc. won’t function without it. I am afraid that if I stop using social media, clients won’t ever find me.”

If that’s something you are feeling or wondering, too, this is my response:

Social networking websites (like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) have been around for less than 10 years.

Businesses have been around — and thriving mightily — for, uh, a lot longer than that.

Scan back through the annals of history — from the silk, silver and spice merchants of ancient Rome to the Ford motor factories of the early 1900s to the grand opening of the world’s first Starbucks in the 1971 — all of these tremendously successful business began, and grew vigorously, without the aid of social media marketing.

How? I’m no business historian, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d chalk it up to good ol’ fashioned “word of mouth.”

As in: one happy customer telling a friend or colleague, “Hey, you’ve got to check this out…”

The same principle holds true today. At least, when it comes to my business.

Every single one of my current clients “discovered” me because a trusted friend, client, colleague, or writer that they admire said to them: “You should hire Alex…” or “Check out Alex’s writing sometime…” or “I think you might enjoy one of Alex’s workshops…”

Word of mouth is king.

Always has been.

Social media is an amazing tool that can facilitate & amplify word of mouth marketing like never before.

After all, if somebody tweets — “OMG, check out this amazing sale at my fav shoe store! #LifeChanger” — that’s word of mouth marketing, too. It’s just happening on an online conversation-space.

But social media is not a prerequisite in order for word of mouth marketing to occur.

Personal emails, private texts between friends, phone calls, face to face conversations, events, mentions in respected books and resource guides — there are so many different ways that word of mouth excitement about a person, product, or service can spread. Social media is one of these ways, but not the only way.

In the 5 or so years that I have been self employed, I have tried to focus on building an impeccable reputation as a service provider, writing teacher, and creative collaborator.

I have also (very intentionally) chosen a business model where I really only “need” 5 – 10 clients per month in order to earn the amount of money that I want.

This means that I don’t “need” millions of fans hanging on my every tweet. I just need to delight 5 clients so mightily that they eagerly tell 5 more people about me. And then delight those 5 people so that they (hopefully) tell 5 more. And so on, and on, and on it goes…

Am I saying, “Hey, everybody, run your business exactly like me!”…? Obviously not.

Your career or style of doing business might be very different from mine.

Maybe, for you, social media really is a vital and necessary tool. How fortunate, then, that you were born at this precise time in history! Charge on!

I certainly don’t believe that social media is “bad.”

I do believe, however, that for most people… it is “optional.” (This is something we forget.)

Which brings me to my last point…

If social media is “optional,” why are so many people “afraid” to stop using it?

I believe that, deep down, it’s all driven by a “fear of missing out.” #FOMO

Fear of missing out on a funny, witty video clip.

Fear of missing out on a potential business connection or client relationship.

Fear of missing out on a big sale at your favorite store or big news from a friend.

I feel it, too. I feel afraid of missing out on all of those things, too.

But do you know what I am afraid of missing, more?

I am afraid of missing out on my life.

My fucking LIFE.

That’s what.

I am afraid of missing out on human touch, eye contact, sunrises, sunsets, unplugged experiences, great books, great talks, big hugs, home cooked meals, and those fleeting, almost indescribable moments of connection that happen when you move through the world without the barrier of a screen held like a shield, guarding “you” from “the world.”

That is what I fear… missing out on.

So that is why I choose not to use social media these days and why I continually re-evaluate my relationship with technology to make sure it is healthy. (Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is not.)

So far, I have noticed absolutely no negative impact on my business.

The only impact on my life has been a deepening, ever-increasing sense that time is passing quickly — the life-minutes are ticking by — and it is imperative that I do everything in my power to make those minutes count. Which means crafting a very intentional relationship with technology — using certain tools, but not others — in a way that feels “right” for me.

If that makes me an “under-ambitious entrepreneur,” so be it.

And if you’d like to join me, feel free.

We can meet under the trees, watch the sky, and you can leave your cell phone at home.

-Alex


Why I do not use social media anymore.

I had a Facebook account for about 24 hours.

I traipsed around Twitter for a couple of years.

I had a brief flirtation with Instagram this summer.

While I have experimented and dabbled with various social media platforms over the years — from MySpace (remember MySpace?) to Friendster to Pinterest and beyond — I rarely play with any platform for more than a year or so.

I currently do not use any social media networking platforms at all.

I do not think I will ever use social media again.

People often ask me, “Why?”

It’s a reasonable question. One that I continue to revisit and reconsider through the years. Because social media is not “bad” or “evil” by any means. It’s absolutely magical.

Like email, like electricity, like the clean running water that I enjoy here in my privileged Western bubble, social media is a miracle. Social media (well, a dating website, which is sorta the same thing) helped me to find my true love. Social media helps unknown voices get discovered. Social media helps people to express themselves. Social media dissolves the barrier between “maker” and “consumer.” With social media, everyone can be an artist and share their work publicly. These are all very beautiful things. I recognize all of that.

And yet, despite everything, I continually arrive back at the conclusion that social media — at least, in the way that I tend to use it — is “just not for me.”

Why is that?

Well, let’s consider: Twitter.

I was active on Twitter for about 4.5 years. It was fun, amusing, delightful for my ego, and led to a few intriguing opportunities.

Yet, in the midst of my tweetery, I often felt a nagging feeling inside. A voice asking, “Alex, is this really how you want to be spending your life-minutes? Isn’t there something else that might be a more meaningful use of your time? Wouldn’t you rather be walking outside, talking to your mom, writing a novel, having sex, working out, mailing a letter, volunteering, you know, all of those things that you ‘never have enough time’ to do?”

Mostly I would ignore that quiet voice because, ooh, look! A new re-tweet. #dopamineburst

Over the 4-ish years that I was active in the Twitterverse, I tweeted 9,074 times. That’s approximately 2,016 tweets per year.

Let’s fast forward.

Imagine that…

It is the end of my life.

I am (hopefully, if I am lucky) 100 years old, with wispy silver hair, tucked into my deathbed, reflecting upon a century’s worth of dreams, passions, adventures, and a few regrets.

At the end of my life, will I say to myself:

“My God, I am so grateful that I tweeted 151,200 times (2,016 tweets per year times 75 years starting around age 25) over the course of my life. Time well spent! How wonderful!”

Will I say that?

I wish I could say, “Totally! I will feel very pleased!”

But I know, deep in my hut (heart + gut)… that I will not.

I will not feel peaceful and content knowing that I tweeted 151,200 times over the course of my life.

I will feel unsettled. I will feel remorse. Regret.

I will calculate all of the minutes that I spent coming up with thousands upon thousands of tweets — thinking about those tweets, typing those tweets, editing those tweets, publishing those tweets, tracking to see who “liked” and “re-tweeted” my tweets, and then re-sharing my witticisms on various other platforms — and I would probably come to the grim conclusion that it was somewhere in the realm of 1.8 million minutes spent on Twitter, alone.

1.8 million minutes of my life.

1,250 days. About 3.4 years.

At that point, I will probably cry.

I will mourn my lost life-minutes, never to be recovered.

I will fantasize about all of the things I could have done with that time.

The kisses, the walks, the rich conversations, the sunbathing, the moongazing, the books, unwritten.

I will desperately want to claw my way back through time for a chance to do it over.

I will not be offered that chance.

So that is why I no longer use social media and why I probably won’t use it again.

Because I know that at the end of my life, sharing pics & quips & LOLs & emoticons & working diligently to create a “presence” on social media networking platforms & eagerly seeking “likes” & “shares” & “hearts” and so forth is not a time investment that I will feel proud of. To the contrary, it’s one I will probably regret.

Others may feel very differently and that’s perfectly OK. This is my life. You’ve got yours.

The purpose of this mini-essay is not to say “social media is good” or “bad,” but rather to pose this question:

“The average human lifespan is 39,420,000 minutes, if you are lucky. How are you currently spending your life-minutes? Where are they going? Are you OK with that?”

This can be a frightening question to face — regarding social media or any other “time investment” — but ultimately, it might be the only question that really matters.

-Alex

– Here’s another interesting question to consider: “Is social media helping me to become the best version of myself?” If the answer is “Yes” (and it very well may be) then, carry on! Create. Share. Inspire. Entice. Rock on. But if the answer is “No,” that’s something worth pondering.

– Wondering how to “quit” Facebook? I wrote a few words on that topic awhile back. Here you go.

– Is it possible to run a successful business without using social media to promote your work? Yes. Yes it is.


Gym rats & bookworms! Choose a fitness program you will love… based on your favorite type of book.

I love reading.

I love working out.

I’ve attempted to do both at the same time, but this usually leads to snail-like crawling on the elliptical machine while squinting to discern the next line of whatever post-apocalyptian dystopian drama I’m trying to devour. (Note to self: switch to audio books!)

If you’re a bookworm and you want to get fit, stretchy, and strong — but you’re struggling to find a style of exercise that doesn’t make your entire face look like a sad emoticon — here is a list of recommended fitness regimes based on your literary obsessions.

Whatever inspires you to read… can also inspire you to sweat!
 

IF YOU LOVE…

TRAVEL BOOKS about glorious cities, islands, nations, cultures, and adventurous treks to farflung locations [like In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson or Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.]

TRY: Choosing a long, intense “trek” or “trail hike” or “biking / walking tour” that you’d like to complete within the next year.

Maybe a bicycle tour around the island of Maui, or the Camina de Santiago in Europe or the Pacific Crest Trail that Cheryl Strayed traverses in her memoir, Wild.

Calculate the distance you’ll be biking / walking to set a specific fitness goal for yourself.

Once you’ve selected your trek, purchase a ticket and put the date in your calendar. Make it official.

Then create a training plan (just like an athlete!) to ramp up your strength and endurance over the course of several weeks or months… so that you can safely complete your epic pilgrimage. Hire a personal trainer to help you map out a training program if you feel flummoxed. (While you work out, listen to inspiring travel podcasts or books-on-tape about your future destination. The time will fly!)
 

IF YOU LOVE…

PSYCHOLOGY / HAPPINESS BOOKS about how we can re-design our lives, enjoy happier relationships, and live more peacefully and joyfully [like Daring Greatly by Brené Brown or The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin].

TRY: A yoga and cardio-dance-inspired workout that feels like a glimmering disco ball of positivity, like Intensati or a Shrink Session.

With both of these workouts, you call out confidence-building affirmations (“I am strong!” “I am focused!” “I achieve my goals!” “Nothing can stop me!”) while you bop, squat, jump, and get your heart rate pumping. Fans of these techniques say that it often feels ridiculous at first, but the results are flat-out amazing.
 

IF YOU LOVE…

SPIRITUALITY BOOKS on meditation, mindfulness, presence, minimalism, and living on purpose [like The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo or Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön.]

TRY: Any form of fitness that feels like a meditative, repetitive, solitary pursuit, like rowing, walking, swimming, or “zen running.”

As you create your fitness plan and complete your workouts, see if you can adopt the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, where the point of your effort is to make “continual improvement” rather than aiming for rigid “perfection.”
 

IF YOU LOVE…

PRODUCTIVITY / BUSINESS BOOKS filled with “life hacks” to get more done in less time and tips on how to optimize your workday for maximum success, profit, world domination, etc. [like anything by Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, Ramit Sethi, and folks like that]

TRY: A science-driven fitness regime like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) which allows for maximum fitness benefits in a relatively compressed amount of time.

Another buzzword for you to know: Tabata training, a powerful form of interval training developed by Japanese researcher Dr. Izumi Tabata. Tabata training (where you push hard for 20 seconds, rest for 10, push for 20, rest for 10, and repeat for a total of 4 minutes) has been shown to have huge benefits for cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength.
 

IF YOU LOVE…

SEXY, SMUTTY, EROTIC BOOKS about love, sex, angst, lust, more love, and more sex [like Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James or Priest by Sierra Simone]

TRY: Pole dancing! It’s an insanely good workout with just the right amount of smut-factor. Tip: NO LOTION on your legs or you will slide down to the ground with a painful thump.

You might also enjoy burlesque dancing classes, Bollywood dancing, or maybe even running. (Christian Grey is always running around town looking tortured and morose in a gray hoodie sweater. Why not plan out a walking or running tour where you visit all of the memorable filming locations from the Fifty Shades movie, hmm?)
 

IF YOU LOVE…

DYSTOPIAN FANTASY BOOKS about post-apocalyptic worlds where the government is pure evil and teenagers are in charge of everything, for some reason [like The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins or The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld]

TRY: A form of fitness that brings out your inner warrior, like archery, fencing or Krav Maga.

Or, consider training for an bad-ass event that pushes all your fear-buttons, like the Reebok Spartan Race. (I’ll be participating in a Spartan event this winter and another next spring! GULP.)
 

IF YOU LOVE…

AUTOBIOGRAPHIES / BIOGRAPHIES about amazing people achieving incredible victories against all the odds [like My Fight / Your Fight by Ronda Rousey or Rusch To Glory by Rebecca Rusch]

TRY: Combat sports, martial arts, boxing, or training for an endurance event that you don’t believe you could ever possibly do, like a local 5K or 10K run, or even a half-marathon.

You might be very surprised to discover what your body is truly capable of. Take all of your doubts, train diligently, and prove yourself wrong.
 

IF YOU LOVE…

TWILIGHT. Maybe you’re still really, really into Twilight, heavily breathing and waiting for a new installment in the teen vampire series so that your life can be complete. Yes, there is a Twilight-inspired workout just for you. Several, in fact. Nicole, you’re welcome.
 

Happy reading. Happy sweating.

Be safe. Be smart. Be brave. Have fun!

Disclaimer: I am not a physician. I am a writer and fitness enthusiast with no kids and, thusly, apparently, way too much free time in which to dream up work out / book combinations. Don’t start a fitness program without your doctor’s authorization. Don’t hurt yourself. Don’t sue me. Thank you. Etc.


Every Post, EverGet Nice Helpful Notes