3 Killer Ways to Improve Your Writing

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The pen is mightier than the sword. Are you well-armed?

If you want to improve your life this year, a key area to target is your communication skills. We’ll cover conversational skills in a different post, but let’s focus on writing today.

Fair or not, people judge your writing skills A LOT! Your resume. Your school assignment. Your dating profile. Your social media posts. These have the power to shape your life. If your writing skills aren’t at the level you’d like, then please, follow my 3 steps and you will be a better writer today!

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#1 Avoid Crutches:

So, crutches are those things you add to your writing, thinking they add value, even though they don’t. What do I mean? Let’s look at some examples more closely.

Adverbs – Take a look at these sentences. He shouted loudly. She walked nervously. He ate quickly. He spoke proudly. All these sentences contain adverbs and all these sentences could be made stronger. You see, writers often lean on adverbs because they have chosen weak verbs. Look at the verbs in those sentences. Shouted. Walked. Ate. Spoke. All of these are rather generic and weak. That’s why the adverbs were added to give a little more color to the sentences. But better yet would be to swap out the original verb/adverb pairs for a single powerful verb. Look at how we can upgrade these sentences. He roared. She tip-toed. He gulped. He gloated. There is almost always an amazing verb that will improve the sentence. Find it. Use it. Instant improvement.

Adjectives – Take a look at these sentences. The beautiful girl sang a lovely song. The small house was in the green forest.The hungry wolf wanted to eat the pig. See the adjectives? Beautiful. Lovely. Small. Green. Hungry. Notice that they are common and overused adjectives that don’t really add much value to the sentence? Their only role is to take your eye off the fact that the nouns are even more common and overused. Girl. Song. House. Forest. Wolf. Pig. So here’s what to do. If possible, combine the adjective and noun into a new noun which carries the meaning of both. “Beautiful girl” can be an “angel”. “Small house” can be “a cottage”. If such a word does not exist, (for example there is no specific word which means “hungry wolf”) at least choose a more specific adjective, and consider substituting some imagery in place of the standard noun. Let’s see how this looks. “The beautiful girl sang a lovely song” becomes “The angel sang a stirring aria.” Better yet, “sang” is an overused verb, so let’s change the sentence to “The angel lifted her voice in a stirring aria.” Amazing improvement. “The small house was in the green forest” becomes “The welcoming cottage was nestled in a peaceful green sea of trees.” “The hungry wolf wanted to eat the pig” becomes “The rapacious monster longed to devour the unsuspecting farm animal.” If you want your words to come alive, swap out the common for the uncommon and you’ll get instant improvements.

Cliches – I struggle so much with this. A cliche is any phrase that has been used again and again to the point of losing all freshness and originality. As much as I try not to, I tend to overuse cliches frequently.

“At the end of the day”

“All’s well that ends well”

“Bring your A-game”

Here’s a huge list if you’d like to see more. http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-cliches.html

Like I said, I’m bad at it; I use cliches far too often. When you catch those, cut them out and come up with a fresh way to say it. Now that you are aware of it, you’ll notice them in your writing. Ruthlessly remove and replace for an instant boost to your writing.

#2 Get a Decent Thesaurus:

Seriously. Get a physical copy, place it on your desk and become friends with it. Refer to it often. A good thesaurus contains far more than just synonyms. I personally love Roget’s Thesaurus of Words for Writers. It contains over 2,300 emotive, evocative, descriptive synonyms, antonyms, and related terms every writer should know.

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As you refer to a thesaurus over time, your vocabulary and writing skills naturally strengthen.

Avoid Grammar and Spelling Mistakes:

OK, if you follow steps 1 and 2, you’ll be crafting incredibly descriptive sentences now, but you still don’t want a perfectly good email or journal entry to be marred by basic errors. How can you avoid making grammar and spelling mistakes, especially when you are in a hurry? I use Grammarly.

Grammarly is a cloud-­based application. As of now, it checks for over 250 types of common grammatical errors, corrects contextual spelling mistakes (which means it’ll notice that you used “too” when you probably meant “to”), enhances vocabulary usage, and provides citation suggestions as you type (a fantastic aid for college students). My favorite feature is that it runs in real-time as you type, so you see a variety of suggestions which don’t obstruct your view or distract you as you work. If you want to correct an error, you simply click once on the suggested improvement and your text is instantly fixed. There are browser extensions available as well, so wherever you are typing (emails, Facebook, blog comments, etc.) you are protected from errors. They have both a free service and a premium one. I started with the free service for some time; later I upgraded to premium and I love it even more. Seriously try the free version for yourself and I’m pretty sure you’ll wonder how you lived and worked without it for so long. Millions of people worldwide including myself rely on Grammarly and it can be the key tool that makes you a better writer.

So there you have it! Avoid crutches like boring adverbs and adjectives. Get a thesaurus and use it as you write to build your vocabulary. And use Grammarly to catch all the tiny errors that you miss but the judging eyes of someone else won’t. I truly believe that as you write better, your career, your relationships, and your reputation will improve.

Go for it, and if you have additional tips, feel free to share them in the comment section below!

Jamie

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A Counter-intuitive Way to Say “Goodbye” to Worry

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I have a tendency to worry. I think it is due to the fact that I juggle a lot of responsibilities and often find myself involved in projects that have me out of my comfort zone.

Additionally, I think I worry sometimes because there are many wonderful things in my life that I fear losing.

Actually, when you think about it, that’s what all worry is – a fear of loss. I worry because I don’t want to lose something I have or something I hope to have.

Ironically, this means that worry can strike even more during the good times in life. Have a great relationship? You can start worrying about losing that person. Just landed a new job? You can easily begin worry about screwing up at work.

Now a lot of people will tell you that the way to avoid worry is to not think about it, but honestly, that doesn’t work. Don’t think about a dancing bear in a tutu. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what is in your mind now.

In fact, by trying not to think about something, you actually increase the likelihood of it occupying prime real estate in your mind. So what can we do?

Let’s try something very counter-intuitive.

Rather than trying to forget our worries, I want you to focus on them. How and why?

Here’s how. First, get a journal. Here’s a nice one. It’ll be your worry journal. Next, everyday for at least a week I want you to write down every worry that pops into your mind.

“I might be late today!” Write it down. “I think my coworker thought my joke was dumb.” Write it down. “I worry my partner won’t love me someday.” Write it down.

No matter how big or small the worry, get it down on paper.

Why are we doing this? Well there are 2 huge benefits.

First, by getting these worries out of our heads and on to paper, we surprisingly will reduce the attention we pay to them. But the second benefit is even more powerful.

Imagine you have a friend who always gives you advice. Unsolicited. But he’s almost always wrong. Would you listen to him? Would you let his words dictate your  life? Of course not!

But here’s the thing. Your worries are nothing more than unsolicited advice and they are usually incorrect, just like the friend in our imaginary example.

Don’t believe me. You will after this experiment. After you write down every worry for a week, I want you to review your entries.Calculate what percentage of them actually came true? Find out what percentage turned out to be totally unnecessary.

The results will prove to you once and for all that in most cases you worries are to be laughed at, not feared.

Give it a try, and set yourself free from your worries.

Jamie

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How to Improve Your Memory: 6 Simple Ways to Remember Better

bw-934485_960_720Quick, what was the name of that new colleague you were introduced to last week? Who won the Super Bowl in 2008? What was the name of that cool website you saw last month? Your passport number?

Do questions like these leave you grasping in the dark? Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you that I have an incredible memory for some topics and a horrendous memory in others. So I have spent some time researching and trying out some methods to improve my memory. In today’s post, we’ll review the types of memory your brain has and then we’ll look at some easy hacks to improve your memory. Here we go!

The Types of Memory

I want to focus on 3 distinct types of memory that you have – working memory, declarative long-term memory, and procedural long-term memory.

Working memory – this is the short-term memory that you use every day for tasks like do basic mathematics without a pen and paper or remembering a sequence of info like a phone number or an address or directions to someone’s house. It’s like a whiteboard in your head. Once you move on to a new topic, you’ll erase whatever was in your working memory. Your working memory is very limited. That’s why you can do 12 X 9 in your head, but will struggle to do 139 X 462 and will find it impossible to do 23,987 X 45,391. You simply do not have much “space” in your working memory.

Procedural long-term memory – this is one of the key types of long-term memory. It is your ability to remember how to do things. For example, you remember how to walk, how to run, how to hold a fork, how to jump, etc. All the physical skills you have are thanks to your procedural long-term memory. When you sink that perfect put on the 9th hole, when you catch nothing but net on your 3-point shot, when you dance, play pool, or so coolly toss a crumpled piece of paper into the waste bin – all these are your procedural long-term memory at work.

Declarative long-term memory – This type of memory is what wins you a game of Jeopardy or makes you a legend on pub quiz night. Basically, everything fact, date, name, or number you know is resting in your declarative long-term memory. Those questions I asked at the top of this article are questions that you must count on your declarative long-term memory to answer. When people claim they have a great memory (or lament that they don’t) this is usually the kind of memory they are referring to.

How to Improve Each Type of Memory

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Working memory – Our working memory can be improved a bit. Again, it is a very limited “space” in our brain, so you can’t expect to drastically increase it. Also, be very wary of sites that want to charge you money to improve your working memory. There are many out there sporting rather dubious claims. Here’s the story of one popular online brain training site paying $2,000,000 to settle a deceptive advertising case.

If you want to improve your short-term memory, try the n-back test. You can play it for free here. I warn you, it gets brutally hard very quickly. Here’s the research on it from the National Academy of Sciences for those of you who want to understand how it works and to see some scientific proof of its effectiveness.

Procedural long-term memory – There are no short-cuts to improving your procedural long-term memory. But there are some things we can do over the long-run to have a stronger procedural long-term memory. Let’s break them down.

  1. Repetition – Tons of evidence suggests that we can improve our procedural memory by repeating the movements associated with the task. This is why athletes practice and performers rehearse. They are strengthening their procedural memory. However, different approaches to practice can improve their effectiveness. I strongly recommend that you get Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers to see how some people become experts in their field. However, some recent research is suggesting that his idea that 10,000 hours of practice is what leads to mastery may be incorrect. But this book is a fantastic starting point to understand how some people wind up outperforming others, particularly at skills that rely on procedural memory.
  2. Mental Rehearsal – Strangely, evidence indicates that by merely rehearsing a physical activity in your mind, you increase the chances of performing well at it. There is some debate whether the mental rehearsal itself is at work or whether the rehearsal is affecting something else such as the performer’s overall level of confidence. However, whether the influence is direct or indirect, you can’t go wrong by visualizing your performance step-by-step to improve your results.
  3. Sleep – Scientists are still trying to understand why we sleep and what happens while we do. But one thing is certain. Sleep has a significant impact on a variety of cognitive functions, including memory. While the image of sleep may be laziness, it is reasonable to argue that the athlete who sleeps best is operating with a distinct advantage.

Declarative long-term memory – All right, here is the part of the article you have probably been waiting for. How do you improve your declarative long-term memory? Here are some tips. Try them all for a month and by July you’ll be able to describe yourself as a memory master.

  1. Repetition – If you want to remember something such as someone’s name, you need to use it repeatedly. You won’t remember it easily unless it hits your brain multiple times. Use it a few times when you first meet them. Then write it down in your notes and check it a couple of times over the next day or two. The repeated exposure to it will take it out of your short-term working memory and lock it away in your long-term memory. This tips works for students who are studying for a final exam. Six 20-minute study sessions over a few days will beat one 2-hour session because the six sessions provides repetition.
  2. Verbal Elaboration – Science suggests that the act of writing or speaking about the thing that you want to remember will increase your chances of retaining it. This is why note-taking is vital for students or for meeting attendees. Of course you get the benefit of checking your notes later (repetition) but an added bonus is that the very act of writing the notes in the first place will help you remember it. Basically, taking notes reduces the need to even have notes. Get yourself a great-looking notebook and watch your recollection soar. What if you can’t takes notes? Paraphrase or summarize out-loud the contents that you wish to remember. “So you are saying that the 3rd quarter won’t be as good as the 2nd quarter due to price cuts by our competitors?” By verbalizing the facts you want to remember, you stand a better chance to retain them. You can take advantage of this when you are alone by reading out loud to yourself when you study.
  3. Sleep – Yes, sleep. Cramming isn’t the best way to remember things because it sacrifices repetition, but worst of all, it usually means cutting down on sleep. Sleep is vital to all forms of memory, including long-term declarative memory. It isn’t a very exciting answer, but increasing sleep quality is the single best way to improve memory for many sleep-deprived people out there.
  4. Supplements – I take Omega-3 every day. Actually there are lots of solid benefits of taking Omega-3. But one of the best ones is that it is meant to improve cognitive functions including memory over the long-term. I lived in South Korea for awhile and many Koreans swear by the effectiveness of taking Ginseng. Try them both, and just as importantly, cut out low-quality food like fast food, simple carbohydrates, and sugars. These leave you lethargic which can damage your concentration and memory.
  5. Emotional learning strategies – Research indicates that a positive emotional state while experiencing something increasing the chances of remembering it. That’s why you can’t remember the name of the client you met yesterday but you do remember the name of that cute girl you met in the coffee shop weeks ago. Put this fact to work for you. Have fun when you study. Listen to some peaceful, pleasurable music. Make jokes about the contents that you want to remember. Study with a friend and have fun quizzing each other. If you get a positive vibe going on, you’ll find it so much easier to remember it. Locking yourself in a drab room all day to study is just plain counterproductive. Enjoy the process and you’ll master the material!

Good luck!

Jamie

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Why You Should Already Be Blogging & How to Start Your Blog

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Benjamin Franklin once said, “Write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Today, we’ll learn how to do both by exploring the topic of blogging. If you want to improve your life this year, you absolutely should be writing your own blog. Why? Well, let’s look at a few of the benefits of blogging first and then I’ll show you how to get started. It’s damn easy and if you’d like, after you read this post, you will know how to have your own blog up and running in just a few minutes. But first, let’s see the reasons you should be blogging.

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You will Improve Many Skills

Spelling. Grammar. Storytelling. Using your computer for more than just web-surfing. You will learn a lot of skills by creating and maintaining a blog. A lot of those skills – communication, tech, marketing – are in big demand. So today’s hobby can lead to tomorrow’s promotion. Speaking of which . . .

You will Improve Your Career

If you blog about a topic related to your career, 2 things will happen. First people will begin to perceive you as a thought-leader in your field. They will come to see you as the person who knows a lot about your job and industry. This can lead to networking opportunities, chances for promotion, and even new job offers. Secondly, you actually will become more of an expert in your field. You cannot help but know a great deal about your business when you are writing about it frequently.

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You May Make Money!

If your blog becomes popular, you will be able to make money selling ad spaces, providing affiliate links, or selling your own products like ebooks. I will be writing future posts explaining how each of these methods work. April was the first full month of this blog and it already earned over $100. I ain’t getting rich yet, but it’s nice to earn a bit of reward from your hard work, and once I implement some other monetization strategies, I expect this website to become very rewarding. I’ll share all these tips with you in future posts, so stay tuned!

Anyway, how do we get started? You can make a simple website with WordPress. If you want to make something beautiful and more personalized, try Strikingly. It’s simple to use and creates stunningly beautiful websites. They have an amazing feature which allows you to convert information from a Facebook page (great for small businesses) into a website or convert information from a LinkedIn profile (great for job-seekers) in a website.

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Another tip for getting started – If you use WordPress or Blogspot or one of the basic blogging services, your website address will include their name. Your site will be something like http://www.improvemylifethisyear.wordpress.com. Not so sexy. If you really want full ownership of what you create and the most professional image, you should get your own domain name and host. It’s simple and inexpensive and dramatically increases your level of control and status in the eyes of readers. There are many to choose from, but many bloggers eventually settle on Blue Host. Why? Here’s what Blue Host brings to the table for bloggers around the world.

Bluehost was founded in 2003 with one goal: to make a better hosting company. Built on open source technology, they’ve since grown to become one of the world’s largest providers of online solutions. Bluehost is a top recommended host by WordPress and also proudly supports many other open source programs. Blue Host provides . . .

Money-back guarantee
1 FREE domain registration
Unlimited domain hosting
1-Click MOJO Marketplace installations
Free drag-and-drop site builder
Unlimited disk storage
Unlimited IMAP & POP3 e-mail support
Industry-leading technical support located in the USA.
24/7 chat, email and phone support for customers.

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How to Make Your Blog Successful

I won’t complicate things. There are really only 3 things you need for success.

  1. Write (a lot). You just need to churn out a lot of writing. Readers keep coming back to a site when they know it routinely is updated with fresh content. You need to post frequently. I make multiple posts per week here on this site. You might post less frequently, but at the very least, you need to get an article up per week.
  2. Write well. You don’t have to have a degree in English to write a blog. But at the very least, try to avoid simple errors that damage your credibility. I use Grammarly to keep my writing crisp, clear, and error-free. They have a free version and a paid version, depending on how hard-core you want to be about your writing.
  3. Wait a lot. It takes time to build up an audience. It takes time for Google to respect your site as well. So don’t give up in those dark, lonely early months of your blog. If you keep at it, you will see progress. A previous site I launched that I no longer add content to continues to grow now thanks to some love from Google bringing me search traffic. But at the beginning, I was writing a lot and getting very little traffic. That’s normal, expect it, and don’t get discouraged. Results will come!

This post is very brief, but I promise to deliver some future posts that will dive into much more details. I look forward to sharing all the things I’ve learned thus far.

But enough reading me. Start writing your blog now!

Jamie

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How to Start Your Own Journal

George Santayana said that those who forget history are destined to repeat it. Well, if you want to improve your life this year, you need to learn how to remember your history. You need to start journaling.

I hear your complaints. Writing my feelings sounds boring. Sounds weak. Sounds emotional. Let me stop you in your tracks. Writing is one of the single most powerful things you can do. Why?

  1. Journaling improves your self-awareness. When you write about your day, over time patterns emerge. You’ll understand more fully what triggers your temper. You’ll see who makes you feel down. You’ll get how exercise improves your mood. You’ll see connections that you didn’t really notice before. Maybe you eat junk food a lot more after working overtime. Maybe you tend to skip the gym whenever you hang out with your lazy buddy. For example, before I journaled, I assumed that I felt jealous based on external things, like the behavior of my partner. After journaling, I realized my feelings of jealousy almost always came after I felt disappointed in myself for something. Now that I am more self-aware, I stand a better chance of tackling the source of negative feelings, rather than suppressing them or blaming someone else. Half the battle in life is truly understanding yourself. Journal for one month and I guarantee you’ll know things about yourself that you never realized previously.
  2. Journaling organizes your thoughts. Thoughts inside our head are blurry and nebulous. Forming our thoughts into words and sentences have the effect of crystallizing them into coherent ideas. If you are facing a complicated problem or important decision, getting your thoughts onto paper is absolutely vital to clarifying the issue at hand. I’ve found that some perplexing problems suddenly seemed so clear to solve once I jotted them down.
  3. Journaling de-stresses you. Sometimes we have a fear or challenge that we do not feel comfortable sharing with anyone. It goes unspoken and we carry it inside day after day. This low-grade stress is harmful to your body. Journaling is therapeutic because it involves a conversation between you and your notebook. Those worries can escape your mind and land instead on the paper. Elevated stress levels left unchecked actually sap male testosterone, so writing a journal can be one of the manliest things you do.

Speaking of manly, if you want to commit to journaling, what better way than to have a journal you look forward to writing in? This affordable genuine leather journal is a pleasure to use and will look so good on your desk. You want to improve your life this year, so commit today to keeping a journal, and see the benefits it will bring to you.

Some people struggle to start and stick to the habit of journaling, so if you worry that you won’t be able to keep at it, here are a few tips for you.

First, understand that the hardest thing about journaling is establishing the habit. So I’d suggest making your writing as short and simple as possible at the start. Once you are used to doing it daily, then you can start to expand your writing.

Next, choose a specific time and place you will journal, and make it as easy as possible to follow through. For example, if you plan to write right before you go to bed, keep a pad of paper and a pen on your nightstand.

Finally, choose a specific question you’ll be answering. That way, you won’t struggle to find a totally new topic to write about. For example, you could decide that for the next week, you’ll write down one positive thing that happened to you that day as a way of noticing and expressing gratitude. Or, you could write down one mistake you made and how you’ll handle that kind of situation in the future as a way of providing yourself constructive feedback.

By making sure your new habit is easy to do, doesn’t take much time, and delivers positive benefits to you, it’ll be far easier to start and stick to it.

To summarize today’s post, journaling brings many benefits to you, and if you ease into the habit gently, you are far more likely to make it work in the long-run. I also recommended this journal as a great option for those ready to start this valuable daily habit.

To your daily growth!

Jamie

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Calling All Self-Improvement Bloggers

Hi, I’m Jamie Moyer. I’m a pretty regular guy. Grew up in a small town in a very middle-class family. Attended a state college. Nothing fancy. However, 8 years ago, I made a decision that changed my life forever. I decided to prioritize my personal growth.

Many people I knew would grow a lot during their childhood, teenage years, and college – but after graduation, their progress would slow and eventually almost stop. They’d settle into a routine with work and family and that would pretty much be it. I made a vow 8 years ago to focus on personal development day after day, month after month, year after year.

In those 8 years, I earned an MBA, traveled to several countries, lived and worked abroad, started 3 businesses, taught at a university, and met many amazing people along the way. I’m still a pretty regular guy, albeit one who has had some great experiences that have taught me a lot.

Recently, I started this site, Improve My Life This Year, in order to codify the best self-improvement tips I have learned during these 8 years. I am in the process of creating a 365-day curriculum of self-improvement that will super-charge someone’s personal development.

This is where you come in. I’m not a genius. I’m not smarter than the next the guy. The only reason I consider myself an expert on self-improvement is this – I’ve been a good listener. I haven’t created radical, revolutionary ideas that will change the world. Rather, like a good museum curator, I have identified and gathered the best ideas of others to assemble this curriculum.

And this is why I need you. Do you have valuable self-improvement ideas? I’d love to hear them. I’m sure each self-improvement blogger out there has incredible advice to that both I and my readers would love to hear. During the month of June, I will be opening up my blog to ideas from other great bloggers.If you have a piece of great advice, I am giving you the opportunity to showcase it here. This site is less than 2 months old and already ranking well in the U.S. and internationally.

If you have a piece of great advice, I am giving you the opportunity to showcase it here. This site is less than 2 months old and already ranking well in the U.S. and internationally.

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For context, we are already ranked around 2 millionth out of about 1 billion sites globally, and we are increasing week by week. So if you’d like to get your advice and link back to your own site out in front of my audience, please contact me at jamiemoyer622@gmail.com

Here are some guidelines for your submission.

  1. Your article should be around 500 words (Maximum 1000 words). This site aims to deliver advice that can be read in just a couple minutes. If your post is about a longer idea, feel free to link back to more complete advice in one of your own posts on your site.
  2. Your article should be original and you must agree not to republish it anywhere else. Reposting it on your site or elsewhere is plagiarism and risks both your site and mine being penalized by search engines like Google.
  3. Keep your posts PG. I use damn, hell, and whatnot, but please no f-word, explicit sex advice, and whatnot. I personally do not have a problem with that style of writing and you are free to link to an article on your site that includes those, but Improve My Life This Year aims to be a comfortable place for readers all age groups, religious backgrounds, etc.

If you have questions, please contact me and I’ll be happy to answer them. Once you send me a possible post for submission, I’ll respond within 24 hours to let you know if I will post it and if not. That way you will know whether or not you are free to submit it elsewhere or on your own site.

I look forward to hearing your self-improvement ideas, and I thank you in advance on behalf of my audience for your willingness to share your advice with so many people.

To our self-improvement,

Jamie