Systems and Focus and Goals, Oh My! … Plus the 3 Necessary Ingredients to Finish a Book or Script

I recently read a blog post by James Clear that suggested we forget about setting goals and focus on systems instead. I appreciated his points about how goal-focused thinking can get us into trouble because it can: 1) keep us dissatisfied with the present moment, 2) cause trouble with long-term progress, and 3) create a sense of control we might not actually have. I agree with all of those points.

But I disliked the implication that therefore goals should be forgotten. Like anything else, they are one possible tool to help us create outcomes that we want, and like any other tool, they need to be used wisely. At the end of the article he even says, "None of this is to say that goals are useless. However, I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress."

So despite the fact that it seems that James and I are in agreement about the value of both goals and systems, since there's usually a lot of debate around this time of year about whether or not goals or resolutions are "right," I thought I'd share some of what I've learned from working with hundreds of writers on goal-setting and creating systems to help them reach those goals (writing habits).

The truth is that goals and systems can work hand-in-hand quite beautifully. Here are eight thoughts about goals, systems, focus, and finishing:

  1. There's no one right way to do anything. We each have to find what works for us individually. My way of setting goals might not work for you. Your way might not work for me. You don't even have to set goals if you don't want to. But what I've seen is that when we focus on something specific (a goal) and pursue it, we are much more likely to achieve the outcome we're looking for than by hoping it will happen. 
  2. Systems, habits, and routines alone can get us somewhere, but we can get lost along the way when we use them without an intended outcome. I love, love, love systems. And systems in and of themselves are brilliant solutions for consistently problematic issues, like dishes stacking up in the sink and feeling overwhelmed by them (run the dishwasher every night without fail), or laundry taking up writing time or becoming a magnet for resistance (schedule a time for laundry outside your writing schedule and stick to it), or putting off paying your bills (create a routine for how and when you write checks).

    But if you're attempting to use a system, routine, or habit to achieve a long-term outcome, like writing a book, you actually have to have an outcome in mind in order to reach it, aka a "goal." You can't just write every day and hope it will happen (though it may eventually, assuming you keep working on the same thing without fail, which perhaps sounds obvious but can be a big assumption in the world of project-hopping writerly types). I've seen too many writers get lost in the weeds of writing without writing toward an end, and lose track of what they set out to do in the first place. Even James actually had an outcome in mind for the system he was using (writing and publishing blog posts twice a week).
  3. Goals help us focus our efforts. Honestly, there is so much going on in our lives, that unless we are super clear about what we are trying to accomplish, it's easy to get pulled off track. That writing habit can become a pat on the head ("See, I did my writing today!") unless it is focused. Pick something to finish. Finish it. Pick something else. Finish that. Repeat. Setting a goal keeps your eye on the prize.
  4. Goals set in a vacuum won't get us very far either. Having stated the importance of goals, I see many writers creating unrealistic goals ("A page a day!" ... but what happens when you're in revisions, are you still going to write a page a day in addition to revising?) or using magical thinking to neglect the reality of their daily lives and ending up frustrated at year's end because they don't achieve their goals. Or even worse, they set goals to match what other people are doing, whether or not that's achievable in their lives ("My friends are all writing six scripts a year, so I should be able to do that too, right? Never mind that they don't have kids or that their spouses are independently wealthy."). We have to set goals that work within the context of our lives, even when we're setting stretch goals for ourselves. 
  5. Goals without systems are likely to fail. Goals and systems work hand-in-hand. Want to finish a book, a good one? You can't write it without a writing routine or practice. You have to put in the time, show up, and do the work. It won't happen on its own, and it probably won't happen well if you're binge-writing it at the last possible minute. (And even if it does, the cost on your health, well-being, and future writing energy may be higher than you like.)
  6. Use systems and milestones to counteract flagging motivation on long-range goals. When we set very long-term goals (such as year-long goals), they can feel so far away that we have a hard time staying motivated and engaged with them. Having a writing system helps us manage that sense of disconnection from our distant goals, particularly when we combine it with milestone goals. A system helps us keep writing -- it's a practice we're accustomed to engaging in every day -- so we can't help moving the project forward, as long as we don't stray to another. We can also hugely benefit from setting shorter term goals (one to three-month goals) that are completion milestones along the way to the finish line. That ultimate finish line can feel really far away, so we can give ourselves something to work the system with in the meantime.
  7. Taking stock periodically helps maintain momentum. Post your goals where you can see them, check in with them on a regular basis, and take stock of what you've accomplished so far (add up ALL THE THINGS, even if they seem small) to help you see your progress and stay motivated to continue.
  8. Progress without a finished product isn't particularly satisfying. Yes, as writers we have to be in love with the process and the practice of writing. Yes, we may never be published or produced. There are no guarantees. Yes, yes, yes. But we can still take our books and scripts to their completion points to the best of our abilities and ship them out into the world, and move on to the next project. We can use goals to focus our efforts so we get to the finish line. Working a system and being productive without focusing on an outcome or a finish line can become an endless loop that doesn't feel satisfying otherwise. We have to have both.

The 3 Necessary Ingredients to Finish a Book or Script

From what I've seen, there are three necessary ingredients to finishing a book or a script:

  1. A specific writing project to work on. Preferably just one long-form project. I rarely see writers completing more than one project at a time successfully. Maybe the true pros can do it. Maybe. My recommendation: Pick one project at a time. And finish it. Then do the next one.
  2. A writing system. You can also call this a writing habit, practice, or routine. It means showing up daily or near daily to write. This is what we do in my Circle.
  3. A goal for completion. Yes, set a goal. I'm a fan of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Resonant, Time-Bound) because they help us double-check to make sure we're being specific enough about the who, what, where, why, and how. Set a goal for when you'll complete your book or script, and while you're at it, map out the timeline too. 

So put those systems and goals to work, and make your writing happen. I'll be right there with you.

diamonds

In other news, Make 2017 Your Year To Write is available in the shop and on sale through January 31. Check it out here: http://programs.calledtowrite.com/2017-vision.

 

 

Ask Jenna: How can I stay more focused on my writing?

I received some great questions from one of our Writer’s Circle members the other day about staying focused on writing, and she gave me permission to answer them here.
 

The Question

First, here’s her question:
[I’d love some] tips for getting more focused when I’m writing. Several factors are at play, I’m sure, but probably the biggest ones are:
 
1. Internet Addiction. It’s a bad habit, but I am constantly checking for new email messages. Need to shut off the interwebz while I’m working, but I find that even if I do that I still find other ways to distract myself (getting up for water, making lists of other things I need to do, etc.)
 
2. Resistance. The usual. It’s easy to be excited and loose with my ideas when I’m not facing the keyboard, but as soon as I say it’s time to work I freeze up, get distracted.
 
Any tricks for combating these issues?
 
I feel like it’s just a matter of discipline, but even knowing that I still haven’t been able to make better habits. And, even more frustrating, it’s only when I’m working on my own projects — the things I should be MOST excited to have time for. If I’m writing for someone else (with a deadline, for money) then it’s not a problem because it’s just a task to cross off my list, so I do it.”

The Answer

Here’s my answer:
 
First, great questions, thank you. Second, here are some thoughts to get you started with this shifting all this:
 
  • For the internet: Experiment with being super ruthless about the rules (for now) about what you’re allowed to do or not. For example, turn off the internet connection while writing, close the email program, maybe even try the app Freedom to block access to all internet related stuff for a specific chunk of time.
  • Pay attention to all the things you distract yourself with and figure out a system for them so they can’t distract you. This is what I call “You-proofing your writing” (more on this in a future article). Don’t see these “distractions” as failures, but as parts of the puzzle to refine. Examples:
  1. If you typically find yourself getting up for water in the middle of a writing session, design a new routine to get a glass of water before you sit down to write. I keep a bottle of water next to all my writing spaces so can I refill my glass easily.
  2. For to do lists, consider a 5 minute purge of everything on your mind before you start working. Or keep a pad of paper close at hand so you can quickly jot things down and then get back to writing. I like to use the app “Things” to track my ideas and to dos, so I pop into that program and put things on the list if they nag at me while I’m writing. Yes, it’s better not to break concentration. But if it’s keeping me from focusing because I’m afraid I’ll forget it, it’s worth it to me to take a moment to get it down.
  3. Other distractions might include taking phone calls (turn off the phone if you can or have caller ID so you can see if it’s your kid’s school calling), having a messy desk (dump everything in a box!), people dropping by (put a sign on the door that says “Do Not Disturb”), etc. Think about the possibilities, notice when they come up, and see what you can do to anticipate them.
  • Be mindful of the distractions on an emotional level. For example, if email is your downfall, think about why you’re called to it. Are you looking for something in particular? I find that when I’m feeling vulnerable, I’m more likely to turn to email as if I can find solace there. It doesn’t work, and it’s worth seeing that I have an unfulfilled need so I can seek fulfillment for it elsewhere in its proper place. Or notice that you want to get up and get water right when you’re reaching a hard part of the project. How can you support yourself through that moment rather than turning away from it?
  • Understand your resistance: On a similar note, we “freeze up” because we get into flight/fight/freeze mode when tackle our own projects because our projects MATTER to us on a deep level. Being AWARE that distractions and things like finding it easier to work on other people’s projects are all part of the normal fears that come up about writing can make it easier to stick with it and navigate it, using things like:
  1. Setting super small goals so you can more easily talk yourself into doing them, e.g. 15 minutes. Then stick to it. You can increase the time the next day and beyond, but the idea is to create the habit around a strengthened comfort level first. So it might be slower at first but it will pay off over time. It’s a bit like building muscles up over time.
  2. Using a timer to help keep you focused for the duration of your writing session goal. I find I’m much less likely to get up or do other things while I have a timer running. It might seem silly or weird but it’s worth experimenting with.
  3. Talking or coaxing yourself through it. When you notice yourself getting distracted or feeling stuck, tell yourself, “Okay, this is just fear coming up. I know how to do this. It’s just putting one word on the page after the other, and I can even change it later if I don’t like what comes out. Just one word after the other.” Or something like that. Acknowledging the fear really helps. Discipline doesn’t help here as much as self-compassion does.

Your turn

Do you have a question? Submit through my contact form here and I’ll do my best to answer you on the blog.

Also, what do you notice about your typical distraction patterns? Post them in the comments and I’ll toss out some system strategies for you too!

Warmly,

 Jenna

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Are success and failure really opposites?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post called “What is failure? What is success?

As I went to publish the post, I searched for a graphic to go with it, and I was so struck by how the graphics I found showed success and failure as opposites — two things moving away from each other.

Here you can see what I mean:

failure & success

Or this version:

Success and Failure Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

Pretty much the same thing, right?

Here’s another one:

Success And Failure Photo

The problem I have with these graphics is that they defy logic. I guess we’re supposed to assume that at a key crossroads in our lives we have to make the “right” decision in order to succeed. If we don’t make that “right” decision, we’ll fail. And sure, I suppose there are some truly right and wrong answers, but particularly when it comes to something like “success”, which can have so many different relative definitions, how can there always be one clear answer?

As I discussed in my earlier article, Thomas Edison made endless numbers of attempts to perfect his lightbulb. Were those attempts “failures”? Sure, I suppose in some sense they are. But didn’t those “failures” ultimately lead him to success?

And doesn’t make these graphics inherently flawed?

When you think about it, showing success and failure existing in opposite spaces is a perfect example of a “fixed mindset” versus a “growth” mindset, like Carol Dweck writes about in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.*

Dweck says that a fixed mindset is a belief that “your qualities are fixed in stone” and creates “an urgency to prove yourself over and over.” This kind of thinking leads us to believe that we only have a certain amount of talent, intelligence or character and there’s nothing we can do to improve it — save possibly making the “right” choices.

This ties right into this black or white thinking of success and failure existing only as opposites.

The growth mindset on the other hand, is “the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.” This means that “a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”

If we adopt more of a growth mindset about success, it seems to me, we want a graphic that looks something more like this:

pathtosuccess

Or even like this:

pathtosuccess2

Your turn

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on the blog.

Warmly,

 Jenna

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* Affiliate link

 

The Dreaded ‘D’-Word

Lately I’ve been talking a lot with my very right-brained, creative, multi-passionate, multi-talented clients and cohorts about the “D”-word.

Yeah, that’s right.

Discipline.

It’s enough to make an artist cower in terror behind legions of excuses and doubts or pipe up with even a little disdain.

(I’m an artist, I like to go with the flow / wait for the right mood to strike / follow the energy / be divinely inspired.)

(Not that there’s really anything wrong with that. As an intuitive, an empath, and a Four, I can relate to ALL of that, and I don’t even think it’s “wrong” per se.)

But the thing is, when it comes to getting our creative work out into the world, we often go to sleep on ourselves instead of doing the work to make it happen.

We go to sleep on those deeper-yet-oh-so-slippery truths that tell us what we need to do our best work.

We forget.

We get busy with other things.

We wait for something that never comes.

Is Discipline Really the Enemy?

It never ceases to astonish me how little actual discipline is practiced when it comes to doing the hard work of creating our stuff.

And by hard, I don’t mean Hard. I mean HARD.

The kind of hard that keeps you massively resisting showing up to your writing or your canvas or your practice development, even when you don’t even realize it (we’ll save the other D-word conversation for another day).

You think you’re too busy, you need to make more money first, or your kids need too much of your attention.

Ha!

The truth is, you need to make a commitment to get your Butt In Your Seat and show up to the creative Big Dream you know you are here to fulfill.

There is simply No Other Way it is going to happen.

One thing we do know is that the artists who take regular action to see their work through to completion are the ones who quietly make it happen.

Here’s the funny thing about all of this.

You don’t need to force yourself to make big, giant, rigid commitments of time and energy to make your work happen.

It’s much simpler than that.

Make discipline your friend and ally.

Just commit to taking regular, consistent, and small steps and you’ll move forward in a sustainable way to seeing your dream become a reality.

Inspiration From Seth Godin:

“While you and I have been busy running down dead ends and wasting our effort, scientists have been busy trying to figure out what actually works. And they know how:

  •     Small steps work.
  •     Consistent effort works.
  •     Group support works.

That’s it. Three things. Set a goal, and in small, consistent steps, work to reach it. Get support from your peers when you start flagging. Repeat.

You will change.” 

Your Turn

For me this looks like screenwriting every weekday for a minimum of 15 minutes and reporting in about it to my Writer’s Circle group.

What does it look like for you?

I’d love to hear from you.

 

Jenna

 

Coming Attractions

~> October 6th. The next session of my Writer’s Circle accountability system starts. Stay tuned for details about how you can participate.

~> November 10th. My next Life Purpose Breakthrough ‘Big Vision’ Group. Details. Only 3 spots remaining.

 


~> This Thursday. Right Brain Business Planning with my buddy Kris Carey. We’re closing in on completion!

~> FRIDAYS & now morning times too. Sacred writing time. The Do Not Disturb sign is up.

 

 

When “One Size Fits All” Doesn’t Fit For You

If you’re an artistic type — a writer, painter, poet, songwriter — an empathic, spiritual healer type, or a scanner with lots of passions and interests, you’re not one who’s likely to thrive with a “one size fits all” approach to developing yourself and your work in the world.

Personally, I’ve found that as an artistic, empathic, sensitive, creative being, I do best when I have the opportunity to work with a coach or mentor who will find ways to work with me rather than expecting me to fit inside a specific box or program.

There are so many opportunities out there right to grow and develop your work, it can be overwhelming to decide how to invest your precious time, energy, and money.

Here are a few suggestions I’ll make:

  • Look for people to work with that you admire on a deep level. It’s easy to be swept up in the glamor of what people SAY they are doing. Use your intuitive radar to look beneath the surface to look for a match on integrity, honesty, commitment, and forthrightness in the people you choose to work with as well as looking at what their previous customers have to say about them.
  • Look for mentors who “get” you. There’s nothing more important than working with someone who understands you, what makes you tick, and your vision as much as possible. For me, that looks like working with a mentor who understands what it’s like to be highly sensitive and empathic, who truly likes me and what I stand for, and who “gets” what it’s like to be bright and creative with a million ideas a minute.
  • Look for mentors with expertise and a proven track record in what you are wanting to accomplish. You’ll have a much better chance of success when you work with someone who has been where you want to go. Your mentor only needs to be a few key steps ahead of you to make a valuable difference in what you are up to.
  • Invest at a level that is high enough to motivate you into action but not so high that you put yourself and your future in jeopardy. I’ve seen so many of my colleagues and friends over-invest in high level programs that don’t pay off as fast as they hoped they would, and while some will tell you that investing highly can stretch you into playing a bigger game, it can also be paralyzing if the investment is too out of reach for you financially. Also keep in mind the long term value of the investment in your life as you make a decision.
  • If you work privately at a higher level with someone, choose a mentor who will craft a custom-designed process or program for you that addresses your specific concerns and challenges in a way that feels accurately and highly aligned with what you are facing. Especially at a high-level, “one size fits all” is rarely the right strategy. We are all at different points along the path to our creative destiny so it doesn’t make sense to start at the same place as everyone else.
  • If you choose to work with someone in a group program for cost reasons, make the point to choose a mentor you have a strong resonance with and who has their feet on the ground, not with someone who is promising you the stars. Look for carefully selected groups that kick off with everyone being at about the same starting point.
  • Be willing to dig deep. It’s easy to want to jump to implementation (as I know all too well!), but spending time on the essence and deep think of what you are doing will save you time in the long run. Choose mentors who will go deep with you, hold you to that deeper truth and the big vision, as well as support you to put in the elbow grease and take the nitty-gritty, practical implementation actions to see it through to the end.
  • Last, don’t invest in anything unless you are seriously committed to making it happen. Spending the money does NOT guarantee the results. It won’t do a lick of good if you don’t have the time, energy, and discipline to see it through.

Your Turn

I’d love to hear from you about:

  • What this sparks for you?
  • How can you apply this in your own life?

 

Coming Attractions

~> July & August. Doing Creative Destiny Assessments with visionary creatives ready to claim their creative destiny. Details coming soon.

~> August 4th. My next Life Purpose Breakthrough ‘Big Vision’ Group. There’s ONE spot left. Details. If you’re interested in the next group (probably in September), email my team here and we’ll add you to the list.

~> September. Beta-testing my new writer’s accountability system with a select group. Stay tuned for more info.

 


~> MONDAYS. Right Brain Business Planning with my buddy Kris Carey.

~> FRIDAYS. Sacred writing days. The Do Not Disturb sign is up.

~> Daydreaming about going to Comic-Con next week and getting an autograph from Nathan Fillion. #imsuchageek

~> Re-reading the entire Song of Fire and Ice series by George R. R. Martin so I’ll remember what the heck is going on when I get to “A Dance With Dragons” (can’t wait).

~> Vacationing with my family in August (at least part of it!).

 

 

It Starts With Who You Are

Doing something — anything — successfully in the world requires a solid foundation.

What is that foundation?

It’s you.

It’s being clear on who you are, what you do, and why you are doing it.

I’ve been chatting with some of my favorite coach friends and mentors and I’m noticing a trend, at least among the tribe of deep thinkers I hang out with.

I see that out in the world so much of the focus is on how you get stuff done (which I love, don’t get me wrong) and how to have a plug-and-play business or project or widget (not so much), but there isn’t much of a focus on WHO you are, WHAT you care about, and WHY you are doing what you are doing (which I love even more). The focus instead is on how much money you can you make and how fast can you make it, or other more practical, surface level implementation tools.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But unless you have the foundation in place, unless you’ve claimed your identity and know who you are and who you want to be, all the implementation and practical tools in the world will not serve you.

It starts with who you are.

Hear more on this subject on my upcoming Dreamification Radio broadcast this Saturday, June 18th on claiming your creative identity.

Your Turn

I’d love to hear from you about:

  • What this sparks for you
  • What’s the creative identity that YOU are ready to claim?

Coming Attractions

~> June 16th and 23rd. My Life Purpose Breakthrough series continues. Details.

~> June 18th. Next Dreamification Radio broadcast. Details.

~> June 28th. Mark your calendar and stay tuned for a special, affordable one-time class that’s perfect for anyone who wants to integrate a new behavior or new identity in their life.

 


~> MONDAYS. Right Brain Business Planning with my buddy Kris Carey.

~> FRIDAYS. Sacred writing days. The Do Not Disturb sign is up.

~> Celebrating the 4th of July with my family.

 

 

Your Precious Time

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to enjoying my life more.

Part of my Life Purpose is to be a Lover of Life — a Venusian goddess of fun, play, delight and savoring. Not something that comes naturally to me.

Instead, I’m more of an all work and no play kind of girl. I easily fall into a more “masculine” approach to my life and my business: I’ve inherited a strong delayed gratification mentality. I push myself hard to get to the outcome I want, delaying rewards. I’m better (there’s always more) at not neglecting the self-care the way I used to, but I don’t get around to the really fun, delicious, Life Savoring that I want to be enjoying. At least not until recently.

In part because of my work with my Artist’s Way Accountability and Support Group and in part because of my own calling in this direction, I’ve been paying close attention to spending my precious time wisely in work or at play.

Here’s what I’ve been putting my focus on, and I’d love to hear how you’re inspired by this and how you decide to use your precious time:

1. Enjoying what I’m actually doing, no matter how simple or mundane.

As an Enneagram Four, it’s all too easy for me to get all dramatic about doing “special” things (you know, grand sweeping gestures and the like) and to poo-poo the ordinary and the mundane.

But those seemingly “little” moments are what add up to the beauty of life — watching my son run around with other kids on the lawn. Folding laundry while listening to my husband read to our little guy. Snuggling up watching a movie together. You know.

2. Prioritizing “Real” Life activities.

As a creative entrepreneur who operates largely in the virtual world (blogging and writing on my computer, speaking with clients by phone or Skype), I’m making a point to emphasize more Real Life experiences too, like spending time in the garden with my hands in the rich soil, creating community experiences in our neighborhood like the fabulous progressive dinner we had over the weekend, or simply sitting in the sunshine on my front porch while holding coaching calls.

3. Turning off the virtual world.

I’m also making a point to unplug more from the iTouch, Twitter, Facebook, and my computer. They are seductively engaging, but I find my time swirling away from me into a vortex of web searches and information indulgences.

4. Taking small daily steps to move me towards my Big Dream rather than looking for single massive actions.

This is a big pitfall for me — I look for giant blocks of time to do one project, but then never QUITE get around to it. I’m learning to take “turtle steps,” as Martha Beck trained coach Jill Winski calls them, consistently. And consistently again.

I received a reminder of this on Twitter via @AdviceToWriters over the weekend from Anthony Trollope (a 19th century novelist):

For me, this includes taking small steps to take care of the business of living, like keeping up with my book keeping and paperwork, as well as the business of living my Life Purpose. That way, I don’t get overwhelmed and feel unable to keep moving ahead with my Big Dream.

5. Choosing a grounded approach.

There’s a lot of conversation around integrating the masculine with the feminine. About being goddesses in our own lives. I agree.

I think it’s also about being grounded in remembering what really matters. For me, that is my inner sense of well-being, my connection with my son, my relationship with my husband, my connections with the communities of people I care about, and fulfilling my Big Dream.

Despite what my mind and ego like to say to the contrary about achieving my Big Dream, it’s not ONLY about “making it happen” or “getting it done.” I want to ENJOY my life along the way, have FUN while I’m doing it, no matter what my current circumstances are — no matter how much money I have or don’t have, no matter how much sleep I’m getting or not getting, no matter how many clients I have or don’t have, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

How are you spending your precious time?

I’d love it if you’d share with me the most powerful way this article has inspired you to think about enjoying YOUR precious time.

 

Coming Attractions

~> May 3rd, 2011. My Artist’s Way Accountability & Support Group continues. Details.

~>June 9th, 16th, and 23rd, 2011. Mark your calendar! My brand new Life Purpose Breakthrough Group event series for getting you back on track with what you were put here to do will be happening on June 9th, 16th, and 23rd — only 4 spots available in each group. Find out more here. Three groups are available: Intuition & Inner Wisdom, Creativity and Big Vision. Which one is yours?

~>May 26th to May 28th, 2011. Attending Andrea J. Lee’s Wealthy Thought Leader event via simulcast.

~>May 28th, 2011. Next broadcast of my Dreamification Radio show on Radio Lightworker. Details. Listen from anywhere in the world to this Internet radio show.