plain language

Don’t think about elephants.

Don’t think about chocolate brownies.

This is a form of reverse psychology, which by definition, is:

“A method of trying to make someone do what you want by asking them to do the opposite and expecting them to disagree with you.”

REVERSE PHARMACOLOGYby TREVOR SPAULDING New Yorker Cartoons PSYCHOLOGY DRAWINGS using plain language in writing
Something like this.

It’s common in therapy with challenging clients who might struggle with the therapeutical power dynamic. They might find it easier to do the opposite of what their therapist suggests.

Unknowingly, this is what I did last week.

Going on a tangent about social media and whether I’m a “private” person

As one does on social sharing platforms, last week I shared quite a bit of my weekend. I always found vloggers quite fascinating, especially daily vloggers. Sharing every bit of their lives must take a mental toll.

It’s no surprise I use social media intentionally as an educative and networking tool, but I always enjoy seeing behind the curtain, in the land after polished, branded Instagram Stories.

A lot of people might consider me a very public person. While I share less frequently than the founders, coaches, and consultants I follow who exclusively use social media to make sales and get clients, I share way more than the people I know in real life.

According to 2019 Instagram, more than 500 million people use Stories daily. I hypothesize that a very small percentage of them actually post anything. Tens of the people I follow who watch my Stories haven’t shared anything of their own in months.

So, my friends might think I overshare. Instagram gurus who tell people to post 3-5 times a day might think the opposite.

But like I said, even though my Instagram usage is mostly related to my writing, there are plenty of family photos, dance videos, meals, Rihanna appreciation posts.

Reverse psychology and making a case against complexity

If you’re not on social media or don’t follow me, you can see my day unravel here. After my two-hour nap, I woke up with Maverick Sabre’s song I Need in mind. I threw a solo dance party, then I poured myself some iced coffee and got to writing.

I finished by 11 PM and shared a short video preview of the finished article. All I had to do before hitting publish was to choose a featured image, come up with the title and make the headings a bit more sophisticated.

The tiny text at the bottom right of the page said “Don’t pause it!”.

I was that “ashamed” of the headings, which were more of a brain dump, a way to note my thoughts down quickly, than the byproduct of a thoughtful choice of words.

Not even a few minutes after, as I was thinking of the title, I realized the number one thing I don’t want my writing to be.

Pretentious.

When you tell someone “don’t think of an elephant,” that’s what comes to their mind. Even though I told people not to pause the video, I “paused” it myself.

I told others “don’t pause it” so they wouldn’t look at my “a 10-year-old could’ve written these“-headlines. That’s the message I sent myself too.

I was consciously telling others and subconsciously telling myself that without a lot of editing, my writing isn’t worth seeing and it’s definitely not great.

But the writing was fine. It was simple and I wasn’t using 10 words where 5 could suffice.

Editing is like those few more seconds that someone who really cares about you spends hugging you, it’s like the sweet chocolate glaze on an already decadent cake.

Like on an Orange Marmalade Cake for example (courtesy of nytimescookingcomments).

Like on an Orange Marmalade Cake for example (courtesy of nytimescookingcomments).

While all first drafts are shitty, and yes, editing is wonderful, I want to edit for clarity, not vanity.

Instantly, I remembered this:

“Don’t write so that you can be understood, write so that you can’t be misunderstood.”

William Howard Taft

Not only I chose to keep the headings, but I turned them into something I named the 3 Lot-s framework. In the article, I suggested that a job or a client is worth working for if at least one of the following is true:

  • #1- You’re learning a lot
  • #2- You’re getting paid a lot
  • #3- You’re helping a lot of people

I added some examples, shared some stories, and formed sentences that would probably get a full 100 on The Flesch reading ease score- “very easy to read, easily understood by an average 11-year-old student”. (Here‘s how to get your document’s readability stats, if you’re into that sort of thing.) And people loved it.

I plan to start graduate school this year, and I’m already bracing myself for all the inaccessible language and gatekeeping.

Writing in plain language for people with developmental disabilities

Late last year, ProPublica, “an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force,” published their research on the Division of Developmental Disabilities in Arizona. DDD was “turning down thousands of people who seek assistance because of paperwork issues.”

There’s another version of the article besides the one I linked. Rebecca Monteleone, a teacher at the University of Toledo in Ohio rewrote the story in plain language.

“We made the story in plain language because we want people with DD to be able to read it.”

How We Wrote the Story

I’m not claiming this is the only reason I’m advocating for simpler, even plain language, but this should be enough.

As Lauryn Hill sang, “it could all be so simple.”

In every aspect of my life, I advocate for minimalism, simplicity, or well, what’s a good way to put it, umm, abundant mindfulness of sorts.

But I’m still trying to cut ties forever with the echo telling me to use elaborate words and labyrinth-like concepts when simple ones will do.

We already complicate so much in our lives.

I promise to keep this space one where things that don’t have to be complicated, aren’t.


Now I’d like to hear from you! Is there an aspect of your life that you’re overcomplicating? What’s one simple action you can take to simplify it?

Comments

I say keep doing what you are doing. I personally don’t use any social media. Not saying that is good or bad. But right now it is me. I hardly use the internet compared to the average person. However, every week I look forward to your article. Different strokes for different folks. It was your style of writing and personality that grabbed my attention.

Having things to look forward to is one of my hacks on how to fall in love (or fall back in love) with your own life. I’m thrilled that I’m contributing to that for you!

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