Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Solidify Your Streaming Habits

Streaming is all about forming habits. In order to become consistent in your live schedule, regularly fix behind-the-scenes problems, interact with your community, or become better at speaking on camera, you need strong habits which keep you on track. I cover this subject a lot, because I’ve personally struggled with it in the past. Forming a habit, whether for streaming or for anything else, is an elusive pursuit. Oftentimes as soon as you think you have a grip on a certain habit, it slips right out of your hands. Today, we’ll go into a few more of my thoughts about forming habits, and how to stick to them once you start. 


Imagine you’re driving a car on a road with no other cars or pedestrians in sight. You come to a red traffic light. Even though there’s nobody around, it’s likely you’ll still stop your car. The light turns green and you keep driving. Now you come to a stop sign. Suddenly your level of obedience might change. You look around and there’s still no person or vehicle in view at all. Maybe instead of coming to a full stop, you simply slow down and then keep going. I’m not saying that’s the right thing to do, but it’s definitely not uncommon among drivers. Your mileage with this analogy may vary, especially based on where you live, but you can see what I’m getting at. Both of these signals legally require you to stop your car, and under normal traffic circumstances most drivers will stop at both. But when put into a situation where the driver’s judgment says there’s absolutely no need to stop, they might ignore or only half-obey the stop sign, while still stopping at the red light. 

Maybe these drivers wouldn't stop at 
a red light. But you definitely should!

Twitch streamers, when they’ve built a streaming habit, will treat their streams as either a traffic light or a stop sign. Anyone can stream when they feel like streaming. But when the day gets busy, or we’re tired, or we don’t like the way we look, that’s when we really find out what kind of habit we’ve built. There are very few reasons I can think of that would ever make me want to miss a stream. And to be honest, most of those reasons are so horrible I’d rather
not think of them. Like when stopping at a red light on a deserted street, I simply obey the habit I’ve built. I don’t make a value judgment, and I don’t deviate from the routine. I stop the car. And when a new day comes around, it doesn’t matter how badly I want to skip my stream that day, or how tired I’m feeling. I just do the show. 

That’s not to say I always do the show the same way. As I’ve laid out in many entries, whether you do the actual livestream should never be up for debate, but the way you do them should. If you’re tired, go live for as long as you can and then stop early. If you don’t like how you look today, turn off the camera. Instead of having ‘no stream today’ as an option on the table, imagine how you’d solve the same problem while still doing your stream. In the entry Become a Solution-Oriented Streamer, I posed one of the biggest problems a streamer can face: a lack of suitable internet to do a broadcast. And then I gave examples of three different ways I’ve solved the same problem on my own channel over the years. Each solution was chosen based on what was important to the specific stream I was doing at the time. You’ll find that when you stay solution-oriented, you can suddenly see where sacrifices are possible without hurting the core of what you’re trying to create. 


Now, all of this is fine to think about in theory, but actually enacting a habit in reality is difficult to do. I’ve been able to keep this kind of unshakeable mindset about my streams by simultaneously building up the ability to follow my own orders. That takes time and practice. I can’t overtly make you any better at upholding your habits- that’s something you have to do yourself. What I can do is show you the kind of mindset that will help to facilitate those habits. The entry How to Get in the Habit of Streaming explored how life can (and will) throw obstacles in your way, whenever you want to try to form a new habit. Learning to stream consistently is partly about battling this unpredictability, and partly about learning to work around it. In that entry, I talked about how I use a calendar app to schedule my day. I can easily shift items around when necessary, which helps with the unpredictability of everyday life, and I can easily see what personal or stream-related plans I have coming up, so nothing takes me by surprise unnecessarily. 

Stream without obstacles!

The entry Strengthen Your Twitch Habits introduced an unexpectedly effective strategy, which has served me well for the past 10+ years. In college, I always used to forget my room key, causing me to get locked out of my dorm room quite often. To combat this, I simply shifted my habit from the mental to the physical. Instead of asking myself whether I had my key before leaving the room (which I clearly couldn’t bring myself to do consistently enough), I would instead stop the door from closing with my foot every time I left the room. No matter what, that door would be stopped before it could close. Then I’d have to look in my pocket, physically hold the key and be looking straight at it. Only then could I close the door. I haven’t been locked out a single time in the ten years since. It sounds absurd- if I couldn’t stick to the first habit, why would switching to another habit be any different? I think the physicality of this habit might reach a different part of the brain than the purely mental process used to. What do I know though? I’m no scientist. All I know is that it worked. 

I’ve since enacted this same rigid habit-forming strategy in several aspects of my Twitch streams. If I forget to do a step in my pre-stream setup process, even if it’s not necessary for that particular stream, I’ll actually start the entire setup process again from the beginning. Not because I needed that step to necessarily happen in that order to make the stream work, but because it creates a strong mental association. Like an actor on stage using their co-star’s lines to remember their own cues, doing everything in a certain order in my setup process allows me to avoid missing crucial steps when it really counts. This sounds obsessive, but don’t knock it until you try it. Habits are built on repetition, so the more repetition you can create for non-creative aspects of your stream, the better. And the better you are at executing various stream tasks, the less friction you’ll have in forming the larger habit of going live in general. 


The ritual of stopping my door to remember my keys, along with the stream setup routine, are both examples where I’ve turned my habits into a traffic light rather than a stop sign. No matter what, and absolutely without question, I obey these time-tested rules I’ve set for myself. Every single time. Many people are uncomfortable with this kind of robotic compliance, but I can tell you it works wonders. Take some time to build a ‘traffic light habit’ of your own, for whichever aspect of your stream’s consistency is giving you the most trouble, and see your frequency of mistakes come to a halt. 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Growth Check-In: How Are You Doing?

I talk a lot about Twitch streaming on this podcast. One would hope so, I suppose, considering its title and theme. But there’s a critical factor in making Twitch streams which I also try to focus on: the Twitch streamer. Whether on camera, on a microphone, or pulling strings behind the scenes, a Twitch stream needs a streamer to make it go live. And optimizing your stream isn’t just about making things look better on a broadcast. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well. In this growth check-in entry, we’re going to focus on your stream’s greatest asset: you. 


If you’re going to spend lots of time streaming on Twitch, it’s critical that your actual streams bring you joy. In the entry One Must Imagine the Streamer Happy, I spoke about the concept of a ‘Sisyphean task,’ where an end goal can never truly be reached, because any goal you set is always replaced by another. Streaming, of course, is a Sisyphean task in itself. You’ll never really be done with it, short of giving up, and any goal that you think will bring you contentment now will only be replaced by another goal once it’s reached. This can be a great source of stress and dejection for streamers, but I personally see it as a positive thing. We have the ability to do something we love for as long as we want to do it, and we call the shots on our own channels. If you learn to love the climb, rather than looking forward to reaching the summit, you’ll be in a much better headspace for streaming.  

Embracing your passions can help you 
become happier on stream.

There are also ways to reinvigorate yourself by using your streams to advance your larger ambitions. In the entry
Let Twitch Further Your Goals, I spoke about how I was able to utilize the various failed and discontinued ideas from my past Twitch broadcasts in order to help accomplish a major life goal: self-publishing an illustrated book! This was an instance where streaming my progress making the book on Twitch not only kept me accountable and on-track during the project, but I also gained the ability to see my work grow from its infancy to the final product. I feel immensely proud of this accomplishment, and it means even more to me that I was able to do it on my Twitch channel. The entry Create Streams You Identify With goes even deeper into this mindset. Many people never even start streaming because of a perceived flaw in their character. They feel that people won’t accept their shows because of how they talk, or how they look, or the kind of content they want to show. As I said in that entry, I won’t trivialize whatever aspect of streaming they’re scared of sharing- the fear itself is real. But pushing past that fear can bring great happiness and fulfillment. It’s often said that we’re usually afraid of doing the things we desire most. Let that feeling guide you toward your greatest ambitions. 


If you’ve been streaming for a while, you may be running into a problem which new streamers will find hard to understand. The entry Your Content Should Make You Happy dealt with the idea of a project growing large enough that it begins to threaten your creative vision. This implicit pressure happens in any field, and Twitch streaming is certainly not immune. Many of us feel we need to start adding things, or changing the scope of our content, once it reaches a certain point. This occurs because we see others doing the same, because we start receiving requests from viewers (who are also watching others do the same), or just because we get antsy and feel the need to change. I’m always pro-change on a Twitch stream- I think it’s healthy and can help to jumpstart your creativity. But oftentimes these kinds of pressure-based growth changes can do more harm than good. 

Some streamers feel trapped when they reposition their whole channel around playing one game for example, as I explored in the entry The Dangers of Attaching Yourself to One Game. In the entry Know When Not to Do What the Audience Wants, I addressed the somewhat controversial opinion that the viewer isn’t always right. And in Streaming for Money, I spoke about how even monetization in general can bring unforeseen headaches. Don’t forget that it’s okay not to change. If you like your content the way it is, you don’t have any responsibility to make it larger or more complicated. Sometimes it’s even about scaling back and reversing things you’ve already added. On my own brand, I’ve removed various features over the years when I realized they brought me more headache than fulfillment: custom reactions to donations, merch, even eventually monetization altogether. This doesn’t mean that everyone should dislike these things, or even that I’ll never do them again, but they weren’t right for me at the time. So I got rid of them. And I became happier because of it. 


Always schedule some time for yourself.

Finally, always make sure to schedule time
not to stream. In the entry Make Sure to Rest from Streaming, I spoke about how, especially for veteran streamers, the habit of working on streams can be as hard to curb as it was to create in the first place. Our minds can easily end up ‘taking our work home with us,’ and we might be distracted during other important life events because we’re too busy thinking about our streams and how to make them better. Schedule time every once in a while to make a clean break from streaming, working on your streams, or even from thinking about streaming. You’ll thank yourself later. 

Even though this podcast mainly deals with the subject of optimizing a Twitch channel, that doesn’t mean Twitch is the only thing I think about. As we’ve explored here today, it’s very important to keep track of your own well-being while streaming. Sometimes, your Twitch streams can help you to achieve a life passion that you weren’t able, or weren’t motivated enough, to achieve before. Other times, incorporating your own general interests into your streams can help you to feel more satisfied in what you do. It’s not only about adding though- many things that may already be on your channel, or that you’re planning to add, might end up hurting more than they help. Don’t be afraid to strip features away from your channel when they bring you less happiness than headache. And finally, take some time away from Twitch at regular intervals. Throughout my own Twitch journey, these various methods have helped me greatly to feel more satisfied with what I do on the platform, and more satisfied in my everyday life. So think about your own needs as a Twitch streamer, and as a human being. Is there anywhere you can help yourself become more content with what you’re doing? Don’t forget: when you take care of yourself, you’re taking care of your Twitch streams as well. 

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Streaming with Heart

When you’re streaming, are you using all the parts of your brain? As streamers, we can sometimes get set into an overly limited mindset, where we focus too much on certain problem solving methods, and ignore all the great solutions and ideas that are floating just outside the borders of the ordinary. If we want to be really effective in our pursuits, we should try to get to the core of whatever we’re facing- whether that’s a tech issue or an overall gameplan for our channels- and approach the issue with new inspiration. I call this ‘streaming with heart.’ 


Streaming with heart can help you with any kind of problem, but creativity is where it’s going to shine most. If you need to come up with an identity for your channel, or you want to decide how to best conduct yourself on stream, it always helps to look inwards. In beginner-focused entries like Three Steps to Start Streaming, as well as more intermediate or advanced-focused entries like How to Use Your Influences for Streaming, I’ve spoken on the importance of utilizing the things that are important to you when building your brand. Whether you’re passionate about cars, dancing, or solving Rubik’s Cubes, incorporating those things into your broadcasts will not only make your channel stand out more to viewers, but it will make you more excited to produce the shows.  

Tolkien made sure his languages were 
supported by a world, not the 
other way around.

It may not come as a surprise to many who have read his works, but J.R.R. Tolkien was a very
accomplished linguist. In addition to speaking dozens of languages himself, he also loved to invent languages from scratch. His world of Middle-earth is full of them- elves, dwarves, orcs, even different factions of men like the Rohirrim have their own fully fleshed-out tongues. And though many readers may assume that these languages were created in order to better serve the stories in which they appeared, in fact the opposite is true. Tolkien was quoted as having this to say about his passion for words: “what I think is a primary 'fact' about my work, that it is all of a piece, and fundamentally linguistic in inspiration. ... It is not a 'hobby', in the sense of something quite different from one's work, taken up as a relief-outlet. The invention of languages is the foundation. The 'stories' were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows.” 

To give you a reference point, Tolkien first started constructing one of his Elvish languages around 1911. He didn’t even start writing The Hobbit until the 1930’s, and of course The Lord of the Rings was even later than that. For J.R.R. Tolkien, one of the most famous writers of all time, his books were almost a sideshow, something to show off his real passion for invented language. Would The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit still be great stories without all the languages? Arguably they would. But would the writer have been as inspired to bring those stories to life in the first place, without his passion for language driving him to do so? Almost certainly not. By utilizing his ultimate passion in his writing, Tolkien was able to give his works a place among the all-time greats. 


Historically, the Greeks were responsible 
for solving many of the world's
toughest brain-teasers.

You can solve more mundane problems with a similar mindset. But instead of looking deep down to bring your passions into your streams, you’d be looking deep down at the root of an issue and coming up with an inspired solution. If 99 other people saw the same problem, they may not have come up with the same fix that you did, but as long as it works for you, that’s all that matters. In the entry Keep Your Twitch Goals in Sight, I told the story of Alexander the Great and the Gordian Knot. An oracle had foretold that anyone who could untie this incredibly complex knot would become the ruler of all Asia. Many men tried and failed over the years, and it was deemed impossible. Until Alexander came, cut straight through the knot with his sword, and fulfilled the prophecy. 

In the world of music, drummers will sometimes wear headphones in order to hear a recorded track while playing, so they can keep time for the rest of the band. Keith Moon, drummer of the rock band The Who, used to take this concept even further. His animated performing style would mean he was essentially putting his whole body into playing the drums, and in order to keep the headphones from falling off, he would duct-tape them to his head! Not the most elegant solution, but it worked for what he needed. 


In countless entries across The Twitch Playbook, I’ve outlined the various small and large solutions I’ve reached for problems across my streams. Whether I was recording my screen with a camera before being able to capture directly from an iPad, or lighting my streams with ordinary house lamps clothespinned with diffusion paper, I try to keep my solutions as simple to use as possible. Is it ugly? Maybe. But it works. When looking to solve your own stream problems or come up with creative overhauls, don’t look for ultra-specificity in your inspiration for fixes. For example, most of the things I did on my streams aren't going to apply directly to yours. But if you look deeper than that, into the core of the issue, you'll always find something. I often use examples from fields other than streaming in this podcast, to remind us that problem solving is universal. It’s not about the solution, but rather the mindset that led to the solution. If you can cultivate a problem-solving mind, the problem doesn’t matter. Creative or technical, big or small, you’ll be able to solve it. That’s what it means to steam with heart. 

Thursday, November 3, 2022

How's Your Streaming Consistency?

Life can be hard. Our days get complicated, and motivation rises or falls accordingly. We can’t really predict how our week will go any more than we can perfectly predict the weather- our calculations are accurate most of the time, but there will always be unexpected surprises. As content creators, we’re trying to swim upstream against life’s usual unpredictability, and create something consistent amid the chaos. Whether we want to go live every week, every day, or multiple times per day, keeping to our schedules is much more difficult in practice than it seems on paper. Have you been able to steadily produce your shows since starting on Twitch? Have you been able to steadily work on improvements or networking goals, or whatever else you've wanted to work on? On-camera or off, there are many ways to slip in our Twitch aspirations. How can we keep ourselves on track? 


When I’ve spoken about streaming consistently throughout The Twitch Playbook, you may have found it difficult to understand where I was coming from. Many aspects of my personality may seem to clash at this nexus point. On the one hand, I often advise you to take it easy, to make whatever kind of content you prefer, and to do shows that last as long as you feel comfortable. I advise you to think outside of where most streamers operate, and create content that isn’t solely reliant on chasing metrics. Then, on the other hand, I’m constantly making vehement assertions that you should not, for almost any conceivable reason, miss your streams. No matter what you have to do, you go live. 

How do these two seemingly opposite perspectives make sense together? Did I change my mind? Am I simply contradicting my own suggestions? Or am I just trying to play both sides at the same time? 

These two warring perspectives actually 
work very well together.

Personally, I see no reason these two thought processes shouldn’t make sense together. The ‘do what you want, but just make sure you do it’ mantra is how I genuinely do conduct my own streams, and it’s led to a lot of happiness in my own streaming life. The flexibility in content and presentation allows for more creative fulfillment and personal freedom, while the rigid scheduling structure gives me a reliable routine. It can be a tough concept to grasp, but if you want to do something you love, you have to actively work to make it happen. People usually expect that their love of the thing itself is enough, but that really doesn't carry us very far in practice. In fact, it’s precisely this love for the task which often stops us from continuing to pursue our most deeply held passions. How's that for irony? We get too precious about it, and rather than do something that doesn’t live up to our standards, we’ll opt to give it up altogether. We’d rather keep a perfect image in our heads of what we
would have made, rather than make something real, but less than perfect. It’s not glamorous to say, but following our dreams is often less about ‘following’ than it is about ‘dragging ourselves kicking and screaming.’


Therefore, while I always cultivate maximum creative and personal freedom in my streams, I stay incredibly strict about one subject only: that I actually do the streams. If I’m having a bad day or a busy day, I still make sure to go live. I know that whatever problem I’m having will pass, and I know that whatever the problem is, it’s not worth breaking my streak over. Emotionally, I may feel that streaming is the last thing I want to do at that moment, but I still force myself to go live. And I always thank myself for it later. 

Even the slowest car traveling consistently 
will finish the race before a fast car 
that stands still.

There’s a concept popularized on Reddit, in which the user ryans01 suggested allowing ‘no more zero days.’ The main concept behind this thought process is that you’d simply focus on doing something in service of your aspirations every day. Whether you write 2,000 words or 20, do 50 pushups or 5, draw for 3 hours or 3 minutes, if you’re doing something then it’s better than doing nothing. Doing nothing is actually more dangerous than most of us expect. It’s habit forming, and it’s confidence-draining. When you do nothing towards your goal one day, it’s easy to fast forward and suddenly find you’ve done nothing towards that goal for a whole week, month or year. Instead, you’d avoid those ‘zero days’ in which you do nothing, by simply doing whatever you can each day. 

In Twitch Playbook entries like Streaming in the Face of Futility, I’ve talked about this as well. ‘Compromise’ isn’t a word that creative people typically like to hear, but it’s one you should be paying more attention to. Compromises will save your creative life. And that includes Twitch streaming. Long shows, high production value, going live at an exactly appointed time, and other traditional concepts be damned. These are nice-to-haves, but if you can’t do them on a certain day, then just do something different. As long as you do a stream. Don’t let arbitrarily chosen standards send you into a spiral of missed days and broken promises. Do what you can today, and do better tomorrow. No more zero days. 


If you’ve been having trouble streaming consistently recently, keep this concept in mind. Do what you want, but make sure you do it. Or, in the much more eloquent words of ryans01, no more zero days. Even if you don’t have a problem with missing broadcasts, this concept can still help you. You can apply the same principle to putting in work on your show behind the scenes, seeking out creative partnerships, engaging with your Discord, or building connections with other streamers. Do something towards your goal every day. No matter what it is, it’s more than you would have done if you did nothing. Keeping this priority at the forefront of your mind will help you be much more consistent on Twitch.