We live in a nice joint, in a nice neighborhood.
The house is big, comfy, secluded (somewhat), wired… and full of technological whoop-de-do’s that break down with alarming regularity.
Last week, it was the dishwasher.
Now, for most of my life I was old-school about cleaning up. I have an old R. Crumb cartoon of Mr. Natural doing the dishes — it’s hilarious to a certain demo from my generation, but somewhat obscure to everyone else. He just rolls up his sleeves and does the dishes, in frame after frame of a page-long cartoon. The last panel has him walking away drying his hands and saying “Another job well done.”
That’s old school.
However, I quickly fell into the trance of having a dishwashing machine once we moved in. Load ‘er up, punch a button, go do something else.
So it was discombobulating when the little bastard broke down. We had to run off to Target to get a dishrack, and I was re-aquainted with the old Zen mindset of washing by hand.
After a few days of that, though, we made the modern decision to replace the automatic beast under the counter.
It’s a beauty, too. Brand new ’08 model, bristling with gadgetry and options, yet efficient and quiet (like a little troll that sneaks into the kitchen at night to tidy up).
It’s also another electricity-eating robot… and after the first couple of cycles, it just went HAL on us. (HAL being the evil narcissistic computer in the movie “2001″, of course.) Then it appeared to burn out completely.
Mocked by unresponsive blinking lights, we called the repairman, who said he might make it by the house at some point, while insisting we not “try anything” to fix the machine ourselves. And no, he said, there is no “reset” button. We needed to wait for him, Mr. Expert.
Screw that. I immediately did two things: (1) I tried every tactic I could think of to trick the damn thing into working again… and (2) I asked my assistant Diane for advice.
Diane has been with me for years, and understands the “real” world in ways that only a smart, fearless single mother can.
“Did you unplug it?” she asked, without hesitation.
Uh, no, I hadn’t. I didn’t even know where to find the plug.
Under the sink, it turns out. Obvious.
Diane learned this trick of unplugging, waiting a few beats, and re-plugging electrical monsters long ago. It works with computers, printers, phone answering machines, televisions, cable boxes… and dishwashers.
Works like a charm, too. We’re washing a big damn load of dishes right now. Told Mr. Expert to forget stopping by.
This “unplug and reset” thing reminded me of a critical lesson from Eben Pagan’s killer “Altitude” seminar from a few weeks ago: One of his guest speakers was a sports shrink (as well as a biz consultant)… and he emphasized the need for “recovery” in everything humans do.
Top athletes know how to relax during every pause in the action of their sport. Rookies stay tensed up, and often collapse in exhaustion, while the pro’s dance in elation after the most grueling contest.
Bodybuilders certainly know the necessity of recovery — you can’t build muscle without lots and lots of rest between workouts. In fact (important point here), you will DESTROY muscle if you overwork your body.
In business, I long ago learned the lessons of burn-out: I did it exactly once, frying my brain with workaholism, lack of sleep and a refusal to take vacations around 15 years ago.
It sucked, and I became a relaxation junkie. Part of what I teach freelancers, in fact, is the glory and necessity of weekly massages and monthly mini-vacations. Plus a routine of frequent “Miller Time” breaks to end your day. (Doesn’t have to include booze, but very much DOES have to feature real relaxation and complete brain shut-down.)
Miller Time means: Work, done for today.
Not another conscious thought about the office is allowed until morning.
I can’t count the number of up-and-coming copywriting stars I’ve counselled over the years who ignored my advice and just piled on the jobs until they literally collapsed. A young man should not suffer a physical or mental breakdown. An older dude should know how to avoid it, too.
Sadly, most don’t. The American mindset is suspicious of anything that smacks of slacking off… and that’s just a dumb way to live. (Most of the successful entrepreneurs I know are shockingly lazy, though capable of intense bursts of short focus and disciplined work.)
Burn-out is not your inevitable fate. It is, in fact, a CHOICE people make. They mostly do it unconsciously, denying they’re pushing themselves too hard… but it’s a choice nonetheless.
You can choose to install GOOD habits, instead.
Like unplugging from the grid on a regular basis.
Find ways to turn your mind off. It needs the recovery period, and needs it every day.
Washing the dishes by hand reminded me of the Zen “no thought” mode I’m able to slip into, when I give myself the opportunity. It took years to develop, and I forget about this skill often. (I tend to rely on weekly massage to take me there, which makes me lazy about doing it myself.)
So it’s VERY worthwhile to be reminded, regularly, about the need and the joy of unplugging. Find ways to do it without technology — no Playstation, no websurfing, no staring at the tube.
Find an old school way to do it. My buddy Frank Kern surfs for real in the ocean. My buddy Stan gorges on the live music in his town. Last night, I just stood in my yard staring at the full moon cruise across the sparkling autumn sky for a while… not lost in thought, but alive with no-thought.
Even a moment or two of it can reset your system.
You can play at being a cyborg with video games, but in real life you’re in dire need of very human recovery periods.
Take the advice of a dude who experienced burn-out and figured out the alternatives. You don’t ever have to experience it yourself to learn the lesson.
The number one rule of living well has always been “First, be a good animal.”
Words to live well by.