Pulling The Plug

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.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

9 Responses to Pulling The Plug

  1. Good points John, as a life long procrastinator and all aground lazy guy I would add that you should be sure you’re rewarding actual work.

    It’s easy to tinker around on a computer for hours, get nothing done, and slap yourself on the back and call it a day.

  2. Amen. Learned the hard way, too. And that all that long ago. I haven’t been writing for very long. But have been getting gigs and its been ramping up, lately.

    Have a full time job and write in the evenings.

    For a while, back in the summer, I was writing until 12, 1…1:30 AM and getting up at 5. AM that is.

    Didn’t take long for that to kick my ass.

    I just recently started taking a whole, entire day off on the weekend. And it’s great.

    Now I stop writing at 11:30. I listen to music, then off to bed. Much better.

  3. John,

    Thanks for the reminder of the need to always take time on a regular basis to stop and smell the roses. Or look at the moon. You didn’t howl, did you?


  4. […] John Carltonâ??s Big Damn Blog wrote an interesting post today on Pulling The PlugHere’s a quick excerpt 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 […]

  5. […] John Carltonâ??s Big Damn Blog wrote an interesting post today on Pulling The PlugHere’s a quick excerpt We live in a nice joint, in a nice neighborhood. The house is big, comfy, secluded (somewhat) … in ways that only a smart, fearless single mother can. “Did you unplug it?” she asked, without […]

  6. It’s excellent post.

    You can choose to either unplug —

    OR continue to refresh it with POSITIVE

    Getting more information sometimes
    really doesn’t help.(what I mean is…
    wealth creation materials like audios and
    study materials — you’ve probably felt this
    way to)…

    But there’s one way you
    can do it better.

    Remember watching a great movie
    in the cinema…and felt totally renewed
    or refreshed after it?

    I apologize for one short
    act from the Law of Attraction,
    I knew I had to do this.

    You see –
    I have one amazing idea around that…
    but didn’t have the resources and capital
    to make it happen.

    It could be BIG, it could be WORLD
    and LIFE changing, as long as the one
    who’d be willing to do this is star quality
    like Eben calls it.

    This idea is small by itself,
    but big by implementation.

    Imagine, in mere 6 minutes
    you could free yourself of all
    negativity and FILL your mind
    with wealth, health and happiness
    in relaxed emotions.

    I’m sorry John if this
    sounds like an advertisement,
    but I know some people reading
    this blog are true star qualities.

    If this can happen, it’d
    make all the difference as
    you wake up tomorrow

    You’d have no worries to
    keep yourself positive, because
    you will.

    I can’t do this powerful
    blog justice without giving
    my most important quote
    in wealth attainment after
    stating such ad (yes, even
    I feel it is), so here’s one
    I appreciated most:

    Throughout interviews done
    with the wealthiest Billionaires,
    they’ve concluded one powerful
    quote from what they’ve revealed
    about how these…

    Big minds achieved wealth.

    I hope you’ll find enlightment
    from it, thanks for reading.

    The quote was:

    “Work it Backwards. Live it Forwards.

    To wealth,


  7. John, this a hard-to-learn lesson! The bad habit of endlessly pushing oneself beyond limits are acquired slowly, progressively, like alcoholism. After reading this, I realized that here I am again, heading straightforward to the F-Indy race towards the graveyard. I have to thank you and do something about before a heart-attack deprives my 1 y.o. from his daddy… God bless you!

  8. Hey John,

    As a guy who’s teeter-tottered on the edge of “digital burnout”
    a few times, you’re dead on the money (as usual).

    I also believe that SITTING IN FRONT OF THE COMPUTER
    SCREEN TOO LONG brings about another similar type
    of burn-out. (I would guess that the electro magnetic
    waves coming from the screen isn’t too healthy).

    Personally, the thing that “cured” me was: WALKING
    IN NATURE. Not walking in the gym, but walking
    around trees, next to the water, in the forest, around
    animals, etc…

    For those who live in the city, go to your local
    city park. For those who live in the country side,
    you’ve got it made.

    It’s proven that walking activates
    the WHOLE BRAIN, however I also believe
    that walking around nature really activates
    the right brain, and that’s where the best ideas
    can STREAM IN.

    Rock on John,

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