Death By Habit


Thursday, 7:13am
Reno, NV
“I yam what I yam.” (Popeye, avoiding introspection.)


Are your routines helping you… or slowly murdering you?

As with most of life, it’s complicated.

And you’re gonna have to spend more than your normal 38 seconds cogitating on this issue if you’re ever gonna make peace with your natural inclination to habitualize your ass into oblivion.

(Side note: During my excellent interview with StomperNet founder Andy Jenkins yesterday, he revealed the startling statistic that most of us now live in 38-second segments.  This, apparently, has been discovered by guys in white coats with clipboards.  The Web has installed a permanent ADD virtual chip in our brains, limiting attention spans to that of a gnat.)

(This is good info for marketers to have, especially when deciding how to position copy, testimonials, video, graphics and other elements on a website for maximum attention-grabbing.  But it’s damned depressing when any conversation requires deeper thought… and you must construct your position with constant virtual shiny objects to hold the interest of  otherwise bright people.)

(I just lost half my audience with that aside, didn’t I.  Sorry.)

Ah… where was I?

Oh, yeah.  Habits and routines.

The omega and alpha of trying to live well.

Routine has both saved my life… and backed me into corners that threaten to ruin me.

So it’s good to stop and examine your routines (and your habits) every so often.  Not just glance at ’em, and pat ’em on the head.  But really dig into them…

… questioning their value and their job in your life.

My recommendation: Get in the habit of sitting down for a hour every time the season changes — four times a year — and give yourself a little vicious reality check.

Or, if you travel… put your routines on the witness stand when you get back.

I just spent 3 entire weeks traipsing across Australia.  (I’ll share some photos and cool stories soon.  Ka-wazy adventure.)

And I was forced out of every work-related (and personal-time-related) routine and habit I’ve built up over the past few years.

I’m an old hand at living out of a suitcase in hotels.  Been doing it for decades.

Side note #2: Here’s a quick travel tip, if you’re interested.

I learned the hard way never to check baggage (unless forced to, as when traveling in older planes with miniscule overhead storage)…

… and I’ve used the same beat-to-shit suitcase for 20 years (cuz I know it fits in the bins).  (Plus, I dig having a bag festooned with tags from around the world… currently, there is crap hanging off the straps from Dubai, New York, San Diego, Oz, Italy… it’s just cool.)

I did a 3 city tour, speaking at 3 huge marketing seminars (in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane).  Suit coat, slacks, nice shirts, dress shoes (cuz I look good when I speak)… plus “play clothes” for the rest of the week… all in one carry-on bag.

I am unrepentant about bringing clothes I like to wear, too.  So the coat is cashmere, and most of the shirts are linen-cotton blends that wrinkle just by looking at ’em.

Your stuff is gonna get creased and crunched.  Don’t sweat it.  Roll clothes tight (it works to limit wrinkles, amazingly), and hang stuff up as soon as you get to your room.  I’ve found that just hanging overnight can smooth out the coat and shirts and slacks enough to avoid ironing (unless you’re a Nazi about crease lines, which I am not).

Hang ’em in the bathroom while you shower for faster wrinkle release.  (I know some speakers bring a steam iron with them… but I’ve been fine over the years, needing the in-house iron just a handful of times.  Your call.)

I got these tips from Ron LeGrand long ago — one of the most insanely-traveled road warriors I’ve ever met.

You can do just fine with one week’s supply of clothes on a long trip.  Get ’em laundered by the hotel when necessary (or find a nearby service if the hotel gouges — I spent just $25 to get a load nicely done in Sydney at a 4-star joint, but had to shell out over $40 in Melbourne at an older, needs-a-remodel hotel for the same amount of laundry).

Okay.  End of travel tip.  (Hey — I could work for Fodor’s…)


Back to the story: I know how to live out of a suitcase, in strange towns, getting uprooted over and over again as you travel to new places.

And each time you land in a new environ, any ritual you had in the prior place is suddenly null and void.

It can throw you off your game, if you’re unprepared.

But it also “re-sets” your brain.

And offers a chance to re-examine ALL the routines and habits in your life.

Back home after the jaunt, my first inclination was to settle back into the groove I’ve been in for a while here — including the rituals of work, play, and eating.

But wait — maybe that’s not such a good idea.

Maybe… it’s a better plan to first see how the routines and habits of my life are affecting my wealth and happiness.

For example: I watched maybe twenty minutes of TV while in Australia.  Three-quarters of that time was while visiting James Schramko’s home… and watching a totally batshit game show during a break in the festivities.

(There is no better window into the soul of a foreign culture than looking at what they consider “funny”.  I love Australia… but their TV is incomprehensible to me.)

When I got back home, I felt the invisible pull of the monster plasma screen and lazy-boy calling me…

… and I came face-to-face with an ugly reality: Before I left, I had been racking up an embarrassing amount of TV-viewing each night.

Traveling, I didn’t miss any of it.  I read at night.  Books, the New Yorker, local Aussie papers…


I was turning into a couch potato back home, by way of a habit that vanished the moment I was out of sight of the plasma tube.

I’m making a value judgement here: Reading and thinking and reflecting on life is more valuable than watching another rerun of House.

But I had to sit and ponder this for a little bit to realize the truth of the situation.

Because routines and habits are VICIOUS LITTLE BASTARDS.  Who can sneak back into your life like cockroaches under your fridge.

While traveling, I tend to be hyper-aware of my surroundings for long periods of time.  (My biz partner, Stan, may disagree with this, since as a road dog he’s had to pull me out of numerous butt-dumb situations I got myself into from being distracted.  Nevertheless, I experience a hyper-awareness that I get lulled out of when home.))

There’s just a certain “aliveness” to being outside your old comfort zone, among people from a different culture.  (And make no mistake — despite our common language, Australians could never be mistaken for Americans by visiting aliens.  In many ways — meat pies, for instance — they are too far advanced in Oz for yankees to even get our minds around.)

Good habits work FOR you.

Like staking out a dedicated hour every morning to write that book.  If you wait for inspiration, or just lollygag around hoping that an open week will magically appear in your schedule for you to finish it… the book will NEVER get done.


A routine can save you.

Same with meeting deadlines for projects.  No deadline, no finished project.

It’s a rule of nature or something.

Other habits just drain energy from you like a leak in the system, however.

And you probably don’t even know which ones these are in your life, if you haven’t looked lately.  They’ve invisible little energy leaches, rotting your pipes so slowly you don’t notice.

Why not take an evening to sit and examine the mostly unconscious ways you’ve installed “set” events in your life.

Many — like watching TV just cuz it’s there — are robbing you of the joy of being alive.

This culture is wired to turn people into non-thinking zombies… using sugar, mindless entertainment, and truly evil time-wasters like cool video games and iPhone apps best suited for keeping morons entranced.

I know whereof I speak.  I was a zombie-moron of the highest rank, before I got hip to goal-setting (via “Think And Grow Rich”) and broke free of the bonds of frittering away my precious time.

And I’m shocked — shocked! — that I was slipping back so easily with this TV watching bullshit.

The average American TV is on for close to 7 hours a day (I just double-checked with Wiki-answers on this… James had mentioned it while in Oz, expressing amazement at the waste, and my quick research verified it).

That is just sick and wrong.

And anyone desiring to live a better life needs to put energy into NOT being an average American.  With average habits and routines.

Self-examination is hard.  Your brain will resist at first… but you must keep after it, and go deep.

I’m going through a period in my own life where a broad swath of close friends and family are slamming into rough times, health-wise.  This is the second such period I’ve experienced — I don’t know if this shit comes in waves, or if it’s a coincidence.

Regardless, all warnings of mortality should be seen as a reminder to live your life fully each and every day.

Good routines and habits can help you be productive and enjoy the ride.  Bad ones will eat up your time, and one day you’ll blink and your life just went by without notice.

Most of the people you know are zombies.  It’s not their fault — they’re victims of a culture that fosters brain damage.

However, now that I’ve alerted you, it very much IS your fault if you suspect you’re wasting your precious time on bullshit…

… and you don’t do anything about it.

Sorry.  I blew up your excuse.

So, you may as well get with the program.  Summer’s coming on strong, and the nice warm evenings and drawn-out mornings are ripe for ending old habits and starting new ones.

First, you gotta take stock of your current situation.

I’m not gonna get rid of the plasma TV.  But neither am I going to plop down in front of it without a specific reason anymore.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for me, but you don’t need to know the gory details of my list of bad habits.

You’ve got your own list to worry about.  And start changing.

What do you think?  Is it worth discussing how habits are affecting your life?

Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

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  • IanC says:

    Another great post John, but did you have to mention

    …. meat pies!

    One of the things I miss about living in the US is those culinary delights. Now I’m going to have to go spend a lot of money at – the closest I’ve come to the real thing.

    I used to habitually eat them every day for lunch.

    Curse you John Carlton,

    ps. They deliver them frosty.

    • John Carlton says:

      I am stunned that some American has not tried to reproduce meat pies. James turned us onto them, going as far as walking with me to the pie shop and tutoring me on how to hold the pie (one finger underneath as you bite) and how to put “sauce” on top. (Ketchup.)
      I fell in love with those pies from the first steaming bite. The ones at the footie match were not as good as Pie Face’s downtown — but the concept is just great.
      The standard chicken pie here in the US comes vaguely close, but it’s usually too soupy to be manually eaten.
      God, now I’m hungry…

    • Stan Dahl says:

      I was just telling my brother and his wife a few hours ago, discovering Meat Pies was one of the highlights of the trip to Australia.
      Offset, in part, by my first taste of Vegemite, which was one of the most god-awful tasting things I’ve ever put in my mouth.
      Having spent several years (if you add all the days up) traveling, one of the generalizations I’ve made is that most every place I’ve been has at least one food-item that is so amazingly good I can never understand why it’s not available everywhere on earth. And one thing that the locals love that nobody who was not born there and introduced to by age 2 can get down without gagging.

  • Rich says:

    It’s interesting that it was a forced interruption of your routine that led you to consider changing your more wasteful habits.

    What you say is of course spot on. I just think that for most people, habits are just too hard to break. (there’s a song in there somewhere).

    Anyone seeking evidence of the difficulty most people face in attempting to free themselves of habits, good or bad, need look no further than the annual mass introspection bought about by New Years Resolutions.

    It may boil down to the ‘instant fix’ that our brains love so much. A little bit of TV comfort to block my reality for a while is much easier than committing to long term change.

    This knowledge could be used to solve the problem of obesity. Imagine having an electrode inserted in your brain, so that every time you pushed a button, you would experience a few minutes of euphoria.

    My guess us that some folks would eventually die of hunger.

    • John Carlton says:

      There are actually studies done with rats using this very approach.
      And yes, the rats eventually died of hunger, preferring one last jolt in the “joy center” of their brain to sustenance.

  • Mark Milan says:

    I try to assess my daily activities at the end of every day by journalling my activities. It acts as a mirror, uncovering the time I was unconsciously squandering. The more I journal, the more productive I am.

    You’ve got to hold that mirror up to yourself often, and hold it tight in place.

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Mark. I used to journal a lot… it’s good when you can control it. For me, it got to be a habit where I just complained about shit, writing to my inner mind. I’ve got 9 boxes of journals in the garage from my late 20’s, and I’d hate to think they became part of my legacy after I die, cuz I’m a whiny bitch in most of them.
      The main thing is, as you say, holding the mirror up to yourself. I may blog about this later — the concept of constantly changing the WAY you do your “mirror” reality checks, so none become a bad habit that you unconsciously know how to game. Journals are great, until they aren’t anymore. I’m glad to see it’s working for you.
      Just stay vigilant, okay?
      Thanks for the comment, man.

  • Adam Gordon says:

    I couldn’t agree more about habit. Unless I spend some time writing my newsletter or blog first thing in the morning it doesn’t get done.
    The other habit I try (try being the operative word) is to start the next task immediately I finish the previous one, otherwise it drifts.
    I enjoyed the Brisbane seminar and a chance to hear and meet you. And that you kept to the old rule of speaking – three points only.

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Adam. I’ve written extensively on that “try” thing. In Zen, there is no “trying”… you either are, or are not doing something. You cannot “try” to eat a sandwich, for example — you’re either chewing, or looking at it.
      It’s all in the doing. I like that idea about starting the next task immediately — however, I also preach having a “reward time” for accomplishing any big project.
      There’s a complex dance of appeasing, brow-beating, bullying and coddling your unconscious to get stuff done. The right mix is unique to you, and no one else.
      Yes, it takes a little time and focus to find your mojo on getting good routines going, and gutting bad routines… but it’s worth it.
      Thanks for the kind words on the presentation.
      Can’t wait to go back to Oz…

  • Peter says:

    Hi John,
    I think you’ve touched a raw nerve in some of your comments. I’ve been a procrastinator most of my life and my wife hates it. (she’s driven man)

    Only last weekend went to see a guy using something German New Medicine which helped to pinpoint some of the issues I had and what holds me back. One thing for sure… I’ve gotten a lot more work done this week compared to the whole of last month.

    You’ve got to love those pies John.
    The old Beechworth bakery in Victoria has pies to die for. (Ed Dale’s old stomping ground)


    • Steve says:

      Have to agree with you on the Beechworth pies, very good.

      I’m from the Wagga Wagga area and I’ve always loved a good Ganmain pie, hard to beat! Having said that the pies at the Sundance Bakery in Jindabyne are definitely up there…if you’re headin’ to the snow their worth a go.


    • Heidi says:

      Hi Peter- tell me of this miracle German medicine- What`s its German name? Is it something like the electoshock in the brain?
      from good (c)cold Germany

      • Peter says:

        Hello Heidi,
        Google ‘German New Medicine’. It’s really interesting stuff.
        The theory revolves around unexpected shock and how it damages parts of the brain. With cat scans you can actually see the damage if you know where to look… which you do once you know GNM.
        The 2 hour session I had the guy just talked and asked questions using symptoms of mine to guide him.
        Eventually he nailed it down to certain events and explained why I acted the way I’ve done for most of my life when all of a sudden I had this amazing change come over me and I started laughing.
        The change takes time to completely take effect but I know I act differently now.
        Love it

  • Hey John,
    Great post.
    The best tip I picked up was from Gary Bencivenga and Clayton Makepeace about writing like crazy for 3 hours damn early in the morning.

    Say 6-9am (did it this morning…awesome.)

    Then even if you goof of largely for the rest of the day you still got some dope ass runs on the board.
    Works well for me.

    Glad you liked Aussie. I am Aussie, but chose to go to the farm on the weekend so missed the big event. If I went it would have been to meet you.

    Your a complete legend,and I would anything you write.

    (Are you writing a book of all your ‘war stories’?)

    Reality/Game TV shows by and large suck, with the exception of American Idol, which I loved last season…Adam Lambert was the BOMB….

    But a Direct Response Realtiy TV show…or even a sitcom…now thats my idea of FUN.

    You, could be a star…and Dan Kennedy etc. Grumpy wise old grizzeled copy vets running campaigns and making millions. Fun times.

    Peace out.


  • Hey John,
    glad you had a good time downunda. It sure is a different world there.
    The first person to figure a way to make folks more productive will be simultaneously lauded and then probably get lynched by the masses.

    In our experience ( me and Evelyne ) most of the folks we know, and we include ourselves in this, just aint motivated to do anything more than they absolutely have to.

    What we have also noticed is that you start to take on the characteristics of the people that you hang out with. This is all to do with a part of the brain called Brochas area where you have little dendrites and stuff that run your “mirror
    neurons “. They’re what causes us to do the same shit as the folks around us. Hence the expression monkey see monkey do…! It’s something that we developed way back in the mists of time and is one of the factors in building our, errr…civilisation.
    Which demonstrates that it’s not what you know but what the folks you hang out with do that is one of the determinants for success…
    So we’re not only going it solo and limiting our contacts ( for purely selfish reasons like wanting to get stuff done ) We’re also considering moving countries and going to someplace like Singapore where the folks are a lot more proactive, ambitious and get off their butt to get stuff done…

    Thanks for another provocative post to shake up my stuff…



    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Mike.
      Yeah, our brains seem to be wired to go with the zombie flow.
      This is why new ideas get ridiculed at first, and anyone who speaks the raw truth can get clubbed into silence.
      It’s also why I have always treasured the “negative motivation” that spurred me into action back when I was at the end of my slacker days. So many people had expressed zero faith in my ability to accomplish anything, that I woke up everyday (early in my freelance career) fired up to prove them wrong.
      And I mean fired up. The first check I earned from freelancing was like a magic elixir — I could barely believe I’d created something from nothing (an ad, from a conversation)… and gotten paid for doing it.
      Take that, I mentally told off the doubters in my life.
      And got busy rustling up the next gig.
      The other zombies in your life — even if they’re lifelong friends — will never allow you become successful if they can help it. They will unconsciously sabotage you, delight in your defeats (both secretly, and openly), and welcome you back to the Zombie Club with open arms anytime you’re ready to quit pursuing your dreams.
      The good news is: Once you wake up, and get your plans together, you don’t NEED your old friends to agree with you, or even support you.
      You can still hang with them, in fact. I do. We just never talk business or success or dreams.
      Hope you find your perfect spot, Mike. Stay in touch…

    • Heidi says:

      it is just so damm hard to not swimm with all the dead fish. Some days I just feel realy torn between swimming with them and the knowing that I can not go back- I have to swimm against the tide. Thanks for reminding and thanks for telling me that it is worth while.

  • Joe says:

    last time I moved, I moved into a pimp little apartment in downtown long beach,without the tv. 2 1/2 years without the idiot box. I went swimming most every day, karate 3-4 times a week, and had a great social life. Breaking the tv habit turned me into more of a participant than a spectator.

    KILL YOUR TV !!!

  • Kathy says:

    Hi John,
    I’m flabbergasted that Americans don’t have meat pies! Any half way decent bakery in Australia will have a selection of 10-15 different pies – beautiful food.
    I’m a creature of habit but try to break it up where I can. This comes from having a husband and son with Aspergers Syndrome – they need their routine broken as often as possible.
    I also kept a journal when I was going through a really rough time. It’s good to look back at how far I’ve come. Back then my habit was to sit and read – it kept my mind busy and off things I didn’t want to think about. Since I discovered the world of internet marketing, my habit is to spend as many hours as possible learning and implementing. Much more productive and enjoyable. Occasionally I’ll spend a week or two writing down the time I start something, then each time I change direction or get interrupted I’ll make a note of that. At the end of the day it is easy to see just where my time has been spent (or wasted) and how much I’ve of my daily plan I’ve been able to finish.
    What did you think of Aussie Rules – I noticed the photo of you and Ed at a game.
    Next time you come to Oz, can you include Western Australia in the itinerary please? I’d love to attend one of your workshops but the airfare east puts it out of range.


    • Rosemary says:

      Well thought out post John,

      Hi Kathy,
      I am from WA and made the trip east to the Melbourne jaunt of the Ultimate Marketing Seminar – you missed a biggy!
      It was without a doubt the best seminar I have been to so far, my girlfriend Dawny and I (John you will most likely recall our funny conversation with Leise at the Cocktail party afterwards) picked up so many business tips and marketing tips from this seminar that we implemented them straight away. The speakers were outstanding and seriously for the free ticket over the airfare/hotel cost is a smidge – seriously girl if you get the opportunity to go to one of these again grab it with both hands! We paid $98 one way in Aussie dollars for a flight over – too easy.

      With what I learnt at that seminar in the following week I had 7 investors interested in a project I am putting together – priceless.

  • George says:

    Great Post John

    great to see youhad fun In Melbourne & made it to the footy-amazing to see how on the surface two cultures whcich appear to identical vastly different.. What seems to be the same however are the habits we develop as a western culture..What was that song called “Television the Drug Of the Nation.” The trick is to snap out of it and make that conscious decision on how we want to spend our time & our lives. I suppose any behaviour can be enhanced/changed first by consciously identifying what we want and taking action-perhaps at times uncomfortably until that new action becomes habit.

    I got alot out of this..

    Thanks JC.



  • Josh says:

    Brilliant post! I was just going round with my wife tonight about how my ‘sweet spot’ during the day is late afternoon (3pm-7pm) and she’s losing her mind around 5pm with our little one and needs me as backup. It is a horrible mismatch of timing and is frustrating us to death.
    The answer to it all lies in my habits through the day and the distractions I allow that disappear in the afternoon and give me the uninterrupted time I need.
    Reviewing all habits on a quarterly basis is brilliant. Putting it in my calendar right now.
    Next topic… how to find mastermind partners that are actually a fit?? I’ve been messing with it for a number of years and those that fit don’t understand the value of making time and those that make the time aren’t on the same page or even same book.
    My best,

    • John Carlton says:

      Hey Josh — Stan and I were just discussing this in the latest coaching call for the Insider’s Club (my open-to-all coaching program).
      The answer to finding like souls: Go to events.
      It sounds glib, but it’s the God’s honest truth. Nearly all the successful marketers I know scrimped and saved and sucked up the hassle, and went to seminars… (and here’s the important part)… they NETWORKED.
      The “right” people will not look for you.
      You gotta look for them. It’s worth the effort. If it takes a year or two of kissing frogs and trying out relationships that dont’ work out, so what?
      Just get moving…
      Thanks for the comment, Josh.

      • Josh says:

        Hey John,
        Thanks for the reply and input! I realize that I’ve been too passive and not sought them out diligently enough.

  • Claudia says:

    Yeah the travel bug is also a habit – before I had kids I lived on the road. I trvalled a lot by plane and train.

    I’ve managed to eliminate most of my bad habits like drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, eating junk. I don’t do any of that any more!

    But sometimes I still surf on the net too much but I’m getting that under control too. I’ve noticed it’s a lot easier to do what you got to do if your thoughts stay focused.

  • Billie Dows says:

    Life is short and as we lose freinds and family it wakes me up.”Today is the first day of the rest of my life.”I’ve already started my evaluation of my current habits and listing the needed changes.Thank you for an excellant Blog.

  • Judit says:

    Hi John,
    I gave up the TV habit in 2000. Before my turning point, I had it on all the time, with predictable results. Now, I watch a few selected films in a year and maybe a Zoo Show (it’s big here in Germany) per week with the kids. Just amazing how much time you have to read, to talk or just “sit and think” this way.
    Our TV, at least 10 years old by now, sits in the attic. Out of sight, out of mind! Ban the TV from easy access areas, your living room or bedroom and place it where you have to make an effort to get to.
    Just imagine the instant increase of fitness level if we all had to run up and down from attic to basement any time we wanted to watch TV and enjoy some munchies at the same time… or we would just simply learn to plan better?

  • Steve says:


    This is the first time I’ve ever visited your blog — what a pleasure to read.

    One habit that is a real sucker of time is checking emails. Lately I’ve got back into doing that more than I should and this post has inspired me to put that sucker rest.

    Did you get a chance to see Master Chef while you were down here? The only trash I watch and love it!


    • John Carlton says:

      The Chef was in the news — he insulted somebody in the British Royal Family or something. I kinda skipped following the story, because I didn’t know who he was.
      Now, I discover that marketing wizards like Mike Filsaime watch his show religiously.
      It’s the new “Apprentice”, I guess…

  • Aidan says:

    Thanks John
    for sticking some dynamite in my brain.
    I’ll dedicate my first novel to you.

  • Jude says:

    Great post. There’s nothing like a trip away from my normal routine to wake me up. I went to OZ last Aug. When I came back, I realised I couldn’t do my job any more and gave it up. It had become an old routine that was no longer serving me. Must be something in the water in Oz to wake us up!

    Thanks for a great reminder that routines can make and break our lives. The more consciously we go about our every day life, the more likely we are to make choices that serve us rather than the ones that we’ve done for decades that have little value.

    Great blog!

  • Heidi says:

    Hi John,
    2 years back we went to have our son (not) diagnosed with ADHD. My children are fine but they found that it is me who has the bug…
    What I remember from the dialogs is, that ADD people have a harder time changeing habits. A “normal”person needs about 28 days to change it- an ADDer nees ten times as much. Who can come up with so much endurance?????
    One thing I discovered is: Once you have something to go for it is esear to change habits. Since I started on the entrepreneur road things have changed by themselves. TV is so much less important than reading. Reading info produkts become more important than novels(they are good for times when there is no more energy for anything else…). So I see that change is possible and it helps to not give up on all the habits that are still in the line waiting to be their turn to change…..

  • Liane says:

    You know John,

    You mentioned this briefly in your post – I think part of this has to do with setting goals; unless you’ve got something you really want to get done, there’s really no reason not to just relax and watch TV – or eat meat pies all day.

    When I’ve got a clear goal in mind, there’s absolutely nothing that will get in my way of accomplishing it…but if I haven’t taken the time to set the goal – there’s no telling what will come up (on TV). It’s the difference between walking down a clear path, and wandering around in the forest without any clear direction.


  • Anne says:

    Thanks John for a most entertaining post. I loved your presentation downunder (in Melbourne) and will definitely be back to visit your blog – I like your style even though it took more than 38 secs to read.
    Very thought provoking to think about habits both good and bad. TV is definitely one to drop, once you sit down ii just draws you in and before you know it hours have passed.
    Glad you enjoyed the cultural exchange down-under I had it in reverse when I lived in Boston for a year. I thought that the US was like Australia since we both speak English but boy was I wrong!

  • Matt Bisogno says:

    Your post couldn’t have been more timely or more pertinent. For me though, it’s not the TV that sucks my day from me, it’s my laptop.

    I had got so ensconced in a routine of answering emails, firefighting (very) minor conflagrations and such like, that I was really getting agitated at the fact that my business had stopped growing.

    It came to me last night, that I need to document this stuff and hand it over to someone for whom the opportunity cost consideration makes it a value added job, not a value destroying job.

    As of next week, I will be productive and creative once more, and I have invested in a strategic instrument that shatters the glass ceiling I’d built on my business and my life.

    God bless the global society, and the power of outsourcing.

    Now then, where’s that remote? 😉


    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Matt.
      I actually have a photo — on my iPhone — from a footie match that Ed Dale treated a bunch of the speakers to in Melbourne.
      In the shot, the entire row — James Schramko, Brad Fallon, Ed, and Stan — are bent over over their iPhones, texting and doing God knows what else. While the football game raged just below.
      It was funny, and also telling — we’re addicted to the little buggers.
      Can’t let go just yet, though… too many new apps to explore…

  • Lisa Rothstein says:

    I lived in France for many years for this reason — being out of the fog of routine does make you feel alive. Now that I’m back stateside, I too waste an embarrassing amount of time watching TV, not to mention doing other default activities that are really low-value when you stop to think about it. And as a writer, I know the importance of GOOD routines. Trouble is, the bad ones eat up the time you would use for the good ones. Like writing blog posts at 4 am instead of sleeping so I can getup and write in the morning. Thanks for the wakeup call.
    My TV broke once, and I didn’t buy a replacement for 2 months. Probably the mot productive of my life!!

  • Kurt says:

    Fantastic post (great tips on taking clothes on trips too!). I think someone could build an entire business on how to change bad habits. Personally, I think I’m the poster-child for bad habits. As an example, although I don’t watch much TV, I’m hooked on NCIS and even watch the re-runs (really bad habit). Today, though, I’m going to sit down and write out all the bad habits I currently have that are limiting my effectiveness. Then, I’m going to come up wth a plan to change them. Thanks for the nudge!

  • Kyle says:

    OK, so I get this tweet from James Schramko saying this is the best thing he’s read this year and you know what, I agree. I now have this bruise on my forehead that says “WAKE UP”.
    Oh yeah “38 seconds” that’s scary.
    On a serious note, complacency breeds conformity which breeds compliance leading to inaction with the willingness to be controlled.
    I’ve been there.
    Thanks for the new day! Is my time up?

  • Elsa says:

    Hi, Easy to blame the internet age – but this is just the most popular current manifestation of zombie living. When I walk the dogs in the city, I meet neighbors. Most are on eternal repeat. Same comments, same jokes. It’s not just the neighbors. So many people, their conversation is a mish-mash of repeats.

    Some repeats are good – like walking in the country in the early evening, marveling at the light, rediscovering it each time.

    Most are borrring! But don’t blame it on the internet age. I opened a 19th century novel a while back – Silas Marner, I think. The start: neighbors having an evening conversation, droning the same blah blah blah for the millionth time.

    So, the attention deficit syndrome – that’s one thing definitely related to the internet age. But zombie living – old as the hills.

    • John Carlton says:

      You’re right — it’s not really entirely the fault of technology. People have always found ways to veg out and get their Zombie Shoes on.
      I’m thinking that the more aware and intelligent folks back then just drank more and despaired a lot. (Thus, novels like Silas Marner.)
      You know, I used to smoke. Started at 18, stopped around 30. And back then, there were NO rules against smoking anywhere — on planes, in people’s houses (even non-smokers never dared deny a nicotine addict his fix after dinner), in class in college…
      … I’m thinking the entire world must have reeked like a soggy pub. (Smokers can’t tell, of course — first thing to go with a pack-a-day habit is your senses of taste and smell.)
      How did sensitive people stand it?
      It’s like being aware and awake now (and interested and interesting, just as rare)… you’re in the minority, no one gives a shit what your opinion is about zoning out too much, and you’re annoying to people trying to snooze their lives away.
      Just suck it up, and get used to being an outsider. There are lots of us out there. You’re not alone…

  • Rodney Lover says:


    Your post stitched together several items that appeared while I was in Chicago on a business trip this week (I am from London, Canada). With three active young kids at home life is often full on or full off… not a lot of time for self-reflection.

    So in comes a tradeshow trip and a few days away by myself.

    Three things I noted while in the US…

    1) A heckuva lot of negativity on TV and in the newspaper. Yuck! “AMERICANS… MY FRIENDS… STOP FILLING YOUR MIND WITH CRAPPY JOB STATS AND LOOKING FOR OBAMA’S NEXT SITUATION SALVATION!” (A hilarious commentary on this was in The Onion this past week hitting the nail very hard – Check out “Report: 90% Of Waking Hours Spent Staring At Glowing Rectangles”)

    2) I read… I am a reader but in my routine at home, the draw of mindless TV is hard to avoid so I don’t read these days. In comes “In a Pit with a Lion”… aaahhhh back to reading…. A good break to a home routine.

    3) I found a country radio station I loved… Can’t say I am a constant country fan but I love the stories of country music. The one that stood out in my few days of reflection was Chesney’s “Don’t Blink”. I hadn’t heard it before… Check out the video on Youtube…

    So then in comes your post John! Thanks for being part of my wake up call to look hard at my routines.


  • Jen Rotman says:

    It’s important for me to hear the tales of six-figure copy gurus that wrestles with the same mental and physical barriers as myself. The one true routine item I know is a benefit in my life is my daily workout. This after years on and off again with it. There is no better way for my creative juices to flow than that–which is a big jolt from my “zombie” state. And I’m happy to say I’ve finally reached the point in my life at which I see TV reruns as some absurd mind-control. I’ve just begun reading Think and Grow Rich, so your pointer to it has given me a bigger head of steam to get further with it. Thanks for the rant.

  • Holly Lisle says:


    Your timing on this post was incredible. I sat down this morning to assess my own goals and habits. Long story compressed very short, I’ve spent most of the past 17 years writing and selling 32 novels at breakneck speed because we lived on my writing, it doesn’t pay as well as everyone thinks, and none of us particularly reveled in the idea of homelessness.

    Last year, instead of writing a book or two, I created a course that gave me my first steady income since I was an RN, and is allowing me to write books at the speed I want to write them.

    So this week, I found myself giving myself migraines by leaping back into my old habit of creating a grinding deadline on my current novel, and then working to hit it. My ability to do that kept us housed and fed for years…but now I have this chance to do what I love for the sheer joy of it—and I was doing my damnedest to screw that up.

    Habits are hell.

    Excellent post and perfect timing.

  • Marc Lindsay says:

    Hey John,

    Firstly was awesome to catch up with you in good ole Oz 😀

    Secondly holy fkn shit batman…. You are the most epic writer i have ever read….

    Always engaging, articulate and just…. awesome.

    Being someone that failed english all through school, has probably the worst grammar & spelling around, I admire what you are able to convey in your posts.

    Keep on keeping on man.


  • Diane says:

    John … adored the post and your style. You’ve got a new fan.

    Add’l packing tips: get cheap travel bags @ walgreens that you roll the air out of, 1 for t-shirts, 1 for pants, 1 for large stuff like cashmere coats), 2 extras (wet and dirty); color code … I take black, red and white (dramatic colors that are interchangeable); pack your rolly polly stuff in your socks and tie the top; always take a 1-of-a-kind special PR item that grabs attention (my BF wore a red feather boa @ graduation; we could see her) (I have a coat that is a work of art, and always pack my sexy boots); and always pack light enough to easily carry it yourself … or flirt like hell and get someone else to fetch and carry for you!

    As for habits … there’s the good one’s and bad one’s. Then again, it’s like Mae said “When I’m bad I’m better.”

    I say that as I have learned more from my perceived bad habits than from the good habits.

    One of the best tools I’ve found to help me be aware and make changes is what I call the “rubber band” game. I play it whenever I want to change something up. It just teaches me to stop!

    Put a rubber band on your wrist, and snap it hard when you want to stop. The first time I used this tool, I wanted to stop myself from thinking bad thoughts about myself. The first day my wrists were so red they hurt!

    Any who … this works for me for all kinds of things.

    Trouble is … I’m one of those twisted girls who eventually figured out that playing with low level pain is like a pleasure electrode in my brain!

    And yep … I’ve safely learned to use that one too!

    As for TV … I’m limiting myself. However, did you catch “As Made For TV” and “Pitchmen”!

    BTW … I’m a new fan as I have your dvd course! I work in sales and my conversion is going up! Now for a writing career!

  • Hi John,
    Great post–and terrific responses too!

    Especially love the Zen bit about there is no trying;
    you’re either doing it or you’re not. The example that drove it home for me was “You can’t TRY to pick up a pencil. You either pick up the pencil or you don’t.”

    For me, the most productive years of my life were when I cancelled both my cable TV & daily newspaper subscription. Didn’t miss them at all.
    Just not having that media driven negativity pumped into your head every day will do wonders for your creativity & your soul.

    The other bit you mention about habits reminds me of another Zen phrase “To become who you want to be, you have to give up part of who you are now”.

    We all hate to admit it & hate to give something up (mostly cuz we’re so damn comfortable with it–being too comfortable is the deadly assassin we never see or feel doing his damage to us) those old Zen masters were right again when they said “You have to give something up to create the space for the new thing to appear in your life”

    So, that’s some really poor paraphrasing but
    I think you get my point.

    So, that was one short point, followed by a long one and so I’ll end with this:

    The most sucessful people I know in any area of life are always challenging themselves with new & varied experiences even as they are at the top of their game.

    Whether it’s an acrobat taking ballet & salsa dancing lessons or a technical writer taking classes on poetry & songwriting—you gotta keep feeding your mind & your soul with good stuff (ie: new habits).

    And that’s why I’ve been reading & studying everything I can get my hands on written by John Carlton.

    Thanks for the kick-ass blog post today!


  • Edree says:

    Your post was part of the first external information that entered my brain this morning, other than unconscious noise from the environment and the fact that it is raining today in Seattle.

    It was timely. Caught me in the middle of a sooo familiar debate in my head about which habits I will practice today. Do I revert to the old familiar routine that has almost succeeding in murdering me? Or do I “woman” up and get out in the rain and walk or go to the gym. Do I feed the bad wolf or the good one.

    You, who I haven’t even met, are exerting influence on me to feed the good wolf. I will exercise today. Thanks.

  • Tim Hillwood says:

    John, your plea to have all of us stand back and challenge our habits reminds me of another thinking man who said this . . “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

    I’m looking at my habits today, and I appreciate your prodding enough to make our comfort uncomfortable. While comfort and sitting back in the chair staring at a screen may be temporarily pleasing, I’m convince it robs the soul of adventure. Succumbing to this seduction costs far too much in terms of unseen potential, contribution, and the experience of being more fully alive. Thanks for the stirring. Let’s keep it alive, so we will be.

  • Christia says:

    I love the attention to “habits.” I find myself needing to reevaluate my own. Being in the process of making big changes in my life, I realize old habits are hard to break, but so necessary.
    And now is the time for “no excuses, just changes!”
    The numbness brought on by routine is insidious. You don’t realize it is your enemy until something snaps you out of it. Like your article.
    Thanks for the slap!
    Happy Living!

  • Ryan Yockey says:

    I have gone through the habit reforming process a few times now in my life. Each time is an eye opener. I have attempted to constantly look at how I can increase my productivity through ditching all the normal american habits and creating great new ones. Thanks for the post.

  • Mike Morgan says:

    The universe has a damn funny way of getting you the message you need to hear, doesn’t it?

    Such is the case with your blog post.

    I’ve been running at mach speed getting my business rolling for the last 4 years. Neglected a lot of stuff that didn’t relate. In fact, I’ve been reflecting on this lately… especially after my brother told me I didn’t want to be looking back (while on my deathbed) thinking about all the things I didn’t do because I was so absorbed in my business. (What a cruel sick bastard… but he was right.)

    I know that some of by habits have made be damn successful in biz, but the very same habits hurt me in other areas. It’s a wacky double-edged sword, isn’t it?

    Ok… I’mm be crawling into the deep dark recesses of my brain THIS weekend. No time like the present!

    Thanks for confirming the wake up call I’ve been ignoring pal…

    Mike Morgan

  • Will says:

    John, after I read this post I opened a fresh Word doc and wrote the content for a new information site I’ve been thinking about.

    Now I think I’ll paste the text of your post into an Outlook task and have it sent to myself twice a month. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Peter Wright says:

    Great post on routines, habits and meat pies, I’m glad you survived Australia.

    Now if you want to try the worlds best meat pies you need to organise a trip to South Africa. A huge variety of steak pies, pork pies, cornish pasties, meat and veg pies etc. They also speak and write yet another version of English.

    In the old days before Rhodesia became the disaster of Zimbabwe, there was a little bakery in the small town of Karoi that produced what had to be the worlds best steak pies.

    Couldn’t agree more on the hours wasted in front of the TV. Except for the BBC or CNN at supper time, and the odd spot of bull riding, I gave it up 2 years ago. Made a huge diference to my productivity and the number of books I read.

  • Melanie Yeoh says:

    Hi John
    G’day! Great to have met you at the UMS is Sydney. Thanks for a brilliant blog about habits!
    I haven’t watched TV for months and I love it… although, since UMS, I took the advice of James Schramko and started Twittering and that’s got to be my new bad habit /addiction. Ah well, I’m sure it’s not all bad as I’m following you and the other guys from the UMS.
    On a different note, next time you’re in Sydney, you can come to my place to do your washing – for free – and I’ll take you to THE BEST pie joint in all of Sydney. Plus, we’ll crack open the bottle of Carlton that you gave me and Bob’s your uncle!
    Cheers for sending me through my Simple Writing System and Kick Ass DVD’s – I’m absolutely loving it and know I’ll get great results. Just wondering when I’ll get the other stuff through though?
    Can’t wait for your next blog. Hope you’ve kicked a few bad habits and loving your newly acquired ones…
    With thanks!

  • Larry LaFata says:

    I’d been researching habits recently, for a “kick the habit” book I’m writing.

    Turns out habits literally become a new limb or organ in our body (brain), which is what makes them difficult to “break.”

    The subconsious mind is desisigned to do repetitive things automatically. It is designed to powerfully program pleasure and pain stimuli.

    So while it’s wonderful we know to brush our teeth without thinking about (most of us anyway) every morning, it can work against us. By repeating something enough times with enough pleasure, we also develop habits without realizing it. All of a sudden we are chocohalics or meat pie fiends, like what happened to you, John, in Oz.

    This is why from the I-ching to the Bible and onward, literature cautions us to keep good habits.

    Without understanding the subconscius mind, our old leaders instinctively knew it could lead you to ruin.

    But the point I wanted to comment on was how scary the 38 second attention span syndrome is.
    And how it is in itself a habit.

    It is a habit of thought, stemming from “I have my position on that, so don’t need to think about what you are going to tell me.”

    I am constatntly dumbfounded how shallow this is making Americans in general, and worse how intolerant they are becoming. (also known as political correctness)

    For example, I may say to one of my lefty friends “How much did your false prophet of backdoor socialism, Obama, put us into debt this week? Another trillion or so?”

    Invariably, first thing everyone says is “Well, Bush …blah blah” (fill-in-the-blank with one of Bush’s sins here.)

    They just have a knee-jerk reaction, (a habit) but are unable to defend this trillions of dollars in spending on it’s merits.

    They have a position and won’t let it be shaken.

    That kind of lemming-thought is very dangerous, especially if the head lemming is jumping off the side of a cliff, like Obama is, and all the lemmings follow him over the edge with these Trillions of dollars in debt that can’t be sustained.

    Sorry about the politics angle, I could of used a little leage baseball coach example, but hey, isn’t this a place for rebel rants?

  • Scott Junner says:

    Fair call. I take it further.

    I noticed that in my own life and in the lives of my friends, we all went through moments of major fear inducing mayhem. Lost loved ones, owners of rented business properties kicking out long established businesses, cars breaking down at really inappropriate moments, whatever…(you know, the stuff that comes in threes). So I decided I would get ahead of the demolition ball of life.

    I chose to regularly and routinely get rid of everything and start again. Everything.

    After a few goes at dire poverty and figuring out where the next drink of water is going to come from you get a sharp perspective on what is really important. It has another great advantage as well.

    It’s not untill you have lost everything that you are trully free to do anything. So changing direction becomes fairly simple. Got nothing, so there’s nothing to worry about. Simple.

    Now I’ll readily admit this little strategy of mine (of which I share with noone I have ever met) has not entirely made me financially abundant. But it has given me a keen eye for any bullshit I may attempt to cling to. It also took several tries at this strategy for me to realise I am just not cut out for mental slavery (ie. job). So as a result of my frequent freedom points I now see I was an entrepreneur all along and am now learning the skills and developing the tallents to make a go of that. Hooray for Breakthroughs!

    Here’s where I’m getting to. On my most recent clearing of the slate I found myslef sitting in the desert for three weeks with a bunch of hippies, a really big kick arse sound system and way too much psycadelic drugs. When I say desert, I mean dry dusty haven’t seen rain in 5 years desert.

    It was about half way through that experience that the winds of the desert blew through my soul and brought back the three fundamental questions of life.

    1. Do we have any water?
    2. Can we boil it?
    3. Would anyone like a cup of tea?

    For those who haven’t taken life to that extreme I’ll translate that for you.

    1. Do we have the basics?
    2. Do we have the means to improve it?
    3. Do we have friends to share it with.?

    Anything after that is extravegance. Not that there is anything wrong with extravegance. But since we are on the topic of getting the bullshit out of our lives. It may pay to ponder the three fundamental questions of life. (Hint: It’s best when the answer to all three is yes)


  • Steve Ovens says:

    Hey John,

    Great post – love your work mate!

    Good to meet you and Stan in Sydney at James’ place. I thoroughly enjoyed your UMS presentation in Melbourne and I’m really looking forward to working with you to turn my hackneyed prose into… eyeball-grabbing copy that literally leaps out and glues the unsuspecting reader to the page… or something approaching that. 😉

    I moved to the UK with work in 1997 and just never got around to getting a TV over there. Found I had an incredible amount of free time on my hands and developed a software package in my newfound “spare time” that I traded for a much better job and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shares in a tech company. Unfortunately that company went belly-up in the tech wreck of 2001 leaving me with some great stock-option themed wallpaper – but that was teaching me a different lesson. 🙂

    I’ve just started keeping a time journal to track where my time is spent (hoping to plug some leaks!). Scheduling in a regular review of your habits every few months is a great idea – I’m going to implement this as part of my continuous (self-)improvement process. Thank you!



  • William says:

    It depends what the habit! If this is such a habit to drink coffee in the mornings it is very difficult without the drink when you do not have time to drink it!

  • Diane says:

    Just my 2 cents … and a ponder from a woman who fights with the words … good and bad … better and worse … I try to think in lights and darks

    There are “light” habits that create happy energy or scratch a particular itch I might have …

    There are “darker” habits that create a different energy I’m looking for … intensity, fear, sadness, etc.

    I’d like to believe I’m getting better at “replacing” a dark habit that doesn’t serve me well … with a “light” habit that fulfills a desire I have!

    Then I’ve got a better shot at Action!

  • Earnst says:

    I am a worthless wretch. I have no useful habits. I wonder the world aimlessly with no destination, no home. I attend seminar after seminar never getting to the next level. I am considering becoming an alcoholic, but I hate the taste of the stuff. Drugs?…maybe…but Lynard is dead and the rest aren’t worth mentioning. Can’t you smell that smell? Anyway, I am getting old, I just heard that Mr Jackson, the one gloved genius has been rush to a hospital suffering from cardiac arrest. Looks like the arresting officer in the sky has put the glove on Michael. Maybe I will have a drink. Where is that maker’s Mark??


  • Taylor says:

    Hi John,

    Great post. You nailed how stepping out of your comfort zone, and as you said into a new environ, suddenly null and voids many (unhealthy) rituals. This is one reason I like to travel.

    Maybe something’s in the air… because I also recently posted about becoming aware and breaking patterns in our lives.


  • Bernie says:

    38 Seconds! So that is why I keep jumping from project to project! That is why discipline and routine are more important than ever. It’s easy to be undisciplined in this world (which is why the economy is a mess) but now more than ever, you need to buckle down.

    Thanks John!

    Bernie Malonson

  • Joshua Fuson says:


    This is good shtuff. Excellent, in fact.

    Couldn’t come @ a better time. Habits make us or break us, and it’s great to keep an eye on them and re-examine them {frequently}. The Quarterly Review is a great suggestion.


  • Very good interesting article.

  • Great post – love your work mate!

  • I enjoyed the entire post. keep it up buddy.

  • Habits are hard to break this is a really good insightful post.

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