Who’s Watching Your Back?


Thursday, 7:41pm
Reno, NV
Please allow me to introduce myself…” (Stones, Sympathy For The Devil)


This is one of those lessons that arrived accidentally…

… and I had to stop and ruminate about it for a while before it made sense.

I’m lucky I learned it early, too.

It’s provided me with a home base of sanity when the chaos has reached shuddering crescendos and it was hard to think straight (let alone make snap decisions when crisis loomed).

You may find it obvious.

That’s fine.  Just don’t go thinking it’s obvious to the rest of the mean ol’ world out there… cuz it ain’t.

Here’s the story: One of my first jobs working for Gary Halbert was to fly to Detroit… and interview a guy who’d just lost 750 pounds.

Yeah, you read that right.

Gary had an idea for a diet product based on the dramatic tale of this now-slender young man.  It had to be a true story, too, cuz we found it in The National Enquirer.

I mean, it was dripping with credibility.

The photo of the kid at his heaviest made people just stare and blink.  We’re talking about filling up a king-sized bed all by your lonesome, with a little tiny face lost in folds of flesh.

The last time he’d been on a scale, they hauled him over to a machine that weighs horses.

Now, there’s more to this story, of course… including my first encounter with a Michigan ice storm (I flew out there in freakin’ December, wearing my stylish, thin, warm-for-Los-Angeles leather coat… and learned a lesson about chill factor walking out of the airport, tell you what).

Also including the side-story of how the kid, now down below 200 (yep, he really had lost all that weight) went through multiple operations to remove the excess skin, which was donated to burn clinics.

And more.  I can regale a room with the stories from that adventure for an hour.

But this isn’t a post about losing weight.

No, it’s much more important to your life than that.

Let’s continue: Gary and I began a rocky relationship with this kid for a few months, trying to film him for his product (a self-help course for people wanting to lose massive amounts of weight steadily)…

… while navigating the kid’s mounting arrogance, ego and control-freakism.

Gary and I loved to delve as deep as possible into the working personalities of people — that’s where the genius of all great advertising lies.

So we spent many an evening wondering what made this kid tick.

Finally, I hit on something.  “You know what?  Something inside him caused him to get so big in the first place.”

Stay with me.  It’s not as obvious as you might think.

Halbert’s eyes lit up.  We were on to something.

See, at first the kid seemed nice, loving and family oriented.  Poor guy had just sort of lost track of his size, and oops, got big.  Perfect spokesman for a diet product or course.

Soon, though, you could almost feel the invisible manipulation tenacles slithering around your throat as he challenged anyone who dared to question his authority and superiority on… well, everything.

Now, I’m no shrink.  But we soon realized how that kid had used his obesity to control his family to the point their entire lives were devoted to his care.  Like slaves.

And he liked it that way.  And he shed the weight when he figured out another way to keep them under his thumb (by becoming a celebrity via fat loss).

Okay.  So this kid, who at first seemed kinda sweet and loving, turned out to be harboring a nest of demons.

So what?

Well, it was one of those “a-HA!” moments where half a lifetime of puzzles suddenly were solved.

Here’s that lesson: Everybody has demons.


You, me, the mailman, your little love-bug honey, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.

Not all the demons are malicious.  Some are fairly innocent… like a constant craving for chocolate, which can impact your desert choices at a restaurant if you’re the type of couple who likes to share.

Or like a fear of heights, which can impact your vacation plans together.

And there are common demons, which seem to inhabit most of the population: Fear of change, greed, road rage (a cousin of feeling powerless against The Man), whack-job political suspicions, predudices… and I’m sure you can add to this list easily enough yourself.

And there are demons whose main job is keep things confusing: The passive-aggressive little trolls who excel at twisting reality into forms only they recognize.

This realization — that everybody’s got demons — at first was a huge relief.

Personally, I had always assumed (for no good reason) that if it was unclear who was at fault in any given situation involving me… I should take the blame.

It just seemed wrong to assign bad motives to other people.  And I knew I had demons in my head — desires and fears and the lingering inchoate rage of barely surviving puberty and struggling in the adult world.

And I kind of enjoyed believing I lived in a world with mostly demon-free people around me.

I could handle my beasts (most of the time).

But the thought that someone else might be harboring the same impulses I had rattled me to the core.  Better to pretend there were pure souls out there in the majority.

This is COMMON, folks.

This is standard operating procedure for most human minds… to not go down that rabbit hole inside your brother’s core.

It’s why the neighbors of the serial killer next door always express surprise.  “He was a nice, quite man.  A little odd, but we never suspected anything.”  (Despite the occasional screams from the basement…)

As a marketer, you have to abandon many of the pleasant illusions that comfort everyone else.  Like believing your customers are different.  Or that you can sell lots of stuff by appealing to the “noble” virtues of your audience.

I’ve often cautioned friends who were nibbling at the edges of the entrepreneurial experience:  You will be startled, at first, by what you discover about your fellow earthlings.

The sheer volume of fear, desire, greed and sick need is unsettling.  It’s a jungle/madhouse/war zone out there.

However, once the initial shock wears off, you’ll be fine.

People are infested with demons of varying levels of nastiness.

So what?

They’re still lovable.  The world is still gorgeous.  And knowing how the universe operates — rather than pretending to know, and being wrong (like most folks) — offers you a supremely better life.

For one thing, you won’t often be fooled.  You’ll be a wicked-good salesman, too… because 99% of all selling is based on understanding the psychology of the process.

And your philosophy of how to live well can evolve (and thrive) based on reality… not wishes and dreams.

Now… what is the FIRST practical application of this advanced knowledge?

It is this: Look around…

… and figure out who’s watching your back.

Most people’s heads are crawling with demons they don’t realize or acknowledge…

… and yet they LISTEN to the gibbering.

I’ve seen this too often, both in business and in private life.

When people operate alone, or in isolated situations, they “take their own counsel”.

What they THINK they’re doing is going over the facts, weighing options, and judging the pros-and-cons objectively.

However, what they’re actually doing…

… is taking whispered advice from their demons.

And that seldom turns out well.

Much later (as the dust settles and the survivors of the decision begin to climb back on the Maslow hierarchy-of-needs staircase)…

… they’ll ask themselves “What the HELL was I thinking?”

And the answer is:  You weren’t thinking at all.

You let the demons into the control room.

Now, how does this affect you as a business owner or entrepreneur?

I’ll tell you:  Most of the biz owners I consult with are essentially isolated.

They don’t have confidants to tell their secrets to… they don’t have people who share their burdens… they can’t brainstorm ideas because no one around them understands what’s going on…

… and they sink or swim, every day, locked inside their own head.

With all those demons tugging and whispering and planting astonishingly dumb ideas in their brain.

This is, essentially, what separates the winners in the marketing world from the never-ending queue of losers.

The winners always — always — network relentlessly…

… and rely on the power of mastermind groups and coaching to stay on the cutting-edge, motivated and happy and on the best possible path at all times.

I know what it’s like to be alone out there.  I started my career completely solo, clueless and barely managing my fear (and the near constant deluge of bad ideas popping into my skull).

I used books as a crutch, and it worked to a point.  I learned a few tricks, and I used the “What would Claude Hopkins do?” philosophy when stuck.

However, as soon as I discovered like-minded souls in my Los Angeles area sandbox, I formed mastermind groups, or joined existing ones.

There is no second-best way to maximize your potential, at anything.

One professional, all alone, may be occasionally brilliant, and may develop a killer reputation.  And actually enjoy the job.

However, you team two pro’s together… especially when they’re simpatico on biz philosophy… and you get way more than just “times two” the brilliance.

No, you get a big-time multiple of brilliance.  It wasn’t just Halbert and I teaming up — it was also bringing our mutual support teams together… the people both of us already trusted for advice and criticism and brainstorming.

Our network was instantly many times larger, and amazingly more powerful.

And — best of all — we finally had someone we trusted and respected… to tell us when we were being fools, or idiots, or about to jump off a cliff.

It works like magic to put your butt on the right track, chugging steadily toward the rewards you seek.

Being alone sucks.

Teaming up rocks.  It’s the only way to fly.

This is why, when you scratch the surface of a top marketer, you discover a long history of using brainstorms and mastermind groups underneath.

I’ve always had partners or people I trust (and solicit opinions and advice from), ever since I discovered the sheer awesomeness of sharing brain-wattage with fellow travelers.

However, I’ve never officially hosted a mastermind group.

Until now.

People have been hounding me to do this for a very long time.  Certainly, whenever I’ve held Hot Seat seminars or Writing Sweatshops, the effect is very similar to a mastermind.

Except it’s just a one time thing.

A real mastermind is ongoing.  So you get to know your colleagues, and they get to know you.

And so their perspective on your plans is coming from a place of trust and familiarity, and a desire to root for your success…

… and to watch your back as you progress.

This is the great victory of a mastermind: You are no longer alone out there.

You’ve got a group of smart people invested in your success.

And you can finally tell your demons to go bugger off…

… cuz you’re getting solid input and criticism now.  The right stuff for powering your rapid ascent up the levels of success and happiness.

Okay, blatant pitch:

I’m now hosting two mastermind groups… for the first time ever in my career.

We started with one.  My biz partner Stan Dahl and I decided it was high time to bring together a great group of people committed to the mastermind concept…

… and get busy.

We let word of this mastermind slip at the recent Action Seminar… and we immediately had more people wanting in than one group could possibly handle.

(The right size for a mastermind is no more than 12… very small and tidy.  Any bigger, and it’s a seminar, not a mastermind.)

So… we split the original single group… into two groups.

Which allowed us to customize each group… so we have one that is primarily for entrepreneurs and small biz owners…

… and another one primarily for copywriters and consultants.

Stan and I have over 50 years between us as professional marketers, business builders, consultants, freelancers, and entrepreneurs.

I can say — without blushing — that we are among the “first choice” consultants hit on by marketers who understand the value of experience and current savvy.

We’re “Success Junkies”, and proud of it.  And we bring a wealth of knowledge, insider advantages, vast resources, and breathtaking skill to the table.

And we’re personally hosting each and every mastermind session of these two new groups.

I’m just letting you know about it.

We start both of them in early April… so you can still grab bragging rights for being among the very first members.

I just checked, and as of right now (while I write this) there are still a couple of spots open.

If being part of a regular mastermind group with me sounds interesting, go here to find out the details of joining:


I can tell you that, for the first folks who signed up, it was a no-brainer decision.

And if you’re still relying on your inner demons to watch your back as you navigate this increasingly rocky economy and biz climate…

… then maybe you should see what’s up here.

Okay, end of pitch.

I’ll see you again soon.

Stay frosty,


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  • dmh says:

    Another killer post, the mastermind group looks epic.

    And John (and everyone else as well), I just posted a tribute to you over at:

    It was long overdue.

    Thanks mate, God bless and all the best.
    – dmh

    • John Carlton says:

      Thanks, man. Really nice you had there, too…

      • dmh says:

        Thanks John, it’s my pleasure but I couldn’t quite complete the blank from your reply.

        Was it my frosty mug, the post, or both that you liked?

        Because I’m sure you could get a real sideline going on those mugs, but I don’t know if that’d creep you out too much to be sitting on thousands of peoples desks whilst they try to smash out some copy.

        All the best.
        – dmh

  • What a brilliant, brilliant post.

    I’ve always suspected that most people are batshit crazy, in their own way. Now I know why.

    Fascinating stuff… and you sold me on the mastermind group all over again.

    Can’t wait to get started next month.

    -David Raybould

    • John Carlton says:

      And we’re happy to have you on the faculty of the next SWS, David.
      Hope you enjoy the ride you’ve signed up on… I remember the giddiness I felt when first wandering off with Halbert — leaving the corporate client world, and diving into the vibrant, unpredictable world of entrepreneurs. It truly is an adventure that never stops paying off…

  • ken ca|houn says:

    Good points. I look at personal demons like typos or mis-written USPs in copy… things to be endured at first, but ultimately fixed; having a group to get feedback from would be helpful.

    Hugely instructive “turn” in your post, John – masterfully done, from the demons hook to engage the reader, to the transformation tie-in to mastermind group need, call to action and close. Reading your copy is always a treat, and instructional at the highest level.

    btw dmh that’s a neat site, and that coffee cup is perfect…

    to the journey,


  • Gotta agree. Never been one to believe that all people are noble. Nor do I believe in the “bad seed” theory on why some people are so evil. Everyone’s capable of becoming psychotic given the right circumstances. Selling to the baser emotions is what works. Thanks for the reminder. Looking forward to the Platinum Group!

    • John Carlton says:

      I get psychotic on a regular basis, you know. We try to keep it a secret around the office, but everyone knows…
      Seriously, though, while it freaks some people to realize how much “jungle” remains in their best friends and loved ones, once you make the realization and accept it, you can continue on the adventure of life full speed.
      See you in SF…

  • Gregg Zban says:

    Damn John, you had me until you unleashed “inchoate”. Come on dude….I Googled it and even Merriam Webster couldn’t help my little demons understand it….lol

    What a great story and lead in to your pitch. Your writing continues to paint the most vivid of pictures and always puts a smile on my face (after my “post Carlton” inner self examination of course).

    Thanks again for “the good stuff”


    • John Carlton says:

      You’re welcome, Gregg.

      At least you’re looking those words up. Too many writers today have lazy-ass vocabularies. The real secret to great writing: A top-end vocabulary that you only haul out occasionally… deep knowledge of Power Words (the ones that connect directly to a reader’s emotional sweet spot)… and a working familiarity with slang and swearing. (Warning: Do NOT use slang you don’t regularly use in your everyday speech. Nothing kills a pitch faster than a writer using slang wrong.)

      I gotta write more about this in a future post…

      Thanks again for the note, Gregg.

  • You’re 100% right about needing someone to watch your back. People that you trust, both professionally and personally. Without them, the demons *will* get you. Unfortunately, those of us that can’t afford to join groups like that, have to do the best we can on the ‘net. Maybe one day I can afford to join a group like yours, or become the core of one.

  • Kyle says:

    Ya did good, Johnny Casino.

    Really and truly enjoyed this post. It comes closest to your old newsletter I miss so dearly.

    Keep up the good work!
    -Kyle (Long time, no comment! Need to get back here more.)

    PS: Hope you hit up In N Out in Cucamonga while you were visiting yer pops. =)

  • From the moment I woke up, until a few hours ago, when I clicked your email and began reading about the demons; my demons, – this day has been spent in a sense of being slapped around by something cruel and judgmental…This blog has done no less, than loudly remind me of where the worst neighborhood on Earth exists…How I continue to re-visit the desolation, is no longer a mystery…Taking orders from HEAD quarters has become an instinct,- born in fear, habitually depended upon, and carried out unquestioned…
    Thank you for being more than coincidence!!!
    Thomas David Stringer

  • One word say’s it all…WOW!

    I would give almost anything to spend a day with you. Don’t know what to do! One selfish thought…Remember the guy looking for Gold! Looked all over the world…Gave up…Returned home and found it in his own back yard…Is there any chance Gold can be found in Cucamonga? I’ve seen a little gray on your chin…will buy you a Senior coffee anytime…Can I send you love? Rich

  • Future Job Offer for ONE John Carlton. I need a Copywriter for ONE Campaign. No Champaigne corks will explode, for me anyway:) You on the other hand, I suppose that would be up to you.
    Campaign to start January 4th 2011 ( 4-1-1 $-!-!)
    Copywriter will remain FROSTY perhaps FROZEN but the THAW will be well worth your time. If interested, Stay tuned!
    Chief Crazy Captain Christo
    P.S. ( that’s Pumpkin Script!) The Truth is Scarier than the S-word.

  • Kevin Rogers says:

    Bonkers post, JC. At least 3 “suitable for framing” paragraphs in there.

    My favorite: “As a marketer, you have to abandon many of the pleasant illusions that comfort everyone else. Like believing your customers are different. Or that you can sell lots of stuff by appealing to the “noble” virtues of your audience.”

    So shocking. So true.

  • Sam Hill says:

    Just wondering ????

    Is this blog a slap at Frank and his be kind to your

    customers type teaching in the Mass Control stuff?

    He says, if you don’t like the junk, no problem, just

    email him and he will return your cash. You can

    even keep the junk etc……..

    Just sort of sounds like it. Just wondering.

    • John Carlton says:

      Oh, stop. Frank and I are pals. I consider him one of the true geniuses in the game.

      And I’m VERY kind to my customers, anyway. Come aboard and see how you get coddled and fussed over.

      We’ll kick your butt if you need it, but only if you need it. I needed it, back when I was learning the ropes. I appreciate the guys who took the time to consider me worthy of being taught, and the minor stings to my ego I received in the Hard Knocks Department were always quickly washed away by the stunning results and fresh cashflow the lessons supplied.

      Business is for adults. It’s not always pretty, but there ARE a few of us out there willing to put our ass on the line to help people “get it”…

  • Glenn says:

    John, you’re awesome. Nothing new there. Your description captures the essence of a real problem that I now recognize in light of the perspective you have shared. You also make clear that external perspectives, wisdom and guidance are indeed the solution, if not the only one, to such demons and to release ourselves from the constraints we place upon truth by consulting only the limitations inherent to our individual perspectives.

    Profound observations, analysis and consclusions.

    Thanks once again for adding value to my life.

  • Thanks for reassuring me that I’m not the only crazy person out there John 🙂

  • Mike says:


    Good article about mastermind groups-but don’t forget demons have relatives with the same idiot views, so a whole group can fall prey to the same misconceptions. Witness cults like scientology and religous zealots. You cannot abandon thinking for youself, and critically evaluating everything that you read or hear. A mastermind group does not absolve you of thinking for yourself!

  • John,
    Its a very good article & it was worth reading. You are doing really good job. Keep on going my friend. God Bless you !

  • Excellent article. It seems as if nowadays the only person you can really trust is yourself because in the end, everyone is out for him or herself! Keep up the great job 🙂

  • Robert says:

    John, I really CAN’T express how Very thankful I am to have found this post! Not in the way you intended, or probably expected. this response really has nothing to do with the product you’re offering, but I just think you might be happy to know what side effect your post has manifest. You see, I’ve got a girlfriend that is agoraphobic, I suspect you already know what that means, but just in case you don’t, it’s often described as “Fear of open spaces”; Thankfully it’s not so bad as to prevent her from her front door. She can get outside and enjoy the sunshine, and visit her neighbors, but she can’t get any further than the end of the block.
    I’ve noticed a very controlling nature about her and have observed how her physiological status has arrested her attention just before a panic attack, sending her running for home. These observations, as well as a few more subtle ones, combined with my understanding that I’ve gained in recreationally studying the human mind and psychology, had brought me to the conclusion that her “demons” have brought this horrible affliction upon her to require people to cater to her, and give her the illusion of control of certain situations in her own life.
    I’ve come to realize this, but haven’t known how to approach presenting my perspective to her without just making her feel attacked … until now. I still don’t have the details figured out, but You’ve given me an angle. a glimmer of hope that I might be able to get her to , finally, agree to hypnosis therapy and unseat those demons; she’s been in this situation for eight years now, and her therapist has made very little progress in all that time. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, and do my best to remove her fear of hypnosis; hopefully it’ll work.

    P.S. any help you may be willing to contribute in putting together a solid “pitch” would be greatly appreciated. … I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks again!

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