Turning It Off Can Be Just as Hard as Turning It On
Note: This first appeared in the Peak Performance Newsletter, which I coauthor with Steve Magness. For additional and exclusive content, subscribe here.
“For me, not working is the real work.” — Stephen King
We’ve written extensively about how to turn and keep it on — how to increase our physical and psychological capacity. But, as we’ve discovered in the research and reporting for our new book, stress — that is, some kind of stimulus or challenge — without rest is unsustainable. Whether your “stress” is miles run, words written, presentations given, games coached, hours spent studying, or canvases painted, if you don’t give yourself the time and space to recover, you’re liable to burnout and cause injury to yourself and perhaps even others.
Turning it off, however, is NOT easy — especially for people who are perpetual pushers: those who love their work and give it their everything. And, given the ongoing conversation we’ve had via this newsletter, that represents a lot of you! So, in the same spirit that we need to give our minds and bodies time to turn it off, we wanted to devote some time in this newsletter to the topic.
Rather than hear from us (i.e., Brad and Steve), we thought it would fun to change things up and feature two guests, both of whom we respect greatly.
- Dan Pink is insanely prolific; he’s been producing frequent high-quality work for over a decade. In particular, Dan is an expert on how to turn it on. The man literally wrote the book(s) on how to make yourself tick (Drive) and how to make other people tick (To Sell is Human). So, we figured, what better person to speak with about how to turn it off!
- Adam Alter studies and writes super well about psychology and marketing. His latest book, which just came out, is called Irresistible. It’s about how technology hooks us and the steps that we can take to turn it off — in this case, literally.
Our conversations were far-ranging, so we’ve done our best to home in on our central topic. Here’s what Dan and Adam had to say, edited for length and clarity.
Physically Separate Yourself from Your Work.
“Stepping away [from your work] is a challenge for anybody who’s self-employed or who’s working on projects they generally care about. Even so, over the years, I’ve gotten better not so much at turning off, but at shifting gears. One thing that’s helped is the physical environment. I work at home, but not *in* my home. Instead, Pink, Inc, world headquarters, is a small, refurbished garage behind my house. That soft separation — a 22-step commute — has been really helpful. In the office, I work. But when I turn off the lights, clamber up the steps, and return to the house, I try to leave page 39, paragraph 4 [of whatever it is I was working on] behind me. I generally don’t bring my laptop into the house, and I never take work calls there, either. Also, I really like my family. Sometimes — many times — what’s going on in their lives is way more interesting than my daily struggle to put words on the page!” — Dan Pink
Physically Separate Yourself from Your Device.
“One of the best ways to tame the impulse to consistently check your device — whether it’s to tweet, take an Instagram photo, or play some sort of entertaining game — is to eliminate the option altogether. Start with baby-steps. Walk to the corner store without your phone. Put your phone in the other room when you sit down to watch television with a spouse. Exercise without a device. Schedule a hike or nature walk and keep your phone in the car. It’s nearly impossible to resist using a device if it is with you, but it’s also impossible to use a device if it’s not with you. Over time, you’ll start to re-learn just how exciting and engaging the actual world in front of you can be.” — Adam Alter
Don’t Try to Do Everything.
“For better or worse, I’m pretty imbalanced. You won’t find me gardening or woodworking or collecting stamps or hanging out with my motor cycle club. Excluding basic hygiene and health maintenance, I devote probably 95 percent of my time either to working or to family stuff. That’s it.” — Dan Pink
“Part of the reason people can’t stop using their [digital] devices is because we’ve become so accustomed to constant stimulation and novelty. In the moment this feels great and may be OK. But over time, if we’re always on our phones or thinking about being on our phones, we end up completely drained without having really done anything. Daydreaming, just sitting with one’s thoughts, is an extremely valuable practice and unfortunately something that is becoming a lost art.”
Focus on Doing the Work; Stay Steady Regardless of the Result.
“I tend to be hyper-rational about external results. When things go well, I don’t get especially pumped up. And when things go crappily, I don’t get especially bummed out. I know that over time, everything tends to regresses to the mean — which is a reality check for good times and a mood-booster for bad times. I just focus on trying to write books that help people see their world a little more clearly and live their lives a little more fully. And on the broader life front, if I can quote Hamilton, I’m trying to not throw away my shot” — Dan Pink
Follow the Lead of the Technology Elite.
“Something I found fascinating in reporting for Irresistible is that all the big-names in tech — from CEOs of companies, to venture capitalists, to big-time tech writers — they all have tech-free periods. And they pretty much all have a blanket policy of not allowing too much technology near their young children. They know firsthand how addictive this stuff can be.” — Adam Alter
Thanks for reading. If you found this story interesting and want more, follow me on Twitter @Bstulberg and checked out my new book, Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success, where the above concepts are explored in greater detail.
Brad Stulberg writes about health and the science of human performance. He is a columnist at New York Magazine and Outside Magazine.