PI4MM20: The Psych of Suck

People get caught up in "The Suck" and wear it as an identity...

In this episode of the Psych Insights Podcast, Carlton is spitting so much fire and brimstone we’re calling it

The Psych of Suck

It’s all about how people find misplaced comfort and stagnate in their “working on it” phase, never allowing the curtain to go up on their show.


00:55 – Why John Carlton is pissed at you right now

02:40 – Why John is happy to admit he’s only hit a handful of his goals in life

08:20 – John’s “Pool Party Theory” for overcoming your fear of getting started

10:30 – Gary Halbert’s technique for spotting people who are “Afraid of Success” — are you one of them?

13:00 – Why sociopaths succeed in business (and what to do if you’re not one)

13:50 – The critical role failure played in separating direct response marketing from Madison Avenue

15:02 – The fatal dangers of living “behind the curtain” and assuming the role of the “The Guy Who’s Working On It”

17:49 – Kevin’s magic ingredient for getting in-demand mentorship opportunities

18:35 – Gary Halbert’s bulletproof solution to solve any problem (no, it’s not a sales letter)

19:10 – How John deals with life’s Dark Alleys (hint: flatten one building)

21:20 – How to use the Psych of Suck to get unstuck in the next 45 seconds — grab a pencil and pad!

23:10 – Why entrepreneurs are their own worst enemy (and how Steve Jobs figured out a solution)

27:30 – Why smart women make foolish choices

29:45 – The One Word Solution to beat your “I just can’t do this” mentality

30:45 – Why John took up scuba diving to achieve his dream of flight

34:00 – How Kevin used the power of momentum to defeat his own self sabotage (and get up on a surfboard)

38:20 – “Things are amazing – Everything sucks”

39:45 – How to combine the Psych of Suck and True Western Zen to “eat risk for breakfast”

45:20 – The surprising benefit of not obsessing on an amazing life for your family

46:50 – John’s “forgettable technique” that puts your brain on autopilot for successful decision making

48:00 – And, finally… why your brain doesn’t trust you

Show 20 Bullets provided by “The Conversion Engineer”, Ross O’Lochlainn.

You should also…

Read John’s blog

Visit Kevin’s Community of Copywriters

Get signed up at show producer Brian McLeod’s site

23 thoughts on “PI4MM20: The Psych of Suck

  1. Ross O'Lochlainn

    Great episode, as per usual.

    Interesting to hear that Halbert used someone specific as his “cautionary tale”.

    John, you mentioned having the ability to see what the next step is for anyone else you meet.

    But, how easy has it been to see what the next step is for yourself?

    Or, more importantly, how easy has it been to identify that you HAVEN’T yet taken it?

    1. John Carlton

      For myself? The usual realization is that “all clients suck… and you suck the worst of all, when you start writing for yourself”. Very difficult to step back and do your own marketing, as you’ve observed. It’s not surprising. Nor is it an obstacle you can’t overcome — you just have to spend more time using Critical Think processes in planning and editing.

      When I consult with someone, I can clearly see the next step for the path they’re currently on… and the next step if they decide to change course. Beyond that, too many variables to be certain. If I think they’re on a good path, then I urge them to take the next step. If I suspect they’re waffling, then I help them explore alternatives. It ain’t brain science.

      When you work with yourself, though, and you know there are a DOZEN alternative paths to every step you take… it gets fucking complicated. That’s why all top entrepreneurs have deep networks of pals who won’t hold back on critiques, advice and interventions (when required).

      Nobody gets out of here alive. In the highest chambers (where the A List live), no one gets anywhere without help. It’s all about colleagues and networks and resources. (This is why my mastermind, for example, is so valuable that many members stay for years and years…)

      1. Ross O'Lochlainn


        So, the solution is to surround yourself with Carlton-esque entrepreneurs who will be pointing out next steps (or lack of them).

        Keep yourself surrounded by those who will keep you moving…

        Not a bad plan.

  2. Mary Rose Maguire

    Like Yoda said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

    John and Kevin, great episode. Really, really good. There are so many people (newbie copywriters, for example), who don’t understand the need to just get out there and do something.

    We learn when we read or listen but we learn more when we do.

    The other thing I appreciate about you, John, is that you’ve been very transparent about your journey. You made plenty of mistakes but you also share what you’ve learned from them. The fact that you’re now enjoying a great deal of success is in itself a strong example of the “keep doing whatever until something clicks or you hit a wall” philosophy.

    Loved that you mentioned “Smart Women, Foolish Choices.” I used to be a dating coach for single women over 40 (still might resurrect that one…) and it was THE #1 book I recommended for the women to read. I read so many books on relationships and dating that I should have a Ph.D. in it.

    But that book is the only one I read that exposed the romance book industry for what it was: the biggest scam artist of all for setting up women to believe that a fabulously wealthy, handsome man existed who would put her on a pedestal and be completely at her beck and call. Lies! It’s like those romance books have Wieden+Kennedy behind them to sell love. Ugh.

    I’m currently watching a great series by The History Channel, “The Men Who Built America.” It talks about the successes and failures of some of our country’s first captains of commerce: Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, J.P. Morgan. You know what connected them? They were huge risk-takers.

    The series is interspersed with comments from modern successful businessmen like Mark Cuban, Donald Trump, Jim Cramer, Jack Welch, and Richard Parsons. I would highly, highly recommend the series to any entrepreneur. The modern guys break it down a bit and analyze why guys like Vanderbilt and Rockefeller were geniuses when it came to success.

    The one quote that is staying with me is Donald Trump’s: “Do you have to be ruthless to succeed as a business owner? No. But you have to be smart. Really smart.”

    So I think it comes down to acquiring the knowledge you need to get out there and show that you have somewhat of an idea of what you’re doing, but to become truly masterful (and smart), you have to be willing to learn while you’re driving.

    No one gets anywhere if they’re just sitting in a Porsche that’s still in the garage.

    1. John Carlton

      Great note, Mary Rose. I love biographies, because they strip away the BS (if they’re good bio’s). Nobody got anywhere without a journey, which often is full of mistakes, horror, discovery and love/love-lost. A life well-lived is one hell of a tale.

      I gotta check out that History Channel series now…

  3. Mary Theresa McLean

    Just finished listening, hated that it came to an end. Could’ve listened to alot more. Loved it. Thanks.

  4. Scott

    Thanks, only thought:

    Kevin definitely curious to hear more from you…obviously there’s something special that got you to be a co-host on here…but John’s a bit full of himself* and he seems to cut you off right when you get going…curious to hear more from you, (after taking action).

    Just my .02 anyways

    *joking on the egotistical part, he’s obviously a fine American in the best sense, rugged individualism, takes control of destiny, etc., and we need more like this. But definitely wondering about Kevin as I listened through these last few.

    1. John Carlton

      Yeah, the show was designed to be a conversation, but when I go down a good rathole, there’s no stopping me. In prior shows, Kevin actually gets words in edgewise (and delivers excellent stuff, always). The podcast was actually his idea, originally, by the way…

      1. Scott

        Well of course ya’ll are serving it up to us on a gigantic banana leaf, for free
        But figured I’d point that out since I just kept wondering over the past few podcasts
        And just listened again at 33:53-35:30…ok anyways

        Curious if ya’ll think the writing process is one you force or you kind of have to play around and let the subconscious creative processes do their work

        In this podcast you say “take the next step” I guess you play around with it, write things out, let them come to you…think you mentioned in an earlier podcast

        Anyways this commenter’s field is pure math and there’s something similar in that, there’s a good description of the creativity process in mathematics by Henri Poincare, where he consciously thinks through problems, then lets them simmer in his head, and sometimes out of nowhere the solution will pop into the brain


        It must be similar for what ya’ll are doing.

        BTW: Legend has it that a mathematical formula for how electrons interlock (“quaternion structure”) came into the Irish mathematician Hamilton’s head on a walk home from a Dublin pub, and he engraved it into the bridge so he wouldn’t forget…20 years before electrons were discovered!

        1. John Carlton

          Yes, it can be stunning to civilians to learn that putting your heart and soul into something, and giving it away for free… will still yield complaints.

          We mostly laugh it off. It’s the new digital age, and people are only now coming to terms with their Inner Troll (we all have one). It can be disorienting to comment in a rules-free zone. We’re all bozo’s on this bus, though, and we’re learning as we go how to cooperate…

          Except, of course, actual trolls who love spreading chaos and bad vibes, while hiding their identity. Karma can’t act fast enough to deliver shit-burgers straight to their door…

          1. Scott

            Sorry John – just had that thought come up a number of times during the past few podcasts, “who is this other guy”, and was curious, and then he got started and it seemed like you jumped in.

            Then I read Halbert gave you “s**t” in the same way in one of his newsletters and came back and said “PS I’m giving John s**t here, he’s one of my best friends and a fine human being.”

            Please keep it up as this is a life saver.

            Scott McKinney
            Oak Ridge, TN

      2. Kevin Rogers

        Scott… thanks for the vote, but trust me when I tell you the balance of dialogue in these episodes is in perfect harmony.

        The magic formula here is the chemistry between John and I, fueled by a mutual respect and admiration, but also a natural hierarchy.

        A brief history…

        I came to John as a raw rookie copywriter in need of validation. He gave it to me and my confidence soared. Our friendship developed naturally, but John remains a respectful mentor. His selfless advice has guided my career and pulled me out of some very tight spots (as recently as last year), not only because it’s wise, but because he cares deeply about his friends. (The line of A-listers who would say the very same is staggering.)

        A single email John wrote me 5 years ago changed my life forever. It is printed, framed and hangs over my desk. I could frame 50 more like it with ease.

        The whole premise of this show is that in private conversations John goes off on incredible rants that send me scrambling for a pen and paper or to to hit a record button so I don’t lose any part of it. For John it’s just another call with a friend on a Thursday afternoon. For me, neurons are lighting up like a pinball machine.

        I’ve been around brilliant (and occasionally genius) writers, comedians and musicians my whole life. John has the ability to drop into flow state like few others I’ve seen. The major difference is that his rants almost always tie up neatly with a pointed lesson.

        I considered it an embarrassment of riches to be the only one hearing some of John’s rants and receiving all this wisdom. So we took a shot at recreating the moments with tape rolling. It worked and it keeps getting better.

        (The only complaint I hear about this show is that we don’t make more, but that’s part of the magic, too. The topics emerge organically out of inspiration and we fucking record, that’s it.)

        So… as a host with a performer’s instinct I’m aware of occasionally being cut off mid-thought. But it’s never pissed me off – not once. Because as a producer, a prospector and a huge fan of my subject, I’m after the gold that glows beyond the next layer.

        There are plenty of outlets for my thoughts, ideas and the lessons I can share. You can see a short list on the About page of http://www.copychief.com if you’re interested.

        However, this show works because of how John’s brain works. If we default to a balanced conversation just to be polite, the whole thing wobbles off the rails.

        And that would be the ultimate suck.

        1. Scott McKinney

          Thanks Kevin>>>

          And I know that ya’ll didn’t ask for the nutcases and trolls to come out of the woodwork.

          But was driven nuts for 3 days and nights by some things John said, and then read this note in the Gary Halbert Newsletter where Sir Gary was giving John some crap and then asterisked it by saying more or less “Haha! I was just giving John crap there, he’s a good friend, etc.”

          So tried to mimic that…hope my grandkids don’t log in and see the dig I made at him…

          Anyways this is fascinating stuff.

          Hope to hear more of it and I’ll shut off the Inner Troll, thanks John.

          Scott McKinney

  5. Dennis Morris

    Kevin & John,
    Great discussion and lots of good advice. I should have learned short-hand to keep up with John in taking notes and writing down my thoughts. I’ve really enjoyed the posts here as well.

    I got to thinking about John’s points on the book “Distant Mirror” and the overall discussion on taking action.

    Back in the 14th century (as the book covers) not taking action was not an option. Take no action and die.
    With infant mortality rates as high as one-third (including many of the mothers), an expected life span of about 45, if you didn’t plow and plant you starved to death over the winter. Roaming bands of raiders taking what they wanted being common, rampant disease, not knowing where the next meal might be coming from. Poor water and medical help non-existent for the masses…it’s no wonder the sense of urgency to take action was alive and well. Surviving was the daily result of taking action continuously.

    Fast forward to today. Procrastination guru help is a healthy and profitable business these days. And the the Guru thinks – “I’ll be happy to take your $47 for the book and CD “Procrastination – Kick It’s Ass Now” He knows what will happen. You’ll never read the book, never listen to the CD, and not return it for the refund.

    Not taking action is the norm. Is there something else going on here?

    Maybe we can think of the 21st century as the age of convenience or the age of easy. Perhaps life has become too convenient, too easy and we settle into the “big rut”. Get up, complete the morning duties, off to work for nine hours, do the same thing there today that you did yesterday and will do every day going forward (except weekends of course, that’s a different routine). Come home, have dinner, clean up the kitchen and then settle in to that oh-soooo comfy recliner with TV snacks in the right hand and the remote in the left. Confidently, passively moving into the brain-dead zone.

    Despite this, the discomfort in the feeling that we should be doing something to move forward, could be doing other more productive things, will take action later…creeps up the spine and hits the grey matter. Oh well, we like the bug rut. It’s safe, it’s secure, changes are small. So what if it gets a little frustrating. Life is supposed to be this way. Heck… all my family, friends and neighbors say it’s so.

    In a larger sense, this might also explain, to some degree, why many people immigrating here, seem to do so well, so quickly. Coming from countries like India, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Middle East, Malaysia, many have lived first hand the daily poverty, high unemployment, crime, disease, violence, political upheaval, and risk in living daily lives that may be closer to the 14th century, than the 21st. Coming here and opening up a business, working together as family with a common goal and taking risks in the U.S…..is like a walk in the park in comparison

    Anyway, just some thoughts I wanted to share. Now I can let them go.

    Best Regards

    1. John Carlton

      I think you nailed an excellent point about prior life plans, and how expecting to live an extra few decades may be a main reason so many are robbed of motivation.

      Good stuff, Dennis.

  6. Terry Lin

    Hi John,

    You mentioned that many of your mastermind members have stayed together for years:

    How do they manage to keep providing and receiving value if everyone is growing at different trajectories? I’ve seen some folks that outgrow their peers very quickly and leave because they stop getting value, and was curious how to get someone to stick around long term.

    Is this an issue of finding the right people for the mastermind, or something wrong with the value proposition of the group? Understand its kind of a chicken & egg question so curious on you thoughts.


    – Terry

    1. John Carlton

      Wrong question, Terry. Masterminds work precisely because everyone is going at different trajectories — the breadth of human experience in life and biz is the best ongoing story you’ll ever find, crammed with drama, tragedy and humor. Everyone’s experience, no matter where they are in the hierarchy of success, carries lessons for everyone else. And the veteran needs to relearn what the rookie is just now learning.

      We’ve got entrepreneurs in the group earning fifty times what I’ve earned in my entire career, writers with chops equal to mine, brilliant strategists, and adventurers who’ve lived a bigger life than I’ve ever imagined. My job as the moderator isn’t to have the last word in anything, but to corral ideas and input into a coherent thing that can be put into action. I’ve got tech geniuses who write code (I can barely turn my computer on) in the group, software experts, social media moguls, you name it.

      The ones who stay recognize that success in one area of life often means problems in other areas will now pop up. We do interventions in bad business plans, and also in bad lifestyle decisions. We provide support for folks getting outside of their comfort zone, and an arena where you can discuss anything (no topic is forbidden) without feeling like a freak.

      No one ever reaches a point where they can stop learning. Not ever. A great mastermind is the sum of the members, yes, but having a veteran moderator who’s seen a lot and experienced a lot makes each Hot Seat a real event in your life.

      We still have 3 folks from the original group as members, and several others have left for a year or two, then returned. Because of the value of a damn good mastermind in their lives and biz.

      I will not trash other masterminds. There are dozens of them out there. Most are not “classic” masterminds, but some version of a networking club or a brainstorming session (not the same thing as a true mastermind). This “hanging out with other entrepreneurs in a room” style can actually help some folks — especially those simply seeking out connections or inside advice.

      But when you really want to kick yourself in your butt and get moving, a true mastermind (as explained in “Think And Grow Rich”) is the only way to go.

      1. Terry Lin

        Thanks for the reply! Seems like the word “mastermind” is just thrown around a lot in the internet marketing world these days. I suppose it does sound more sophisticated and productive on paper than a networking club.

        Haven’t touched Think and Grow Rich in years – will have to dig up the hardcopy again. Cheers!

  7. Steve Kehler

    Thanks for this great episode. It’s one of my favorites. John and Kevin, you put out so much value in every episode, but this one, I don’t know, maybe it’s the inspirational factor for me. When I feel like I’m suckin’, this one does it for me. Thanks again.

  8. Peter Kenchington

    Great advice John and Kevin. I appreciate the effort you put in to these Podcasts. Enjoying listening to the back catalogue and this advice resonates about doing the next thing.


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