Back in June, David Blaine answered a question about what motivates him to still keep performing illusions of survival. His response: I can’t turn it off.
“‘That’s my addiction, getting a reaction from people,’ Blaine said. ‘My girlfriend will say, ‘Why do you always have to do magic for everybody?’ I can’t help it. Even on the phone with you, I’m playing with cards, trying not to do—’ At that moment, he shuffles the cards into the receiver. And at his core, that’s who David Blaine is: a magic-obsessed entertainer who’s constantly working on and occupied with his craft, reported Times Union.”
Not to be outdone, a few months later Elon Musk told the New York Times that he, too, struggles to “turn it off,” so much so that he sometimes has to take Ambien to sleep. “‘There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days—days when I didn’t go outside,’ he said. ‘This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.’”
If you think you sound like either of these men, then I feel bad for you. And if you’re married to someone who sounds like either of these men, then I feel really bad for you (doubly so if your significant other is a “can’t turn it off” magician who can’t finish regular intercourse without suddenly pulling a bouquet of flowers out of his urethra).
That said, these people do tend to have somewhat noble intentions. Brad Worthley, a customer service, leadership and motivational consultant near Seattle, told the BBC in 2015 that overworking is a symptom of being a people pleaser. “The unfortunate part about being a pleaser is you want everybody to love you, respect you, you want to remove work for others. You want to take a bullet for the team,” Worthley said. “Unfortunately, by taking work off others’ plates, you are robbing others of learning, self-discovery, confidence, praise and recognition. Pleasers think they’re helping others by doing everything for everybody.”
According to Diane Barth, a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City, another possible factor preventing someone from being able to unwind is simply the nature of the world we live in.
“The demands of daily life are intense and never ending. We have come to equate success with achievement, and achievement with happiness. Furthermore, research has shown that stress, anxiety and depression, which come on the heels of this kind of non-stop pressure to achieve, physically interfere with the body’s relaxation mechanisms. And of course focusing on relaxation as yet another high pressure goal (I must relax, I must relax, I must relax) is not going to cut it,” writes Barth for Psychology Today.
Psychotherapist Amy Kim tells me that putting the average person’s inability to turn it off side by side with someone like Blaine or Musk isn’t a fair comparison. “Someone like David Blaine has a certain type of gift that will operate at anytime no matter what’s going on,” says Kim. “Someone like Elon Musk, his mind is going to be constantly occupied because he’s doing so many things on such large scale.” But even on a smaller scale, it’s surely a damaging trait, whether for you personally or, more indirectly, your family or colleagues. So how to fix?
Kim’s advice is almost frustratingly simple: Examine your thoughts, and essentially, practice relaxing. “You have to build the muscle of rest, relaxation and leisure,” she says. “When you strengthen that muscle you don’t give work activity as much fuel to keep running.”
Put another way, if you’re struggling to focus on anything other than the PowerPoint you’re presenting next week, just force your brain to find your beach.