Episode 004

The Power of Deliberate
Unfocus, Rest, & Daydreaming

with Srini Pillay and Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Jeffrey’s Premise:

Sometimes our most important discoveries for our projects and our life happen in the margins of our attention.

We live in a culture that trusts conscious attention and labor over intuition and mind-wandering. Yet those moments of contemplation and daydreaming are what set us apart as humans and give our unconscious minds the time and space to rest. It is in those breaks from conscious effort that our creative subconscious continues to work on problems and innovate new solutions.

Jeffrey is joined by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a Silicon Valley-based futurist, writer and founder of The Restful Company, and Srini Pillay, a psychiatrist, brain-based technology innovator and founder of the NeuroBusiness Group. They discuss how the environments in which they were raised informed their drive to achieve. Srini unravels the myth of deliberate practice as the only factor in creative mastery, and Alex explains how rest and work act in tandem to support and sustain each other. They discuss the magic of the unfocused mind as well as the value in scheduling intensive work followed by deliberate rest. Listen in as Jeffrey, Srini and Alex offer insight around activating the creative brain in the current cultural moment of volatility—when it has never been more important for humans to be human.

Our Guests:

Alex Soojung Kim Pang

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang studies how people create, and the worlds they create. His work uses history, anthropology, neuroscience, and psychology, to understand how great minds use both intense focus and mind-wandering to stimulate and sustain their creativity, and how technology can be used to enhance rather than erode those efforts. He is the author of two books with Hachette publishers: Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less (Basic Books, 2016) and The Distraction Addiction (Little, Brown & Co., 2013).

» Deliberate.rest

Twitter: @askpang


Srini Pillay

Author, Psychiatrist, Coach, Brain Researcher, Musician, Provocateur/Poet Dr. Srini Pillay approaches personal development and goal mastery in a way that blends science, spirituality, and horns-grabbing joie de vivre to combat the stresses faced by ambitious and high-achieving people in academia, business, and life. His most recent book, Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind explains how you can harness your mind’s innate tendency to wander, stall, rest, and unfocus and become more productive—in the boardroom, living room, or classroom.

» DrSriniPillay.com

Twitter: @srinipillay


Key Takeaways

[4:14] Srini’s young genius

  • Grew up in apartheid South Africa
  • Sense of curiosity in forbidden

[7:49] Alex’s young genius

  • Movement between two worlds
  • ‘World of ideas’ as escape

[11:12] Alex’s drive to achieve great things

  • Korean father, expectation to be at top of class
  • Found intellectual satisfaction outside university setting

[16:02] Srini’s motivation to excel

  • ‘Neurotically driven on my own’
  • Desire to make family proud
  • Interest in many subjects

[21:17] The path to creative mastery

  • Deliberate practice not only factor
  • History of people with combined interests (e.g.: music, science)
  • Must practice AND rest deliberately
  • Work and rest function as partners

[29:52] How hobbies impact productivity

  • Scientists with more hobbies had more citations
  • May be protective against dementia

[33:06] The magic of the unfocused mind

  • ‘Professions’ trust conscious attention over contemplation
  • Brains capable of productivity when not paying attention
  • Organize working lives to create space for playfulness

[38:43] Srini’s methods for activating the creative brain

  • Constructive daydreaming
  • Napping
  • ‘Psychological halloweenism’
  • Doodling

[46:33] Alex’s insight on scheduling work and rest

  • Intensive work followed by deliberate rest
  • Subconscious continues working on problem
  • Schedule rest to protect that time

[52:40] The uncertainty of the current cultural moment

  • Alternate perspective necessary in midst of volatility
  • ‘Never been more important for humans to be human’
  • Must protect rest in distracted culture of technology

[59:09] What Srini and Alex are pursuing in 2018

  • Alex cuing up next book (work, rest and future)
  • Srini working on musical, book plus clinical work/coaching

A special thanks to the early supporters of the Tracking Wonder Podcast. Your enthusiasm, feedback, and support helped make this possible. Thank you.

A few very special early supporters:
Deborah Burand, Katherine Miller, Michael Belfiore, Lisa Grefe, Cathy Presland, Peter Wallace, Rita White, Janet St. John, Kim Manley Ort, Bill Miles, L. Hadley, Blair Glaser, Ann Brech, Laraine Herring, Kate Vogt, Susan Brennan


Each week brings you in-depth conversations with leaders, stories from change-makers, and provocative ideas from artists and scientists – all designed to inspire you to shape your best work with more possibility, impact, and – yes – wonder.