“You will consider how and why you rest in a completely new light after reading this book.” (Wendy Suzuki, author of Healthy Brain, Happy Life)
“You’re holding some terrific advice in your hands on the virtues of walking, napping, and playing. Pang has written a delightful and thought-provoking book on the science of restful living.” (Clive Thompson, author of Smarter Than You Think)
My new book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less is available at your local bookstore, on Amazon, on Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere. It’s published by Basic Books in the United States, and Penguin Books in the UK (as part of their wonderful new Penguin Life series). It’s also been translated in a number of other languages.
I’m also continuing to collect research and stories about the subjects I cover in Rest: stories about the role of deliberate rest in creative lives, research on the neuroscience and psychology of creativity, the challenges of busyness and overwork, and so on.
May 17, 2017 / askpang / Comments Off on John Cleese, Graham Wallas, and preparation for insight
Monty Python’s John Cleese has given a number of talks over the years about creativity. Today runner and academic Peter Francis tweeted out a link to a talk Cleese gave that nicely echoes what I talk about in REST:
This is what happens on sabbatical & why short intense working followed by deliberate rest is source of creativity https://t.co/RWpPDvdy9K
In the video, Cleese talks about discovering the power of the subconscious to help you solve problems– if you do the work first.
I’ve transcribed the critical section, which starts at 1:39:
If I was working on a sketch in the evening, and I got stuck. I would think about it a bit. And then if I went to bed, woke up the next morning and made a cup of coffee, and then I’d go over and sit down and look at it again, 9 times out of 10 I would have the solution.
And I found this absolutely extraordinary: that overnight while I was asleep, the answer just popped up, and when I sat down in the morning after a moment or two of looking at this problem that had completely stumped me the previous night, I saw how to do it.
And what is more, I began to realize that in the morning I didn’t even quite see what the problem had been the previous night.
So this business of sleeping on it, this overnight incubation that went on in my unconscious was an extraordinary phenomenon.
But it did depend on putting the work in the previous evening. You see what I mean: i couldn’t just go out to dinner and go to bed and wake up with an idea. I had to do the thinking. But if I primed the pump, then the ideas came.
So that was an extraordinary discovery.
Then the second: I wrote a script with Graham Chapman, and then, to my great embarrassment, I mislaid it. I was very embarrassed, and I didn’t want to go to graham and say I’ve lost it, it was stupid of me to have lost it.
So I sat down, and I put in a blank sheet, and I recalled it from memory, and I wrote it out. Then, a few hours later, of course, I found the original. I thought, “Oh I must compare the two and see, did I remember the best bits?”
What I discovered was that the version that I remembered was better. The phrasing of certain jokes was better. The construction was slightly better. It was just a bit less verbose, a little bit clearer and more precise. It was better.
I thought, that must mean that between writing the first script and writing the second one, my mind had gone on working on the problems, and actually improving them.
So again I had a perfect example of how one’s subconscious, if you prime the pump properly, will go on giving you answers, as a reward— not as a gift, you have to work for it.
Fascinating indeed. The first example is part of a bigger phenomenon that I’ve talked about before (Linus Pauling described it, for example). The second mirrors experiments that show that the subconscious continues working on problems even after we’ve turned out attention elsewhere– something I talk about in the book. It’s also a story that Cleese has told elsewhere: here’s an account of it in Fast Company from late 2014. And both illustrate Graham Wallas’s argument that creative insight usually follows intensive focus on a problem, followed by a period of incubation.
For years, focus has been the venerated ability amongst all abilities. Since we spend 46.9% of our days with our minds wandering away from a task at hand, we crave the ability to keep it fixed and on task. Yet, if we built PCD [positive constructive daydreaming], 10- and 90- minute naps, and psychological halloweenism [ed: read the piece to see what this means] into our days, we would likely preserve focus for when we need it, and use it much more efficiently too. More importantly, unfocus will allow us to update information in the brain, giving us access to deeper parts of ourselves and enhancing our agility, creativity and decision-making too.
This tracks pretty closely with what I write in REST, which is no surprise. I think the big thing I see in the lives of really creative people is that for them, moving between focused and unfocused states has a lot more intentionality or strategy to it.
In particular, the habit of doing things that give your mind time to wander soon after a period of focused work is designed to give the subconscious mind a chance to keep working on problems that have occupied, and often eluded, their conscious minds. In particular, Barbara McClintock’s and Charles Darwin’s walks show the hallmarks of being periods meant to exercise the body, clear the mind, but also give the creative time time to pick over problems– and maybe come up with solutions that they couldn’t find through concentrated effort.
One of the amusing things about REST is that Amazon has classified it as a book about, among other things, “Exercise and Fitness Injury Prevention.” This is the kind of algorithmic hiccup that gives me hope that we’re still a way from having robots take over all our jobs.
Unless a human assigned that classification, in which case we’re all doomed.
But until then, if it’s going to be in Exercise and Fitness Injury Prevention, at least it’s #1! Take that, Pain-Free Posture Handbook!
“IF LIVING excitedly and hurriedly would only enable us to do more, then there would be some compensation, some excuse, for doing so. But the exact reverse is the case.”
That was the opinion of William James, the philosopher, psychologist and physician, in 1899. I wonder what he would say of our 24/7, always-on world, where the concept of turning off is an anachronism?
Many business people today treat stress and overwork as a badge of honour, and will brag about how little they sleep and how few holidays they take. However, as Dr Soojung-Kim Pang shows, it is a mistake to think of rest as nothing more than the absence of work. Rest is work’s partner that, when correctly understood, improves output exponentially, and the quality of our lives commensurately.
It includes a pretty thorough gloss of the book. If you never actually read the book (which would be a shame), but want to know what it says (which would not be a shame), read this review.
May 2, 2017 / askpang / Comments Off on Children’s drawings on the Origin of Species manuscript
I’ve written about my admiration of Charles Darwin as a husband and father, and the way he defied stereotypes of both Romantic Genius (which holds that really talented men are almost obliged by their devotion to work to be terrible spouses and parents) and the Victorian stereotype of the distant father. There’s lots of hagiography around Darwin, but there’s also plenty of documentary evidence that gives us a picture of him as a Good Dad.
Darwin’s young children sometimes painted pictures and wrote stories on the back of draft manuscripts for Darwin’s books & notes. These drawings & stories were precious to the Darwin family. So it was thanks to the fortunate meeting of the children’s play with their father’s science that these extremely rare manuscripts of the Origin of Species (4 pages), Origin Portfolios type notes (2 notes), Cirripedia (9 pages), Orchids (1 page) were preserved. Otherwise, these items, precious to scholars, would have most likely been destroyed. Moreover, the four Origin pages are part of the only 45 Origin pages (plus 9 insert slips) that are extant–out of the original c. 600 page draft. The 9 surviving Cirripedia pages (8 fragments and 1 full page) are the sole survivors of that massive work. However, most often the children simply used their father’s writing paper–without his writing–to produce their pictures and their tales. We present here the totality of 111 images, which includes 94 images produced by the children and 17 images with drafts or notes in Darwin’s handwriting.
What may seem like sacrilege now—turning the only handwritten copy of a seminal work of science into scratch paper—appears to have been normal then. Once Darwin had sent a fair copy of the manuscript off to his publisher, John Murray, he made the rest of his changes to the book directly on the galley proofs, and evidently he wasn’t precious about the originals. Paper being a hot commodity, the children co-opted the pages for themselves. Kohn doesn’t know for certain which kids were the artists, but he guesses that at least three were involved: Francis, who became a botanist; George, who became an astronomer and mathematician; and Horace, who became an engineer. The drawings are lively and full of color, made in pencil, ink, and watercolor, depicting real and imagined worlds, always with a Darwinian eye for detail. Part of the joy of these images, of course, is what they imply about Darwin—not the stereotype of a tortured, isolated great thinker but the abettor of scientific curiosity in others as much as in himself. Indeed, he often put his children to work on his research. “The kids were used as volunteers—to collect butterflies, insects, and moths, and to make observations on plants in the fields around town,” Kohn said.
Not because we’re work-shy fops. Or Luddites who fail to grasp that the world has changed. But because it makes financial sense.
It’s the economics, stupid.
More rest = more creativity = more famous work = more £ for clients = more £ for agencies.
Quite literally: more for less.
“What we need to do is fucking REST” was the working title of my book; alas they didn’t go for it. Even Penguin, which has this piece of art in its reception area, squashed it:
What does this mean?
Our job as creative leaders is to be bouncers at the door of Club Rest.
Inside, there’s no rave music and very little dancing. People are reading and playing peek-a-boo with their kids and whittling sticks and thinking about setting up a sausage company.
And tomorrow, rested, their neurons will light up like a New Year’s Eve firework display instead of fizzing, pathetically, like a budget sparkler in the rain.
If we believe in the power of creativity to power our client’s business, then it is beholden upon us as an industry to protect and nurture that creativity.
We need to work hard at not working.
By coincidence, I was just conducting an interview this morning with the head of Agent Marketing, a Liverpool-based advertising, branding, and strategy agency that’s already put this into practice. They’re one of a number of companies that have been experimenting with shorter working hours, and seeing great benefit in increased creativity and productivity.
What’s true of individuals turns out to also be true of organizations: working less– but in a strategic and thoughtful way– and resting more can be a strategy to get more done.