Some of history’s most creative and accomplished scientists, writers, and artists produced great works while spending far fewer hours “working” than we would expect. Other famous figures led governments, built commercial empires, won Nobel prizes, or developed medical breakthroughs while also having second lives as authors, explorers, and athletes. How did they do it? In this talk I argue that rest played an under-appreciated but critical role in making people more creative and successful. Many creative and prolific people practice what I call discover forms of rest that allow their brains and bodies to recharge, while leaving their creative minds free to keep turning over problems. I’ll show why Charles Darwin and Ernest Hemingway (among many) did their best work when alternating periods of intense focus and rest; why Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock did her best thinking on long walks; and why Winston Churchill’s two-hour daily naps helped win World War II. More generally, I argue, the lives of people as different as biochemist Rosalind Franklin, author Ray Bradbury, and chef Ferran Adriá show us that we need to rethink the role of rest in our lives. All too often we treat rest as a luxury good or perk, or even a design flaw in our biology: in today’s 24/7 always-on world, we celebrate hard-driven entrepreneurs, over-schedule ourselves and our children, and treat sleep as a nuisance. But a close look at the lives of creative people, and recent work in the psychology of creativity and neuroscience, reveal that rest is not an obstacle to a productive life, but an essential part of it. Rest is like breathing: we literally spend our whole lives doing it, but swimmers, opera singers, and Buddhist monks all learn to control and harness breathing to deepen and improve their performance. Learning to take rest seriously, and treating it as a skill that we can improve, can boost your creativity, increase your productivity, and improve your quality of life.
- Sponsored by:
- Library; Center for Teaching, Learning and Research; Well-Being Committee