One of my favorite sayings is that “a change is as good as a rest.” It captures an idea I’ve found true in my own life, that doing something different, even if it takes effort, is just as rejuvenating, and in fact more so, than doing nothing.
Well, my guest today would tweak this maxim slightly to say that a change IS a rest. His name is Alex Soojung Kim-Pang, and he’s a writer, consultant, and academic, as well as the author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. We begin our conversation with why many people feel overworked in the modern age, how quality rest is an antidote, and how Alex defines rest as something that can be active rather than passive, and even thought of as a skill. We discuss why rest is valuable even with seemingly unstrenuous knowledge work, and how apparently unproductive mind-wandering can in fact make you more productive and creative. Alex shares how many hours of focused cognitive work you’re really capable of putting in each day and how successful people tend to set up their daily routine, including why it’s effective to stop work each day in the middle of a task. We also discuss why you want to layer periods of rest and work in your schedule, how hobbies offer a sense of autonomy that’s crucial in making rest refreshing, and how exercise plays a key role in recovery from work, even amongst brainy intellectuals. Along the way, Alex shares insights from the lives of eminent men like Eisenhower, Hemingway, and Viktor Frankl on how to get better rest, become better at your craft, and lengthen the longevity of your career.
If reading this in an email, click the title of the post to listen to the show.
- Why does this generation seemed more burned out than ever?
- How Alex defines “rest”
- What happens to our bodies and brains when we step away from the keyboard?
- So how much can we really work at a high level per day?
- How does our current work culture actually hamper us?
- The value of a morning routine (and why being a little bleary is okay!)
- Why is it that walking is so good for creative thinking?
- The value of planning and autonomy in your rest
- Why success in your youth is overrated
- The case for wasting more time
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Why Boredom is Good for You
- Trout Fishing, Boredom, and the Meaning of Life
- How to Get More Pleasure and Fulfillment From Your Reading
- The Ultimate List of Hobbies for Men
- Feel Busy and Distracted? Here’s How to Take Control
- A Simple Cure for Restlessness
- How to Create the Perfect Morning Routine
- Make Every Day a Good Day With This Morning Routine
- The Magic of Walking
- Why You Should Plan Your Weekends
- The Unexpected Upsides of Being a Late Bloomer
Connect With Alex
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
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Read the Transcript
If you appreciate the full text transcript, please consider donating to AoM. It will help cover the costs of transcription and allow other to enjoy it. Thank you!
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. One of my favorite sayings is that, a change is as good as a rest. It captures an idea I’ve found true in my own life, that doing something different, even if it takes effort, is just as rejuvenating, and in fact more so, than doing nothing. My guest today would tweak this maxim slightly to say that a change is a rest. His name is Alex Soojung Kim-Pang, and he’s a writer, consultant, and academic, as well as the author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. We begin our conversation with why many people feel overworked in the modern age, how quality rest is an antidote, and how Alex defines rest as something that can be active rather than passive, and even thought of as a skill. We discuss why rest is valuable even with seemingly un-strenuous knowledge work, and how apparently unproductive mind-wandering can in fact make you more productive and creative.
Alex shares how many hours of focused cognitive work you’re really capable of putting in each day and how successful people tend to set up their daily routine, including why it’s effective to stop work each day in the middle of a task. We also discuss why you wanna layer periods of rest and work in your schedule, how hobbies offer a sense of autonomy that’s crucial in making rest refreshing, and how exercise plays a key role in recovery from work, even amongst brainy intellectuals. Along the way, Alex shares insights from the lives of eminent men like Eisenhower, Hemingway, and Viktor Frankl on how to get better rest, become better at your craft, and lengthen the longevity of your career. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/rest.
Alright, Alex Soojung Kim-Pang, welcome to the show.
Alex Pang: Hey, thanks very much for having me.
Brett McKay: So you’ve written a book called Rest, which addresses the problem of overwork, and we don’t think this is a modern problem, this has been a problem in America going back a long time, that you point out in the book that guys like William James were writing about the problem of overwork in America back in the 19th century. But in many ways, people today seem just more burnt out than ever compared to the past. What’s behind that? What do you think is going on there?
Alex Pang: The more proximate causes for our current epidemic of burn out, first of all, are that we have these models of success that really derive from the ’70s and ’80s, and the explosion of high tech in the finance industries. Where we had this new vision of American success, where you became rich and successful, not by paying your dues and working your way up the ladder, but by spectacular disruptive moves that you could only pull off when you’re brilliant and young and obsessed and lucky. At the same time, we’ve also had a kind of erosion of job and career stability and career ladders that have, for all the rest of us, put pressures on us to work more, less by choice than by necessity, or in order to demonstrate our indispensability to our employers.
And then we’ve also moved from economic activity where productivity was easily measurable to work that’s harder to evaluate, and in that environment, time in the office has become a proxy for productivity and commitment. And then finally, we’ve had information technologies that have allowed us to now carry our offices around in our pockets, allowing work to spread out to colonize more of our time. So that’s a complicated answer, but I think that the reason it’s worth diving into that is to show that the problem with overwork is one that consists of a whole bunch of really gigantic interconnected parts. And so, as a result of all of this complicated stuff, not only do we have less time for rest of our daily lives, but even the concept of leisure gets devalued as something that is worth pursuing or is worth rewarding.
Brett McKay: And you use your book to argue for the real value of leisure, of rest, and we’ll get to that here in a bit. But before we do, based on your research, how do you define rest?
Alex Pang: Well, I think fundamentally, rest is time we spend recovering the mental and physical energy that we spend sort of working usually for a wage, usually for someone else. And in the everyday sense, we tend to think of rest as something that’s entirely passive, right? It’s something that you do with a remote in one hand and like a bag of snacks in the other. But when I was writing the book, I realized that actually, while that has its place, rest is actually something rather more complicated. For one thing, there’s a lot of rest that is active. First of all, there’s a lot going on at the level of cellular or brain repair when we sleep or when we’re just lying around, but activities like exercise, like walking that are active are actually very mentally and psychologically restorative. Another thing I realized was that rest is actually a skill. It’s something that we can get better at over time, and we can learn how to integrate it into our daily schedules, to both increase recovery and to boost creativity. And a lot of history’s most famously, creative and prolific people learned to do exactly that.
Brett McKay: So let’s talk about what rest does for us. I think the assumption is that most people has is, well, if you work more, you’re gonna be more productive, and it’s just you can get more done, particularly with my work, office work. If you’re a farmer, like working hard all the time, you obviously, you know you have to take a break. You’re just physically exhausted.
Alex Pang: Right.
Brett McKay: Office work, it’s not so much. So what does the research say? What happens to our bodies, our brains, whenever we take a step back from the keyboard and just decompress and take some rest?
Alex Pang: Yeah, I think first off, you are exactly right that we underestimate just how physically demanding and taxing knowledge work is. The brain actually turns out to be really a very greedy consumer of oxygen. And so serious mental work can be as draining as physical labor just in a different sort of way. But what science tells us now is that during down-times, mentally what goes on is when you clear your head and zone out and try and think of nothing, it’s actually not the case that your brain just shuts off. What happens is that it shifts modes from conscious mode to something that neuroscientists called the default mode network, which is a series of connections between parts of the brain, particularly ones that involve visual thinking and creativity. And what’s interesting about this is that the default mode network seems to be the thing that is working on your behalf when you suddenly solve problems that had alluded your conscious effort. So this is something actually that we see every day. You’re trying to remember the name of the actor who was in the movie and the TV show, and that other thing, and their name is on the tip of your tongue. And then five minutes later you’re doing something else and, oh, it pops into your head.
That’s the default mode network continuing to work on problems, even when your attention has shifted elsewhere. And it turns out that, especially in areas where you’ve studied really hard, you’re well trained, the default mode network is capable of doing pretty amazing things in those areas. And the effect, its ability is powerful enough, so that some people organize their daily routines so that they can have these alternating periods of really focused work and then these periods of mind wandering. And this is a key to understanding how it is that they’re able to be both highly productive and highly creative. They’re making use of both of these periods in a way that also gives them more down-time, more rest time, and lets them live happier and more sustainable lives.
Brett McKay: But if you’re checking your email at night or over the weekend, you can’t access that default network as well as you could have, you just completely stepped away.
Alex Pang: Exactly. Now you need stuff like… Basically, when you’re doing stuff like email, social media checks, for most of us, it does not provide the level of disengagement that, let’s say, going for a walk or doing something else to clear your head does. That really is a lot closer to low-value cognitive activity. But I think really something where you are able to space out a little bit where you can really let your attention go, is the zone where the default mode is able to take over and able to work its magic.
Brett McKay: So doing something that looks unproductive can actually make you more productive, ’cause you can get more insights that could just lead to big gains in some area of your work.
Alex Pang: Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely. You see these stories of mathematicians or composers who have these amazing moments of insight, these aha moments. And it turns out that there’s almost always, when you widen the lens a little bit, these periods where they’ve been working really hard on these problems and they don’t get anywhere. There’s some critical block that they can’t quite get over and they put it aside. And it’s in that incubation period, a scientists call it, that period where they’re not actually working consciously on it, that their creative minds are able to solve it. But in order to access that, you first of all, gotta create that down-time where your subconscious can work on it. And then also there’s good evidence that practicing that actually makes you better at unconscious problem-solving, which sounds counterintuitive or hippie California, but it’s no more mysterious than our ability to do things like learn languages or recognize faces. We don’t know exactly how that works, but we know we’re actually pretty good at it.
Brett McKay: Well, so to get the benefit of that incubation period where your default network is chewing on the problem on your mind while walking or exercising, doing whatever, you still gotta put in some work, some actual work. What does the research say about how much you actually need to work, so that you can actually be productive.
Alex Pang: So at the daily level, most of us are capable of doing really hard, sustained, creative, or cognitive work for about four or five hours a day, and that’s in bursts of 90 minutes or so. And then we need breaks in order to just recover our attention, recover our energy. And once you move past that, there is always letters that you can answer or low intensity cognitive work that you can take on, but the core of your day is that four to five hours of really serious heads-down time. Now, what really creative people who have a lot of control over their schedules are able to do, is alternate, break those up, so you do three or four hours, and then you have this period where you go off and you do something that looks totally unproductive, go work in the garden, go for a long walk. But what’s happening actually is that you’ve got unsolved problems that are still running around in your head, when you go out on the running trail or wherever. And while you’re out there, your subconscious keeps working on these, even while you are working on your mile split time, or you’re admiring the trees and trees and the clouds. And so, by constructing days where you’re layering these alternating periods of work and rest, you’re able to both work better and work in a more sustainable way and do better work.
Brett McKay: What I like about rest is you find all these historical examples of great thinkers and creative people who counter… Just they fell upon this. They figured it out on their own without the science. What was interesting with how much they worked in a day, most of them worked four to five hours tops. That’s it. And then after that, they would just go garden or walk. Charles Darwin, wake up, he’d work four hours and then he’d just go for a walk the rest of the day. Yeah.
Alex Pang: Yeah. And Darwin got a lot done. It’s pretty amazing. And what these people realized 100 years before, consultants today who talk about maximizing attention and energy rather than maximizing time at work, or athletic trainers who talk about the importance of rest time now, and seeing the praises of intensive workouts with bricks. People like Darwin have discovered on their own that this was a great way to work and a great way to be able to do the kinds of work that they really love to do.
Brett McKay: And with these insights that working four hours a day of concentrated work and then using the rest of the day to rest and sort of decompress and let that default network system do its work, what does that have to say about our current work set up where it’s like 40 to 50 hours a week.
Alex Pang: What it tells us is that if we were really interested in creating environments in which people could do their best work and be most creative, most sustainable, most productive, we would organize the day very differently. For one thing, the office would not be like the carnival of distraction that it so often is today with open offices, with Slack channels, with Slack channels and email and messenger, or the kind of office culture in which it’s okay to interrupt people with the one quick question that turns into a 15-minute diversion, that throws you completely… That sort of makes you lose track on the essential thing that you were working on.
I think the work day would also probably be shorter, that an eight-hour day is not necessarily one that is going to yield the best results either for individuals or for organizations. And it would also be the case that we would build in more time for Better Rest outside of work, that we would have better respect for the boundaries between work and personal life. And in some cases also build in for things like sabbaticals, slightly longer periods of time off, where people can really not just recharge, but like completely change out the mental batteries that we draw upon when we’re working. And fortunately, we are beginning to see some companies that are experimenting along these lines, they are playing around with focus time at work, with playing around with the work week, or they’ve implemented sabbatical programs for not just for top employees, but for everybody. So we’re starting to see some push back against the culture of overwork, but it’s early days with that yet.
Brett McKay: So yeah, how do you convince your boss, Hey boss, I only need to work four hours a day.
Alex Pang: Right. I think there’s plenty of science that backs up that claim. First of all, you gotta talk about what else you can do in the day in order to make those four hours really as incredibly effective as they could be. And I think it’s also in the study that I’ve been doing of companies that are short in their work weeks, it’s actually having bosses who recognize the value of this themselves, who’ve been professionals for 10 or 15 years, who’ve run companies who have faced to burn out themselves, and have a sense that… Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way, who are the ones who are most enthusiastic when people bring up the idea of shortening the work week or playing around with working hours, who see both the benefits to it, but also see the possibility that this is not just a crazy idea, but it’s something that is achievable and can deliver benefits.
Brett McKay: The one thing you note and rest is that a lot of these highly productive prolific writers, thinkers, one of the things they did is they got the most out of that four to five hours they were working, is that they had a very meticulous morning routine. What was it about the morning routine that bolsters creativity and productivity? Are there any routines from people you highlighted that stood out to you?
Alex Pang: Right. I think that mornings… First of I was amazed at how many people, including people who engaged in some fairly or self-destructive activity and pharmacological experimentation, were still really meticulous about and disciplined around their morning routines, right. Earnest Hemingway, even though he was a notoriously heavy drinker, was up at six every morning writing. And the thing is that mornings turned out to be amazing for deeply focused and kind of solitary creative work, not so much collaboration. But I have found when I was writing, started writing trade press books that I do my best writing between five and eight in the morning, and I’m someone who in college never started homework until Letterman was done, right. But it turns out there’s a quality to those early hours that isn’t found any other time. And for those of us who aren’t natural early risers, the fact that you’re a little bleary actually makes it a little bit more creative, it’s like the door to the subconscious stays open a little bit longer, or because you’re working against your chrono type.
However, in order to get the most out of it, people do two things. And one of them is that they set up as much as possible the night before, you don’t wanna have to make any decisions about what to wear or what to work on first, or which coffee to have, you just wanna set all that up so that you can focus on the stuff that really matters and give yourself the most time to work on your most meaningful stuff. And the second thing that it turns out it sounds counter-intuitive, but is really valuable is to stop work the previous day in mid-sentence. Like Don’t go to the end of the chapter, either conceptually or literally, if you’re a writer, to stop in mid-sentence, and this makes it easier to get started in the next morning, but it also encourages your creative subconscious to keep thinking about the end of that sentence and to think about the next paragraph and the next problem to be taken up. And so in a way, what you’re doing in the early morning is kind of harvesting work that your creative mind has already prepared for you.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Hemingway did that stop mid-sentence tactic.
Alex Pang: Exactly. Now, and so many writers do this, whether it’s Raymond Chandler or Dickens, or it turns out to be a really common practice. And for some people, it’s mainly about not having to face the existential terror of the blank page, first off. Finishing that line of dialogue is a little bit like a writing exercise or warm up to get you started. But it turns out that there’s also some stuff that I goes on under the hood of cognition, that makes it a valuable practice.
Brett McKay: So these guys, they were doing their hard work for us, the stuff that actually brought home the bacon. If you’re a writer, you’re writing. If you’re a painter, you’re painting. If you’re a composer, you’re composing. And then they would save… Hemingway didn’t have email, but letters. They would write letters in the afternoon.
Alex Pang: No, you definitely… You do your most important work first. You don’t get up at five in the morning in order to work on… In order to clear out your inbox. And I know that there are examples of people in the business world who get up early, so that they can see what’s going on in the market in some other country. That’s really a different thing. That’s more like time shifting in order to arbitrage some sort of advantage. And while that’s something that works in those worlds, for creative work, it’s really about giving yourself time, undisturbed time when no one else is up, to work on stuff that really matters to you.
Brett McKay: Alright. So do the hard stuff first. Don’t finish it. Leave a little bit unfinished so that your brain, your unconscious can work on it, and so you can harvest that the next day. And one thing that a lot of these guys who were prolific writers, thinkers, etcetera, that what they would do when they took a step away from whatever they were doing, their work, they’d go on… A lot of these guys just walked. What is it about walking that makes you come up with ideas?
Alex Pang: Well, partly it’s simply the physical act of moving stimulates creative thinking. We don’t know exactly why walking is valuable as opposed to just being out in nature or being wheeled around in a wheelchair. And there are actually people who have compared the creative benefits of walking versus being pushed around someplace. But it turns out that there is something about walking that stimulates of those creative juices. Now, it’s also the case that exposure to nature or two non-office surroundings also does provide a little bit of a benefit. But I think for most of us, walking is something that we can do easily, naturally. It doesn’t take a lot of special equipment. So we can move very quickly from our desk to this other mode. And the fact that we can move quickly from that one mode to the other, also makes it a little bit more likely that our minds are gonna keep turning over the thing that we were just working on, the problem that we hadn’t solved yet and make some progress on it, even as we are doing a couple of circuits around the park.
Brett McKay: So yeah, a lot of famous walkers, include Darwin. We mentioned Darwin. Hunt. A lot of philosophers were walkers.
Alex Pang: Yeah.
Brett McKay: I guess it goes back to Socrates, those guys walked around while they’re philosophizing.
Alex Pang: Oh yeah. No. The Peripatetic philosophers were walking philosophers.
Brett McKay: So they grasped that idea, that creative ideas come when you’re walking. I thought this was even in the studies they did, where they compared treadmill indoors and then just walking outdoors. You could walk on a treadmill and you’d still get the same benefit.
Alex Pang: Yes. Now, there’s virtually identical benefits compared to being out in nature. And so that’s the indication that there is some creative stimulus specifically to walking, and in particular, walking at your own pace. If you’ve gotta walk really slowly or really quickly for you, then the benefit gets hindered a little bit, mainly because you’ve gotta think a little bit more about up with the person or group that you’re walking with.
Brett McKay: And again, I think the point… You made this in the book too is walking into something you wanna do when you’re not doing that highly focused work, ’cause I think a lot of people here, are just like, “Oh, walking is creative. I’m gonna get a walking treadmill desk and then walk all the time at the office.” No, you gotta do that four hours where you’re just writing and just super intense and then go for a walk to recover. Take a break.
Alex Pang: Exactly. Yeah. No. I think that trying to mix deeply focused time with leisure time is going to end up ruining both of them. These are both bright, vivid colors, but don’t swirl them together.
Brett McKay: One of my favorite chapters is where you look at the career of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Particularly, there’s a time in Europe when he was allied commander, about the importance of taking just completely taking time off and not even thinking about really important work. And this is a guy again, he’s overseeing a world war, yet he still made it a priority just to get away from it all. Tell us about that, ’cause that was really interesting.
Alex Pang: Yeah. So when Eisenhower goes over a supreme Allied commander, he’s based in London, he’s got to both organize American efforts in Europe and also deal with or British allies and others, it’s an incredibly demanding, challenging job. Some of its politics, some of its strategy. It’s long 18 hour days. And Eisenhower is a guy who was never really that comfortable dealing with aristocrats and fancy stuff. He always was a lot more comfortable in humbler surroundings. And he discovered very quickly that he needed to get away regularly from all of that in order to be able to do good work. Actually, George Marshall, his commander pretty much told him that he had to figure that out or he was gonna get replaced. He found a place called Telegraph cottage, which was a little house outside London. No phone. Actually, nobody except his immediate senior staff even knew where it was. So it really was a getaway for him, and whenever he could, he would go down there on the weekends, they would eat very simple meals, he would go for long walks. It was beside a golf course, which he really liked.
And so it was, it was a chance for him to completely detach from the challenges of the war. And I think what it teaches us first off, is the power of detachment. The fact that he didn’t take work there that it was basically invisible, both for security and political reasons, meant that he was really completely able to put his mind elsewhere and to just get some serious rest and recovery. Another thing that it teaches us is the power of having this rhythm of work and rest. Not just two weeks vacation every year, that you might or might not get, but these regular alternations of work and rest, whether it’s during the day or the week, is really amazingly beneficial. And then finally, that no matter how important you think your job is, it’s probably not as important as winning World War II. And if Eik could do this, then I think maybe we should all take a step back and think about whether this rest is something that could make our work and our lives better.
Brett McKay: And the other thing that stood out to me, he had complete control of what he did there. He did what he wanted, played golf, he had cowboy novels, you’d even cook for himself, if that’s something he wanted to do. So it comes back to that autonomy. He took control of his rest and what he did.
Alex Pang: And that sense of control is something that’s really important, as one of the things that helps define rest. Control is never something that most of us dislike having, but when you look at things like really serious hobbies that busy people have. Winston Churchill, for example, was a pretty good amateur painter. Eisenhower was too, for that matter. But you see people who are really serious sailors or rock climbers or musicians. And one of the things that makes that work, that makes that stuff a pleasure, is that it’s a space in which you can exercise some control and exercise and skill. Churchill talked about painting as being great because it was like politics. So for him it was in both, you needed a clear vision of what you wanted to do, you had to be strategic in your use of resources, but he had complete control over what went into his paintings.
He didn’t have the Labor Party standing over his shoulder criticizing his choice of color and trying to erase his clouds and fill in their own stuff. The painting was completely his in a way that made it really, really valuable an escape. And so I think that particularly for people who are in challenging jobs and work that has a lot of uncertainty about it, having those kinds of hobbies, that time that is yours and that you are in control of is really critical for maximizing your recovery, and for simply maximizing your enjoyment.
Brett McKay: Yeah. That was another interesting chapter. We talked about the different hobbies some of these people had. And again, it goes to that idea that rest isn’t just sitting around watching Netflix necessarily. Rest can be very active. So Churchill painted, Eisenhower played golf. He painted. Einstein famously played the violin. A lot of scientists are like… Who was it? Feynman. He did magic or something like that.
Alex Pang: He did magic. He’s very famously photographed for the lecturers on quantum physics. The cover photo for, the author photo has him playing the bongo drums. So even though he wasn’t quite as serious a musician as some, he recognized the value of at least looking like a musician in that kind of context.
Brett McKay: Well, another hobby that a lot of these people you highlight in the book take up is exercise. And I was impressed to some of the mathematicians, people you wouldn’t think of being athletes, actually a lot of them were serious athletes. So what role does exercise play in our recovery from work?
Alex Pang: Yeah. That was a surprise for me because growing up in the South, I went to a high school where athletes and academic kids basically lived in different universes. And so I was really surprised to see how many great minds are also great athletes. But it turns out that exercise or sports, they provide both a great mental break from work. One of the things about something like mountain climbing, is that it is incredibly engaging and you don’t think about your work or think about office politics when you are 800-feet up a sheer cliff. So you have no choice but to focus in the moment, and that’s part of what makes it really appealing for busy people. But also there are physical benefits that come from serious exercise, but also there seems to be something about… There are also psychological benefits. There was this amazing study of Southern California scientists, looking at their lives over the course of nearly 50 years. And when they started out, this was a cohort that had all come from top universities, they were very promising young, young scientists. And over the decades, they split into two groups, a very high performing group, including four Nobel Prize winners, and a second group that wasn’t nearly as accomplished.
And the thing that separated the top group from the bottom was sports, and it wasn’t the bottom group that played sports, it was the top group. They were cyclists, they were surfers, they were really serious skiers. And it seemed that taking sports seriously helped them manage their time better, it helped them manage the stresses of work, but it also gave them a certain kind of… A willingness to take risks, a degree of resilience, a degree of courage that translated from… The surf at Big Sur or Manhattan beach to their scientific pursuits as well. And so for all of those reasons, it turns out that sports and exercise turn out to be really good for you, if you have really serious intellectual and professional ambitions.
Brett McKay: You mentioned mountain climbing, and that surprised me the most about… I didn’t know like, for example, Viktor Frankl who was a mountain climber, has no clue that he was a serious mountain climber.
Alex Pang: No, he was. Emil Frankl who wrote man’s search for meaning and spent time in concentration camps, this was a guy who went climbing in Austria where he was from, after the Nazis had banned it to Jews. So he was really, really devoted as a climber. And one of the things that he said about it late in life was that, “You think that climbing is all about strength. And when you’re young, it might be, but as you get older, it’s something that basically you can continue to get better at even if you don’t get stronger.” And he himself, I think, did his last serious climb around 80 or so. And so, I think that one of the other really cool things I see that inspires me is people like Frankl and others, choosing things that are not as physically strenuous, but are also things that they can get better at over the course of their entire lives and provide a degree of sustenance and restoration that can give them long and quite happy lives for quite a long time.
Brett McKay: Being productive even longer.
Alex Pang: Yeah. Also, yes. I think, again, Frankl may have stopped climbing in his early 80s, but he kept working pretty much right up until the end of his life. And a lot of the people I write about are like that. They publish their last books literally the last year that they’re alive. And I think there is a lot to be said for envisioning a life in which you’re able to work that way, and I think e are enamored by the idea of being super-successful super-young, making the 30-under-30 list for whatever it is that we’re in. But that kind of pursuit of success at a very young age often comes at a really terrible cost. And if you think about what life spans are like now, it is possible if you stay healthy to easily make it into your 80s or 90s or probably past 100 now. You have to ask yourself, “Do you wanna peak at 30 and then spend the next 70 years trying to figure out what to do with your life?” Or is it better to craft a life in which you can do the things that you love, in which you can continue to explore these areas that you are super passionate about for decades rather than for years?
Are there things that you would be able to do, things that you can give the world that you might be able to give decades from now, if only you craft your life in the right way today to make that possible. Daniel Amos Tversky one of the inventors of behavioral economics, said that: People waste years working on the wrong problems because they don’t waste hours. And what he meant was that you need to spend time just hanging out and going on long walks and talking to interesting people in order to come up with the really serious ideas, the research really worth doing. And I think in a similar kind of way, that if you think a little more about what kind of life you wanna lead over the course, not just of the next couple of years, but really over the course of the next few decades, then you will set yourself up for a success and a quality of life that can serve you very well and can let you give more to the world than you would be able to otherwise.
Brett McKay: So it sounds like the first thing that if someone wants to start putting this stuff into practice, some of the things we talked about, the first thing is just be mindful. Actually think about your rest and plan it out. Don’t just let it happen to you. Maybe this weekend, you plan out what you’re gonna do this weekend.
Alex Pang: Absolutely. I think the first thing you gotta do is take rest seriously enough to make space for it in your life. I think if you assume that, “Oh, you’ll rest when you’ve got time, when you’re done with everything, you never will, because we’re never done with everything now. And so actually blocking out time for it, thinking a little bit about what you would really like to do, what stuff really engages you, and giving yourself permission to pursue that with the recognition that it is going to pay off in sometimes very direct and also indirect ways, is the first really critical thing. And from that, a whole bunch of other good things can follow in terms of making better use of your time, being a better planner, being a little bit more ruthless about saying no to things that have marginal value in favor of having that full day where you can do the hike to the 12,000 foot peak. But it all starts with taking rest seriously and starting to block out time for it.
Brett McKay: Well, Alex, where can people go to learn more about your work?
Alex Pang: Well, my last two books are called Rest and Shorter, I’ve become a fan of really short titles. And my own company is called Strategy and Rest, and the website for that where I’ve also then continued writing about these issues is www.strategy.rest. Rest is now a top level domain. And starting in the new year, I’m actually gonna be launching a series of online courses that people can get to from the company site. So if you really wanna understand how you can put this into place in your own lives and your own companies, start with air and see where you go. And good luck.
Brett McKay: Alright. Alex, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Alex Pang: Oh, thank you. It’s been really great. Majestic.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. He is the author of the book, Rest. It’s available on Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can find out more information about his work at his website strategy.rest. Also check out our show notes at AOM.is/rest, where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
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