Share This Episode

Dr. Srini Pillay: Unlock The Power of the Unfocused Mind

We're going inside the mind, literally, of one of Harvard's medical, most notable innovators and it's Dr. Srini Pillay. He's an author, a psychiatrist, a coach and a brain researcher - more than a brain researcher, a brain scientist.
We talk about something a little contrarian, the power of the unfocused mind and how you can slack and be more productive. I want you to dive in because Dr. Srini shares a lot of powerful brain science about how to unlock the power of the mind. It's not what you think.

We push ourselves so hard. We're always trying to achieve out there that we are trying so hard when sometimes it takes a second. It takes moments for us to slow down, to start getting the benefit and using more of our brain.

We talk about in this particular show how to be successful. There exists what is called supertaskers and multitasking, which has been pooh-poohed on. There are some people that thrive called supertaskers. You get to find out if you are a supertasker and multitasking is not that bad. That doesn't mean that everybody should multitask. We're going to talk about how doodling can make you more productive.

Dustin
We have a real brain scientist. A guy who studies a lot of brain science to essentially make us wealthier. I should say it's more than wealth. It's in all areas of our life. Dr. Srini Pillay, welcome to the show.
Srini
Thank you so much for having me, Dustin. It’s nice to be here.
Dustin
Growing up, I’m guessing you weren't thinking you were going to be studying brain science, did you?
Srini
I always had a diverse palate in terms of the things that I liked to do. I liked science a lot. I loved physics, math, biology but I also liked languages and I liked music. I wasn't sure what I was going to end up studying. It was not specifically brain science for sure.
Dustin
Talk to me a little bit about your childhood. Where did you grow up? What were the influences that you had early on?
Srini
I was born in South Africa, the fourth generation. Early on, I came from a warm loving family. I was naturally neurotic. It wasn't like I had people who were prompting me to work harder. I felt answerable to myself in a particular way and so I did work pretty hard. It was interesting growing up in that environment. South Africa at that time was an apartheid country. There were challenges in trying to grow up, but I feel like I grew up as a result of that feeling interested in the forbidden fruit. As a result, my response to it was more sensual than it was angry or bitter. I was protected by my family in that way.
Dustin
Are there any experiences growing up in South Africa? Any experiences that you think propelled you or shaped the path that you're on now?
Srini
The way that I came to Harvard was there were two big experiences. One, I was at a conference after medical school where I’d heard Professor Robin Emsley speak. I was totally moved by what he was talking about even though it was a nerdy topic. It was water intoxication and schizophrenia. Afterward, when I stood next to him, I don't know what got into me but I said, “Your talk was great,” and he was like, “That's good.” We were both waiting for cars to pick us up. I said, “I had this intuition. I feel like you could say something that could change my life. Could you say something that could change my life?” He looked at me strangely and said, “What do you like?” I said, “I’m interested in the brain and I’m interested in how mood states relate to the brain and anxiety in the brain.” He said, “We have a Medical Research Council scholarship at the University of Stellenbosch,” which was on the West Coast of South Africa and I was on the East Coast. He said, “It's due tomorrow. We've never given it to somebody of color and we've never given it to somebody from psychiatry. It's not likely you'll get it. Submit an application and let’s see what happens.” I submitted an application. I faxed it over to him. He picked it up and walked it over to the committee. A couple hours later I got a call saying, “Congratulations and welcome to Stellenbosch.”
I moved across the country and in that year finished a lot of my work quickly. I had done well at medical school. In South Africa, you have an external examiner for your oral exams and I had an external examiner from NYU. He had said, “You should go to Harvard. I’d gladly take you into NYU, but you should go to Harvard.” I didn't even know what Harvard was about except that it was a good school. The next year I suddenly thought that I wanted to leave. Without telling anybody, I picked up the phone and called Harvard. I found a number to information and said, “I wanted to speak to the head of Harvard.” I eventually got through. Each person thought I was mildly psychotic. They were like, “What do you mean? Head of what?” I called the undergraduate campus first. They eventually put me through to the Medical School.
The Medical School put me into the Department of Psychiatry. Joe Coyle, who was running the Department of Psychiatry, picked up the phone and I said, “Hi, my name is Srini. I’m sitting here in a small dorm room in Stellenbosch, South Africa. I’m thinking wouldn't it be great to go to Harvard?” He thought I was psychotic, so he thought, “You and everybody else.” He said he had to be polite so he said, “Why don't you send me a CV and a note? I’ll circulate it and we'll see what happens.” I said, “How do you get into Harvard?” I was the top medical student. I had done well throughout school. I had achievements in sports and poetry. There are probably a lot of people in the world who have those achievements but don't necessarily think to pick up the phone and call. I called and a couple of weeks later, I got an interview from Jonathan Cole, who is the Father of Psychopharmacology. A couple of weeks after that, I got a FedEx saying, “Congratulations and welcome to Harvard.” I left South Africa and came to Boston and I’ve been here ever since.
Dustin
You said the Father of Psychopharmacology. Did you know who he was at the time? You said he interviewed you.
Srini
I didn't. I was so obnoxious. Even when I got in I was like, “Is it that easy? You just call? What if this is some boondocks program related to Harvard? Who is this guy anyway?” I called him and I asked him for his CV, which he was gracious when he sent it to me. It was like a book. I looked and I was like, “This guy is the Father of Psychopharmacology and I’m going to be working for him.” I did that and did a couple of years of research and then did my residency at Harvard. I’m an Assistant Professor there. I am working there part-time because I have a bunch of entrepreneurial ventures. I’ve pioneered a few different fields and working with people to help them use their brains for greater success. I’m having a good time, in general, doing a number of different things. I work in biotechnology. I’ve written a musical which I’m editing and would like to get on Broadway in a couple of years. I’m working as an executive coach. As a psychiatrist writing books and I have three tech startups that I’m in the process of trying to grow and build.
Dustin
It leads me to this adage that they say that we're only using a small percentage of our brain. You've got the musical, you're writing books and you’re an adviser on three startups. Is it because you found some way to unlock a greater percentage of your brain? Is that a true statement that we only use a little bit?
Srini
The general adage that we only use a little bit is probably not true in the way people state it. What is true is that we often use our brains in ways that are less helpful for us than our brains could be. It's not how much of your brain you're using but how you're using your brain. For me, I always have been driven by curiosity. I’m not that shy about being ignorant. I’m perpetually confused and I always have to find answers.
Dustin
You say we use the brain in less helpful ways. What would be some examples of how we're not using the brain effectively?
Srini
My book which is Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind came about because I realize that I work with a lot of leaders of Fortune 500 companies and a lot of entrepreneurs. People who want to take their lives to the next level. A lot of them were focused. Despite the fact that they were focused, they were not doing as well as they wanted to do. What I realized was that they were not aware that a little focus is fantastic, and we definitely needed to complete tasks that fundamentally, the brain works with a cognitive rhythm. It needs focus and unfocused periods. Here's the rub with focus. Focus is great but there are five distinct disadvantages that we need to be aware of. First, focus depletes the brain of energy. Secondly, focus prevents you from seeing what's happening in the periphery. For example, An Wang, who invented the word processor, was busy inventing the second version of that not realizing that the PC was about to come on the market. If you don't look at what's happening in the periphery you miss out.
The third thing, you have your nose to the grindstone but you’re not looking at upcoming trends. A robot could be taking over your job in a couple of years, and if you're not looking at upcoming trends because you're focused on the here and now, you miss out. The fourth thing is that focus keeps you focused on one point but to be creative, to live more abundant lives. To be both emotionally-fulfilled and to be financially-fulfilled, we need to be more creative. Often the brain makes connections and being focused will not allow you to make connections. The last thing is that to be successful you need to be deeply self-connected. It's the unfocused brain that helps you become more deeply self-connected. I wrote the book because I wanted people to learn how to build unfocused periods into their day and what types of unfocus were strategically better than other types of unfocus.
Dustin
Maybe it's the definition for me about focus. What say you to the multitasker who thrives and can't lock themselves in the cave to get the tasks that they need to get done because they're addicted to multitasking?
Srini
There's a lot of evidence to show that multitasking is not helpful in that when people are more distracted, they can’t go more deeply into things. They can’t finish things. It impacts the brain as well. The brain goes into a state of greater chaos. For a large majority of people, multitasking does not work well. About 2% of the population is known as supertaskers. These are people who not only do well doing more than one task at a time, but they sometimes do better. Researchers have started to look at the brains of these supertaskers to ask themselves, “Firstly, can this be trained? Secondly, if it's trained, what exactly is happening?”
What we know is that it is possible to train the brain to supertask and it is possible to do more than one thing at a time. In certain instances, it may be helpful. For example, a mom who is at home and thinks, “I’m going to do one thing at a time. I’m not going to think about anything else.” That's a dream. How does that work? At some point, it probably helps to say, “Let me make a list of everything and then go pick the stuff from the store. Pick my kid up and then go do something else I was supposed to do.” The reality is that whether we like it or not, we often have to multitask. Unfocusing is not just about multitasking. There are ways in which you can train your brain to unfocus that will not only help you become more productive and creative but will also help you to focus better when you need to focus.
Dustin
What would you say the most applicable or the top strategies for this unfocused activity?
Srini
If you're getting a start on this, build in one or two fifteen-minute periods into your day to unfocus. When I say this to people, a lot of people say, “I can't. I’m too busy to unfocus. I don't have fifteen minutes.” All of us, including me, spend 46.9% of our days daydreaming. We have the time to build two fifteen-minute periods into our days and it's something that we should do. When people say, “What do I do during that time?” Think of a time when your brain is in a natural slump. For a lot of people, it's after lunch or midafternoon. Write it in your calendar and then do one of the following things. The first is called positive constructive daydreaming. Jerome Singer studied this in the ‘50s and found that slipping into a daydream is not helpful or thinking about a prior night's indiscretions. Maybe you drank too much, you said stuff shouldn’t have said. It’s not helpful. What is helpful is if you engage in positive constructive daydreaming.
Here's what you should do. It’s simple three steps. The first thing is building a fifteen-minute period. The second thing is you need to be doing something low key. Rather than sitting at your desk and doing nothing, you need to be knitting, gardening or walking. The third thing is once you are doing this low-key activity, then what you do is start imagining something positive or wishful, maybe lying on a beach or running through the woods with your dog. You let your mind wander. When your mind wanders in this way your brain starts putting puzzle pieces together. It's not quite as random as you think it is. The first technique is positive constructive daydreaming.
The second is napping. Five to fifteen minutes of a nap can give you one to three hours of clarity. The second thing is rather than dragging yourself through your work after lunch because you feel you've got to get something done, refresh your brain by napping for five to fifteen minutes. In fact, a lot of companies realize that this is helpful. Google, Zappos, they all have napping pods so that people can nap when they need to become more productive. The third thing is doodling, scribbling on a piece of paper. A lot of people feel scribbling on a piece of paper is not paying attention. Jackie Andrade and her colleagues found that doodling improves memory by 29%. That's because your brain absorbs information because it's less like a stiff sponge and it's looser metaphorically.
The fourth technique is a term that I coined called Psychological Halloweenism. Let's say you're saying, “I want to take my life to the next level. I don't know how to do that. Either I want to build more time in, I want a better quality of life. I need to be creative about how to make more money.” What they found is that if you pretend to embody, truly take on the personality of an eccentric poet, you are statistically significantly more likely to be creative than if you take on the identity of a rigid librarian. If the same people exchange roles, the phenomenon holds up. You can do this with your family when you're sitting at the table as a game. You can spend a day embodying the personality of someone you wish you could be like. If you're aiming for creativity, you could ask yourself, “What would a creative person do? What would Picasso do?”
If you’re aiming for productivity and you know someone was particularly productive, you embody that personality and what you'll find is that your creativity will naturally go up. Part of that is we often have the capability to solve our life's problems, but we've become stuck and rigid in an identity that we don't think outside the box. I think it's important to think outside the box. What’s interesting about being more creative is that when you're walking outside, which is the fifth technique, as opposed to on a treadmill and walking on a curvy path will make you more creative. These five techniques: positive constructive daydreaming, napping, doodling, Psychological Halloweenism and walking on a curvy path can help anyone who wants to find a creative solution to take their lives to the next level.
Dustin
As a real-life example, I want to become a better investor. A successful investor comes to mind, Warren Buffett. I don't know Warren, but I see him in the media and I could go get research. What you would propose is that I, to the best of my ability, try on being Warren and through that my brain is going to make connections or is at least going to become curious to ask, “What would he do in this situation?” Is that what I’m hearing?
Srini
I once interviewed Peter Buffett, his son, and we talked about what it was like growing up with a father like Warren Buffett in the house. He talked about the fact that when his father would look at the newspaper and be looking at stocks. When he would come out of that entire period of concentration, he would have this look in his face that looked like it was in a deep meditation. It was a little glazed over, but it was as if he was so absorbed in it. If you want to imitate Warren Buffett, look up things that he says. Look at the way he thinks about companies. Look at the kinds of risks he will take. Look at the fact that somehow along the way he decided to build and acquire companies that were interesting to him. He decided to stay in the same small home. I don't think the idea is necessary to try to think as yourself as Warren Buffett, put yourself in that and say, “What was he thinking?” He probably was thinking, “I’m interested in this. Let me set aside some time and totally give myself to that.”
A lot of people feel like they've decided what they want and they're doing their best to do it. The truth is most of us are doing our best with an exhausted brain. If you look closely, the paradox about people like Warren Buffett and about Bill Gates is that they will often say that the secret to their success is focus. When you look more deeply at their stories, you will see that they deliberately carve out time for unfocus. Bill Gates, for example, when he came up with some of his money-making brilliant ideas, he took a bunch of time off and said he's going to completely disconnect from his world. What happens then is that your brain puts together stuff, puzzle pieces that it would never otherwise put together. Steve Jobs is the same thing. When he had his big breakthrough, he went to an ashram in India. He gave the same advice to Mark Zuckerberg. Successful people may not remember their unfocused times, but they often build those in. If you want to embody Warren Buffett then think like how Warren Buffett thinks, but also think about their lifestyles. Think about how you might embody that for a period of time so that you can take on these new creative ideas.
Dustin
I feel there have been hints in society, at least in my walk of life. I’ve heard this saying, “Sitting for ideas,” where you're not trying to rack your brain and trying to come up with something but you're leisurely going about it. I’m sure you've heard, “The best ideas come in the shower.” Are these sayings or knowings in-line with what you're saying?
Srini
There's a network in the brain called the default mode network. It's a DMN and we used to think of it as the do mostly nothing network. Nothing's going on there. It only comes on when you're not focusing. What we didn't realize is that when you're focusing, you are collecting the puzzle pieces. When you're unfocusing is when your brain is putting these pieces together and this DMN is doing a lot of hard work to make that happen.
Dustin
I’ve been practicing meditation. Is that one of the strategies?
Srini
Meditation is an interesting strategy because it involves both focus and unfocus. If you think of transcendental meditation, you're focusing on a mantra. If you're practicing mindfulness meditation, you're focusing on your breath. It starts off with focusing but then you have this more wandering phase where you completely let go and your mind is in this unfocused phase. What some studies have shown are that pure mind wandering, like positive constructive daydreaming, is good for increasing creative thinking. Whereas focused meditations that are focused on the breath, for example, are more advantageous for analytical thinking and not necessarily creative thinking. What I’ve found is that depending on the type of meditation, you can incorporate both focused and unfocused elements to help your brain go along. Yes, meditation can be incredibly helpful.
Dustin
I want to talk about one of your other books as well. It has to do with around overcoming fear, Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear. Before we dive into this, I thought we ought to define what fear is to give us a good foundation. What is fear?
Srini
Fear is essentially a physiologic response to the threat. When there's a threat to the environment, we experience fear. That particular response is accompanied by physiologic changes like an increase in heart rate or an increase in respiratory rate. Sweating, trembling, unsteadiness, a bunch of different symptoms can accompany that.
Dustin
Is it true that we carry this fear from the caveman days? That's passed us and when we're not going to get attacked by a dinosaur, but we still carry the habits or routines of our ancestors.
Srini
There are a lot of evolutionary theories like the one that you mentioned. Fear is processed by a number of different regions in the brain. One of the regions is the amygdala, which processes all emotions. The amygdala is a more primitive structure that did come from animals, where there was a need to protect yourself and you’re in the jungle and you don't have systems. We've inherited this amygdala which responds to both conscious and unconscious threats. When it does, it goes haywire and starts over activating.
I studied brains for seventeen years both the structure and the function of brains in order to try to understand what was happening in the fear centers. What are the ways in which we can redirect blood back to the thinking brain? I kept my clinical work going and I used to also direct the Anxiety Center at McLean Hospital, which was Harvard's largest hospital, and I saw a lot of anxious people. I developed a technique to help people understand how they can change their brains so that there isn't excessive blood flow in the anxiety center and that their thinking brains would work in a more effective way.
Dustin
Can you give us an example of that technique?
Srini
I would ask people if they're interested in managing their anxiety or helping somebody else manage their anxiety to take out a piece of paper and a pen and write down the mnemonic CIRCA. I’ll tell you what each letter stands for. The first is chunking, which is breaking things down into its component parts. Let's say you get bad news like, “I owe so much money on my taxes. What am I going to do?” You say, “What can I do now? What can I do in the next month?” You break it down and your brain gets into less of a state of overwhelm. Let's say you're an entrepreneur and you're thinking, “I don't know what to do. What’s my next step?” You say, “Let me make a plan for the next week and then the next month.” When you break it down like this, your brain is not as freaked out. I’m saying this in a colloquial way but there was a lot of scientific research to show that each of these techniques does change your brain.
The second, the I in CIRCA is to ignore mental chatter. Brains are chatterboxes. The whole day it’s like, “Be careful about that. What about that? What are you going to do there? That person likes me. That person doesn't like me. I hated that email. What's going on? Will I ever make it? Can I do?” The whole day you have this chatter going on in your brain. Mindfulness techniques teach us that if we focus on the breath. Close your eyes and focus on the breath and ignore your mental chatter. Then the anxiety center stops over activating. If you find your mind wanders back to the mental chatter, gently bring it back to the breath. That's what ignore mental chatter is. The rest are based on forms of self-talk.
Reality check essentially means this too shall pass. If you're freaked out and you're thinking, “This bad news, how am I going to manage this? What do you mean I’ve got to finish this report? What do you mean you're not going to be funding this? Why do you think my idea sucks?” Part of you will say, “This too shall pass,” and essentially you remind your brain that no matter what the adversity is, it usually goes away. Your brain will then relax more. There's the C, which is control check, which essentially is the serenity prayer. Are there ways in which you can let go of the things you can’t control? A lot of people are like, “I can't concentrate on my work. I have no time to make money. I don't like climate change. I’m unhappy with the government.” Are you going to do anything about those things? Probably not, but why are you using up valuable brain units to think about stuff you’re going to do nothing about? Let me focus only on the stuff I’m going to control in order to make sure that I can do what I can do to get there. That's what the control check is about.
Attention shift is essential if you think of attention like a flashlight in your brain and you move the flashlight from the problem onto the solution. A lot of people are trying to solve problems at the same level in which they were created. Einstein said, “You cannot solve a problem at the same level at which it was created,” meaning if you’ve got a problem in reality, you don't go to reality to solve that problem. You go to the imagination. You don't invent a plane because there’s a plane in reality. You say, “I wonder how you could go from here to there,” and you start imagining. A lot of people know they have imaginations but they're afraid to go in there to try to think up things and dream up things so that they can get to their goals. A for attention shift is to move your attention in that direction. It’s CIRCA: chunking, ignore mental chatter, reality check, control check and attention shift. Each of these things will help you decrease your anxiety.
Dustin
What I’m noticing is a pattern here. After you give us all the steps then you give us a summation. I suspect this is a way for us to digest and retain the information?
Srini
It is because the brain has a short-term memory cup. All of us, no matter who we are, the cup fills with information and then it spills over. Then we forget that information even though we understood it. I say it again to repeat it to be able to embed that information so that you can contemplate. For all of these things, even though they're heavily based on research, some things work better for some people than others. You don't have to go through the whole of CIRCA. If you’re somebody who doesn't want to do mindfulness, then don't do it. Do one of the other techniques but use it as a framework so that you can benefit from these techniques.
Dustin
For the people that sit on the sidelines, and I’ve seen this through a lot of my life. They get into information acquisition mode where they'll go to seminar after seminar or read books and they don't take action. I attributed to that of fear. Do you believe that is a fear, not necessarily an anxiety? The person keeps on going and acquiring more information but doesn't take the action to make their life different or to move closer to their goal? Is that a fear deep down?
Srini
It's a complex thing what that is, but I certainly do think that fear of failure and fear of success both play a significant role in what we're doing. We have this habit of doing something over and over again. It’s an interesting habit. In psychological terms, we call it repetition compulsion. The origins of this come from an interesting example. Freud and a bunch of other experimental psychologists were standing around watching how kids behave. What they found was that kids do a lot of weird things. One of the things is they notice that if a child was in a cot, that the child would throw out their very own toy that they loved. We understand that there's playfulness to this, but experimental psychologists will say, “This is a weird behavior. Why would you own something, like it and throw it out? Then they would cry.” They were like, “This is even weirder. Firstly, you threw it out. Now, you're crying.” The mother brings it back and then they get happy, and then the mother turns around and they throw it out again. Notwithstanding the fact that this is a way for the child to play with the mother and notwithstanding the fact that it's a child. What they asked was, “Is it possible that as adults we've inherited some of this behavior? Why are children doing this?” One of their theories is that we are wired to master disappointment like the child is. The child wants to learn how to deal with the loss. We are wired to master disappointment rather than seek fulfillment.
These kinds of habits, I call this habit hell, like when you get addicted to going from one thing to another. We get caught up in this repetitive cycle where we want to make sure we're not disappointed. We want to make sure that we're accumulating things but taking action itself is a change or committing to the change. When you commit to the change, it activates the brain’s conflict center which essentially says, “You’re going to be doing something completely different.” We call this cognitive dissonance. There are ways in which you can manage your brain to decrease this dissonance. When I say fear of success they say, “What are you talking about? I want to be successful,” except if you go into those people's psychologies, there are other messages that are hanging out in their brains. Things like, “What if I fail? What if people laugh at me? What if I’m successful and people want more from me? What if I make it but then nothing else happens?”
Imagine being your brain. Imagine that your brain is wired to help you get to your goal. I always like to think of the brain sitting on some throne with its metaphorical arms crossed saying, “You tell me what you want,” and you say, “I want to be successful, but I may fail. I may fall. People may laugh at me. People may wonder what's going to happen next. They may want more from me.” The brain’s going to say, “Make up your mind. It doesn't sound like a pleasant thing. Why would you want me to do this?” At some level, how we message our brains is really important. Managing these fears with techniques like CIRCA can help us significantly.
I believe that another critical construct here is motivation. For a lot of us, we can't be motivated because we're often thinking of applying other people's techniques, which is what I said about CIRCA. Use the technique but use it on your own terms. I believe that the greatest power that we have is our own ingenuity. When I say this, people think, “He’s going to try to tell me some inspirational cheerleading thing,” and I mean it not like that at all. There's a project which exemplifies what I mean and proves that we have capacities that we don't even realize we have. That project is the One Laptop Per Child project, which essentially people dropped a bunch of computer tablets in rural Ethiopia where the kids never even seen technology before. They want to know, “What would they do with them? Would they sit on them? Would they eat them?” because they had no idea. It’s not like it came with an instruction booklet or that they knew what it was. They had the stuff put it in front of them. What they found was that within a few hours they found the on-off button. Within a few days, they were singing ABC songs and using different apps. Within a few months, they had hacked Android. These are kids who know nothing about anything. The only thing they know is that they're curious and they're playing.
Going to all those seminars is fine but going from intention to action is incredibly important. It's there that we begin to procrastinate because we're not driving ourselves with our own motivation in a way that makes it seem relevant to us. The basic message there is no matter what you're learning from whomever, make it your own. Your brain will respond to something that feels like you own it and that it relates to you. No matter what the research says, every human being is different and because every human being is different, we need to respect ourselves and do stuff that we can relate to.
Dustin
When I was growing up in business, I would read about somebody successful and it would showcase their routine, habit or something and then I would adopt it. If I believe them to be achieving at a higher level than me, I said, “I must do their routine.” I would do it for a couple of days through sheer determination and willpower, but it never stuck. It never lasted. What you're saying is had I taken nuggets from that and applied it in my own language or in the way that Dustin does things. My chances of success go up dramatically because I’ve internalized it, made it my own and it's part of my process not just someone else's routine.
Srini
If you look at the statistics of diets, for example. Let’s say people say, “I want to live a healthier life.” 97% of diets fail. After three years, people put the weight back on. It's not like people don't know what's good for them and what's bad for them. I was talking to my trainer about this. He would say, “When you get to the next fitness goal, you have to think about what you're eating.” Some things were easier than others. I could figure out how to regulate my carbohydrates. I could figure out how to increase my protein intake. Unlike him, I’m not willing to give up hotdogs. When I talked to him about it he was like, “Why would you eat that? It's toxic.” “I understand that for you it’s toxic. The people I hang out with will think I’m insane if I don't eat hotdogs. I like it. It’s a fantastic gustatory phenomenon. It's a great taste. I also like it culturally.”
He said, “Let's do this. While you were feeding yourself toxic things, why don't you also eat a salad before that?” I was like, “Does it do something good for yourself while you're doing something bad for yourself? That sounds good.” I’m not certain that in of itself is bad for you. Eating hotdogs every day would be a problem. For me, the idea of removing it from my diet entirely is not okay. Some people like it, some people don't. When you make it your own then you can do stuff because it doesn't feel like you're restricting yourself. We have such stressful days. In general, everyone's working hard. You're spending a lot of time working. Saying, “Let me try to restrict myself in all these ways,” it's not a human thing. The more we can make something feel like it's fun for us and the more we can live life on our own terms, the more likely we are to succeed at it.
Dustin
You've given us a lot of tactical things to do and you've given us some things to ponder and consider. I want to make it abundantly clear for those reading. How can we take what you've shared with us here and what's in your book, from your own brain and apply this to wealth building? Whether we're investing, we're starting a business, managing our money better. How can we take what you know and directly apply this or apply it in a different way of creating wealth for ourselves?
Srini
Let's think about what creating wealth is. Creating wealth is a goal. We generally like to think that having a goal will motivate us. The first thing to remember is that more and more we are finding that having a goal is not a guarantee that you'll reach it. It simply means you've set an intention. There's a theory called Selfish Goal Theory that says that there are unconscious factors that stand in our way. All of this stuff makes the idea of starting a business or creating wealth more complicated. The first thing is you have to give yourself time to be able to change your brain so that your brain can find the answer. Recognize that more than 90% of processes are unconscious. If I told you every fact about everything that Steve Jobs did, he probably would not be able to build Apple because it's the intangibles that matter. I do believe that having a goal is fine but then releasing that goal and allowing yourself to refresh your brain so that your unconscious can come up with the solutions is important. It may not seem directly related but you are much more likely. I work with investors, I work with entrepreneurs. Every one of them will tell you their time off is as important as their time on.
If you want to make this part of your lifestyle, schedule these unfocused breaks where you’re practicing these unfocused techniques to stimulate your unconscious brain to help you become more creative. With regard to anxiety, schedule a check-in period with yourself because anxiety is not just conscious. A lot of times if you're slowed down, you’re not productive, you can't make the money that you want to make, or you can't make that target. What you might not realize is that unconscious anxiety is accumulating in your brain. We can see it on brain scans, even when people think they're not feeling anxious. You can see that the anxiety center is activated.
Use a technique like CIRCA for ten minutes at the end of the week and say, “Let me think about what I’m doing.” Chunk it down. Ignore mental chatter. Do a reality check, control check and check attention shift and you'll see this shifting. The first thing is to realize that a lot of success is unconscious. A lot of people will say, “You need to know your purpose and you need to know that purpose itself can be more important than the actual goal.” That's true but more important than purpose is a feeling of self-connection. When you want to make money, it's not so much the amount of effort you use but it is how much you are engaged.
Look at the sentence, “I want to make money.” There's the, “I,” part of the sentence and then there's the, “Want to make money,” part of the sentence. We know what the goal is but are you present in your life. Brain studies have shown that it's the number of active self-representations that give you the motivation you need to make money. For example, if you think about my own life, people have often said, “You're crazy. Why would you be writing a musical and have a tech company? You’re spreading too thin.” I feel they're telling me about their lives. The reality is that doing each of those things motivates me. The fact that I write music and I compose music, it makes me want to focus on biotechnology because I am represented in my brain in the way that I wanted to be represented. I find that a lot of people sell themselves short. They’re a certain personality but they don't behave that way at work. They like certain things, but they feel they've got to hide it from themselves.
I don't think you can be motivated in the world if you do not own the way you feel. A lot of people would critique Steve Jobs for being so perfectionistic saying, “Why wasn't he nicer?” That was his characteristic. It's not about whether it's good or bad, it's about whether he had enough self-representations that would take him to his goal. In terms of wealth building and in terms of entrepreneurship, having a goal is important but self-care is much more important. A study looked at coaching people for compliance, meaning are they on track with their goals versus coaching people with compassion? What the study found was that coaching with compassion is superior to coaching for compliance.
This may sound counterintuitive, but having a form of self-care, easily forgiving yourself because if you're an entrepreneur and you can’t make mistakes, you're not going to be an entrepreneur. It helps to have selective short-term memory losses. A lot of times I feel I can move on because I selectively remember my successes. I learn from my failures as quickly as I can and I move on. A lot of times I don't aggregate those failures. Firstly, studies have shown that one of the critical factors when it comes to profit-making is the mindset. All these methods CIRCA, the unfocused techniques, it's all about shifting your mindset so that your brain can come up with solutions that it wouldn't otherwise see. Following a technique and sticking to a program. It works for people who are already motivated.
Consider the fact that globally, only 13% of people in the workforce are engaged at work. That means 87% of people are not engaged in their work. If you’re not engaged but you’re going through things like an automaton, you're probably not going to get there. Making money is a great goal but making money in a way that matters to you is an even better goal. Ask yourself, “How can I make this relevant so that I can own it?” If you don't schedule these break times, it's easy for you to go through your whole day trying to go through procedures. You want to activate your creative brain to accumulate that wealth. You want to activate your creative brain to have the sudden insight as an entrepreneur. To do that, you need to build these times into your day.
Dustin
What's been your most worthwhile investment?
Srini
I’m distracted by a thought and the thought is that if you look at all the factors that contribute to longevity in life, what do you think is the number one factor even over and above cholesterol?
Dustin
I was going to say happiness.
Srini
It’s related. It’s relationships. There's an 80-year study at Harvard that’s looked at why people live longer. It's those people with the most satisfying relationships who live longer. To be an entrepreneur and to have money is great, but it's nice to be alive as well. There's no point in making the money and then dying. I feel the best investment I’ve made is in the relationships that I have in my life because the people who are close to me are really close to me. I can discuss things. I can lean on them. They can lean on me. That sense of meaning does help you through the rest of your day. Other than that, my training in and of itself was helpful but it's not just the technicality of it. The paradox is in myself. No human being is that clear about something, has everything right or knows everything. Investing in a certain amount of self-forgiveness can also go a long way.
Dustin
What do you do to get better?
Srini
What I’m trying to do is practice what I preach. I go through periods where I also forget that I’m scheduled hour by hour. Something like, “What am I doing? Why don't I let my mind wander in these different ways?” I’ve been pretty deliberate of completely disconnecting from technology from time to time, which I always used to think was ridiculous. I’ll be like, “What do you mean? There's nothing wrong with technology. It is what it is.” I was on vacation and I realized that I text friends a lot. I was like, “What am I doing? My brain needs a rest. I don't need this dopamine surge over and over again.”
What I’m doing is I’m being pretty deliberate about opening up these creative spaces. The science to me is an anchor. The reality is that success is much more ineffable. There is something about success that lies outside the domain of logic, although we want to believe that it’s deliberate practice. For example, some people will say, “Do it over and over again and it will be great.” Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion that you need 10,000 hours of work to become good at something. Brooke McNamara did a meta-analysis of over 60,000 people and looked at the success pie for education and for jobs. How much of the success pie is due to good practice for jobs? It's 1%.
We think practice is the sine qua non success like, “If you practice, then you do well.” It turns out that practice works if you're already motivated. For a lot of people, doing something over and over again is boring. It's the motivation that we need to get to. In my life in general, I seek to feel a sense of motivation by being as real and as vulnerable as I can be. I have been working on an art project with an artist from Italy. We came up with this notion of Cracked But Not Broken, The Art Of Human Vulnerability. Living life more and more according to who I am is something that helps me produce things professionally. My description of myself on my Twitter page probably summarizes it well. When I say, “I’m somewhere between martinis and meditation,” switching from one to the other is something that works for me. I don't think it needs to be that for anyone else. Find your own formula and you'll be able to get there. For me, building these unfocused times is particularly important in this phase of my life.
Dustin
Knowing what you know now and you know a great deal, like the research you've been through, the different life experiences. What would you tell your younger self?
Srini
I would say that it's important to know what to say no to. Along the way, I probably have made compromises with the idea that it wouldn't ruffle anyone's feathers. Had I acknowledged what I truly wanted to do and how I truly wanted to live my life, I could have sped along a little faster than I’ve sped along. A lot of people will say, “Sometimes you've got to compromise.” Maybe that's true from time to time, but a lot of us compromise too much of our essential nature. For me specifically, the fact that I’ve written this musical even though I’ve been writing music throughout my life is a delay. Part of me was like, “What's this going to be like? I’m doing biotechnology. I’m a scientist. A brain researcher, an executive coach and I’m going to write a musical?” The truth is it's what I wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to do that. I don't see why you would put something off because you think somehow it doesn't fit with what other people's expectations are. There was a quote I read, it was EB White. This is not a direct quote but the meaning of what he said was I’m torn between serving others and savoring life. My personal view is that savoring life is what will help you to serve others.
Dustin
I speak on behalf of the WealthFit Nation that you brought it and have given us a lot to consider and things to do. If people will have the awareness and openness to hear the message, it can benefit greatly from it. Back to my younger self, I was so much in pursuit of success and letting ego drive. What you've shared, I’m starting to grapple and understand with. I want to challenge those reading to go back, read and to open your mind to what was shared. I know these things to be incredibly powerful. Going back and reading the interview is for sure a great idea. If you want to go further with Dr. Srini, where can they find out more about what you're up to, your books and everything that you're doing?
Srini
My books are on Amazon. You can find Tinker Dabble Doodle Try and Life Unlocked there. If you'd like to find out more about me, I’m at DrSriniPillay.com. I’m on Facebook, on Twitter and on Instagram. If you want a more casual interaction with me, please do join and you'll be able to get my latest stuff.
Dustin
Dr. Srini, thank you big time for being on the show.

RELATED TRAINING

 in 

LIFESTYLE

podcast
The Everyday Bucket List

Did ever think a bucket list could alter your overall well-being? In this thought-provoking episode we learn how to implement a simple bucket list into our everyday lives and create exciting experiences without spending a ton of time and a ton of money. Join us as we dive into Karen Cordaway's journey to, The Everyday Bucket List.

The Everyday Bucket List

Listen Now
podcast
Identity, Purpose & The Humble Alpha Leader

In this interesting conversation with the H.I.T. man, Steven Kuhn, we discuss finding your identity and purpose, why it's important to build relational capital and the importance of creating space.

Identity, Purpose & The Humble Alpha Leader

podcast
Death. Trump. Korea.

Celebrate the one year anniversary of the Get WealthFit! show with us in this historic episode with basketball bad boy, Dennis Rodman. No topic is off limits.

Death. Trump. Korea.

More Cashflow, Less Stress

More Cashflow, Less Stress

How To Boost Your Monthly Income By "Going With the Flow" of Wealth

Dale Gibbons

Watch Now
podcast
Elevate Your Life

Celebrity Coach & Best Selling Author, Johnny Wimbrey, discusses how to overcome adversity, achieve greatness and elevate your life, no matter your upbringing.

Elevate Your Life

podcast
Overcoming Abuse, Getting Focused & Increasing Productivity

Want to get more done in a day? Struggle focusing on what matters? Productivity Expert, Lyman Montgomery, tells us how to transform our priorities into profits.

Overcoming Abuse, Getting Focused & Increasing Productivity

article
What is Visionary Leadership?

Learn how to use visionary leadership to keep your team engaged, motivated, and focused on your primary objective.

What is Visionary Leadership?

Cash Lambert

Read Now
The 7 Mind Types

The 7 Mind Types

How To Discover Your Mental Superpower and Harness It For Success in Life and Business

Ridgely Goldsborough

Watch Now
article
How To Achieve More By Doing Less

Learn how to be more productive — without working harder. Discover how high achievers get more done by focusing on what’s really important . . . and ignoring everything else.

How To Achieve More By Doing Less

Alex Carabi

Read Now
Ignite Your Genius

Ignite Your Genius

How To Activate Your Subconscious Mind, Eliminate Mental Blocks, and Achieve More

Howard Berg

Watch Now
Stress Less!

Stress Less!

How To Boost Your Mood, Lower Your Anxiety, & Avoid Burnout by Strengthening Your Resilience Muscle

Jaime Hope

Watch Now
article
Into The Valley Of Fire: Why Struggle Is the Only Way To Progress In Life

Learn how to progress in life by accepting struggle & hardship. Take on bigger challenges—give it your all—and come out stronger than ever.

Into The Valley Of Fire: Why Struggle Is the Only Way To Progress In Life

Alex Carabi

Read Now
Networking Like a Pro

Networking Like a Pro

Because Your Network Determines Your Net Worth

JP Servideo

Watch Now
podcast
Sacrifice, Setbacks & the NFL

NFL star, Manti Te‘o, dives into key moments and fundamental beliefs that have changed the course of his life.

Sacrifice, Setbacks & the NFL

article
Only 1% Of People Have A Self-Transforming Mind: Learn How To Think In Grayscale

Learn the 5 Stages of adult development. Plus learn how to develop a self-transforming mind and join the top 1% of adults.

Only 1% Of People Have A Self-Transforming Mind: Learn How To Think In Grayscale

Alex Carabi

Read Now
Creating Wealthy Habits

Creating Wealthy Habits

How To Replace “Broke” Habits With “Multi-Millionaire” Habits

JP Servideo

Watch Now
Extreme Productivity

Extreme Productivity

How to Develop Ruthless Focus, Accomplish More, & Conquer “Impossible” Goals

Croix Sather

Watch Now
podcast
Wrestling With Greatness

Inside the mindset of an elite competitor. Learn how the mindset of an elite wrestler applies to any industry or project.

Wrestling With Greatness

article
Get SMART: How to Achieve Your Goals with a Long-Term Mindset

You have goals. Maybe you've had them for years—but they aren't doing you any good collecting dust in a journal. Time to get things done.

Get SMART: How to Achieve Your Goals with a Long-Term Mindset

Jill Huettich

Read Now
podcast
Financial Success Through Strong Relationships

How to build your business with relationships. Dave Meltzer explains how negotiating relationships is the key to business growth.

Financial Success Through Strong Relationships

article
It’s About Time: Learn How to Spend (and Save) Your Time

Time is running out. Don’t you want to make the most of it? Here’s how you can grab the clock by the hands and make the most of your time.

It’s About Time: Learn How to Spend (and Save) Your Time

Kayla Provencher

Read Now
article
Let Clowns Do the Juggling: How Multitasking is Killing Your Productivity

How many things are you doing right now? Put down your phone, close your tabs, and learn how focusing in can save the quality of your work.

Let Clowns Do the Juggling: How Multitasking is Killing Your Productivity

Justin McCormick

Read Now
article
Check Yourself: Keep a Work Checklist & Up Your Productivity

Check it out! You can improve your productivity by keeping a work checklist. Learn how to write one and take your career to the next level.

Check Yourself: Keep a Work Checklist & Up Your Productivity

Jill Huettich

Read Now
Developing a Warrior Mindset

Developing a Warrior Mindset

How to Shatter Your Fear, Upgrade Your Brain, & Fight Your Way to Financial Freedom

David Fabricius

Watch Now