A combination of self-help and theoretical science that suggests learning to “unfocus” may be the key to living a more productive life.
Harvard psychiatrist and brain imaging researcher Pillay (Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear, 2010) makes the case that the alternation of periods of focus and openness makes for increased learning and satisfaction. Letting go of precise goals allows one to “tinker” with one’s experience, whether romantic or work-related, in hopes of fixing problems, while dabbling in areas in which one has no expertise prepares one for new possibilities, and doodling opens the door to the unconscious. While the author throws out so many suggestions that any reader will be bound to find more than a few useful ones, Pillay’s affection for acronyms often makes the book difficult to read, and his use of language, with words like “tinkeringly,” can be off-putting. Although he tends to refer more frequently than necessary to celebrities like Jeff Bezos and Ryan Seacrest (whose life “sounds enigmatically unachievable and inconceivable”), Pillay cites an intriguing range of brain studies to support his argument, and his case studies of individuals with whom he has worked provide useful insights. The book might be most usefully read in fragments, since the cumulative effect of words of advice such as, “Be more playful and self-forgiving as you start to supertask” and “When lost, turn to your inner compass and ask, ‘Who am I?’ ” can bog down skeptical readers. The author takes his place in the spectrum of advocates of the power of positive thinking with his contention that “every person is responsible for his or her own greatness.”
While it may be unfair to complain that a book on the benefits of “unfocusing” suffers from a lack of focus, Pillay’s constant jumping from one suggestion to another, many of which seem off-topic, makes the book less useful than it could be.