Is it right before you fall asleep? Are you a shower-thinker? I come up with my best ideas when I’m out taking a walk. Why is that?
Whatever your answer, it’s not by accident. Losing focus and ridding your mind of distraction is the key to daydreaming. It’s where we think divergently, completely unrestrained and unstructured.
This casts boredom as a key ingredient in the creative process, yet we go to great efforts to avoid it. We use our phones, social media, and the latest Netflix series to be constantly stimulated and we’re actively stunting our creativity in the process.
We’re always distracted
We live in an over-connected world where we’re constantly bombarded with notifications, ads, texts, and emails. We pick up our phones on average over 100 times a day. That means a distraction every ten minutes, keeping us occupied and never bored.
York University psychologist, John Eastwood, whose research focuses on boredom, defines the feeling as “the unfulfilled desire for satisfying activity.” We fight off boredom and retreat into our phones when we’re in line at the grocery store or waiting for an elevator. We check Facebook, we check the scores from last night’s game, we do anything to stay occupied.
When I was growing up, I didn’t have a smartphone. I barely had the internet. This left me with plenty of unoccupied time to be bored and let my mind wander. I’d daydream fictitious scenarios, new ideas, and outlandish stories. As I got older, this happened less and less as my plate filled up with responsibilities and my new phone filled up with pesky apps.
I was reminded of my childhood imagination earlier this week when my coworker brought her young daughter to work. While our fancy new office may not have a playground or bowling alley, we do have lego. With nothing else to do, she sat on the floor and began stacking blocks together to build stairs, robots, and some other things I couldn’t decipher. This is the state where we tap into our divergent thoughts and freely come up with ideas. It’s the state we miss out on when we’re constantly occupied.
Doing nothing doesn’t make you lazy
We also avoid boredom because it seems lazy and unambitious. Our phones do their part to distract us, but we’ve also become wired to feel like we should always be doing something. Social media doesn’t help, making it seem like everyone is busy doing the coolest shit imaginable. God forbid there’s ever a dull moment.
Constantly doing robs us of our creative potential. A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that bored people “are more likely to engage in sensation seeking.” Output is obviously important, but we get tunnel vision if we sink too deep into our work. It’s important to take breaks and return with fresh eyes. You need the dull moments to clean the slate and rid yourself of any bias. That great idea you’re dedicated to might actually be terrible. You need the time, space, and freedom to think freely in order to make that discovery.
Embrace creativity by giving your brain a break
Cut the cord
It starts with your phone. Leave it at home, shut it off, and resist the urge to check it every ten minutes. I go for long walks without my phone to disconnect and free myself from distraction. Being surrounded by nature can be a great way to de-stress and clear your mind. I highly recommend it!
I love my daily gym routine partially because it’s an hour where I can put my brain on autopilot. I work off all the stress accumulated throughout the day and feel refreshed afterwards. If lifting isn’t your thing, Yoga is a great way to wind down, catch your breath, and clear your mind of noise and inner distractions. Downward some dogs and see where your mind goes.
Seriously, stepping away to do menial tasks like dishes or vacuuming can be a great way to engage your creative thinking. Albert Einstein produced some of his most creative work, including the famous equations E=MC2, while working in a patent office.
You’ll find the more time you dedicate to moments of boredom, the more opportunity you’ll have to engage your creative potential and discover new ideas. I’m not telling you to sit in a hole in the woods until you have a vision. Start by taking a walk, or having a bath, or putting on some music and cleaning your room. Embrace the dull moments and see where your mind takes you.