Want to be more creative? Get bored

If you’re a smartphone user, chances are you’re not as often bored as you were before your phone came into your life. You can always fill your down time with Words with Friends, Candy Crush or a YouTube video. You can tweet, text or read your email. The problem is, you might be doing harm to your creative abilities.

I’ve been reading a book called The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin. He talks about the brain’s “default mode”:

Have you ever sat in an airplane or train, just staring out the window with nothing to read, looking at nothing in particular? You might have found that the time passed very pleasantly, with no real memory of what exactly you were looking at, what you were thinking, or for that matter, how much time had actually elapsed…. In this state, thoughts seem to move seamlessly from one to another, there’s a merging of ideas, visual images, and sounds, of past, present, and future….

This distinctive and special brain state is marked by the flow of connections among disparate ideas and thoughts, and a relative lack of barriers between senses and concepts. It can also lead to great creativity and solutions to problems that seemed unsolvable. Its discovery – a special brain network that supports a more fluid and nonlinear mode of thinking – was one of the biggest neuroscientific discoveries of the last twenty years….

The tendency for this system to take over is so powerful that its discoverer, Marcus Raichle, named it the default mode.

If you’re constantly engaging your mind, instead of just letting it be quiet once in a while, you might be robbing yourself of the down time you need for creativity. The point also was made recently during this interview segment on NPR.

Try boredom for a week, and see whether you feel a difference. To keep you on track, you might want to sign up for the Bored and Brilliant Challenge. I’ll give it a try and let you know what I think.

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