Phone pings. Run for the train. Be on time. Work day frantic. 250 new emails. Run faster. Eat faster. Pack more in.
Today’s world removes the obstacles that dare to stop us going as far as we want, and as fast as we want to go. Don’t stop, don’t reflect, don’t look back. Technology is our saviour? ‘Yes!’ we cry. It keeps us moving, forward, relentlessly, fast – at any cost.
But our creativity declines when we’re constantly busy. Being able to switch between focus and daydreaming is an important skill that’s reduced by our relentless busy-ness.
In his 2014 book, ‘The Organised Mind’, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin argued that ‘information overload’ keeps us buried in constant noise. Bombarded with infinite snippets of information – updates, notifications, pings and headlines.
He calculated that we ‘consume’ five times the quantity of information than we did 25 years ago. We process roughly 100,000 words every day outside of work.
It’s no wonder we exhausted or that our willpower is sapped. For sure, we cannot be creative whilst on the passive ‘receiving’ end of so much ‘noise’.
Why? Well, the science bit boils down to this.
In a world of constant information bombing (where we are the target), our brains are forced to use multiple bouts of short term focus. The brain concentrates intensely for short bursts to consume and process every blast of info. Before we’ve fully reflected on it, we’re on to the next short, intense focus, then the next. And so on.
However, creativity is what occurs when the brain is in default mode. Basically, when your brain is still, quiet, reflecting.
Engaging creatively requires pushing the reset button in our brain. This requires making time in your day for day dreaming, listening to music, meditating, or just staring off into space.
Almost impossible when every free moment, at work, in a queue, at a red light, we instinctively reach for our phone. (Must check that status. Can’t do nothing!).
Our brain system becomes accustomed to constant stimulation. Ever notice yourself getting irritable when nothing is happening?
We have forgotten how to do nothing. But some of the worlds most important discoveries were made while their thinkers weren’t doing very much at all.
Nikola Tesla got inspired about rotating magnetic fields just strolling around Budapest. Einstein chilled out and listen to Mozart on breaks from intense thinking sessions.
In the age of ‘OMG overload’, we need to love a bit of boredom. If the ‘addiction’ of constant noise and movement is stifling creativity, then what is supposed to help us is hurting us. What is supposed to free us is enslaving us.
Life can be rich and varied. Adventurous and creative – alongside the more mundane stuff that, of course, needs to get done. In fact, the science bods say that a mix of both ways of thinking – intense focus and brain idleness is the optimal way to be productive and creative.
How to do it?
Think of ‘information/busyness overload’ like food. If we keep cramming it in mindlessly, we’re going to get overweight, ill, lazy – right? Just like healthy eating, it’s possible to engineer less mindless activeness, less communications, less consumption. We can make our lives less noisy.
In doing so, we get more creative (work and move clever, not faster and harder), and we reconnect with what is truly important. The human values and emotions beneath the frenetic, noisy buzz of technology and ‘doing’.
Five Tricks to Press Your Brains RESET BUTTON.
Take a decent walk every day without your phone, or switch it off. Notice your breathing, people’s faces, buildings, the cracks in the footpath.
Get out of your comfort zone. Do something you’ve never done before. Small or death-defying – it doesn’t matter. A new experience automatically resets that brain button.
Play more. Play is the number one way that children learn new things. Same for us old hacks! Like doing nothing, ‘fun’ has become a bad word. Ditch the live news feed. Put some non-technology fun back in.
Switch between doing focused work and something less demanding. After 45 minutes at a work task, kick back for ten or fifteen minutes. People watch, doodle, listen to a few tunes, go for a stroll. NO Facebook. NO emails. Work on not feeling guilty. This rewiring exercise will make you more productive and creative.
No more fomo
Recognise the dreaded FOMO feeling (Fear Of Missing Out). Work on getting rid of it. Research shows that initially, we suffer anxiety about not being constantly plugged in and busy – like we’re going to miss something important or fail if we’re not engaged in every moment. It feels like loss. BUT of all the things to lose, creative thinking is one of our greatest.
No matter what our work is, a flexible mind set open to new ideas and approaches is invaluable not just for what we do, but for who we are. And for how we are to the people around us.
It can be a beautiful, warm and exciting world. Let’s not lose that magic while checking the latest tweet or posting another pointless selfie.