“Our Brains need boredom in order to get truly creative”. I think this is also why sleep is important. We need down time to allow our brain to process all of the inputs it has received throughout the day and make connections between those inputs. I also think it’s important to unplug and get out in nature. Go for a hike, bike or run and experience time away from digital inputs. I’d also recommend watching a Netflix video entitled, “The Creative Brain” and you’ll learn how our brains are different from animal’s brains. Why are we so creative and animals are not? A lot of it has to do with how far apart the input and output areas of our brain are from each other. In animals they are very close. In humans there is a greater distance allowing for diverse possibilities to be explored.
- Avoidance of Boredom – “When we’re engaged in the moment our executive attention network kicks into action. Although this makes us more ready and alert, it inhibits and controls our attention, making it harder to cook up great ideas. It’s only in moments of boredom that this network switches off and our brains shift toward creative thinking.” We need these periods of boredom to reflect on different time frames in our lives. We also connect different domains of knowledge and unexpected connections across these domains occur. Our brains don’t shut off when we’re bored. It just uses the down time to perform different tasks – creative tasks.
- Great Convenience – Before the Internet, we could sit down and read a book in a linear fashion. Since the Internet we jump around and follow links to other stories. One study by Microsoft shows that we now have the attention span of less than a gold fish: at only 8 seconds! We have difficulty engaging with long stretches of text. This combined with the fact that screens also affect our experience versus a traditional book – we are just given too many choices with a screen to lose focus on the text and longer passages.
- Our attention is valuable – Our digital “deVICEs” are just as addictive as drugs. We are “users” and addiction is common. Companies know how to exploit our instincts so that we stay hooked on their platform and digital offerings. I wrote a post on this based on the author Nir Eyal’s book, called “Hooked“. In his book he talks about how variable rewards are crucial for digital platforms to keep us hooked. If you get the same reward over and over, you soon become bored with it. But, if you introduce variability where one time you receive the standard reward, the next time twice the reward and the next you don’t receive the reward, you are more likely to come back for more!
- Unplugging – Recently I read about a group in Ojai, California called Bricks. Their whole purpose is to help people learn how to reconnect with each other on a personal level. They have weekend retreats where at the start of the weekend you give the group your phone and you aren’t allowed to use it or any other digital device. Your only interactions for the entire weekend is the engagement with other people. This increases empathy levels between people and peaks interest in others’ stories and shared experiences. We need to take break from technology so that we can become more human. So, take a break!
- Mobile Games – I realize the value of applying gamification to learning. Gamification is merely the application of game mechanics to non-game activities. This can enhance the participation in the learning activity and help the learner learn more as they are actively engaged. Most corporate training is simply setting employees in front of a screen and watching video after video taking quizzes in between to test their knowledge. This isn’t learning! Why? Once the quiz has been taken the knowledge has been cast off, because it is no longer needed. But, using game mechanics we can give employees knowledge that if used inside of a game simulation, forces the employee to apply what they’ve learned to achieve the games objectives. This has been done effectively in flight simulators to train pilots in real world situations that they would probably never experience in real flight because the risks are too great. Mobile Games can be beneficial, but because of their always on and in your pocket availability, they can be even more addictive than desktop games. One particular example of a mobile game type of app, but that also teaches you something is Duolingo. Duolingo teaches you another language and rewards you with incentives throughout the game with badges and levels that you can achieve.
- Young People and Technology – Did you know that Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, wouldn’t let his kids use the iPads that his company created? Why? Because he knew how addictive the devices are. Should there be warning labels on all mobile devices to limit their use to adults only? “In one study at UCLA, Lauren Sherman created a simulated Instagram feed and had individual participants from a group of youths rate the pictures. But here’s the twist, Sherman would sometimes shuffle around the number of likes that each photo had. No matter how she shifted the pattern of likes, the photos with more likes were always the most popular with the youths”. The desire to fit in among youths is so strong, that the social media peer pressure of “likes” caused their perception of reality to change. Perhaps we really should consider banning technology to children.
Would you like to take the Bored and Brilliant Challenge for one week?
Here’s the details for each day:
- Day One – Self-Observation: write down your digital habits on a piece of paper. Write down the apps that you use. The devices that you use. Write down how much time you spend with each.
- Day Two – when you are on the move, don’t use your device. If you’re used to listening to your phone on your commute, put it away. If you listen to music while you jog, just jog. No podcasts, no music, nothing. You can use Moment for iOS or Space for Android which are both apps that show you how many times you unlock your phone per day. I like this description of the Space App for Android: “Space helps you kick app addiction by short-circuiting Instant Gratification. It loads a Moment of Zen before the apps you want space from. That re-wires your brain and helps you take back control of your habit.”
- Day Three – no photos. Just try and soak in the moment. Enjoy being in the present. No need to preserve memories of your day with a picture. You’ll probably forget about the moment anyway if it’s stored as a digital photo. Just observe and remember
- Day Four – delete your most used app. Mine would be Linkedin.
- Day Five – take a fake-cation from your digital devices. Imagine that you are in a place where there is no Internet and your phone has died. When I hike in Linville Gorge, North Carolina, I experience this as we hike down into a deep gorge where there is no internet or cell phone reception at all. Where is your internet free zone? As a way to spread the message for the Bored and Brilliant Challenge, put in auto-notifications for your email and other social media channels so that you let people know you aren’t avoiding them, you’re just taking a break.
- Day Six – go to a public space and watch and listen to those around you and the environment. Don’t interact with digital devices at all. Pay attention.
- Day Seven – spend 30 minutes alone in thoughtful examination of things that make you feel anxious or confused. Start writing just 1’s and 0’s on a piece of paper. This boredom should help you think of creative ideas. When you are done with this write on a new piece of paper the possible solutions to your anxiety or confusion. You will be surprised at the creative ideas you come up with.
Summary – “The key message in this book, is that technology is incredibly helpful, but it can do a great deal of harm too. By being mindful of how we interact with our devices, and by creating space to be bored, we can break the control that technology too often exerts.”
Chade-Meng Tan, former Jolly Good Fellow at Google, developed a simple four step meditation designed to make people calmer and more successful.
Step #1: Think about a person that you care about
Step #2: Wish for only good things for the person you are thinking about
Step #3: Keep this thought in your head while you consciously take three breaths
Step #4: Do this every day and your wish for happiness for this other person will also bring you happiness!
BONUS: As mentioned earlier sleep is a very effective laboratory for processing all of the inputs we have in our day and helping us come up with creative solutions. Charles Edison, the inventor of the light bulb had this to say about the purpose of sleep: “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious”. He was notorious for only sleeping 4 to 5 hours per night, but he would take naps throughout the day. He would fall asleep in his naps holding two metal balls in his hand and as he was thinking about a problem falling asleep, when he would get to sleep just deep enough that his grasp on the balls would loosen and the balls would fall to the ground he would wake up, usually with a creative solution discovered in his slumber! To learn more, check out this Quora Response: “Why did Thomas Edison sleep with steel balls in each hand?”
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