Writers dream of 5 star reviews and critics proclaiming, unanimously: BRILLIANT! We want to dazzle our readers with brilliant characters, brilliant plot twists, and brilliant words that leap to life as if an incantation of magic.
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. We all want to be brilliant. So what’s the secret? Well, according to Manoush Zomorodi’s new book, the answer is boredom.
Linking boredom and brilliance seems paradoxical. But think about it – you aren’t the only one who has their best ideas in the shower – could that universal phenomenon hold the secret to unlocking and turbo-charging our creativity?
The book began as a series on WNYC’s podcast New Tech City, of which Zomorodi is host. The series challenged listeners to reclaim the lost art of ‘spacing out’ by disconnecting from modern life’s greatest distraction: technology.
If you don’t think you’re distracted by tech, let me ask you this: When was the last time you got bored and didn’t immediately pull out your phone? When was the last time you had to wait and just looked around for a few minutes, taking in your surroundings, letting your mind wander and dream?
According to Zomorodi’s book the answer for the vast majority of adults is not often. And when we dive into the neuroscience of addictive technology (smartphones, social media, games like Candy Crush) we are bombarded with study after fascinating study strongly suggesting that we get our most original ideas when we stop the constant stimulation of tech and let ourselves get bored.
I was captivated by the brain science behind creativity and addictive technology. Did you know dopamine has little to do with feelings of happiness or pleasure? According to Barry Kaufman, one of the many prominent neuroscientists Zomorodi interviews, dopamine is a molecule that helps influence our expectations. Higher levels of dopamine are linked to being more open to new things and novelty seeking.
Research Shows that great artists, scientists, and other creative types have an abundance of dopamine in their system that allows them to deal with novelty. These brilliant minds are extra motivated to seek out the new and can channel the novelty seeking impulse into being creative. Kaufman refers to dopamine as “the mother of invention” and explains that because we have a limited amount of it, we must be judicious about what we spend it on. Our smartphones activate and hijack the dopamine system. Instead of using our limited amount of dopamine to increase our wonder and excitement for creating meaning and new things like art, we use it up on the easy triggers of social media – “Hey look at those hearts I’m getting on Insta! Hey look at all the new tweets I could scroll through for all of eternity and never never be bored! WOOHOO!!!”
So if we deactivate our Twitter and Facebook will we become better writers? Perhaps, perhaps not. The social animal in me wants to argue for the benefit of community building, both online and off. The more connections we have the more support we have, and the more opportunities for success. Aspiring as well as published authors sink or swim based upon their ability to build a community of readers. For this purpose, social media is an excellent tool.
But sometimes achieving that ideal balance, using it as a tool – not as a sweet pacifier of distraction from the slightest discomfort – is impossible. As Zomorodi shows in her book, the users are being used, the tool has become the master. We have trained ourselves to reflexively grab our phones at the first hint of boredom. A recent study found that mobile consumers now spend an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes each day on mobile devices.
We text, tweet and email-check our free moments away. And when we sacrifice our free moments, are we sacrificing a sacred freedom – a sacred, inner place of quiet, imagination, and peace?
I wouldn’t call myself a smartphone addict, most people in my life complain I’m not consistently quick enough on the reply. Some days I’m out in the world and I leave my phone on the kitchen counter, some weeks I go several days without checking my personal email. Other days, my phone is on my person and I’m pinteresting away those sacred, brilliant moments of boredom.
I’ve noticed that on days when I’m tech free (or as close to it as any of us modern saps can get) I experience a satisfying boost of motivation and inspiration. Freed from my – physically tiny – smartphone, I feel twenty pounds lighter. My mind, freed from the heavy fetter of distracting tech, is a feather floating on the winds of imagination, and my dopamine reserves are sticking around for what matters most: new ideas, new stories, new worlds of wonder to explore.
Zomorodi lays out a seven step challenge that allows readers to experiment with unplugging. Readers of the book have had huge successes with the challenge, reporting that they feel more creative and productive, more satisfied with their lives. Sounds pretty good to me.
This post is my official start of Zomorodi’s Bored and Brilliant 7-Step Program. And as I strive to un-plug I’m getting family, friends, writing buddies, and whoever I can to do the same! If you want to take on the digital detox, send me a comment or message and I’ll add you to the team. You can find more details about the challenge below. I’ll be back with a new post debriefing step 1 of the experiment and sharing the experiences of everyone that I’m dragging onto the bandwagon – so stay tuned!
Wishing you a few moments of tech free peace,
Here’s the synopsis of the program. I’m going to attempt each step for one week, but it’s also ok to do each step for one day or three, find what works for you. Challenge one begins today!
The Bored & Brilliant Seven-Step Program
CHALLENGE ONE: Observe Yourself
Track your digital habits – notice and understand your baseline behavior form the moment you wake until you go to sleep by downloading the Moment app (Apple) or the Break-Free app (Android).
CHALLENGE TWO: Keep Your Devices Off and Out of Reach While in Motion
Keep your phone out of site while in transit – no walking and texting. But it’s not just texting, the challenge includes all tech off during transit, meaning no radio during your commute. What happens when you switch it all off and just let your mind wander? Guess we’ll find out.
CHALLENGE THREE: Photo-Free
No pics of food, kittens, kids – nada. See your world through your eyes, not your screen. This is a digital-image detox so avoid all photo proliferation – you can check out images on social media but don’t like or retweet. Just take a long hard look…reclaim the art of taking a ‘mental picture’.
CHALLENGE FOUR: Delete That App
Take the one app you can’t live without and trash it. Life after Snapchat, anyone? If you’re a game addict, it’s time to let go of Candy Crush, Two Dots, or Clash of Clans. You will lose your level, but you will reclaim your life. It might be the Weather app or Wikipedia, but if you have a smartphone then you have one app that rules them all. Don’t worry, it’s not forever, when the challenge is over you’ll be free to re-install.
CHALLENGE FIVE: Take a Fakecation
A vacation in the form of a break from the digital onslaught that exhausts, distracts, and keeps us from thinking beyond the everyday. The human brain needs solitude in order to focus and really think up new and interesting ideas. This challenge is about being in the office but out of touch, if only for an hour. I’ll share more details and how to’s from Zomorodi when we get to this step.
CHALLENGE SIX: Observe Something Else
Reclaim the art of noticing. Now that you’ve freed up some attention in the earlier challenges you can train it on the little offline wonders all around you. Go solo somewhere public and hang out for awhile. Watch people, birds, or anything that strikes you. Pause and imagine what a single person is thinking and zoom in on an un-inventable detail. Make a series of small observations you may have missed if your nose were glued to a screen.
CHALLENGE SEVEN: The Bored & Brilliant Challenge
In a culmination of all the exercises, you’ll use your new powers of boredom to make sense of your life and set goals. I’ll share more details and how to’s from Zomorodi when we get to this step.