I get most of my news from Axios and Poynter Institute newsletters. Axios’ Finish Line is published late so we can end the day on a positive note. A recent Finish Line newsletter, “Why We Should Embrace Boredom,” confirms ideas I’ve also gotten from other sources and experiences. The web version is this article by Erica Pandey.
Things I’ve Learned
The most useful thing I ever learned from one of my math professors was that, if you’ve been working on a problem for a while and you can’t solve it, stop and do something else for a while. Play a game, do a chore, or just look out a window. Meanwhile, your brain will subconsciously work on the problem, and when you return to it, you might find you have a new inspiration.
One of the most useful things I learned as a writer, negotiator and consultant was that, when you get up from the desk and walk into another room, you may return with fresh ideas. There’s something about walking through a door, and coming back in. In addition to doing this myself, I sometimes suggest that trainees and consulting clients do so during a session.
In fact, while drafting this very blog post, every time I got up to get a drink or a snack, or just to stretch and move my body, new ideas for the post popped into my head.
Backed by Science
The Axios article amplifies these notions and puts some science behind them. “Filling our brains with the constant flood of junk food from our phones — tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts, tabloid gossip — leaves little room for creative and original ideas, studies show.”
Holding a device and looking down at it for any length of time aggravates an issue I have with neck and shoulder muscles. Therefore, I just don’t do it unless there’s a serious reason. Pandey’s article helped me realize how this personal necessity explains some of the creative solutions I’ve developed for various projects and situations.
She writes, “With stimulation right at our fingertips, our tolerance for being bored has evaporated”; “That’s why one of the most productive times for brainstorming is when we’re in the shower, experiencing a rare digital detox”; and “Two-thirds of American adults routinely look at their phones even when they’re not pinging or buzzing.” This seems to confirm my long-held idea the people actually get addicted to mobile phones.
Pandey describes an experiment in which one group sorted beans by color, while another group did something more interesting. The bored group won out over the interested group in both the creativity and number of ideas they generated.
She cites another study that indicated, “Boredom motivates people to seek out novelty. Our minds wander when we’re bored, and we think of new things to try.
And still another, “Learning to deal with being bored helps children learn flexibility, planning skills and problem-solving.”
As many of you know, the communication skills I teach are counterintuitive. Thus, I advise people not to wait until they are confronted with a a serious dispute or a touchy topic to begin using the skills. Rather, begin to practice on bland subject matter. Chapter 10 of Women Can Renew the World IF…and So Can You lays out a 30 day plan for skills practice, each skill with simple, easy starting points.
Similarly, Pandey advises us to begin experiencing the benefits of boredom in little ways. “When you’re in line at the store, just stand there instead of reaching for the phone. Or go for a short walk without a podcast or music.” Then, “Take some time to embrace being bored and see where it leads you.”
I had an idea for building on this. Do you commute by public transportation? If so, try turning the phone off en route. But what if my boss texts me or what if my child’s school calls? You can’t jump off the train between stations or stops anyway. So wait until you’re approaching the next stop to check your messages.
If you drive to and from work, or anywhere else, all the more reason to take Oprah Winfrey’s pledge and “make your car a no phone zone.” Not only might you find inspiration while stuck in traffic, you might save a life when you’re on the move.
In Other News
Here’s an update on the news I posted last week about speaking at the Unitarian Fellowship of Houston. I now understand there will be a videographer there, so if you can’t attend in person, you should be able to view my talk online. I will post a link when it’s live on the church website.
Royalties from the new book are starting to come in. If you haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, why not check it out on Amazon, here.
Some great ideas here, Margaret. Thanks! I am not a cell phone guy. I have one, but its only purpose is in case something happens when I’m on the road and I have to call roadside assistance. Ironically, it’s boring to be around groups of people who are absorbed in their phones while they’re supposed to be interacting with other people at band gigs or parties. Keeping an active mind is essential to getting older! Best, JB
I agree, it is boring to be around people who have to look at the phone so often, whether it’s ringing or not. A nice nonverbal communication skill is, when you sit down to talk to someone, let them see you silence your phone, or better, turn it off. It’s wonderful for the other person to know that you intend to give them your full attention.