Scores on tests of creativity (e.g. the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking) have been declining since the 1990’s, says Michael Easter, author of the ‘Comfort Crisis.’ Skills measured by the test include curiosity, open-mindedness, imagination, and problem-solving, all abilities necessary for success in life and art. Studies have shown that children with higher creativity scores on the Torrance Test become more accomplished adults.
Scientists believe that several factors affect creativity scores. One factor is the cultural Puritan work ethic – the expectation that to be a success, a person must hustle and be industrious. As adults, we often believe we should be more productive with our time, get more done, and be more efficient. To-do lists get longer and longer. Yet, try as we might, we are unable to get everything done that we think we should. We look hopefully to productivity experts for hacks to improve our time management. Busyness may at times seem like the only path to success.
Related to our feelings of busyness are the many interruptions and distractions from screens – the average American devotes about 10 hours and 39 minutes each day to consuming media, approximately 65% of waking hours, according to a 2016 Nielson report – on their phone, T.V., computer. Further, many people are interrupted repeatedly throughout the day by numerous notifications from their digital media.
It’s no wonder many complain of feeling overworked, dissatisfied, missing out on the beauty in life, feeling time is passing too quickly, having no time to relax, always rushing. Scientists suggest that our hurried, stressful, over scheduled lives and large amounts of time spent on digital devices contribute to declining creativity.
DIGITAL MEDIA CAN BE ADDICTIVE.
Social media, in fact, has been designed to grab our attention, to encourage addiction! Metrics, algorithms, and optimization tools are sensitive to POPULARITY (what gets clicked on), not necessarily to the TRUTH. You’ve heard of click-bait – sensational rumors, salacious images, outrage-driven rants that get shared, a lot. The more you pay attention to your devices, the more you encourage ads and clips (that the algorithms deem to be of interest to you) to be shown to you. Too many interruptions, and the result can be uncertainty, disorientation, upset, cynicism, even a short-circuit in your ability to think rationally.
REDUCE DISTRACTIONS TO IMPROVE CREATIVITY.
With so much rushing and increasing use of digital media, there is seldom time for relaxing, daydreaming, unfocused thought — all things necessary for creativity. It’s not very realistic to think you can rush to squeeze a productive painting session into a free 15 minutes between other demands. Despite all the recommendations to use your time more productively and get more done, perhaps we should be doing FEWER things! Do less, and do it better.
We may be TOO BUSY for creativity to blossom. Is it even possible to be productive AND creative? Childhood used to be a time of unsupervised puttering and exploring, and lots of imaginary play (NOT organized sports, tutoring, educational T.V. or computer games). Kids and adults need time to daydream, ponder, and be creative. We all need time to “moodle,” as Brenda Ueland says in ‘If You Want To Write.’ By moodling she means “long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering” in the present, as opposed to desperately rushing, worrying about the future, striving to accomplish more, “always briskly doing something.”
GET BORED TO BECOME MORE CREATIVE.
To increase creativity, we need calm and unscheduled time. Perhaps we even need to be BORED. By automatically grabbing your phone to check texts or watch an entertaining YouTube video when you have a free moment, you may rush right past an important observation or a creative thought of your own. Try something new. Pause and let your mind wander. Rest and reset. We don’t always have to be productive.
Science has shown that boredom, unscheduled down time, and daydreaming increase creativity by allowing our brain the space to think freely and come up with new ideas. In contrast, constant busyness inadvertently reduces creativity.
Many successful people have shared their high opinions of boredom. Austin Kleon refers to the following people in his blog (https://austinkleon.com/2015/12/17/the-benefits-of-boredom/). Author Neil Gaiman believes “The best way to come up with new ideas is to get really bored.” Steve Jobs maintained “I’m a big believer in boredom. Boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity, and out of curiosity comes everything.” Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners, says “Being bored is a precious thing, a state of mind we should pursue. Once boredom sets in, our minds begin to wander, looking for something exciting, something interesting to land on. And that’s where creativity arises… My best ideas come to me when I am unproductive.” Writer Scott Adams admits “I’ve noticed that my best ideas always bubble up when the outside world fails in its primary job of frightening, wounding or entertaining me.” Nobel Prize winner Joseph Brodsky thinks “Boredom is your window… Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.” And Albert Einstein concluded “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.”
RETRAIN YOUR BRAIN AND NURTURE CREATIVITY.
So, how can you retrain your brain to allow for more creativity and inventiveness?
First, get in the habit of scheduling FREE TIME and allowing yourself to daydream. Constant busyness actually makes you exhausted and prevents you from working at maximum efficiency.
Second, put in a concentrated effort to RESIST your cell phone (you can disable notifications, shut it off for awhile, or put it in another room) so you will not be interrupted. You DON’T have to respond to every text or email immediately since being ‘busy’ all the time does NOT make you more productive.
Third, VARY your routine – doing the same thing, at the same time, in the same place everyday can be a creativity killer. Instead, take a different route to your destination, check out a new location, hang out with different people. Be more spontaneous.
Fourth, take a WALK. Walking energizes your brain. You don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, so your attention is free to wander, invent, think, observe. ‘Eureka’ moments tend to come to us not when we’re intensely focused on a problem but when we’re idly thinking about something else, allowing our subconscious mind to contemplate the issue in the background. (A hot shower may work in a similar way.)
MAKE YOUR CHOICE.
It does seem that “You have to CHOOSE between endless distractions and innovative ideas.” as author Jessica Stillman says.
If you’re interested in reading more on creativity, see my related blog posts, titled “Creativity Can Be Learned”, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/01/08/creativity-can-be-learned/, published January 8, 2019, and “Fostering Creativity.”, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/09/24/fostering-creativity/, uploaded September 24, 2019.
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