Being Busy Is Killing Our Ability to Think Creatively

Autonomous cars are considered a means of lowering the accident rates that stem from distracted driving.  The problem with people these days is that they lack general attention. Being distracted negatively affects both mental and social health, so indeed little good comes from being absentminded.

Among many things that suffer from being unable to focus our attention, a recent study suggests that creativity also suffers when you are busy at all times. Having the ability to switch between focus and staring into space is an extremely important skill which is diminished by busyness. As explained by Stanford’s Emma Seppälä,

“The idea is to balance linear thinking—which requires intense focus—with creative thinking, which is borne out of idleness. Switching between the two modes seems to be the optimal way to do good, inventive work.”

Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist, made a similar appeal in 2014.  He noted that Americans consumed 5 times as much information as 25 years ago; outside of work we process about 100,000 words daily.

Engaging creativity means finding the time to meditate, rest, or stare into nothing, all of which are impossible to do when every free moment is used to reach for the phone, for instance. Simply put, the average American is sort of addicted to busyness.

The problem is that this addiction is extremely detrimental for the quality of life. As Seppälä notes, most of the great minds made their discoveries while doing pretty much nothing.  For example, Nikola Tesla gained the intuitive understanding of rotating magnetic fields on a walk in Budapest while Albert Einstein enjoyed chilling out and listening to Mozart on breaks from intense thinking.

“Perhaps we now need to engineer scarcity in our communications, in our interactions, and in the things we consume. Otherwise, our lives become like a Morse code transmission that’s lacking breaks—a swarm of noise blanketing the valuable data beneath,” notes Journalist, Michael Harris.

De-Busying Your Life

Seppälä gives a few tips on how to disconnect in a time when connection is required by others.  Check them out:

  • Summon up your courage to et out of your comfort zone
  • Try to make more space for games, fun, and relaxing activities
  • Make taking a long walk a part of your routine ( preferably without phone)
  • Alternate between doing focused work and activities that require less intelligent and focus

The last one is also suggested by Cal Newport, author of Deep Work.  Newport is not on social media and checks his email only once daily! What seems to be off track in being connected is irreplaceable time gained to focus.  Lack of this time increases the risk of rewiring the neural patterns for distraction.

“Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.”

This is a bad sign for people who wish to perform creatively. It has been scientifically shown that the fear of missing out increases anxiety and negatively affects our health in the long run. Creative thinking is the greatest loss among all the things that suffer, and having a flexible mindset is indeed the key to success regardless of your vocation.