Tell me if this sounds familiar:
You’re waiting in line to order your ban mian. There are about 5 people ahead of you. What do you do? You pull out your phone and check your Instagram feed.
You head to the office bathroom to do your morning ahem, rituals. After settling in, you pull out your phone and play Clash of Clans. (Does anybody ever think about how our phones are usually the dirtiest thing that we touch all day?)
Our phones are everywhere with us. We use them when we’re on the MRT. On the escalator. In the office. When you’re waiting for the bill. On the toilet. In bed.
We’re already familiar with its terrible social effects: Couples don’t talk on dates anymore. Kids stare at iPads and don’t move for 4 hours straight.
But there’s another downside of using our phones too much: It makes us less creative.
Why Our Phones Are Killing Our Creativity
We could all use a little boost of creativity: Whether it’s in writing a strategy paper, crafting a presentation to impress an audience, blogging, or convincing your kids to eat. (That last one is probably way harder than anything else I deal with in life right now).
There’s a growing body of research that BOREDOM is a necessary condition for creativity. Boredom sparks creativity because a bored mind makes unexpected connections. Truly amazing ideas and creative solutions often come from hours of daydreaming. As Fast Company writes:
If you allow yourself to daydream, then you’re allowing yourself a chance to make positive connections.
But the problem lies with our phones, according to Wired:
The problem, the psychologists worry, is that these days we don’t wrestle with these slow moments. We eliminate them. “We try to extinguish every moment of boredom in our lives with mobile devices,” Mann says. This might relieve us temporarily, but it shuts down the deeper thinking that can come from staring down the doldrums. Noodling on your phone is “like eating junk food,” she says.
We all know that truly creative ideas come from two seemingly disparate ideas coming together – what James Altucher calls “idea sex”. Unfortunately, we also need to give our brains time and space to even make those connections in the first place – just like how many people have great ideas in the shower.
So what does that mean? It means that we gotta put our phones away.
The In-Between Moments Challenge
So! I am planning to do a self-experiment this week. And you are welcome to join me.
I don’t want to jump into a hardcore “technology fast” where we burn our phones and travel around on a horse and buggy. I totally get that in some instances – like when we’re on a long commute, for example – it’s sometimes good to read an article, listen to a podcast, or reply to texts.
No – what I want to attack this week are those “in-between” moments: Those periods when you’re waiting in between events: When you’re waiting in line for food, in the elevator, waiting for your boyfriend to come out of the toilet, waiting for the MRT, waiting for your SQL query to finish running, etc.
Our usual instinct is to pull out our phones and “just do a quick check” of Facebook or Instagram or email.
But this week, I want to challenge myself (and you, if you’re up for it) to NOT do anything during those in-between moments. No phones, no texting, no books, etc. Just sitting and being.
It’s my hope that by introducing boredom during these in-between moments, we’ll free up our brains to become more creative, more reflective, and more self-aware. And also maybe give the poor brain a break after an entire day of over-stimulation.
The Rules Of The Challenge
Here are the parameters:
The challenge will last for one week, from Wednesday 8 Nov (tomorrow) to Tuesday 14 Nov.
The definition for an In-Between Moment is anything less than 5 minutes. If you’re waiting for anything less than 5 minutes, you’re not allowed to use your phone – not even WhatsApp. But anything longer than 5 minutes: Commuting to work, in the doctor’s waiting room, waiting for your kid to finish school in 20 minutes, etc, is totally fine to entertain yourself with your phone.
It’s ok to use your phone for an urgent, utilitarian purpose, e.g. checking Google Maps or calling someone. But once you’re done, put the phone away and don’t switch to checking Facebook.
Optional: Bring a small notebook or piece of paper to write down any ideas, insights or feelings that come to mind.
What to expect:
It will feel insanely uncomfortable at first. When your WhatsApp buzzes, your automatic response will be to check it immediately. RESIST THE TEMPTATION! Trust me – no one is going to get upset because you didn’t reply them for 5 minutes.
You will fail at some point, but that’s ok. When I was giving this a try yesterday, I stepped into the elevator at work, pulled out my phone, and checked email without even realising it. When this happens to you, don’t worry. Just put away your phone and try again – it might take couple of days before you can resist that automatic reflex.
Let Me Know If You’d Like To Join Me
If you’d like to join me, send me an email saying “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!” (Neil Patrick Harris meme optional)
There are no prizes and no gimmicky lucky draws. But whenever you’re doing something hard, it’s just nice to know that you’re not doing it alone, right?
I’m also really curious about how this will impact you, so please feel free to email me anytime this week to let me know how resisting technology during those “in-between” moments has impacted your creativity, relationships, and self-awareness.
Let’s get bored, people!