Desperately seeking inspiration? Technology might be sapping your mental focus.
You spend your days hooked to your computer, watching a screen as the hours tick by. When you get home, the weight of the workday might still be on your shoulders, but you take a deep breath and let all your worries go. The night is young. Now is your time, and for a moment you can do exactly what you want. Before you start that inspirational project or prepare to see your friends, though, you tell yourself you’ll take a brief look at your phone, just to catch up on the social news that passed you by during the day. You scroll and scroll, and before you realize it, the vibrant evening has aged into dark night. Now it’s too late to take the time you needed for yourself.
Just one more scroll for good luck…
We are connected. More than any other generation in history, we are in the know. Our newsfeeds reliably tell us what’s going on around us and where our nearest connections are. Our digital reach stretches around the world.
The technological revolution might have opened doors, but has it closed us off from our creative potential?
Our always-on culture comes at a price, and it’s unclear whether social media is here for the common good or not. Sure, we can connect to whoever we want, whenever we want, but we are also plagued by anxiety, stress and exhaustion. The simple life seems to be a distant memory. With the influx of technology, do we have time to catch our breath and achieve real mental focus?
According to Chris Lewis, author of Too Fast to Think: How to Reclaim Your Creativity in a Hyper-connected Work Culture, creativity needs time to process in the brain. Rather than dealing with an idea on the spot, our subconscious needs time to work through a challenge before it can come up with a good solution. To solve a problem, ideally we might read up on a topic for two days, do something to take our minds off the issue for the next two days, and be hit with inspiration the following day. When we’re constantly bombarding our brains with digital information, however, we cut out reflection time and halt the creative process. Our minds are so distracted that eventually they’re unable to give us the aha! moments we could count on before.
The more overloaded our brains become, the more they filter out information, holding on to only the essentials. Are you used to mindlessly scanning news articles, flipping through pictures or discarding new apps? Your brain’s doing that work for you without you even noticing.
The trouble with this kind of brain processing is that it leaves very little room for reflection or inspiration. When your conscious mind is going 100 mph, your subconscious doesn’t even get a look in. You lose the ability to creatively respond to ideas or problems.
In our overachieving society, guilt or anxiety can bombard us when we rest our minds and do nothing. We shouldn’t resist boredom, though. Moments of downtime can be as good for the mind as a full-on detox. It’s in these dull moments that we might be hit by our greatest epiphanies.
Of course, going cold turkey is well and good, but when you’re living in a digital world, it can be really hard to kick the habit. But creating the perfect conditions for genuine, innovative thinking is all about cutting back.
The simpler and quieter your working space can be, the more easily your brain will slip back into its subconscious thinking, offering up idea after idea. Working in a creative agency? If you really want to conjure up your best ideas yet, wave bye-bye to those beanbags and props.
Instead of sitting quietly behind your screen and expecting inspiration to hit, try getting out. Fresh air and distraction are incredibly enriching. In the meantime, no matter what you’re doing, your brain will be working on the problem.
It’s all about balance. If your attitude toward your work is too somber, you’re unlikely to create anything worth talking about. If you pile on the bright distractions, your brain might be too overwhelmed to produce anything worthwhile.
When it comes to genuine inspiration, there’s no cookie-cutter approach. Work according to your personal preferences, take time off, and turn off your phone from time to time. However you like to work, and whatever you like to do, it might be time to shake up the model a little bit. Being bound by a desk and computer is becoming an increasingly outdated way to work. Now millions of people around the world are working wherever the wind takes them. What’s waiting for you beyond your screen?