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Boredom and Defaults

When’s the last time you did nothing?

Nothing more than take a walk, go for a drive, or have a relaxing bath?

It seems that, the deeper we dive into our technology-filled world, the easier it is to avoid doing nothing. There’s a new Instagram notification—@sallyjill posted to her story for the first time!—or a new email—Hi again, the website is not the right shade of blue that we had discussed. Please advise—or a new text message—hey dude! Wanna catch up soon?—or a new… … … 

When our environment controls our attention, we lose. We lose potential creativity, productivity, progress. When we don’t control our attention, we fall victim to the countless things that will gladly control it for us.

But when we do control our attention, we begin to notice things. Intuit things. Random, seemingly disconnected thoughts blossom into ideas, visions, and tasks needed to bring those things to life.

Why do our best ideas come in the shower? Or while driving? Or while pushing a sleeping baby in a stroller?

It’s because we’ve tapped into what scientists call the “default state,” a mental experience during which the creative subconscious is released from its depths and allowed to fly free. In this state, we develop some of our best ideas, a process Scott Belsky calls “slow cooking your intuition.” (The Messy Middle, “Accept the burden of processing uncertainty.”)

Ideas are built off previous ideas. They don’t spontaneously appear. But you have to give your subconscious-processor time to spin its gears if you want to generate new ideas.

If you want to be a creator instead of a mere consumer you must see ideas currently in the world as fuel for your mind. You must stop seeing them as objects or functional things: they are combinations of ingredients waiting for reuse. – Scott Berkun, All ideas are made of other ideas

So, if you ever get the feeling like you can’t seem to come up with any good ideas, give this a try:

During a time when you’ve got mental energy, and would normally want to be productive, instead spend at least 30 minutes completely offline — no projects, no Netflix, no email, no reading a book, ideally doing nothing whatsoever that requires thought. Go for a walk, a drive, a bike ride; take a bath, lay on the bed or couch. (Don’t allow yourself to fall asleep. If you’re dead tired, try this again when you have mental energy.) Just look around, passively notice your surroundings. Or close your eyes and listen. Music is okay, but pick an instrumental playlist—no lyrics. No podcasts or radio shows.

For 30 minutes, do absolutely nothing. Set a timer on your phone, but leave it in another room on “do not disturb” and forget it exists.

What happened? Did you think of new things you want to write, research, create? If so, congrats! You managed to disconnect from the active-processing brain, and engage your subconscious-processing brain instead.

If not, you may have had too much screen time or stress recently. Or, maybe you didn’t fully commit to the experience. Either way, it’s not a lost cause—just try again at a different time of day.

I find that I’m most tapped into this state of mind as the sun starts to go down. In the evenings I go for a roller blade ride to a nearby park or golf course, listening to whatever podcast or playlist strikes my fancy at that moment.

And the ideas that flourish are spectacular.

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