When we find the time to “be bored”, what we really allow ourselves is a moment to daydream. We consume more information and social media than ever, and we constantly find ways to distract ourselves from… well, ourselves. Whether it is scrolling through our newsfeed or fiddling with our phones, this form of engagement with technology ends up disengaging us from our own minds.
Turns out, the small dopamine rush you get from collecting social media likes and comments may carry longer-term consequences. A study published by The University of Chicago entitled, “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity” discusses the psychological effects of our attachment to our phones, also potentially leading to the inability to focus and shorter attention spans. Unplugging from your phone every now and then is not only a great way to ideate, but also can be a good mental break for your health.
Along with this brain drain, we also experience slumps every so often in our lives. Maybe you are unable to find the words to write, the motivation to work, the idea to nurture. Whatever it may be, be kind to yourself and take a break from whatever has been eating at your brain. The reason why whiteboards have been known to show up in showers (this is a real product sold by Amazon) and tech companies are wall-to-wall decked out in chalkboard or whiteboards is because you never know when that idea or solution might strike. How can we better set ourselves up to be open to these moments?
Challenge yourself to be bored and brilliant
What if your smartphone is the wall between you and that next epiphany? Manoush Zomorodi, host of the WNYC podcast Note to Self, writes and talks about “[transforming] digital anxiety into self-knowledge, autonomy, and action.“ Thus, Zomorodi presents the Bored and Brilliant Challenge to all those strong-willed and curious about what this might look like. In this five-day challenge, a new test is introduced each day that may reveal our obsessions with our phones.
On the first day, keep your phone in your pocket or bag. Have you ever noticed how many people walk with their phones in their hands everywhere – even to the restroom? Today, you’ll be different. If you are in a commuter city like New York, try this challenge during your morning or evening commute. Yes, the challenge is still on even during delays. See how long you can go without laying a finger on your device.
The second day is a photo-free day. According to this article by Business Insider, we are collectively uploading over 1.8 billion images to Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Snapchat, and WhatsApp daily. And those are the photos that make the cut, imagine all the photos that were shot but deleted or not uploaded. So, for this day, try to be fully present in front of your food and eat, don’t shoot. If you do not usually take photos, then try this challenge but with no messaging or texting instead.
Day three is one of my personal favorites. Delete that app day. You know the one. For me, that app was Instagram. I am proud to say I am three, almost four months Instagram-free. I found that in the morning, during commutes, and before bed, I would spend a total of 2 to 3 hours on this one app alone. For you, it might be an addictive game or also a social media app, and you might be surprised with what you do with your time instead.
The fourth day is to take a “fauxcation”. Set up an email auto-reply message if you’d like, make a status about your limited access to the Internet, or just straight up disappear for one day. That might sound crazy given the American work ethic and expectation to always be on-call, but consider it a break. I know I have responded to non-pressing work emails outside of work hours, sometimes on the weekends too. If that sounds like you, then give this challenge a try.
Finally, the fifth and last day. It is called “One Small Observation” and is a bit more open-ended. Zomorodi states: “We want you to take note of one person, object, or an interesting, uninventable detail you would have missed if your nose were glued to your phone.” For example, I pass through the 7 train Main Street, Flushing station most mornings, but it wasn’t until just a month ago I noticed that there was this huge, beautiful, and captivating tile-mural near the roof of the Roosevelt Avenue entrance. I hope you also make neat little observations on this day, too.
And just like that, the challenge is completed! After reading it over, it may sound intimidating. But remember, you don’t necessarily have to “pass” each one. I know it can feel unnatural or vulnerable to not be so connected to a phone most of the time. The first step is being aware and mindful of such habits that may stifle creativity or feel like a cyclical wave of unproductivity.
Boredom’s got a new best friend, and it’s you. Next time you think of your greatest startup idea or cooking recipe or anything in between, you can thank your daydreams!