Anxiety, panic, fear, pandemic stress: The cornerstones of the negative universe. Yet, while all hell is breaking around us, can we still muster up the courage to innovate and create. Is creativity still alive or is it merely napping? Do we create out of despair or want? Out of necessity or desire? I guess that depends on each one of us.
In a recent article in Psychology Today, boredom is cited as an almost certain stimuli for creativity. Now, some of you may not agree with this, and that’s okay. If you don’t and even if you do, let me hear from you with your reasoning.
According to the article, which contains some very interesting points I want to share with you, you’ll see explosive creativity everywhere you look: in how people stuck at home are constructing elaborate recreations of their favorite artworks for the #GettyChallenge; or how we make ways to connect—whether it’s singing from our balconies or happy hour delivery via drones—while social distancing; even in the acerbic memes and uplifting stories flooding social media to offer inane distractions and inspire hope during this crisis.
Interestingly, quarantine and the resulting ennui (a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of excitement) of our home-bound brains have proven to be a catalyst for innovation. Thus, boredom breeds inventive creativity, as long as it’s the right kind of boredom.
Psychological studies describe five levels of boredom: indifferent, calibrating, searching, reactant, and apathetic. In its seeking state, boredom drives us to find something to engage and delight us. Think of the imaginary friend you had as a child; you did have an imaginary friend, didn’t you? Or the games you’d play with that certain stuffed animal, whose goal in life seemed to be avoiding Mom’s washing machine. Both scenarios seemed to trigger one’s own imagination, and, thus, your creativity. (Note: At least it did mine.)
In today’s society, real boredom escapes us; it seems everywhere you look, all eyes are staring into multiple-shaped devices hosting 24/7 news and entertainment. It’s as if we have to go out of our way to truly be bored.
While technology provides us creative outlets and a means of connecting when we are physically isolated from one another, these distractions are like the digital equivalent of junk food for our brains while good old fashioned boredom is a hunger that nurtures creative thinking.
What’s unique about this quarantine is that it constrains us in so many ways. Our typical means of working, socializing, and even provisioning ourselves have been dramatically restricted. And while people tend to think that constraints limit creativity and innovation, research proves quite the opposite to be true.
People become complacent when no restrictions are placed upon them. Constraints, however, provide specific focus and a creative challenge that motivates people to seek out diverse perspectives and connect ideas in dynamic ways to produce novel solutions. Have you noticed this to be true, with yourself or others?
As with most conundrums, we need balance. Too many constraints and our focus becomes too narrow. It becomes more difficult to stumble across those “eureka” or “aha” moments of creative insight that occur, not when we’re laser-focused on a problem, but when we let our minds wander. It’s during these times when a dash or two of “constructive boredom” actually aids in creative development.
The Aha Moment as Motivator
Believe it or not, we’re all creative, just not in the same way since we’re all different and have various talents. John Kounios, professor and director of Drexel University’s Creativity Research Lab, sought to study this evolutionary trait by looking at what’s happening in the brain when we experience “aha moments,” when we are struck with sudden non-obvious perspectives, ideas, or solutions that can lead to inventions and creative breakthroughs.
Paraphrasing Kounios, creativity, for some, feels good. When we’re deprived of our usual diversions, many of us default to the enriching gratification of letting our creative brains run loose. Some, including me, would call this a form of daydreaming or at least being in a state of mind that freely allows us to daydream.
Are We Actually Creating a Better Future in Quarantine?
This quarantine has forced our modern, fast-paced brains to slow down and re-imagine what is real and what is possible (for the most part). While this pandemic has revealed stark inequalities in global societies, it has also revealed the profound curiosity and inventiveness of the human spirit. Creativity is (not?) a privilege. It’s part of our core survival and adaptability. It’s an innate part of us but it’s up to us to develop it.
If boredom is the fertile ground for such creative insights, and feel-good creativity spurs still more creative adaptation, then imagine what would happen if instead of tuning out our boredom with social media or mindless games, we tuned in? As Mr. Davis’ Psychology Today article posits, what if, rather than cage ourselves in with digital distractions, we let our idle minds roam free?
I dare say that if we did these things, our idle minds would give way to newly untapped fertile grounds to explore. We would be better off for it. Having stated that, however, I think we must have a mindset that allows for all this to happen. If we’re naturally narrow minded, this is going to be painful. We have to want to allow ourselves to free up our minds so that they may easily slip into this “idle state.”
As evolutionary anthropologist Augustin Fuentes said in his recent article in The New Yorker: “One of the amazing things about the human species is that, over time, we have become very creative. We’ve adapted to survive. That’s what people will rely on now—coming up with incredibly imaginative ways to find connections even when they’re not in the same physical space together.”
This pandemic has turned us on our heads and stepped up the pace to discover not only a cure but to establish better, quicker ways to invent some lifesaving medicines and tools to, if not prevent this type of scenario in the future, at least mitigate the damage. We don’t know that we need to invent something until we realize we need it.
So what are you creating while in quarantine?
Thanks to Jeffrey Davis M.A. and his article in Psychology Today on which this blog post is based.