Ok, so 2020 has forced all of us to get creative in one sense or another. From about mid-2020, I was holding on until I could go on leave in September. So September comes, and we go on vacation, and you know what? I felt so deflated.

I chalked it up to being tired. So I rested. I told myself that it would get better once I start getting back into my routine, so I took up exercise again. Then I thought that I just felt uninspired at work, even though I had incredibly cool clients lined up. All these improvements were fine, but nothing was making me feel much better.

So what was causing this feeling? Why was I so flat? What was this nibbling at my brain, scratching to be let out? I got my answer when I came across a TedTalk by journalist Manoush Zomorodi about boredom and creativity.

Your brain (and creativity) on tech

Let’s get real for a second. Technology is impressive, but there are tons of research about how technology influences our brains, and most of the research is not telling us that technology is great for our mental health. If you Google this, you’ll find articles like: “8 Ways Tech Has Completely Rewired Our Brains” and “Is our constant use of digital technologies affecting our brain health?”.

So, we use tech a lot, is that really so bad? If we manage to use technology as a tool while keeping it in check, then technology can be a positive influence in our lives. It makes so many things easy- which is excellent. But if we let the tech companies decide how we interact with technology, we’re heading for disaster.

Ok, let’s talk about the deflation I went through

Remember, I mentioned that I felt so flat even though there was nothing physically or mentally wrong with me? Why, then, was I feeling like a limp birthday balloon, long forgotten after the party guests left?

Apparently, all my cool smart tools and gadgets were draining my brain of its awesome sauce. I read up on the things that Manoush Zomorodi mentioned, especially about the default mode network (DMN) she touched on in her TedTalk. And I kind of diagnosed my own issue.

According to researchers, the default mode network is a bunch of different sections or regions in our brains that connect to form a functional system. Early neuroscience believed that our brains were at rest when we were not engaged in a particular mental activity (like paying attention to something or reading a book). The truth seems to be that our brains are never entirely at rest, and the DMN is not very active when we are engaging in a specific task.

Why does this even matter, you may ask. Firstly, the DMN comprises of a whole lot of our brain structures, including the prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex, the inferior parietal lobule as well as the hippocampal formation (among some others which are debated by the smart brain people).

These structures are involved in memory recall, regulation of emotional responses, and is also concerned with language, mathematical processes and processing of sensory information.

Secondly, the DMN uses a lot of our brain resources. Some researchers estimate about 90% of the glucose that our brain uses goes straight to the DMN. Think of it as a handy app on your phone that handles a bunch of different stuff, but also uses a lot of battery power.

Simply speaking, I was feeling so deflated because technology, work, life, stress and all those other things we occupy our time with was sapping all the battery life from the DMN in my brain, leaving my mind too drained to be creative.

So, what’s the link between boredom and creativity?

The challenge that Manoush Zomorodi set for her audience was called “Bored and Brilliant”. The aim? To switch off from all the interferences, leaving our brains “alone” for long enough to become bored and reignite creativity.

When we don’t actively engage the DMN of our brains with scrolling on social media and switching over from one task to another, we’re letting the DMN fire up, resulting in processing power that can be aimed towards creativity.

That’s cool, but how can I embrace boredom?

As with any addiction you’re trying to kick, it’s going to be hard to let go of the urge to keep your mind occupied all the time.

Some easy ways to introduce boredom include going for a walk or run with no music, allowing yourself to daydream without distractions, keeping your hands busy with something menial (like washing dishes or folding laundry). The idea isn’t to become catatonic- it is to allow your brain to fill in the blank spaces in your day with creative thoughts, not with social media.

I’ll be taking this challenge before the end of 2020, and I promise to update you on how my creativity is reacting to boredom. How do you nurture your creativity? When did you last allow yourself to be a little bored? I’d love to know about your experiences.