What is the cost of constant stimulation?

When was the last time you felt truly bored? Do you reflexively reach for your smartphone or other device in waiting rooms? In line at the grocery store? On breaks at work?

If so, you are not alone. Many of us impulsively grab our devices at the first hint of boredom in our day.

But what is the cost of constant stimulation? Research suggests that over-stimulation stifles our creativity and our brain’s natural tendency to develop new connections. A lack of mental downtime may hinder our ability to do autographical planning or goal setting – tasks that can help us get out of a rut and make progress in our lives.

In a recent study by psychologist, Sandi Mann, participants were found to be most creative after being asked to complete the unthinkably boring task of copying numbers from a phone book.

This study is consistent with existing research that suggests we are most creative when we allow ourselves time to be bored or to space out. In other words, our best thinking occurs when we appear to be “doing nothing.” Our minds need downtime to daydream, to wander, and to be unoccupied.

For creative types, zoning out is typically anything but boring (hence the quotation marks around “bored” in the title). When we allow our thoughts to roam freely, our minds can be a pretty fascinating place to be. Yet, too often we withhold this act of self-care from our daily routine.

There is often a compulsive element involved in checking our digital devices, similar to addiction. So, how do we break free from the compulsion and change our digital habits?
Try the following:

  • Be conscious of the situations and emotions that make you want to check your device. Is it boredom? Loneliness? Anxiety? When we are aware of our triggers, we become more empowered; we have the option to replace the activity with another soothing activity.

  • Create boundaries around your usage. Just as we must learn when to say “no” to others, we must learn when to say “no” to our devices. An email or text message alert on your phone does not require your immediate attention. If checking your phone before bed causes you stress or anxiety, try committing to keeping your phone on silent after 9pm.

  • Be patient with yourself. When we start by accomplishing small goals, we set ourselves up for success. For instance, if you have been checking your device compulsively, try checking only every 15 minutes, then 30 minutes, then an hour. See how this feels and keep a journal of any positive changes you observe – this can serve as a helpful reminder to reinforce maintenance of your goal.

* Here’s what works for the author:
As a former email and social media “addict,” I started limiting my usage with a simple boundary that works for me. I allow myself to check my computer twice per evening. I stay online as long as I want, but once I’ve closed my computer for the second time, I am done for the night. If ideas pop into my head about topics I want to research or an email I need send, I write them down on a piece of paper to complete the next day. The result? I feel more in control of my evenings, and I find myself devoting more time to activities that I love: reading, playing with my dogs, and spacing out!

British Psychological Society (BPS). (2013, January 9). Being bored at work can make us more creative. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 9, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130108201517.htm

Author: Devon Young