How can mind-wandering and down-time help us be creative?
Psychologist Dennis Palumbo notes, “Some people call it puttering, or screwing around, or just plain goofing off. Others, of a more kindly bent, call it day-dreaming.
“Kurt Vonnegut used the quaint old term ‘skylarking.’
“What I’m referring to, of course, is that well-known, rarely discussed but absolutely essential component of a successful creative person’s life — the down-time, when you’re seemingly not doing anything of consequence.”
From my article More Goofing Off and Daydreaming: More Creative Thinking.
[The photo at top is from this article.]
Positive constructive daydreaming to stimulate creativity
Srini Pillay, MD, a Harvard Professor and neuroscientist writes about this:
“Our minds wander away from focus for 46.9% of our waking hours. We are anything but happy about this.
“And we should not be. According to Jerome Singer, who has studied mind-wandering for decades, slipping into a daydream, or guiltily rehashing the prior day’s indiscretions will not stimulate your creativity.
“But there is one kind of daydreaming that will help—positive constructive daydreaming (PCD).”
How to do constructive daydreaming
Pillay continues, “PCD doesn’t have to be planned, but if you do plan it, you will be less likely to feel like you are slipping off a cliff of focus.
“To make it work well, you should start PCD when you are engaged in a low-key activity. You should not be doing something ‘too engaging’ or ‘not engaging at all.’
“Gardening, knitting or casually surfing the net might all make the cut, as long as they are not stressful. Simultaneously, withdraw your attention from the outside world, and start to let your attention wander within.
“To get started, use playful or wishful imagery—maybe running through the woods with your dog, or swimming on vacation. Then, once you get the story started with this image, let your mind wander.”
He refers to an “unfocus circuit” called the default mode network (DMN).
He notes “we used to think of this unfocus circuit as a Do Mostly Nothing circuit. Yet, calling on more parts of yourself gives you the core psychological strength you need to navigate the chaotic journey into creativity.”
From his article A New (and Deeper) Perspective on Creativity, Psychology Today, May 06, 2017.
Harness your distraction – Learn why unfocus can serve you
Srini Pillay M.D. is author of Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind.
Part of a summary on his site says the book has “techniques for training the brain to unfocus, concepts for scheduling busy lives, and ideas for controlling this new cognitive-toggling capability… it will change how you think about daydreaming, relaxing, leaving work unfinished, and even multitasking.”
Hosted by John Assaraf, CEO of NeuroGym, the free event includes presentations by multiple coaches and brain experts.
The resting brain and the default mode help creative thinking
In her article: “Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think”, Rebecca Beris notes:
“When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into ‘a conscious workspace,’ said Moran and colleagues.
“When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things.
“During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.
“The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.
“As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”
From my article Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression.
Accepting our drifting mind as a normal
Cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman refers to research by neuroscientist Kalina Christoff who thinks we may learn to “accept our drifting mind as a normal, even necessary, part of our mental existence.”
Kaufman also refers to the specific brain network referred to as “task negative,” “resting,” or “default,” which “is heavily involved in the inner stream of consciousness.”
Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute; a researcher in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of books including: Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined.
From my article Idleness and Being Creative – Part 2.
Distracting ourselves with social media and more
In their book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire caution:
“Constantly grazing on texts, emails, news, and social media compromises our ability to focus on both the external present moment and our internal streams of thought, making it difficult to tap into the default mode’s imaginative activity…”
Embracing idleness to function better
“Idleness isn’t a luxury,” says Lawton Ursery, writing for Forbes, “but rather a necessity in order to be at your peak.
“It’s backed by neuroscience. Idleness truly makes your brain function better.”
From article Why Do Creatives Love Nature So Much? Science, Psychology, and Nostalgia by Hanna Brooks Olsen.
Lawton Ursery writes in his Forbes article [“Your Brain Unplugged: Proof That Spacing Out Makes You More Effective” – see link in above article]:
“I talked to Andrew Smart, author of Autopilot: The Art & Science of Doing Nothing, to get a better understanding of the science behind idleness and how it is that our brain is more active when it’s not focused on something specific.
“Andrew Smart wants you to take a break—sit and do nothing. We’re taught that taking on more is better—it makes us more valuable. The reality is that doing too many things makes us less efficient.”
Some major creators were “slackers” on purpose
In his article Darwin Was a Slacker and You Should Be Too, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang points out:
“Figures as different as Charles Dickens, Henri Poincaré, and Ingmar Bergman, working in disparate fields in different times, all shared a passion for their work, a terrific ambition to succeed, and an almost superhuman capacity to focus.
“Yet when you look closely at their daily lives, they only spent a few hours a day doing what we would recognize as their most important work.
“The rest of the time, they were hiking mountains, taking naps, going on walks with friends, or just sitting and thinking.
“Their creativity and productivity, in other words, were not the result of endless hours of toil. Their towering creative achievements result from modest ‘working’ hours.”
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is the founder of the Restful Company and a visiting scholar at Stanford.
The above is excerpted from his book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.