People sometimes ask me how I get my ideas for essays, blogs, books and the like. I was never really able to answer this question in a coherent or meaningful way.
“I don’t know. They just kind of come to me” I’d say hoping that I wasn’t jinxing myself and preventing a good idea (or really any idea at all) from ever entering my brain again. But then, I started to take notice of when and where I got my ideas. I actually had a real answer.
I get some of my best ideas in the shower (I take really long showers) and also in the car by myself, in yoga class and on walks by myself (I also take really long walks.) In so many instances, I jump out of the shower, throw on a towel and jot down notes re my new ideas in the notebook that I keep on my bedside table. I also run home from walks (and I really dislike running) to record a new idea in the notebook I keep on my desk in hopes that I can make it work into some kind of something.
I wondered why these ideas came to me in my moments of solitude. Until I read the amazing and brilliant book (no pun intended) Bored and Brilliant (How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self) Full disclosure — I went to high school with the book’s equally amazing and brilliant author and faithfully listen to her new podcast launched by Stable Genius Productions.
The book lays out compelling research and fascinating and relatable real life stories which explain how you need to get bored to get creative. You can’t spend every waking hour of every waking day being busy. If you do, you really won’t unlock your creative self or more aptly, you really won’t get anything meaningful accomplished. I guess I knew that deep down, but I needed a reminder — a big one.
Right before I read the book, I had about a six month period of being so not creative at all. I cranked out several essays and a few press releases but they felt so formulaic, so not interesting or original. I had an idea for a new book somewhere way back in my brain, but I could never seem to work through it in my head and certainly could not get anything down on paper. So I decided to get a little bored (and I hate being bored – or at least I thought I did.)
I took some advice from the Bored and Brilliant book. I deleted several apps on my phone. I turned off notifications on every app remaining on my phone. I unsubscribed to a lot of those email lists that I didn’t even know I had subscribed to. I closed my email on my computer for specific allotted times every day. I chunked out hours of my day by putting my phone in a different room and then turning it on do not disturb so I could think, really think and write, really write. It worked.
At first, I felt like an addict in detox wanting so badly to check email, to respond to the bing of the text that I could hear from the other room. The faraway text binging was what made me finally put the phone on do not disturb as I told myself that if someone really needed to reach me, they would reach me and also that I am not that important. Slowly, in due time, I began to look forward to my detox time.
Making myself get bored allowed me to work through the ideas in my head in a way that I felt good about. I managed to write a very rough draft of my new book in just six months after doing some of these very basic make yourself get bored things. (I’m pretty sure taking Facebook off my phone alone allowed me to think through and get down on paper chapters one through seven of the new book.)
I don’t mean to sound preachy at all because I am as addicted to technology as anyone, but I also really do believe that we can all benefit from a little digital detox in whatever form that may be. Maybe it’s as simple as leaving your phone in your bag rather than carrying it in your back pocket or going for a five minute walk down the hall without your phone or turning off your email for just a half hour so that you can focus on the project you have been meaning to tackle.
When I was a kid, I used to create games that involved no technology at all. Granted the technology (unless you count Frogger and Kaboom on my Atari) wasn’t exactly there yet, but still. I played restaurant where I created menus on my mom’s old notepads, made aprons out of her scarves and meals from whatever ingredients were in my childhood kitchen, which for those of you who have ever been to my childhood kitchen know, it wasn’t much. I also played school as I lined up my stuffed animals in rows on my bedroom floor facing my bedroom desk where I would sit and draw out math operations on a big piece of paper which I held up showcasing it as a blackboard to my classroom of teddy bears and dolls. If the iPhone had been invented in 1982, no way could I have invented those games.
I am not trying to go all anti-technology or anti-social media as chances are you are reading this piece right now because of the powers of social media and email marketing (and please keep following me and subscribing to my email updates.) I also know our children are growing up in a much different world with technology today. That is a whole other essay. Maybe even a book?
I just know that we all have so much potential to generate so many more ideas, to be so much more creative, so much more brilliant. We just need to get a little bored first.