Everyday I pause before walking down the five floors of my apartment building to put in my headphones and start a podcast, lest I walk for 40 seconds without stimulation.
It’s not just for fun. It’s part of this never-ending digital to-do list of content I feel I need to consume to optimize my life: news, self-help podcasts, Medium inspiration, short reads, long reads, twitter feeds, Netflix shows, Amazon shows…
Somehow I have reached a conclusion that being up to date is a step toward accomplishing my goals. But with never-ending feeds and retargeted content, up to date translates to never.
Which means I never make time to think.
When I am constantly stimulated, my attention is directed outward. I do not take the time to recombine ideas, to analyze my experiences, to reflect. Creativity is defined as the recombining of disparate ideas. I do need to consume different ideas to recombine them, but I also need to take the time to recombine them by thinking.
The one time I sat on the NYC subway and saw large groups of people not consumed by their cellphones was November 9,2016 – the day after this year’s election. I imagine lots of thinking was going on. That thinking has produced awe-inspiring demonstrations, it has galvanized thought pieces by people who do not usually write, and inspired teams to come together to figure out how make the best of the next four years.
Political views aside, this thinking is productive. And it happens when you give yourself time to think.
But, at the risk of sounding like a ten year old in math class, thinking is hard. When I leave my headphones at home, my brain clamors for the equivalent of a content cookie: short lived, relaxing bite of news to keep me occupied.
Instead, I should give my brain a workout. Think deeper about a problem I am looking to solve, or my personal goals, or question my assumptions of the world. Sometimes I avoid these thoughts because they are scary. But taking the time to think produces solutions. Boredom isn’t the key to creativity. But the thinking it generates is.