The Muse? Her Name is Boredom

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Synopsis

When seeking the Next Big Idea, research suggests you look for creative inspiration through some counter-intuitive routes.

I’m looking for the Next. Big. Idea. Something with legs that can stand on a tight focus and lead to a compelling piece that will make editors swoon and readers hit that now standard “like” button about a zillion times.

I got nothing.

So, I start my creative process. First, I’ll get up and get a cup of coffee. And then another. I’ll doodle spirals for awhile, across my day planner because I heard both writing by hand and writing spirals invoke the creative spirit. Now, fully on the verge of creative panic, I’ll stare intently at the blank computer screen hoping something magically appears and then I’ll check my bank account on-line, and Facebook a few friends before laying my head down on my desk.

After this, I still got nothing. For a writer or anyone else who is wired to invent and express and take something from inside of themselves and lay it outside themselves for the world; and for anyone who is dependent on that process to work right and often in order pay for cat kibble and the occasional Corona – the state of nothing is a scary place to be.

My friend, a therapist, calls this emptiness, which allegedly allows the next idea to take root, the fertile void. I call it sucky. It happens, sure. And, even though I know it’s coming, and will come again, it is so doggone frustrating. Such a barren and constricted place where I’m filled with self-doubt and I’ll-never-write-again thoughts. This is when sitting before an empty screen and silent keyboard is about as helpful as an alarm clock is to an insomniac.

Enough of this already. There is so much solid research out there about tapping into our creative well, that I’m going to put it into play, see what works. I am going to move to the edge of my creative intelligence, expand beyond my personal boundaries, access the edge of my potential.

I am going to read numbers out of the phone book.

Tackling the Mundane

Turns out this kind of boring and mundane task might be just what I need to work myself into a cocoon of creativity.

In a couple of small experiments by Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman, people who took on passive, more boring activities – like reading or copying numbers out of a phone book – were more creative problem solvers. It seems the boring tasks allow room for more daydreaming which may explain why many of my best ideas come while unloading the dishwasher or folding clothes.

All this has got me thinking: is there greater potential for those who are bored at work or living in isolated environments to create great novels or paintings or other works of art? Who knows? But as I ponder the fate of these bored and faceless, but, oh-so-creative strangers, I feel the nudge of my own story idea taking root.

Thinking of Others

That wouldn’t be all that surprising to Evan Polman and Kyle Emich. Their research indicates that we tend to come up with more creative ideas and better solutions when we are thinking of other people. The theory is, that when we are stewing over our own circumstances we tend to be more concrete and rigid in our though patterns. This is stifling to our creativity.

But, when we distance ourselves and focus on someone else’s problems – poor schmucks --  our perspective expands and we become more flexible and abstract in our thought patterns. Enter: innovation and interesting ideas.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and not only will you be more kind and compassionate – byproducts of empathy -- but you might just stumble on a compelling and creative idea. Or you might literally stumble over it, on a walk.

Go for a Walk

Walking appears to alter our physiology in a way the fires up our imaginations. Research out of Stanford University indicates that we come up with the most creative ideas while walking, but that creativity lingers even after. Those study participants who sat throughout the experiment, not so creative. Those who walked, whether on a treadmill or outside, pulsed with creative energy.

Exercise has long been linked to creativity and if I must choose between the boring task of sweeping the family room or going for a walk, well, I’m lacing up my sneakers right now.

When I get back, the dirty floor will still be waiting, but hopefully so will the Next. Big. Idea.

Tags: boredom, creative, creativity, empathy, exercise, psychology

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