Wellness Series:
Boredom, Creativity & The Great Outdoors

For the general population, the world of technology is a double-edged sword. In some ways, this may be an even larger truism for creatives. On one side, technology has further launched our craft: it’s connected us even more closely with the greater creative community, it’s provided a vast and impressive set of tools that enhance our abilities, and it’s provided an expansive space for us to set our creations free. Yet, on the other side, with so many platforms, tools and ways to connect, it’s also become quite a distraction. Some would even argue it’s become a detriment to creativity and organic social function as a whole.


A Cry For Help

With all its wonder and possibility, large camps of users have decried divorce from their social media accounts and perhaps more so than ever, there’s been a movement which routinely supports regular “digital detox.” Let’s pause on that for a moment. Detox— a word one reserved for a week of juice cleansing and hot yoga is now associated with the devices we depend on every day to perform our jobs, pay our bills, stay in tune with current events and generally move through our day-to-day. Our world has developed around technology in such a way that it’s almost impossible to avoid, but it seems there’s a growing concern that it’s not only making us sick, it’s crippling our ability to create and interact as we once did.

According to eMarkerter, 2019 marks the first time that US consumers will spend more time on their mobile devices than watching TV. Additionally, this year, the average US adult will spend an average of 3 hours a day on their phones, showcasing a 9-minute increase from 2018.

An average of three hours a day. That’s an impressive amount of time when you really think about it. That’s the entirety of the movie Titanic and the time allotment provided to complete the SAT — both relatively epic undertakings when it comes to sustained attention. But most people can relate to picking up their phone with the intention of simply responding to a text, only to look up and realize an hour or more has passed mindlessly scrolling through content we couldn’t recall if we tried.


The Connection Between Bored & Creation

Robert Maynard Pirsig, a writer and philosopher well known for his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance once said “boredom always precedes a period of great creativity.” Even without research, for many of us a quick trip down memory lane proves this to be true. Most people who experienced childhood before the internet can probably recall how the long stretch of a summer day or one of those seemingly endless Saturday afternoons often yielded the invention of games with strange, abstract rules; haphazard, yet sprawling pillow forts, and the general craze of boredom-fueled, kiddish calamity. But for the science-minded, there actually is research proving that tedium and time unplugged are a few of creativity’s best allies.

In a 2017 tech podcaster Manoush Zomorodi gave a Ted Talk titled, “How Boredom Can Lead to Your Most Brilliant Ideas.” Zomorodi reached out to neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists alike and found that boredom ignites a sort of default mode in the brain. It causes the body to go into autopilot, triggering a subconscious wandering that opens the mind to unique neural connections which typically happens while doing things like folding laundry, driving or walking: the kinds of activities you don’t really have to think about. But because we spend so much time texting and updating, we’re never alone with our thoughts and never allowed the opportunity for our mind to drift and enter this sweet spot — this autopilot mode that allows our creativity to freely move about the cabin.


Nature’s Effect on The Creative Brain

Repetitive physical action seems to be what triggers this default mode the most which is also why researchers have found such a huge connection between being active in the great outdoors and general mental wellness. In fact, after about ten years of research, neuroscientist David Strayer discovered that time spent in nature, without a cell phone, was one of the most powerful ways to take a time-out from the constant distraction of the digital world and to strengthen the mind.

In a 2012 study discussed in an article for Outside Online Strayer gave backpackers a range of cognitive tests both before and after spending an average of four days on the trail. Participants were given sets of words (such as blue, cake, cottage) and asked to figure out the unifying word (cheese). The study found that backpackers were 50 percent more creative after they had spent time on the trail and performed twice as well on the tests. “People were actually solving the problems more creatively after they had unplugged in nature,” Strayer said.

Another study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine followed participants who spent 25 minutes walking in three types of urban environments throughout Edinburgh, Scotland: a shopping street, a path through a park and a street in a busy commercial district. The EEG equipment provided recordings from five different channels which were labeled: short-term excitement (or frustration) engagement, long-term excitement (or arousal) and meditation. When the participants moved into the green zone there was evidence of lower levels of arousal, engagement and frustration and higher levels of meditation. When participants moved through the shopping street and commercial district, the levels of engagement, frustration and arousal spiked.


Alfa Charlie’s Mission

As creatives based in San Diego just blocks from the beach there’s no shortage of naturally beautiful vistas. But sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and realize we haven’t looked up from our screens in the last four hours. Yet, we both know and have experienced how beneficial time away from our desks and our screens is for both our physical and mental health.

We are huge believers in taking a break to walk in the sand and breathe in those famous Ocean Beach sunsets. And we are in immense support of heading to the mountains — or anywhere without cell service  — to refresh our minds. In fact, it’s part of our creative mission here at Alfa Charlie to organize group hikes and outdoor adventures for our creative community to take part in. We want to encourage reconnecting with nature and moving our bodies. We want to get reacquainted with boredom. And most of all, we want to make some space for that little elusive spark of genius.

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