March 6, 2020

Why Switching Off Helps Switch On Creativity

Hardeep Gill
Writer and Contributor

Like your computer, (I won’t generalize that everyone has a Mac), we’re always switched on. Between information, instant gratification, and the introduction of new technology almost every day, our brains are always logged on and tuned in. Even when we’re consciously taking moments of downtime, we’re still constantly accessible through our devices—our latest addiction. Even the latest meditation app is just that, an app accessible only via smartphone. With all this “stuff”, it’s no wonder that we’re hitting creative roadblocks more often than we’d like. 

In the words of Scientist and Musician, David Levitin: “The average American takes in fives times as much information today, everyday as we did in 1989. That’s the equivalent of reading 179 newspapers from cover to cover.” While we’re physically capable of absorbing this much information, it’s questionable as to whether what we choose to do with it is leading to any type of productivity, if at all. Even while writing this, I take a quick stock check of my surroundings:  Spotify is playing in the background, there’s maybe 20 tabs open on my browser, my phone is right next to me, and I can’t seem to avoid a nervous twitch that’s continuously encouraging check my email, even though there’s no real urgency. With all the noise, the wonderful F-word aka “focus”, is a carrot that I subconsciously dangle in front of myself. 

In the age of overstimulation, adaptive human intelligence has somehow managed to function and make things work. Those who can multitask and do “more” are praised for being gifted with a superpower when really, this kind overload is what can lead to poor decision-making. According to Levitin, constant task-switching leads to the depletion of glucose levels in the brain, significantly reducing energy and the ability to focus properly on one thing. Ever find yourself spending a whole day working, but upon evaluation of your productivity for the day you somehow come up short? Doing all things at once is remarkable, but doing them well is the real miracle, we’ve all heard the phrase. While every aspect of our lives is demanding more from us, we’d be doing ourselves (and our productivity) a favor to step back and reassess. 

So what’s the golden solution then? Burn our laptops and phones? Tempting but not quite in line with reality. While the rise of mindfulness promotes digital detoxing, and taking regular social media breaks—all triumphs for self-care, creativity requires more than that. We tend to forget that it’s a muscle that needs to be flexed and challenged, in other words, sometimes unplugged and left to rest. Logging out of Instagram for a week is freeing, until you log back in and resume old habits exactly as you left off. A real detox is one that allows the mind to unplug from all the things that stimulate it on an everyday basis, and just wander. 

“When we lose focus on the outside world and drift inward, we’re not shutting down. We’re tapping into a vast trove of memories, imagining future possibilities, dissecting our interactions with other people, and reflecting on who we are.”—Manoush Zomorodi. According to Zomorodi, the concept of spacing out is actually a means to creativity. When we’re constantly switched on, any bout of boredom is immediately deemed as lazy, unproductive, and a waste of time; when it can actually be the gateway to letting your mind wander and come up with creative ideas. “It turns out that in the default mode, we’re still tapping about 95 percent of the energy we use when our brains are engaged in hard-core, focused thinking.” That means our mind is left to create new connections and develop new ideas from solving complex problems to figuring out your weekend plans, without us even knowing. 

The answer then, is in fact very simple: a shift of perspective. Unplugging doesn’t require an expensive meditation subscription, CBD-infused drinks, or even two hours of yoga a day (although we’re not against any of those), it simply requires the understanding that doing nothing is not exactly unproductive. For everything else, there’s accepting your own limitations. There will always be 24 hours in a day and an ongoing to-do list. 

As with everything let your good friend balance be your guide. Doing too much? Switch off. Let your mind wander, open the gateway. Put your energy into everything but your work, even for a minute or two. Whether it’s going for a long walk, art therapy, writing down streams of consciousness, or exercising, you’ll be surprised to see what kind of creative endeavors your brain comes up with when you’re not asking anything from it at all. It’s kind of like hitting “Restart” on your smartphone and a few minutes later, somehow, the machine is working smoother than it was before. 

Hardeep Gill is a London-bred, NYC-based copywriter, poet, and 'budding' entrepreneur (check out her flower delivery business Blossr.) She has worked with brands like Glossier, Netflix and Tiffany & Co, bringing their products to life with her signature wit and cheek. Hardeep is a regular contributor to Percent Gray, as she knows the best way to balance her creativity and business all comes down to focusing on her zone of genius.

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