How Being Idle Boosts Creativity
February 23, 2021
Note From Rochelle
I have news! A few weeks ago, I revealed the cover of my new book Mightier Than The Sword on a friend’s site, Unpacking the Power of Picture Books. Check out my interview with her to learn a bit more about this resource for young people. The book comes out in July—and I’ll be sharing more as the time gets closer.
Today’s tip is modified from a chapter in my book, Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination and Increase Productivity. It will help you boost your creativity by doing absolutely nothing!
How Being Idle Boosts Creativity
When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening.
– Madeleine L’Engle
Last week, I wrote about how novelty can help us survive the pandemic. I reflected on how, in the midst of winter, I usually count on outings to keep me sane.
But this year is different.
My temptation—as you might have noticed from last week’s list—is to fill my time with tasks. If I’m not writing, I want to be doing something: organizing the kitchen (you should see my spice shelf!), cleaning out the basement (not doing well on that), or washing clothes. When I take a break, that temptation to “do” pushes me online—where I try to catch up with people and connect. But, as you may have experienced, online connecting often leaves me feeling even emptier.
In the midst of life’s challenges, idle time can be scary. It leaves us with way too much time to ponder. We worry. We regret. We feel the losses.
But idle time also gives us the opportunity to imagine new possibilities. Daydreaming helps us to think up new projects. In the moments when we aren’t producing, our subconscious solves problems.
At a writing conference, I heard Sara Paretsky talk about how her best books emerged from fallow periods, when she had the time to listen for the voices of her characters.
Research backs up this anecdotal evidence. In a 2009 study led by Professor Kalina Christoff, University of British Columbia Dept. of Psychology, researchers discovered that when our minds wander, two parts of our brain get activated: our default network (the part associated with routine mental activity) and our executive network (the part linked to complex problem-solving). Christoff and her team concluded that when we get stumped by our work, it might be helpful to focus on simple, routine tasks and let our minds wander.
If you’re filling your waking hours with tasks, I encourage you to try idle time. This quest will help you get up and do…nothing!
Set aside at least an hour for this quest. Several hours could be better. Turn off your devices (scary but you can do it!).
Spend time doing absolutely nothing. Maybe take a nap. If you need to do something, try engaging in a mindless task. Here are some ideas.
- Listen to music
- Ride in a car, train, or bus
- Chop vegetables
- Crochet or knit
Afterwards, reflect on how the quest went—were you able to daydream? (If so, record your daydreams!) Did you have enough time? Was the task you chose sufficiently mindless to allow you time to dream? What would you tweak for your next daydreaming session?
Game Play Tips
- Daydreaming takes practice! Repeat this quest as often as needed to connect with your inner visions. We get better at being idle the more we do it. Not only that, the practice can deliver deeper benefits once we’ve done it a few times.
- Watch out for your villains and inner critics—they tend to attack when our minds are idle. If this is a problem for you, it can be helpful to listen to uplifting music during the first few times you do this quest.
For the Win
Many people like to say, you can’t get something for nothing! In this case, they’re plain wrong. Idle time benefits us in so many ways. Think of it as a car trip for your brain (in fact, car trips can be one of the best places for daydreaming)! Whenever you feel overwhelmed by work or life, do nothing.
And there’s more!
If you need more tools for making it through winter, three years ago my colleague Ann Angel shared a tip on practicing self care, “Self-Care Tips for Writers and Artists.”