Between our laptops, phones, tablets, and even wearable technology, our 21st- century world is not slowing down. The result? One you're probably familiar with. A perpetual state of "busy-ness," with no escape in sight.
In this constant bid to keep up, our creativity is suffering. We fail to make time for things we're passionate about or allow ourselves the space to come up with new ideas.
Nurturing creativity is a complex and intricate science, but it starts with one important principle: for a more creative brain, step away from society. As Zappos UX designer Golden Krishna instructs, "Don't install an app to become more productive. Just turn them all off."
And don't stop there. When you have the clarity to step outside society, do more -- reject it.Think in different, nonconformist ways. Relate to others' experiences differently. Reject the notion that maintaining the status quo can lead to original insight. You must be different.
Below are six ways rejecting social norms and popular thinking can lead to enhanced creativity.
1. It allows you to analyze your thoughts and find fresh perspectives.
"Meta-cognition" is the ability to think outside of ourselves and our social role, a process that opens us up to new ways of thinking. "When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what's called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts,"said psychiatrist Gregory Feist. By spending time alone, we are able to reflect more, to think differently, and to think more creatively.
The ability to reflect on our own thoughts--to engage in "meta-cognition"--is to find new and fresh perspectives to seemingly stale ideas. This can be done, for instance, by keeping a daily journal or diary where we can analyze our own thoughts. Oftentimes we have many creative ideas throughout the course of a single day. We must, however, actively work to capture and think about these ideas in order to make them actionable--this is the basis of meta-cognition.
2. It can actually improve your memory.
Being alone leads to an increased ability to remember images and words and makes us more reliant on our own powers of creativity (rather than of those around us). For instance, in a recentstudy, two people met and chatted for a few minutes before turning their backs to one another and facing separate computers. In the first part of the study, the participants were told they'd be doing the same task on the computer. In the second part, they were told they'd be doing a different task from one another (in reality, they did the same task each time). The task was simple: the computer showed a variety of drawings--a guitar, a log, a clock--and the participants were asked to return a few days later and recall what they'd seen.
The participants who thought they were doing a different task than the other person in the room had a significantly better memory, which implies that being alone makes your brain better at remembering.
It also shows the extent to which our creativity can suffer when we're surrounded by other people because we engage in what the study's authors called "social loafing." Social loafing is when we rely on other people to remember things for us. This also happens when we spend a great deal of time on the Internet. People who use Google and similar web search tools often are significantly worse at remembering facts that they've learned because their brains know that the information is only a click away and thus there's no use in mentally storing it, according to a study in Science.
While this maximizes our brain's efficiency it eventually hurts our creativity since the basis of creativity is connecting things we have seen, heard, or learned in new and original ways. If we have trouble remembering what we've seen, heard, or learned because we're too reliant on other people or the Internet then our creativity is one of the first abilities to suffer.
3. It allows you to step away from your regular routine.
Habits are a two-way street: do things the same over and over and you'll think the same over and over; do things a little differently, however, and you will begin to think differently as well. Anything from giving the Sunday crossword a go to taking a different route to work to mixing up your work hours to trying something you haven't tried before (maybe that's cooking a big meal or playing a sport you've always been interested in) are ways to get out of the same old rut that you've been mentally trudging through. The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had a similar theory called the "rotation method": the idea is to rotate your life like a farmer would rotate his crops, and, in this way, you stay healthy and fresh and your mind can stay open to all sorts of ideas.
There's nothing wrong with having structure in your life (in fact, that itself can be creatively useful), but mixing up what you do will mix up how you think, leading to more unique, more creative insights.
4. It increases your ability to empathize.
Whether you're an artist or an entrepreneur, understanding your audience is hugely important in the creative process. Alongside reading fiction, being alone is one of the best ways to increase your ability to empathize and understand others, especially people who are particularly different from yourself and with whom you might not normally socialize.
Empathy, of course, is just one of these benefits, but the ability to empathize with someone and to understand her emotions, desires, and motivations is to get inside a person's head, a skill that is invaluable for designing, writing, or nearly any other creative pursuit.
5. You stop absorbing other people’s ideas.
Often times we don't realize just how much we're influenced by those we surround ourselves with until we're alone and can reflect on what we really want, rather than what those around us expect from us. In fact, the entrepreneur and speaker Jim Rohn claims, "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with."
With this in mind, it's useful to push society away for brief periods of time so we can assess ourselves for who we want to be, not for who others want us to be. By doing so, we can become more in touch with what makes us special and what unique perspectives we bring the table. If we don't take time to disconnect from society, we'll never know who we really are, what makes us special, and what we're able to creatively contribute. If you have creative strengths but never bothered to find out what they are, then there's no point in even having them.
6. It gives you an excuse to make your creative passions a priority.
It seems so obvious but what do so many of us do when we have precious time to ourselves: Watch television? Read? Listen to music? Tune out our thoughts? What if we were more intentional about our alone time? What if we used it to think through complex, creatively rigorous decisions instead of blurring it out with various activities?
"For me I use alone time as just another resource, perhaps one of the most valuable I have," said Matthew Turcott, who founded and manages a tech support start-up. "[Having the] time to think... means making better, more informed decisions rather than quick decisions that I will likely regret down the road." Turcott also says most of his ideas come to him while he's out walking. So rather than putting earphones in and drowning out the noise or even reading a book or watching a show on your iPad, use your precious alone time to think creatively. Because spending time alone, when done right, can pay serious dividends.
Stop being busy, start being creative
"There is something very liberating for people about being on their own,"said sociologist Eric Klinenberg. "They're able to establish some control over the way they spend their time. They're able to decompress at the end of a busy day in a city… and experience a feeling of freedom."
Stepping back from society is an exciting prospect, but it must be done carefully. There is a razor-thin line between being alone in solitude, which allows us to be open to creative ideas, and, much more negatively, being lonely and anxious, which tends to shut us down mentally.
So, don't leave society, but engage in it differently. Set yourself apart--strive to break habits, to savor and utilize your alone time, to find out your unique perspectives, to engage in meta-cognition, to create stronger memories. You might be pleasantly surprised at how your creative pursuits being to bloom into your everyday life.