Disconnect in Order to Reconnect

Where are you when you have your most creative ideas? Have you ever wondered why the place where people most frequently have innovative epiphanies is the shower? Do you know that hardly anyone has innovative ideas sitting at their desks, and certainly not when they are sitting in front of a computer?

There are several reasons why I believe the shower, the most unlikely room in our civilization to spawn innovation, is in fact so conducive to innovation. Firstly the fact that we are relaxed and feel sensations while we shower, allows us to still the noise of our conscious minds and give our subconscious minds a chance to be heard. True human brilliance is more likely to happen when we engage our subconscious minds and do not restrict our thinking to our conscious, left-brain, analytical minds.

There is a simpler and more important reason though: the shower is sadly the last room in our civilization into which we don't drag our technology. Showering is the only time we are not tethered to our phones and Blackberries. Connection to technology and connection to self cannot happen simultaneously. When you are connected to technology you automatically disconnect from self.

If you wish to understand the science of this idea, read Jonathan Field's, Creative Kryptonite and the Death of Productivity:

...when we fill in all the organic in-betweens with texting, e-mailing, DMing and updating, we unintentionally kill the a critical step in the ideation process -- percolation and contemplation -- and along with it go creativity, innovation and despite your opposite intention, productivity.

Kevin Hoffman explains it this way:

Every time your phone vibrates to alert you of the possibility of something interesting, exciting, or even mundane (but new) -- your brain is getting what psychologists call a "Dopamine squirt." Over time, your brain links the phone vibration, ring, or the "new SMS" tone to a brief release of dopamine. You feel this tiny little rush of excitement that feels like adrenaline every time your phone vibrates, jingles, rings, or otherwise begs for your attention. Since this is dopamine we're talking about, you actually suffer mild withdrawal symptoms when you are away from your phone or your phone is idle/quiet for a long period of time. You get fidgety, anxious, bored, etc.
Intermittent Reinforcement is another psychological term that is used to refer to the behavior of people tethered to their smart phones. Even if their phone has been programmed to alert them to the arrival of something new and noteworthy, millions of people will pull out their phones and do a quick scan for "new or interesting stuff." The next time you're in an airport, or a Starbucks, or any other crowded place (especially one with business people on their lunch break), sit back and do some people watching. Watch how often people pull out their phone, do a scan, then put their phone back. The scary part comes when you see the same person do this 4, 5, 10 times in a row while waiting in line for their coffee, sandwich, or standing on a street corner waiting for the "walk" signal to light up.

So, if you want to be more creative in this age of hyper-connectivity, what can you do about this? Here are five things that are hugely valuable to me:

  1. Create more spaces like the shower. Have rooms in your house where you disciplinedly leave your technology at the door. This could be your bedroom, the dining room, or a sanctuary for prayer and meditation.
  2. Take more frequent metaphoric showers...each day.
  3. Create a sanctuary in time. One of the greatest gifts my tradition, (orthodox Judaism) gives me is the gift of a day once a week when my family and I disconnect from technology. I was raised that way since childhood, so it is not a difficult practice for me now and it is totally, 100% inviolate (except to save a life). That day we reconnect with ourselves, with each other and with our Creator. It takes away 1/7th of the time I have available for work but it returns multiples of that to me in energy and creative renewal. I would not give it up for anything in the world.
  4. Switch your computer and phones off (completely) for a few minutes several times a day. Use these times to write in a journal (just let your hand write anything that comes to it, it is a way to surface the unconscious), meditate, or just rest.
  5. Visibly turn your phone off (completely) before you start a meaningful conversation with someone you care about -- at work or personal. It sends a super-powerful message of attentiveness, makes the other feel so important to you, and enhances the effectiveness of the conversation more than you can possibly imagine.

Experiment. Try these strategies and notice the impact they have on your creative thinking and on your relationships.

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