No Tech, Just Brain

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Have you heard about the NPR show New Tech City's effort to save our brains? It's called "Bored and Brilliant," and they'll be tracking my iPhone usage starting Feb. 2. I'm scared.

Manoush Zomorodi, host of the WNYC podcast New Tech City, welcomed me with this paragraph:

Did you know that being bored is vital to creative thinking and problem solving? Well, if you're like me (and I'm assuming you are because you're here), you've traded in daydreaming and mind-wandering for swiping, texting, and connecting small pieces of candy.

I know this! I limit the time my child can play on the phone or iPad because it's bad for his brain, eyes, and creativity. I call it Zombie Brain, and that's why he's only allowed two hours a week. But me? I'm addicted. It can take me a day to write one article because I keep checking my email. Then I get side tracked into reading the link in the email, which leads me to the gossip link in the side bar, which leads me down the endless rabbit hole... And I can lose hours to Facebook. It's like cotton candy. I love the sweet stickiness of it, but then I'm nauseated and hungry for broccoli. I can't even doodle the way I used to. I need a topic or theme or message. It's living in memes and I'm weary.

A friend, who teaches high school, told me how she educates her students about "the spaces in between." She starts her class with a meditation, and she's requiring her student to sign up for "Bored and Brilliant." She wants these kids to keep the elasticity of their brains and it's an uphill battle. Here's what she told me, "That space when we're waiting for a bathroom, standing in the elevator, or at a red light. It's these spaces in between that we fill with phone checks. Instead, use that space to rest your brain. Let it Be."

When was the last time you let yourself be bored? Allowed your Self to sit. Day dream. Wander in your mind. Doesn't that sound yummy? Luxurious and maybe even unrealistic. It's almost as if I had said you should spontaneously fly to Monaco. But I'm actually only talking about small shifts that have huge ROIs. Try this:

Sit in a meeting where someone is droning on about gobbledygook, and rest your brain. No tech, just brain.

Go to the bathroom and breathe as you do your business. No tech, just brain.

See the Lotto sign as you get on the subway and think about what you'd do with the winnings. The whole way to work. No tech, just brain.

What if you started to treat down time as equally or more important than busy time?

It truly is. Remember when Ben Franklin's schedule was making the rounds on Facebook? (Yes that's where I saw it. Guilty!) It was showcased in the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, a book that seems to prove that boring rituals like quietly thinking lead to inspiration. Ben Franklin's day was structured around quiet time. There was no time allocated for busy work. Charles Schulz was similar. After breakfast and dropping off his kids at school, he would "just sit there and think about the past, kind of dredge up ugly memories and things like that." Once he had an idea, he could whip it out quickly. But he couldn't do that without sitting there. That's called daydreaming and there's little appreciation of that these days.

I hear you saying, "But I'm not creating a cartoon about my childhood. I'm a senior level executive and I need to be up on all the latest news and trends. I run from meeting to meeting and those 'spaces in between' is the only time I have to catch up. It's 2015 for crying out beans! It's a different world."

It is. It's a fill-up-every-space world. That's why the "Bored and Brilliant" program is so popular. It hasn't even begun and there are 4,600 members already. And why meditation has taken off as a trend in schools around the country; as of 2012, there were 91 schools in 13 states that had meditation programs.

From the "Bored and Brilliant" site, "One of the more striking takeaways from our survey? Respondents really, really want more time to just think."

I hope we all see the irony in this. We're using our phones to limit our time on the phone. I always have my phone with me, so that sounds good to me!