June 05, 2018

Constructive Distraction

A concept to live by, from Walter Mischel, the creator of the Marshmallow Test:

His secret seems to come straight from the marshmallow test: distraction. “It’s to keep living in a way one wants to live and work; to distract constructively; to distract in ways that are in themselves satisfying; to do things that are intrinsically gratifying,” he says. “Melancholy is not one of my emotions. Quite seriously, I don’t do melancholy. It’s a miserable way to be.”

From Pamela Druckerman in the New York Times

October 27, 2017

Daydreaming may, in fact, be a sign of greater intelligence

Soft focus.

[T]he data suggests a high correlation between those with higher quality and efficiency of thought—and a tendency, or more appropriately an ability, to let one’s mind wander a little more.

W. Harry Fortuna at Quartz

July 05, 2017

The scientific link between boredom and creativity

In case you didn’t get the message.

One of the most common questions that writers receive is: “Where do you get your ideas?” The best answer for me is that I get ideas for stories during periods of associative thinking—that is, letting my mind wander, just musing and reflecting.

Indeed, research suggests that people who want to come up with creative ideas would do well to let their minds drift. These people are more prone to “divergent thinking styles”—the ability to come up with creative new ideas. “Thus, boredom may encourage people to approach rewards and spark associative thought.”

Jordan Rosenfeld at Quartz

January 17, 2016

Procrastination encourages divergent thinking

While procrastination is a vice for productivity, I’ve learned that it’s a virtue for creativity.

Our first ideas are usually our most conventional. When you procrastinate, you’re more likely to let your mind wander. That gives you a better chance of stumbling onto the unusual and spotting unexpected patterns.

In every creative project, there are moments that require thinking more laterally and more slowly. My natural need to finish early was a way of shutting down complicating thoughts that sent me whirling in new directions. I was avoiding the pain of divergent thinking — but I was also missing out on its rewards.

Adam Grant in the New York Times.

June 17, 2015

A New Theory of Distraction

The pleasure we get from being distracted is the pleasure of taking action and being free. Distraction is appealing precisely because it’s active and rebellious.

Why do so many writers find distraction so scary? The obvious answer is that they’re writers. More generally, distraction is scary for another, complementary reason: the tremendous value that we’ve come to place on attending. The modern world valorizes few things more than attention.

Behind the crisis of distraction, in short, there is what amounts to a crisis of attention: the more valuable and in demand attention becomes, the more problematic even innocuous distractions seem to be.

Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker

July 01, 2012

Internet distractions make us more efficient

When you itch, scratch.

Stressed out, on a deadline, I was frustrated to the point of uselessness and began to post a handful of items to Twitter and Tumblr. For a while, my mind and fingers wandered aimlessly around the Web. When I grew tired of this, I turned back to my assignment, completed it and turned it in. The entire detour took less than 10 minutes, and it seemed to make me more efficient.

I’ve found that losing myself in the Web can be invigorating. Instead of needing to turn off the noise of the Web, I often use it to calm my nerves so I can finish my work.

It seems that instead of fracturing my focus and splintering my attention span, digital distractions have become a part of my work flow, part of the process, along with organizing notes and creating an outline for each article I write.

Jenna Wortham in the New York Times.

February 28, 2012

Distraction gives you time to breathe

When you’re stuck in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging.

Harvard University researcher and psychologist Shelley H. Carson, author of “Your Creative Brain,” says distraction isn’t always a bad thing.

If you are stuck on a problem, an interruption can force an “incubation period,” she says. “In other words, a distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.”

Carson’s studies show that not only are creative people more susceptible to “novelty,” and thus distraction, but that mind wandering itself is associated with highly creative people.

Jan Brogan in the Boston Globe.