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We live in a world of digital distraction. As so many neuroscientists have shown in so many studies over the last few years, our brains have increasingly become addicted to the constant stream of stimuli that our digital devices provide us, from "celebrity gossip" to viral cat videos (alas, a personal favorite genre of mine). Whenever we feel bored, which happens if we're away from digital stimulation for more than 10 seconds (5 seconds for teenagers), we seek the stimulant of "new" digital content.
Missing out is okay
FOMO–or fear of missing out–is a constant, anxiety-fueling part of life for so many people today, young and old. God forbid that my friend Janet should post something on Facebook about her trip to the supermarket (corn is 25% off today!) and I should miss it or fail to hit the "like" button and make a comment ("Wow, I love sales on corn!!!").
This FOMO and need for digital stimuli may sound harmless, like being addicted to air, but it's not. We are losing our ability to focus, to cogitate, to think deeply, to make good choices, and to remain calm in the face of boredom. All of this impacts our ability to be creative and is bad for us. My wife and I, like everyone else, have anxiety on occasion–especially when we watch the news. And we both meditate. She does hers using a phone app, which works well for her by providing guided meditation and visualization. I do my meditation by sitting on the porch outside and looking at the trees, the flowers, listening to the birds, watching squirrels scampering past. Slowing our brains down is hugely important for our ability to focus on what matters most in life, including being creative.
Don't just do something, sit there!
We need to be okay with boredom, to sit still with it. We don’t seem able to sit with anything these days without reaching for the next shot of stimulation. Sit with your joy, your pain, your fear, your anxiety, your dreams, and yourself. Sit with your family and friends when they need you. I love what Woody Allen once said, and apply it to helping others: "99% of life is just showing up." Be fully present for yourself and others. Be here now. Stop reaching for your smartphone to find stimulation–you don't need it, and it's hurting your ability to think, to create, to listen to yourself and others, to focus on what's important (your own life and the lives of those around you).
For example, I can't watch the news for more than ten minutes because I know what's happening, in a big picture way. How many ways can you say "The President said or did something outrageous today"? You could write that headline every day for the next few years, and it would be accurate. So we need to get on with our lives, no matter what is happening outside. No matter what celebrities do next or tweet next, we can all choose to model good behavior in our own lives and our own communities. Rather than listening to people chatter on about the downfall of our culture, try to focus on expressing (through words) and embodying (through actions) values of community, respect, belief in facts, and the golden rule (treat others as you'd like to be treated). It will open up your mind and your creativity.
Accept that we need to be bored from time to time, because only then can we learn to slow down and fully inhabit the present moment. Be here now. If you or someone around you needs a job, needs a hand, needs a shoulder to cry on, needs a friend, no viral cat video in the world can provide what YOU can provide. Sit still, slow down, and let the boredom in. Your brain and your spirit need a little boredom from time to time.
Boston-based Chuck Leddy is a freelance B2B Brand Storyteller who connects brands and customers through engaging stories. His clients include ADP, Catalant Technologies, The Boston Globe's BG Brand Lab, MITx, and The National Center for the Middle Market. His website is www.ChuckLeddy.com.